Henry Nguyen and wife Adriana own and operate Monkish Brewing Co. in a Torrance industrial park, contributing to Los Angeles craft beer culture. He has a PhD in Theology and was teaching at Loyola Marymount University before shifting careers. We met at the 2012 L.A. Beer Week festival, and Nguyen shared hop-fueled insights.
At what point did you know that you would work with beer for a living?
Even when we opened the brewery, we never actualized. It was always unplanned. Even today, we have a moment when we realize we have a brewery, for the most part, it’s surreal that we’re actually in this community. For the most part, also, we’re trying to find a place within in this market.
Is there anybody who’s mentored you along the way?
Actually, no. When I came in, the L.A. beer market was growing at astronomical rates, so everybody was busy. Of all people, Rob Croxall and El Segundo. We have the same architect and he shared a lot of information with me, very candid information.
What was the first beer that you ever brewed, and how did it turn out?
Oblate. It turned out well. We recognized we needed a ton to replicate, and we tried to shoot for that, so it was very tough, that first batch.
What about homebrewing?
No homebrew. The first batch was on our actual professional system.
What’s the criteria for a beer you brew at Monkish?
Whatever I like to do. Only 30% of the beers I brew at home, as a homebrewer. Those are all the test batches. And I just go for it. I always tell people, I do 15-barrel test batches. Even with L.A. Beer Week, it was based off of a dream. For the most part, we like the L.A. beer scene. On the other hand, we don’t really take it seriously and do what we want to do.
What’s your top selling beer?
It’s all different, depending on the clientele, tasting room, bar, whether it’s a restaurant or bar, it’s all different. But the beer that gives us the most attention is probably Feminist. The name itself lends itself to a certain demographic of beer drinkers that is underrated. Also, it’s a Belgian strong beer with hibiscus. It’s interesting.
How do you go about naming your beers?
My wife and I will usually argue about the beer. We usually fight about it for a day or two and eventually we settle. Different rules for different beers. For the most part, each of our beers has a certain personality. We don’t really try to keep with any massive theme.
What’s your favorite part about working with beer?
We just started out, so we’re not the best people to think about it. For the most part, we wish we never did a brewery because it’s so much work. We’re not at that point where we can reflect on the benefits of it.
What’s the most difficult part about operating a brewery?
The time and also all the energy and sweat that goes into it. If you have deep pockets and investors behind you, then definitely you’d have no problem. A lot of those guys that go around, they really enjoy themselves. For us, we have no investors. It’s just my wife and I. She puts a lot of work in and has a full-time job elsewhere. I’m working about 100 hours. We have three kids. I watch my three-year-old all day. It’s a lot of work. So not much enjoyment.
What your most recent beer, and what was your inspiration?
That was our Sueño de Los Angeles, which is our L.A. Beer Week brew with prickly pear. It was based on a dream that I had. I woke up and told my wife I had a recipe based on a dream. I’m just going to do it. That’s it.
It doesn’t sound like you’re able to maintain much balance in your life at this point.
No. Every day for my wife and I is day-by-day. Some days I pull a 40-hour shift or a 24-hour period, I’ll pull a 24-hour shift. Other days, we try to take a break here or there, but it’s really hard. I think it’s one of those things, in L.A., when people drink a beer that’s brewed at small breweries, you’re drinking blood and sweat. Not many people realize it. For us, a lot of people who judge our beers, a lot of times it’s unfair because they don’t realize the amount of energy and sacrifice it took for us to brew that one batch of beer.
If you could only drink one more beer, and you could not brew it, what would it be and why?
Jolly Pumpkin, just because it’s a small batch brewery, and it’s the only beer that I’ll repeat buying.
Any beer in particular?
No, any Jolly Pumpkin.