I asked 10 craft beer pros on the front lines of L.A. County’s craft beer scene one question that hints at who’s helped them become integral cogs in the hop-fueled community: Who do you look to in the craft beer community for inspiration, guidance or advice, and why? Their answers might surprise you.
Erik Huig (Barbara’s at the Brewery)
There are so many people in the industry doing great things, I would have to choose different people depending on what advice or inspiration I’m looking for. First, I would look to Mark Jilg from Craftsman for advice and definitely for inspiration. He’s probably the person I’m closest to in the industry and I totally value his opinion. I love what he does and how he goes about it. I also talk with Daniel Drennon a lot and he gives good advice coming from the customer’s perspective. If I’m looking for advice for running my bar I like talking to Gabe Gordon. He’s super knowledgeable and has always been really nice to me. He’s always inspired me to improve what I do at Barbara’s. Also Brian Sugita from 38 Degrees, I’ve known him for a long time and he really knows how to run a restaurant.
Matt Meiers (City Tavern)
Just over three years ago, all I knew about craft beer is what I liked, and what I didn’t. I was familiar with most styles that were widely available and drank a lot of beer myself, but really had major gaps in my knowledge of the variety and depths of flavor and character that was out there.
As we were preparing to open the first City Tavern I had the “tedious job” of going out and visiting many of our local breweries and trying as much beer as I could. The overwhelming graciousness of the local brewers to answer any questions, give tours of their facilities, and overall just be helpful in any way shape or form that you can think of, provided the best resource that anyone can ever ask for (special shout out to Eagle Rock, Cismontane, Ladyface, and TAPS Fishhouse). I still use these people as a backbone of my support system when I need help or have questions, but I think that I could really turn to anyone in this industry and ask them for help and they would happily give more than I could ever ask for. It’s what makes the craft beer industry more than that, it’s what makes it a community.
Justin Blake (Four Points LAX)
There are a couple people who gave me some good opportunities in the craft beer industry and have influenced my career. Brandon Halvorson (formerly of Rock and Brews and now with Beachwood BBQ & Brewing) was my GM at Rock and Brews and took a chance of me by letting me buy the beer when I was a bartender there. Having the freedom to curate a rotating tap list took my interest in beer to another level. I also learned a lot working with Brandon, and it’s inspiring to see him have the success he’s had in this industry. Phil Baxter, former GM of my hotel, Four Points By Sheraton LAX, is another person in the industry who is inspiring to me. When I came to work at the Four Points, I didn’t realize that this hotel was actually one of the oldest craft beer establishments in Los Angeles. Phil had the hotel bar, Brewster’s, serving craft beer in 2000 when the craft beer scene in Los Angeles was considerably smaller than it is now. I think it’s cool that while running a busy airport hotel, Phil was able to incorporate craft beer and actually make it part of the branding of the hotel. People specifically stay at the hotel because it’s “The Beer Hotel.”
Whenever I run into photographer Bernie Wire, which is probably any time I actually make it to a beer event, it’s hard not to be inspired. The guy just loves the craft beer community and is always really positive. It was awesome to see his work displayed at Mohawk Bend last year.
Ross Stephenson (The Hermosillo)
I look to my friend and business partner, Bob Kunz, of Highland Park Brewery (HPB). Bob has a grounded approach to beer, and a palate that is objective and unbiased. I think his many years spent homebrewing and working in commercial breweries has imparted a level-headed approach to figuring out what works in a certain beer and how to improve upon it. His passion for beer inspired everyone at The Hermosillo to really get excited and fully behind the idea of building a brewery, which is no small task.
Adam Aro (Mediterraneo)
I basically follow the beer. I keep a close ear to the ground with new batches, seasonals, one-offs, and have cultivated a very good relationship with many distributors and breweries. I also have a cellaring program (you can call me a beer hoarder) to age special beers in-house to ensure they don’t slip through my fingers, even if I’m not ready to put them on my list just yet. It is a very flowing mindset. My list is not locked in to certain styles, just what I feel fits in to it at that time.