The Hermosillo long stood as a seedy dive bar along York Blvd., but after about 35 years, a shift in ownership brought about some much needed changes. In May of 2012, it was transformed into a quaint craft beer bar with 12 rotating taps, and now—nearly a year and a half later—there’s even more exciting news: they’ve repurposed part of the space to become Highland Park Brewery.
At the brewing helm is 33-year-old Bob Kunz, a passionate craft beer drinker originally from the Pacific Northwest, but you just might recognize from his six-year tenure at Father’s Office. But even before his time at Father’s Office—where he’d moved up the ranks to become general manager of both the Santa Monica and Culver City locations—Kunz got his start in the LA beer scene when he moved down from Utah to take a brewing job at Pasadena’s celebrated Craftsman Brewing Company in 2006.
Stepping into The Hermosillo, I’m greeted by a comfortably open layout with a large bar equipped with an old school overhead projector announcing what beers are on tap, far better than the old pre-algebra equations I’d formerly seen on such contraptions. And after plunking down a glass of Naughty Sauce, I got to try one of Kunz’s wonderful homebrews, a delightful peach sour that instantly got me even more excited about the prospect of having another local brewery here in LA. In between sips, I learned more about his plans and what the future holds for Highland Park Brewery.
A seven-barrel brewhouse was put in place just days before my visit, along with several 15-barrel fermenters, and Kunz is hopeful that beer will be bubbling away as soon as next month. He offers a few ideas for beers that are in his head—a tart Berliner Weisse brewed with Masumoto peaches and nectarines, a sessionable coffee beer, and his “Bob Logger Ale”, a pilsner brewed with ale yeast—but cautions that he doesn’t expect any of his recipes to be available year-round. “For me, craft beer has been all about adventure and discovery,” Kunz waxes. “I’m sure certain beers will gain traction and I’ll make some of them more than once, but brewing the same four beers all the time would bum me out.”
Looking around as we talked, my excitement for the future became mixed with curiosity about the past, since the building quite visibly has some history behind it. Turns out it was constructed in 1929 and has served as a bar since the 1960s. Formerly known as The Hi-Hat before becoming The Hermosillo Club in 1977, it changed hands last year and was completely revamped by co-owners Ross Stephenson, Michael Blackman, and Dustin Lancaster (Bar Covell, L&E Oyster Bar). In addition to dropping “Club” from the name, the new owners gave the Latin-themed décor a much-needed facelift, while still keeping a neighborhood bar feel. The wine list was built to showcase the best grape juice from Mexico and South America, the small-but-mighty craft beer program was put together, and once they reopened, Kunz found himself to be one of their more frequent customers.
“I started bringing in some homebrews to share with the bartenders and the owners,” Kunz recounts. “Sometime around December of last year, one of them asked me if I’d be interested in opening a little microbrewery. That’s when we started talking.”
Kunz is quick to note that he’s had a lot of help along the way, not just from the Hermosillo owners, but also Craftsman’s Mark Jilg (“a huge mentor to me”), Noble Ale Works’ Evan Price, San Diego beer phenom Lee Chase, and the folks at Eagle Rock Brewery, whom he calls “pillars of the community… the most open, helpful, and gracious diplomats for LA beer.”
The Hermosillo will host at least four Highland Park Brewery beers at any given time, and plans to expand their existing 12-tap setup so that it will accommodate 18 once Kunz’s creations come online. In addition to being available for on-site consumption, his beers will be available for growler fills, and kegs will be distributed to some local beer bars.
“It’s great to actually be building a community and having a hand in shaping beer culture… especially here!” says Kunz. “There’s without a doubt an unparalleled excitement about craft beer in LA, and it’s amazing to have a small part in it.” How small remains to be seen. “We’re going to run out of room here pretty quickly,” he confesses while surveying his 400 sq. ft. space. “I don’t know what that means or what it will lead to, but I’m excited to find out!”