Collaboration and camaraderie have become major pillars of the foundation that unite craft brewers, who’ve largely chosen to eschew the inhuman pitfalls of cutthroat competition in favor of genuine bonhomie and mutual respect for each other’s talents and successes. Taking their unified vision one step further, a cadre of craftsmen have recently announced the formation of the Los Angeles Brewers Guild, an industry group which aims “to create and foster a culture of world-class beer in Los Angeles County by promoting and protecting local craft brewers.”
“It’s great for us to be able to rally together, and to have a collective voice,” explains Eagle Rock Brewery co-owner Jeremy Raub, who is serving as the guild’s inaugural president. “It’s so important and so helpful—especially in an area as huge and spread out as L.A.—to know that you have a support network you can turn to.”
While new to L.A., brewers guilds have existed elsewhere for some time now, with an impressive 46 out of 50 states claiming their own statewide guilds, and plenty of regional associations under each of those, according to the Brewers Association. Rumblings of a potential LABG began swirling a little over a year and a half ago. Raub and several other Los Angeles-based brewers attended a meeting of the Orange County-based Southern California Craft Brewers Guild, but respectfully decided to keep the L.A. entity separate.
“Our health codes and government entities are very different,” he acknowledged. “We thought it best to keep it as local as possible, focusing on where we live and work versus spreading ourselves too thin. Opening and operating a brewery in Los Angeles involves keeping an eye on a lot of moving targets, and we want to have the strongest support structure we can have, both for existing breweries and fledgling new ones.”
Besides enabling brewers to have open discussions and share knowledge, the guild hopes to someday host events and festivals to build a stronger community. Reflecting on the local craft beer scene, Raub beams, “We’re in this perfect time in our infancy, and the culture is growing so quickly in L.A. People ask why we’d help our competitors, and it’s great that we’re able to say they’re not our competitors at all. Our market share is so small that there’s enough room for us to grow and flourish together. Like they say: ‘A rising tide lifts all boats.’”
Many restaurants, bars, vendors, suppliers, and even consumers have expressed interest in becoming members or otherwise supporting the guild, but so far, only breweries and brewpubs with facilities in Los Angeles can join. “It’s been great to get so much validation of what we’re doing, but we’re not ready to handle associate members just yet… perhaps in the future,” Raub suggests.
Raub also hopes that in the next quarter, the guild will be able to draw up lots of materials to help its members, with important items such as best practice guidelines, quality control policies, and general tips on staying in compliance and avoiding unnecessary fines. “Things I wish we had access to when starting Eagle Rock Brewery,” he lets on with the slightest of grins.
Moreover, Raub hopes the guild can also act as a catalyst for change. And while the LABG just became official at the end of January, they’ve already found themselves pushing for some solutions to better serve their thirsty customers.
As anyone who owns a handful of growlers from different breweries can attest, the laws regarding refilling them can be tad prohibitive. The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) hath decreed that breweries may only refill growlers from their respective establishments, which must be clearly labeled as such. While I enjoy collecting beer ephemera as much as the next geek, it’s rather easy to quickly amass more growlers than you have room for. Wouldn’t it be easier to have one vessel that you could fill virtually anywhere? (Yes. Yes it would.) At a California Craft Brewers Association workshop in February, a representative from the ABC stunned beer industry attendees when he very plainly announced that it wouldn’t be a problem for a brewery to fill any container so long as it contained approved labeling, even if that was some kind of sticker placed over the existing graphics on another brewery’s growler. A well-meaning industry member in attendance immediately took to Facebook asserting that there’d been some kind of policy change and now people could go to their local brewery with any growler and expect to get it filled.
“It caused a lot of confusion,” Raub laments. “Customers were coming in and getting upset that we wouldn’t fill another brewery’s growler. And we tried to explain that it still wasn’t that easy, but they’d get upset and reference that Facebook post. The guild members got together to discuss what all of this meant—and didn’t mean—for us. Ultimately, we decided that it was too early and presumptuous of us to make any changes without fully understanding what we can legally do. We issued a statement explaining that LABG members wouldn’t fill other breweries’ growlers until we were able to meet with ABC representatives to ensure that we’re in full compliance with their regulations.”
“It really felt good to have us all come together at that meeting,” Raub continues. “Many of the brewers brought up potential issues that others hadn’t thought of, and lots of creative solutions were presented. Being able to unite like this is really going to help brewers and benefit consumers for years to come.”