Interview: Indie Brewing co-founders Connor Forbes, Kevin O’Malley, Morgan Keller + James Mancuso

  • Home
  • Beer Pros
  • Interview: Indie Brewing co-founders Connor Forbes, Kevin O’Malley, Morgan Keller + James Mancuso
Craft Beer Los Angeles


Indie Brewing is the latest Los Angeles brewery to enter the marketplace. You may have seen cans of their XPA on shelves as well bottles of their initial roll out. The brewery’s born on date was December 2015 and combines the talents of Connor Forbes, Kevin O’Malley, Morgan Keller and brewer James Mancuso. Indie is yet another case of home brewing pulling people together.

Sean Inman: What is the origin story for Indie Brewing?

Indie Brewing: “The full group came together by chance—very six degrees of separation. A few months after graduation in 2009, Connor landed in Park City, Utah. There he met James (Indie’s brewmaster) while working at a local brewpub and they started brewing together. Almost instantly, Connor could tell James had a knack for making amazing beer. In 2011, Connor moved back to his hometown of Los Angeles, intent on opening a brewery in L.A.

When Kevin moved to L.A. in 2009, the craft scene was oddly underdeveloped, but you could feel the undercurrents of a boom. Worse yet, there was only one home brew store relatively close to me so he didn’t brew much at first. Then after a horrible week of work in September 2012, Kevin decided he was going to open a brewery… or at least fail trying. He started working on the brewery plans in October 2012, but was not making much progress. He met with friends of friends and others who also had dreams of opening a brewery, but Kevin’s vision never really clicked with theirs.

Then, one day at a bar, Kevin’s best friend’s sister’s boyfriend mentioned that his client’s son wanted to open a brewery. Normally, this is one of those situations you say in passing, “Yeah, I’ll call him,” but the next day, you never do. But for some reason Kevin did follow up and that’s how he met Connor. They chatted about their homebrews, what styles of beer they liked best, their own visions for a brewery, and the troubles they had run into in their individual quests to open a brewery. It was clear they were looking to start the same kind of small, community oriented
brewery.

Around the same time, Morgan and Connor reconnected and began brewing in Morgan’s garage. Eventually, Connor invited Morgan to meet Kevin to talk about the brewery. Morgan initially started by playing a marketing consulting role, plus he had a nice garage for creating test batches, and things went forward from there. Morgan had always wanted his own business and had just assumed it would be something related to advertising, which he had done for his entire professional career. Little did he know that the hobby that had grown out of control would become his path. After about five seconds of deliberation, Morgan was in.

The team flew James out to LA in the summer of 2013 to meet up and brew – a job interview of sorts. After a taste of his beers, they hired him.”

Craft Beer Los Angeles

SI: Tell us a little about the beers that beer fans will be finding on tap and on shelves

IB: “For our core beers we focus on SoCal Session Beer. We brew these beers true to style, with depth of flavor, good body, and slightly less alcohol. They clock in close to 5% while packing as much taste as their higher-alcohol counterparts. These beers were missing in the L.A. market, which provided us the opportunity to open Indie.

We currently brew Eastside XPA that harnesses the aroma and tastes of grapefruit, pine and tropical fruit while drinking like an IPA. Port(er) of Los Angeles has nicely balanced notes of chocolate, coffee, and toffee with tons of drinkability.

We have more core beer on the way including an IPA and a Kolsch that we will release in kegs by the end of March.

We also have a line of special release beers. These beers are the machinations of James’ extremely creative mind. The first beer in this series was the Superfood Saison, an ale brewed with blackberry, goji berry, acai, and pitaya. We are also about to blend a nice and tart Berliner Weisse that will ship first to our membership group called The Alliance. James has a serious crush on Belgian beers so we are planning a sour program too.”

SI: How did the Superfood Saison come about?

