Arising from a hobby practiced in basements or garages, the craft beer industry continues to thrive nationwide and in California, and Glendale seems to be putting its own stamp on the heavily localized trade.
The city’s second brewery opened its doors this past summer, years after the first showed up. More craft-themed taprooms are cropping up, too, after aficionados gathered under one or two roofs for years. And those local fans seem to have rallied this year, despite the pandemic, to send one of the bars close to the top of an annual “best of” ranking, bringing the Glendale name to the readers of a national magazine for enthusiasts.
When the people behind Glendale Tap found out they were ranked No. 15 by readers in Craft Beer & Brewing magazine’s 2020 Best Craft Beer Bars, they proudly shared it on social media. Displaying the camaraderie found in craft brewing, their peers amplified the accolade for Glendale Tap, which is located at Magnolia Avenue and San Fernando Road and has been a key watering hole for beer connoisseurs for around a decade.
“People are excited because they see us on that list,” said Jimmy Smith, beer program manager at Glendale Tap. “I really respect Craft Beer & Brewing magazine. That’s one of the top craft beer magazines, so that was pretty cool.
“We love being part of the craft beer fabric in Glendale,” he continued. “I’ve been into craft beer heavily since 2008 and in the industry since 2011 and I remember when they opened up.”
That seems to have been a key time for the industry. Since 2010, breweries in the United States have skyrocketed from 1,813 to 8,386 as of last year, according to data from the Brewers Association. Such establishments include microbreweries, which produce up to 15,000 barrels of beer a year and primarily sell off-site; brewpubs, which sell at least 25% of their product on-site; and regional craft breweries, which produce up to 6 million beer barrels a year.)
In the five-year period from 2015-2019, according to the association, there has been a 9.1% rise in the number of craft beer producers, with an especially striking increase in brewpubs — from 1,941 to 3,011.
Smith, who joined Glendale Tap in 2012, suggested there was a simple explanation to this phenomenon.
“People just want to drink better beer,” he said. “A lot of times, I’ll talk to people and they’ll have friends who will get them into it. They’ll have a friend offer them a nicer beer and they’ll say, ‘Wow, it’s really good.’”
Jamie Bogner, co-founder and editorial director of Craft Beer & Brewing, added that the fervor could be a response to a few generations of mainstream mass-produced beer as the principle option.
“I think it’s in part a direct reaction to the multinational megabrands,” he said in a phone interview. “People generally in culture today feel attracted to things that relate more closely to them. For the same reason people are enjoying shopping at farmers’ markets and buying local, I think with craft beer, people are attracted to high-quality producers of something that feels close to them or something they experience.”
Besides Glendale Tap, craft beer locales within Glendale include We’re Pouring, a gastropub on Glenoaks Boulevard; the Greyhound, a second location of the Highland Park classic bar and grill; Thee Elbow Room, a restaurant on Honolulu Avenue in Montrose; and Gold Rail Bar on Pacific Avenue, which also offers house cocktails.
The rise of these establishments coincides with the city’s economic development strategy, called the “18-Hour City” campaign.
“We wanted it to be a fun and diverse place to be from morning to night,” explained Jennifer Hiramoto, Glendale’s acting assistant director of community development. “Glendale has always had a strong office workforce and residential base, and we wanted to continue to diversify some of the entertainment options that the city provides.”
In terms of brewers, Brewyard Beer Co., located in a warehouse just south of the Western Avenue bridge, was apparently the first here with a taproom — and probably the first brewer in quite some time — when it launched in November 2015. Kirk Nishikawa, who co-founded Brewyard with longtime friend Sherwin Antonio, observed that most of their micro-brewing peers were, like them, younger Gen Xers or older millennials.
“There’s kind of a strange phenomenon in Southern California,” he said, adding that start-up overhead might be a factor. “One thing you start to see in the craft beer scene, at least around here, [is that] a lot of the owners are around my age. They just started embracing it at that age.”
Nishikawa also embraced the idea that craft beer is quickly establishing itself as a cultural marker for communities, with breweries often becoming a local destination, whether in a small town or a metropolis. For the people behind the beer and branding, he said, there’s a certain unique expression.
“Maybe it’s midlife crisis with a lot of this, but you’ll notice that a lot of the references are stuff from our childhood,” he said of beer labeling and branding. “I think because the demographic is 30-50, it makes more sense to embrace your own experience because it’s probably similar to other people’s experiences.”
The same idea rang true for Chris Cesnek and Brandon Monroe, who in July launched Paperback Brewing Co. on Magnolia Avenue, one building away from Glendale Tap.
“When you come in here,” Cesnek said, “this is me and Brandon’s place. It’s all extensions of us. It’s our personalities embedded into the walls of this building, and the beer.”
Hiramoto, who joined the city five years ago to helm its economic development engine, added that community development types embrace that creative energy among entrepreneurs in their communities.
“It’s a bonus, as part of this effort. They are helping propel the Glendale name just by the sheer nature of having their beer,” she said. “Especially for craft beer, there is a true creative spirit and energy behind the folks who are creating the beer. If you look at the labeling and marketing that goes along with it, you can see that it’s just a very creative industry. I think there’s something to the fact that in our era, so much of our output is on a computer, and there’s something to creating something tangible and that you can taste.”
Mastery of the chemistry and art behind beer, Monroe argued, evokes a similar pride to how we culturally approach cooking. Walking into a brewery or craft bar, he said, is a little like walking into your local bakery.
“It’s fresh, it’s new and we’re always innovating,” Monroe said. “You get a true feeling of what they’re doing there, and I think it’s the same with brewing.”
“I think there’s a mystique about beer,” Cesnek added. “A lot of people really don’t know how it’s made. With so many craft breweries out there, I think a lot of people like being able to get it at its source.”
