It would be accurate to say that brewmaster Julian Shrago [SHRAY-go] engineered his beers for success. The UC Santa Barbara grad and longtime aerospace engineer started homebrewing after his parents gave him a homebrew kit for Christmas in 1996. He honed the craft as a member of the Long Beach Homebrewers and brewed several beers in professional fermenters, including Tovarish, an Imperial Stout brewed with espresso at Pizza Port Solana Beach; Warrior, an India black ale conceived at Pizza Port San Clemente; a Belgian quadrupel born at Pizza Port Carlsbad; and Laurel IPA, named for Laurel and Hardy and produced at Triple Rock Brewery. He teamed with Gabe Gordon and Gabe’s wife Lena on a multi-faceted spinoff of Seal Beach’s renowned Beachwood BBQ in downtown Long Beach. Shrago now fills 12 of 36 taps with house-made beers. We met at Library Alehouse on January 26, and Shrago shared personal and beer insights.
At what point did you know you’d work with beer professionally?
I wanted to work with beer professionally beginning, probably, five years ago. When I really got serious with homebrewing, I started competing in competitions and things were going very positively with that. At that same time, I started forming relationships with professional brewers. That led to a couple invitations to come brew at professional breweries. That was something that was a tremendous honor and huge opportunity. That’s when I really got the exposure to what it meant to be a professional brewer. That’s probably about five years ago.
Do you have a very first beer memory, good or bad?
I think my first beer memory was when I was 10 years old, somebody cracked open a Budweiser beer at a party that I was at. It was an adults party, and there were a lot of kids there. The person cracked open the beer, they walked away from it, and I picked it up and put the whole thing down. That was my first whole beer experience, but beyond that, one memorable experience I had was at Santa Barbara, first day of college, the first beer that somebody handed me was Natty Ice. Of course I’m going with the flow, so I drink it. It was horrible. I knew I wanted to drink beer, but I knew I didn’t want to have another one of those, so that night, I went into town and was able to find some local craft beer, and immediately got hooked on it.
What’s the criteria for a beer that you brew at Beachwood?
A lot of my beers, I think of flavor first when I construct a recipe. I don’t necessarily think, “I have to brew some huge Imperial stout. How am I going to get it to have 20% alcohol in it?” I think, “Okay, if I’m going to be drinking an Imperial stout, what kind of flavors would I want in that beer? What kind of mouth feel would I want in that beer? How am I going to go about creating those flavors?” So really, I aim for flavor first, and that’s how I construct my recipes.
In terms of what beers you end up going with, do you, Gabe and Lena discuss that beer, or are you pretty much given autonomy?
It totally depends on the situation. We absolutely collaborate on things. For example, the High Five Saison is a perfect example of us all collaborating. Gabe and Lena wanted an anniversary beer for Beachwood’s fifth anniversary in Seal Beach, and of course it’s an honor to brew a beer for an establishment like that, so we started throwing around ideas: “Do we want to do a double IPA? Do we want to do something like a big Imperial stout?” We wanted to do something memorable, and we arrived on saison. Gabe is a tremendous cook, and he’s very familiar with spices and he started throwing out spice combinations. He was like, “I’m a big fan of Chinese long pepper. Chinese long pepper goes well with saffron. Saffron has a really nice flavor, but it would be cool if the beer is orange or bright yellow. How are we going to get that color in the beer? Oh, annatto seed might add flavor and give us that kind of color.” Things like that, absolutely we do collaborate.
How does it work in terms of naming your beers?
That’s kind of a team effort. Whenever any one of us feels inspired, we throw out a name. Sometimes we’ve already got a beer brewed, and a name will come about. Other times, we’ve got a name in mind, and we’ll find a beer to fit the name. Gabe came up with a fantastic name a few months ago, Hoppa Smurf. That’s a fantastic name. Let’s find a beer to fit the bill. Well, Smurfs are Belgian, so let’s brew a Belgian IPA. We’ll call it Hoppa Smurf. There you go. It depends, but again, it’s a collaborative effort. And I’ve got a lot of creative freedom in the brewery. If I feel like brewing something new and different, I just go ahead and do that too.
What was the most recent beer that you brewed, and what was your inspiration and approach?
A beer that I brewed most recently is a beer called Rose Royce, and that was a recipe that I had done a few years ago, but Lena came up with the name. It’s a really light-bodied, rose petal saison. The recipe was something we just scaled up from my homebrewing days, but the name was Lena’s invention. It’s a fantastic name.
Does it make your job easier or harder to have so many other new breweries popping up in the area?