Interview: LA Ale Works founders John Rockwell + Kip Barnes

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So Inland Empire Brewing is where you’re operating out of now?

Barnes: Yeah, they’re going to be contract brewing our beer. I don’t want to say it’s untraditional, because there are a lot of small contract breweries that are doing this…

Rockwell: Depending on what you’re going to say, I have a small comment on this, so go ahead.

Barnes: No, we went into the brewery, and it’s more like we’re assisting them, because the way that our ABC license is structured…

Rockwell: It is their show, they are running the entire show, and we may or may not be volunteering on brew day.

What sort of music do you like to listen to when you’re brewing?

Barnes: Rat-a-tat. You like Mars Volta.

Rockwell: Yeah, I usually have our combined playlist on in the background, but yeah, Mars Volta is good.

Barnes: Wax Tailor.

Rockwell: Mumford and Sons. Kings of Leon.

Where do you like to drink beer in Los Angeles that’s not yours?

Barnes: Everywhere.

Rockwell: Like Top 5?

Yeah, sure. That’s catchy.

Barnes: City Tavern. Beer Belly. Spring Street Smokehouse. Far Bar. Eagle Rock. Yeah, that’s a big one. It’s hard for me to get out there because I’m on the Westside, especially right after work, because they have all their events at like 7 o’clock. I’ve got to break out of my office early, but Eagle Rock’s a real common place for us to go.

Craft Beer Los Angeles
Los Angeles Ale Works Mugen Kurozake

Would you say that you’ve had any mentors throughout this process?

Barnes: Yeah, definitely. Jeremy from Eagle Rock, and Ting, and that whole Eagle Rock team, have been just huge. They’re like the paragons of the L.A. craft beer scene, in my opinion. They’re so welcoming and so supportive in every single aspect.

Rockwell: From Day One they’ve been all about building the L.A. beer scene. They want to help everyone get better.

Were you in Maltose Falcons with them?

Rockwell: No, we were in Pacific Gravity, so we didn’t know them at all until we started researching breweries that were starting up and contacted Jeremy.

Barnes: We happened upon his blog.

Rockwell: The rest was kind of history. He was supportive of our idea, answering every question and really cool.

Barnes: At the beginning we were like, “Hey, this guy’s a little too nice. Maybe he’s trying to usurp us or something like that.” After you meet him and hang out with him, he’s just a really cool guy and totally nice.

Rockwell: Another mentor is probably Cosmic Ales. He’s doing more of what we’re doing. We’re kind of following his business plan, sort of. He’s a contract brewer right now with Hermitage Brewing, and he has a really great brown ale that was at a few bars in L.A., and a lot of bars in the Inland Empire, because he’s from Corona. It went away for awhile because he had problems with his manufacturing, but I think next month or the month after that, he should be out a lot more. He’s been more like a peer. Jeremy, he’s been like, “Oh, you’re doing this, okay, we’ll be there soon, someday.” Cosmic Ales has been a great sounding board.

Who’s the person?

Barnes: Chris Briles. He’s a real cool guy out of Corona. Inland Empire guys, they’re more new to us, but they’ve been super cool to us. They’ve been, really, really helpful and really understanding. They’re a small brewery, and I think they bought the brewery, inherited recipes from the previous owners, but they’ve just started now developing their own recipes. They’ve expanded and upgraded their equipment. They’re really kind of coming into their own too. It’s kind of a symbiotic relationship, because their exposure will increase a little bit in L.A., especially through us, and they’re just really good guys, really, really cool guys.

Next steps? You’re going to release the first beer in August.

Barnes: Yeah, the first beer is called Gamsbart. It’s the Rogen Beer, and Gamsbart means “goat’s beard.” It’s the feather in a Bavarian Alpine hat, the loden hut. Depending on the feather, it’s different things, but that’s called a gamsbart is a Bavarian style beer. That’s where that came from. It all depends on approvals and when we can get everything together.

As far as locations for your permanent brewery?

Barnes: I live in Culver City and John lives downtown, so we want to compromise. We’re looking at Expo Line. That’s what we’d like to have, the industrial district along the Expo Line.

Rockwell: Before you got here we were talking a little about the Jefferson corridor, and how cool to be. That’s been high on our list, but we’ll see.

Do you plan to have a tasting room?

Barnes: Yes, we plan to have a tasting room. We’re going to go for the CUP, the Conditional Use Permit, that allows us to not only serve our beer, but other brewery beer. We’d like to be similar to what Eagle Rock is. They’re able to support other breweries in the area by having their beer on tap. I think it’s really important.

Rockwell: I really like the idea of having it be a gathering place, not just an off premise brewery, some warehouse squirreled away that no one can visit. I want to have a tasting room. We want to have live music. We want to make it a fun place to hang out.

Barnes: Small bands, not huge.

Rockwell: Kind of like Hangar 24-ish.

Barnes: We’d like to have a communal tap too, to allow people to buy into, to be able to decide on a recipe and brew a beer. We’re looking at other ideas, different types of contract brewing with people. We really want to be focused on the local area that we’re in. We’re going to start out small. We’d really like to focus on the area that we’re actually in, being in L.A. We’re not looking to get crazy big at the very beginning. We really want to understand our community and figure out what people want. We know what we like.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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