It’s been said that the craft beer industry is 99% asshole free, a sentiment I’m inclined to agree with. But even after meeting fiercely passionate brewers, bartenders, and the like, someone like Bernie Wire comes along whose kindness and generosity almost defy reason. And even if you don’t know him by name, you’ve likely seen him around at many of the local beer events, snapping pictures and chronicling the rise of LA’s burgeoning craft beer scene.
Since 2011, he’s photographed over 250 shindigs, collecting thousands upon thousands of images featuring everyday people enjoying each other’s company over drinks. And now, he’s selected some of his favorites for an exhibit called “I Shoot Beer People” that’s going up at Mohawk Bend in Echo Park starting on September 17, running through LA Beer Week, and continuing on until October 31.
Bernie has become a mainstay, his happy face capturing other happy faces and uploading the resulting snapshots to his Friends of Local Beer Facebook page at no charge. “I’ve always liked taking pictures,” explains Bernie. “And when you go to these beer events, it’s amazing what you find. You come across folks who truly celebrate craft beer… and they love the people who brew it, sell it, serve it, write about it, or just simply enjoy drinking it. It’s a community unlike any other I’ve ever experienced.”
The 56-year-old Oklahoma native’s photo fascination began when he was a child: “I took pictures of a rock climbing trip I took during summer break one year, and I loved the fact that when I got home, I’d be able to get that memory… that stimulus… all over again through pictures.” Sharing these memories with others further fueled his excitement, even early on. “I turned my pictures into a slide show and played it at show and tell when I got back to school, and the class was really into it,” he recounts.
A single photography class in high school was the only formal study he ever gave the subject, though even when he attended the University of Oklahoma to study microbiology and chemical engineering, he felt most passionate when he nurtured his creative side in art classes, and he ultimately pursued his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a focus on metalsmithing. “I played with ceramics, but found early on that I really enjoyed the immediacy of metals. While clay had to go off to a kiln to cure and dry, I could weld metals into sculptures and they never had to leave my hands.” It was then that one of his professors, Lane Coulter, asked if Bernie knew anything about titanium. “He told me it could be colored, and this little light went on in my head… I had to see this. I had to do this.”
Titanium was a little hard to come by—Bernie needed to sift through aerospace scrap yards to find what he needed—and not much literature existed at the time that explained how it could be colored, but he persisted and tracked down a paper that gave him the basics. “There are no actual pigments on the metal,” he explains. “You create color through oxidation.” Bernie dips the titanium—a whiter shade of silver in its untreated form—into an electrified chemical bath that creates a layer of titanium dioxide, the thickness of which can be altered by the amount of voltage pumped through the anodizing liquid. It’s the thickness of the oxide film that determines the colors, but Bernie is quick to explain, it’s no pigment. “Think of it like a soap bubble; those colors you see are a result of light waves interacting and interfering with one another as they travel through the film and reflect off the surface.”
He soon discovered a rarely used micro spot-welding machine at the university, and found that it was perfect for joining titanium pieces. He began creating jewelry and working on larger sculptures that would eventually earn him an award at the 1987 International Platinum Design Competition in Tokyo. The photography became even more important through all of this as Bernie would always want to take pictures of his stunning work.
But as many artists will attest, it’s tough to make a living through art. And though Bernie continued creating (and shooting) his pieces, the same microwelding equipment he used for his artwork would lead him to his “real” work that paid the bills. He’d moved to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree at Arizona State University, but bowed out after just one semester. “Three weeks into a two-month research position I proposed on titanium welding, I was doing stuff they said wasn’t possible,” he says proudly. He ended up staying on with the company for five years before moving to Monrovia in 1983 and starting his own consulting business.
By day, he developed processes for welding components—some thinner than a human hair—under a microscope, improving design and functionality for many items such as pacemakers, airbag initiators, ultrasound transducers, microcoaxial cable, and stadium lights. But by night, he continued with his art. “I had no social network at all,” Bernie admits. “It was just work, work, work. But I made discoveries in art that became solutions for productions and vice versa.”