For Adam Buarenos, who opened Gold Rail Bar last summer after taking over the former sports dive there, launching a craft hangout in his hometown was “a dream come true.” A home brewer himself, he said the hobby plays into a sustainability-oriented generation.
“Our demographic of ‘Let’s bake our own bread, let’s grow our plants,’ the whole mentality of being conscious about the environment is what prompted us to brew,” he said. “The love of beer made me want to understand it more, and if you already know how to cook, it’s a no-brainer.”
For its part, the city was happy to facilitate bringing that talent to town. After all, right across the city line, Golden Road Brewing had built a successful craft kingdom.
“I think Golden Road being in Los Angeles but just across the line was very beneficial for us when we approached the city,” Nishikawa said. “Glendale was anxious to have breweries of their own, because they saw Golden Road and all that tax revenue seep out of Glendale across the tracks. We were more mom and pop-y and small time, but they embraced us wholeheartedly.”
Finding a location was a hurdle at first, as Nishikawa noted that the city has a “phenomenal occupancy rate” in its industrial zones. Formerly an architect, he added that he was accustomed to dealing with the bureaucracy of a large city.
“I was just expecting the worst, but dealing with Glendale, I was like ‘Wow, this is kind of efficient, and you actually hit your times and it’s not expensive like Los Angeles,’” Nishikawa said. “I was a bit apprehensive, because all the way up until around 10 years ago, they were more of a sleepier, conservative city and I thought they’d never buy into this.”
Cesnek and Monroe said their real estate agent ultimately tracked down their World War II-era hangar, which was initially erected in Long Beach, by attending an economic development presentation hosted by the city.
“Glendale found us, in a way,” Cesnek said. “When we came in here, it was a no-brainer. It was just perfect for our brand and aesthetic.”
For Buarenos, who worked for three years at Golden Road, it was as simple as bringing “a ‘Cheers’ bar” to his city, a bar that highlights Glendale’s many neighborhood names on part of the ceiling overhang.
“That’s what any neighborhood bar strives for, a home away from home where the bartender knows your name,” he said. “This being my hometown, this is an extension of my house.”
Hiramoto said it has been exciting to watch the city join Southern California’s noteworthy craft scene, as well as help bolster an emerging San Fernando Road commercial zone.
“As we looked at some of the trends around us, we realized there were some things the city could do to encourage more of that in town,” she said. “Something has worked, and it has been exciting to see more and more of the breweries or bars serving up craft beer popping up in the city.”
Given that beer has no shortage of fans, it’s easy for the entrepreneurs to be a part of their new community, too.
“For us, it’s always wonderful when you have passionate people who can not only come up with an idea, but follow through with it and bring something to the city of Glendale,” Hiramoto said. “As residents and employees, we’re all able to enjoy the benefit of that passion and that’s something that’s not just positive locally, but regionally.”
At Paperback, Cesnek — a graphic designer by trade — illustrates beers’ labels with iconography of classic Hollywood or pulp magazines, a clear nod to the studios and creative engines of nearby Burbank. Nishikawa said Brewyard has consistently donated about $10,000 in beer each year to events and organizations throughout the city.
Recently, Brewyard collaborated with a Burbank artist to produce an imperial brown lager, Beautiful Skin, as part of a campaign to promote local businesswomen of color. Some of the sales proceeds will benefit YWCA Glendale.
“We tried our hardest to make sure we were a part of this community and not ‘we just want to start a brewery and make money,’” he said. “For the longevity of our business, it’s important to be a part of the community you live in.”
Added Cesnek, “I think Glendale does a really good job of trying to pull in small businesses and make a really special city.”
For the non-converts, Buarenos said he’s happy to introduce a craft draft to customers who walk in expecting the usual offerings and are “dumbfounded” by craft or cocktails as the only option.
“That’s happened to me a few times,” he said, “and I’ve explained it to them, done an on-the-spot tasting for them and most of the time, it’s a win.”
Craft Beer & Brewing’s Bogner said California has been “rich with phenomenally good breweries” and that more and more of them are finding ways to make a mark here.
“Southern California in general has been an incredible leader in the world of craft beer as long as craft beer has been a thing,” he added. “For a long time, it was more centered in San Diego than L.A. but in the last four or five years you’ve seen a lot of L.A. breweries really coming into their own.”
In terms of expression, beer has proved to be a way of highlighting differences of styles among the myriad cultures that compose the megalopolis.
“When I got into it, it was all about West Coast [India pale ales] or amber ale, and if I didn’t keep adapting and trying new stuff myself, we probably wouldn’t be around because our taps would be boring for today’s consumers,” said Smith at Glendale Tap. “Three years ago, we were mostly IPA, IPA, IPA. Nowadays we still do it, but we’re selling more sour beers, wild ales. I get a lot of 20-somethings who come in and want hazy IPAs, adjunct stouts and fruited sours and Berliners. You’ve got to really focus on those styles, but you have to have the classics.
“In 2009, nobody wanted a craft lager, but now people know that craft breweries are making some great renditions of German lagers or pilsners,” he added. “It’s a very diverse crowd. Back in 2009, 2011, it was just a bunch of bearded white guys, and now we’re seeing a lot of diversity that’s representative of our city, and that’s great.”
Nishikawa, at Brewyard, echoed the belief that the industry had evolved beyond the IPA-obsessed crowd.
“Now, instead of just appealing to the super bitter hop-head guy, we have sours, wheat beers, Hefeweizens. There’s light lagers and dark lagers. There’s coffee beers. Basically, the brewery industry figured out how to grab everyone in some way,” he said. “I think that’s really what made beer so fun. In the U.S., we can just play jazz. Whatever we want to try, we want to try. Our main concern is, does it taste good and can we sell it?”