There’s a new brew crew in town, and the people behind Ohana Brewing Company are promising “a fresh face in beer.” Karsen Luthi helped to recruit other “members/full-time employees,” including Berne Bush, a mechanical engineer and longtime homebrewer from San Diego; and Leo Martinez, a former computer resources manager, who is currently brewing with Bootlegger’s Brewery in Fullerton. The fourth “partner” in the venture: tikiman, who will grace Ohana’s logo and tap handles. Ohana’s three flagship beers will consist of a “world class IPA, a smoked beer, and a session beer,” and they should be in production downtown by the end of 2010.
Ohana is the Hawaiian word for “family.” Luthi’s wife Joanne has family ties in the islands and suggested the name. “Family is very important to me,” says Luthi, “and the fraternity of brewers are like a large family. We’ll have a number of talented award-winning homebrewers like Rick Adams, Enrique Piceno and Jim Schmalzried brewing with us to create products that are unique, fresh, flavorful and world class.”
Luthi worked in the graphics arts business until 2004, but understood that the commercial printing industry was in decline, so he followed his longtime passion as a homebrewer. “I thought it would be interesting and challenging to experience brewing from the professional side so I contacted some local brewers whose skills I admired,” said Luthi. “Victor Novak from TAPS Fish House & Brewery (locations in Brea and Corona) did not have an opening at the time but sent me over to BJ’s in West Covina where I was hired as an Assistant Brewer. I worked there for a year with Tyler King who is currently Production Manager/Head Brewer at The Bruery in Placentia. Phil Sutton, owner of Skyscraper Brewing Company in El Monte, was Head Brewer at the BJ’s location in Brea about that time…I left BJ’s and started on plans to open my own brewery while working part-time for California Fermentation Society (a public-benefit corporation) which operates Stein Fillers, a brewing supplies business located in Long Beach. Opening my own brewery would give me an opportunity to be creative – and I embrace the challenge of making it a success!”
Luthi owns the building with his father at 1756 East 23rd Street. They were initially looking at other locations, but after their tenants unexpectedly gave notice, father and son took the space themselves. The space was most recently a machine shop and warehouse. Prior to that the building contained a mortuary service that operated a crematorium and casket warehouse. According to Luthi, “The building is perfect for a small brewery inasmuch as it has commercial gas, three-phase power, a high ceiling and room to expand. Just too bad it didn’t already have floor drains. The building (except the roof, of course) is entirely constructed of red brick – so it even looks like a traditional brewery.”
Luthi will initially serve as the brewery’s production manager, at least until Ohana is able to hire a head brewer. According to Luthi, “We are talking to a brewer (currently employed by a significant craft brewer) who is interested in that position; the brewer is also interested in purchasing an equity interest in the business. Because the brewer is still employed and we haven’t finalized an agreement I must withhold his/her name at this point.”