Interview: Strand Brewing Co. co-founder Joel Elliott

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Craft Beer Los Angeles

Rich Marcello and Joel Elliott, circa 2010

I first met Strand Brewing Co. co-founders Joel Elliott and Rich Marcello in early 2010 at their Torrance brewery. At that point, they were brewing 24th Street Pale Ale in an industrial park, having graduated from a Hermosa Beach home at 24th & Strand. Elliott previously worked in fashion photography and filmed surf movies. He also worked construction and remodeling, just like his father. Now he and Marcello have Beach House Amber and Atticus IPA in rotation, plus special beers like White Sand white Imperial IPA and The Darkness Imperial stout. They also have an expanded space and recently introduced their tasting room, where they fill pints and pitchers on weekends. I spoke with Elliott by phone, and he shared several hop-induced insights.

At what point did you know that you’d work with beer professionally?

That’s a good question. That actually didn’t come until we decided to do the brewery. Just sort the way the brewery came about was strange. It was sort of an idea that we decided we would commit to. I had never thought of it before that. I had brewed with friends before, but was never a homebrewer, so it just sort of happened. Then I guess once we decided to do it, that’s when I knew I would work in beer professionally.

Was there anybody who mentored you with brewing along the way?

Yes and no. The way beer has sort of sprouted in the L.A. area, there kind of really were a lot of mentors in a sense. Those of us who opened our little breweries at the same time, a few years ago, we were sort of mentors for each other. There was no clear path to get to where we wanted to be…It really is that I’ve used the other brewers, asking any questions I had, just because everybody’s open and willing to help. They’ve been mentors at times. The way I work at any problem I have, I don’t always like to know too much, so I can figure out how to do things my way. I’ll mentally lock myself in a room where there isn’t much input from the outside and see where I can get on my own.

Do you have a very first beer memory, good or bad?

It was tasting one of my dad’s beers when I was way, way, way under the drinking limit. I just didn’t get it. I didn’t understand why he was drinking it. I must have been 5 or 6, tasting it and going, “Ugh, what are you drinking?” Of course it was probably a Miller or something like that.

What was the very first brew for you, and how did it turn out?

The first brew for me, I brewed with a friend. It was probably the early ‘90s and it turned out pretty well. I don’t think it had much to do with me at that time. My friends had been brewing for quite awhile, and you can hardly say I brewed it. I was slightly under brewer’s assistant on that brew. It was good. I liked it. I think it was an IPA, and it was bottle conditioned. I remember we stuck it in the closet, and I couldn’t wait, so by the time it was ready to go, half the batch was already gone.

What’s the criteria for a beer that you brew at Strand?

In terms of style, I don’t think there’s any limitation. Overall characteristic, it definitely has to be good, and I know that we have to like it ourselves. I don’t know we could back a beer we weren’t personally fond of.

Does it make your job easier or harder to have other craft breweries opening in L.A. at this point?

As an owner or brewer?

As the owner.

It helps. I think it’s a good thing. It’s going to be nice that this is potentially becoming a destination. I’m not sure that if you compare the extremes – there’s a lot of breweries or one or none – it’s good. It’s nice to have a support group around you, to share notes with, and to fight the battle alongside. We may have an area where people can visit four or five tap rooms on a day tour, it might draw more people and make everyone more successful.

What was the most recent beer that you brewed, and what was your inspiration?

I guess the most recent new one I brewed was that collaboration I did with The Beer Chicks. We called it an East India Pale Ale, brewed with curry spices and Indian food spices, coconut and tamarind. The inspiration for that, I don’t know I can claim it was my inspiration. The seed of the idea was from The Beer Chicks and together we hashed out where it would go. We were pleased with it, and it turned out to be an interesting and dynamic beer.

How do you go about naming your beers?

I think that’s really, really hard to pinpoint. I think it depends on what was going on when I was coming up with the recipe, maybe books I was reading or music I was listening to. We don’t have a blanket set of rules, it’s as the mood strikes, what fits and sounds good, and what’s appropriate.

Who’s a brewer that you have never brewed with before, who you would most like to brew with?

I’d probably like to brew with someone who’s legendary, like Tomme Arthur, someone I perceive as being completely out of my league, just to see how they work.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, one city, primarily to drink beer, where would it be and how come?

That’s a good one. I would go somewhere in Belgium. I’m not sure exactly where. And why? Because obviously there’s a ton of great beer to be had, and a great place to go on a bicycle tour of breweries.

If you could only drink one more beer, and it wasn’t from Strand, what would it be, and how come?

Meaning I’d only get one more glass, and got to refill it with one beer, or this is my very last beer?

Let’s go with the very last beer.

I think I would go with the Duchesse [De Bourgogne]. You sort of never know what you’re going to get. You have an idea, but to me, it’s always new, every time I have it. It depends on how aged it is, how they blended it, what the weather was like. It would be interesting. You don’t know if you’re going to get dirty socks this time, or rotten fruit.


Joshua Lurie

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

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