Who L.A. Beer Pros Turn to For Guidance, Advice + Inspiration

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Restaurant Los Angeles

Adam Aro presides over the craft beer program at Mediterraneo near Hermosa Beach Pier.


Josh Salinas (The Oinkster)

My three big inspirations will always be Ryan Sweeney, Sam Samaniego, and Mark Jilg. Ryan knows an insane amount about beer and runs several of the best bars in the Los Angeles area. What I love about Sam and the Stuffed Sandwich is that they both are as honest and authentic as you can get in the craft beer community. Sam will be missed. And of course Mark is just a fucking badass. One day I hope to have a fraction of the impact he has had on the L.A. craft beer scene.

Wes Jacobs (Select Beer Store)

At Select Beer Store, we are always trying to stay on top of the best of what is out there in the beer world, including the latest trends. I look to the whole beer community – our customers, the local brewers, the community as a whole – for inspiration and guidance. One of the most exciting things about craft beer in America today is that there are new breweries and new beers coming out almost every day. It’s impossible for one person to try everything. I like to listen to what people are saying and recommending, and regularly bring in new beers to try – which is the really fun part!

Jeff Sapsford (Sunset Beer Co.)

I spent some time thinking about this question and I think there are two major influences I can point to. I have been a part of the craft beer community in one way or another for 11 years now and I have Norm Yow of Norm’s Beer and Wine in Vienna, Virginia to thank for that. Norm saw the potential of craft beer and was one of the first in the Washington, D.C. area to embrace it when he opened his shop almost 16 years ago. It seems funny to think about it now with as popular craft beer has become, but we didn’t always have craft beer product placements on the “big screen,” or routinely featured on “The Today Show.” But Norm believed in the product and in what must have been his biggest business risk he’s ever made, hired and taught me everything I know. To Norm, embracing the entire craft community is key, from where it came from to where it is going. The biggest thing he taught me was the importance of respecting and listening to the customer.

So today it is the customer I look to most. If you focus solely on your own palate or ideas of what should be the direction of the craft beer community you won’t see the whole picture. At Sunset Beer Co. I have worked to instill a sense of community with our customers and employees. We try hard to make sure everyone feels welcome and spend time getting to know one another. This is something Norm did so well; make sure everyone is a part of the team. This is such a unique business community; we have to rely on each other for support. The separation between consumer, distributor, and brewer is so small. Craft beer is like art in that way, there is the maker who we can be critical of, but they are one of us and if we pick up a brew kettle we can become one of them.

To put it simply, the best place I’ve found to look for inspiration and guidance has not been in a book or in a spreadsheet trends report, it’s with the people around me. All you have to do is ask questions and listen.

Ryan Ballinger (The York)

Mark Jilg has long been, to me, the wunderkind of the Southern California beer community. I suppose since it has been a while for Craftsman, perhaps he is a wunderälter, but clearly the man is clearly a genius. He was instrumental at start-up for The York in 2007, and he has no lack of success since then. Any man that undertakes to build his own stainless steel fermenters before making beer in them simply is not going to stand for any mistakes to be made in production. His regular product is consistent, his one-offs imaginative and inspiring, and his seasonals are something to look forward to year in and year out.

But Ryan Sweeney will get in his car and drive five hours to go pick up a keg, and that’s something else entirely.

I don’t think Los Angeles beer would be what it is becoming without either of those guys. I’m just a guy who drinks it.

Natalie Gutenkauf (The Factory Gastrobar)

At the same time I was setting roots in Bixby Knolls, I started hearing about another new craft beer pub in Burbank. I was shocked on my first visit that the menu was predominantly vegan. As Tony Yanow grew his empire, opening up Mohawk Bend, he went so far with the menu there as to prepare vegan items on a dedicated vegetarian grill. To this day … vegan as opposed to vegetarian menus are still not the most popular food out there in the healthy lifestyle bracket but Tony made it work. I have a lot of respect for someone who can stand by their beliefs, without being preachy or condescending, and allow people to enjoy something that is different. You will find on the Tony’s Darts Away webpage, he pays homage to other craft establishments showing that he is a team player and respectful of the craft beer business as a whole. I always say, “As a craft beer enthusiast, it seems like everyone is into craft beer because that is my world. However, craft beer drinkers populate a very small percentage of beer drinkers. I find it extremely important to support other craft beer establishments because we need to expand this segment of the population. Capturing more craft beer fans is good for all our businesses.” I know how hard it is to stand by your beliefs and it gives me motivation to know there are other rule breakers out there like Tony Yanow who have not given into the majority and turned their unique beliefs into their success.

I love to see families working together as a team. My husband Eric Gutenkauf works with me in the restaurant and we have three kids under the age of thirteen who spend a great amount of time there too. There are some other great husband and wife teams out there like Ting [Su] and Jeremy [Raub] of Eagle Rock, Laurie [Porter] and [Jonathan] Porter at Smog City and Adriana [Nguyen] and Henry Nguyen of Monkish. It’s not always easy doing business with your spouse and children add a whole other level of complexity. I feel a sort of connection to these folks because our business infrastructure is so “close to home.” Even Gabe Gordon of Beachwood Brewing had his first child in the midst of opening his new brewery. You really have to be a very strong individual to balance family and work and these folks are doing it and they are doing it well. Besides, parents make better tasting beer because they need it more! Truth.

Finally, I’m a big Matt Wilson fan. He knows his brand and he knows the beer business. When planning The Factory’s 1st Annual Drink Good Beerfest in 2012, I had Matt take a look at my plan. Never before had I worked on a beerfest so I had a lot of questions. Matt gave me a great amount of insight and his feedback was vital to the success of the event. Craft beer reps come and go and it always seems like just when I start to get tight with a rep, they switch breweries or just disappear. Matt Wilson has been the face of Ballast Point Brewing for as long as I can remember and that’s to say since The Factory Gastrobar opened its doors four years ago. While Matt has people working under him, he always makes a point to visit all the accounts in his region.


Joshua Lurie

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

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