James: “Los Angeles is usually on the forefront of new health trends and we noticed more acai bowls, juice cleanses and Pilates studios popping up. When I first moved to LA, I remember visiting a very hip juice bar. The person next to me was drinking a sample tray of all of the juices. It reminded me of a brewery tasting room and it occurred to me that a lot of juice bar flavors would complement a beer, specifically the flavors produced by our Saison yeast. The Superfood Saison was both an opportunity to poke fun at the juicing movement, but also allowed us to showcase our Belgian beer skills. Our goal was to bring out some nuance and interesting complexity using non-traditional ingredients, not to mention create an awesome beer color.”

SI: Is there a taproom in the future?

“Yes, a taproom has always been part of our plan and it should be open by Fall 2016. We are very excited to have a place where we can connect with the community and let people come and learn about the beers from the people who make it.

There may be a silver lining to us not having a tasting room right away because it has really forced us to sell our beers to retailers across Los Angeles. For a brewery that has only been brewing since early December, our beer is available at some amazing restaurants, bars and beer/liquor stores.”

SI: What do you think of the push to re-name craft brewing as indie brewing?

“Craft beer enthusiasts, like those of other artisan industries (food, apparel, art), seek authenticity and understanding on where their products come from. As beer conglomerates continue to purchase craft breweries, consumers are going to become savvy and begin to demand not only craft beer but also independent or “indie” beer. We don’t care what you call it as long as people keep discovering and trying new beer.”

What brewery or beers are the gold standard that you aspire to?

Connor: “My first introduction to craft beer was in college at Colgate University in Central New
York. I was first exposed to Magic Hat, Saranac, and Ommegang. And you really can’t have a better introduction. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for those breweries. In terms of who I would aspire to be now, I think New Belgium, Deschutes, and Stone are my favorites. No matter what beer you pick up from any of them, they are always great. As a brewery we strive to put out a great beer every time.”

Kevin: “My first introduction to craft beer was a classic, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, sometime in 1998. I’m from PA so it was pretty hard to find that beer on the east coast at the time, but my dad found a distributor who sold it and it blew my mind. At the time I was drinking frat beer at Penn State so it really was a completely different drink. I think Sierra is a gold standard for me, they are still an innovator in the industry, they are well-respected, they are green, they give back to start up breweries like us and they still make damn good beer.”

Morgan: “After venturing into craft beer after college, I learned of Belgian styles from the domestic powerhouses of New Belgium and Ommegang. Seeking these styles led me to the OG makers of the styles like Fantome, Dupont and St. Feuillien. These beers have such great depth of character while being extremely drinkable, which is something we strive for in each of our beers.”

James: “There are so many great regional craft breweries that have large quality control laboratories and equipment that provide them an advantage over smaller local breweries. My goal is always to produce beer at the high quality standard of these larger breweries but with the creative flexibility of a smaller scale brewery.

I encourage craft beer drinkers to buy the freshest local beer they can. For most beer styles, the fresher the better. Drinking the locally made fresh IPA is going to be more enjoyable than seeking out a particular brand. But at the end of the day, there isn’t much better than a Russian River sour or clean hoppy Pilsner like Firestone Walker Pivo for me.”

The Beer of the Week is from Indie and it is their 7th St. Saison. The brewing team describe it as, “a traditional Belgian table Saison that bursts with bright notes of citrus, lemongrass, and pepper.” You don’t have to live on that street to enjoy it.

If you haven’t been to Anaheim’s Farmer’s Park in March for the now annual Firkfest, then you are missing out. I have said, many times, that there are a handful of festivals that I consider tentpoles to the beer year in SoCal and this is one of them. A plethora of one-off special casks lined up from a strong selection of breweries in a pretty little pocket park. Head here to check out the brewery list and then buy your tickets!

Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.

Tags:

Sean Inman

Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.

Blog Comments

Congratulations to all four of you. I remember tasting Morgan’s homemade beer years ago and liking it. I think it is amazing what you can put into beer; fruit I have never heard of, such as pitaya. I am 83 years old and don’t drink a lot of beer, but I do enjoy a tasteful brew every now and then. I know you will make a success of your endeavors.

Leave a Comment