His interest in beer came a little later, with his first visit to the late Greg Noonan’s famed Vermont Pub & Brewery in 1989. “The beer laws in Oklahoma were archaic and there wasn’t a lot of good beer there,” Bernie laments. “Thankfully, that’s changed some since then, but porters and IPAs weren’t even on my radar until heading up to that brewpub in Burlington.”
Bernie loved to take trips with childhood friends whenever possible, and he always brought his trusty camera along with him. After their epiphany in Vermont, many more beer outings were planned, including one to the Great American Beer Festival, which really opened his eyes to the wide world of craft beer. As technology advanced, he created a private website where he could share pictures of his travel, an early precursor to what he does now with pictures of the SoCal craft beer community on Facebook.
As much as he loves taking pictures at these events, he admits he doesn’t know if he can carry on like he has been. “I can’t afford to do it full-time, since I’m usually not getting paid,” he chuckles. He is quick to thank those who have offered to pay him for his photos—places like El Segundo Brewing Co., Monkish Brewing Co., 38 Degrees Alehouse & Grill, Tin Roof Bistro, and Phantom Carriage—but has no plans to stop with his consulting. “Whether I’m welding or making art or taking pictures, I’m just glad I’ve been able to earn my living while having fun,” he beams.
Bernie lives near Culver City with his wife, Anne Marie Gillen, who, in addition to being a most delightful person, does some notable work herself. She’s a consultant, a published author, and served as the executive producer of Fried Green Tomatoes. To see more of Bernie’s photos, head to his “Friends of Local Beer” Facebook page, and to see more of his metal artwork, check out TitaniumArt.com.
“I Shoot Beer People” | a craft beer photo exhibit at Mohawk Bend
Sponsored by West Coaster SoCal
Runs from September 17 through October 31st
Mohawk Bend, 2141 W Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles
Opening Reception with photographer Bernie Wire
Tuesday, September 17, 5:30pm-7:30pm
WC: What’s your role with Los Angeles Beer Week (LABW)?
Griffith: The title that makes sense to me would be “Idea Machine / Taker Carer of Ways to Make LABW Even More Awesome and Known About”. At this point, if I had to cram what I do into a “real” title that makes sense, I guess it would be Director of Marketing. I got involved in LABW three years ago originally just to cover what was happening on my blog (which is sadly now defunct, thanks to a bummer of a story). They didn’t have social media established, so I got that going and offered help wherever I could. The committee was so grateful, they welcomed me back the following year. I was more than happy to join them, and I’ve stayed involved through all the madness and super late nights, because L.A. beer and the people involved in it are hugely important to me. We’re at an amazing bridge right now where beer drinkers are coming to us to get involved, instead of us hunting down help and explaining to everyone what this craft beer stuff is all about.
Last year I helped develop a lot of small promotions to get people hyped about attending more events during the 14 days of fabulousness. This year my focus is revamping the website. It’s already changed up with a splash page while web designers Binary M and I bust out the new one, which is super simple and clean, with a calendar that hopefully makes a lot more sense for everyone. It will be a huge relief to see some of the major changes we’ve all wanted finally happen.
What can we expect from LABW this year?
This is the year when LABW grows up. The masses tend to forget that LABW is a week of events, and not just one beer festival of bros at Union Station. This year we are seriously scaling back the size of that festival and upping the educational enrichment factor. My ultimate beer wet dream is to see LABW go white-tablecloth and kick off with a high-end fest similar to food and wine events, or San Diego Beer Week’s awesome closing gala. This is something I was emphatic about last year, and the tribal council is ready for this vision to come to fruition.
It takes time to get these changes going though, especially since we are all volunteers putting this together. Not only that, we all work full-time jobs in the industry, and many of us are in drastically different, much more demanding positions than three years ago.
Overall, we’re refining LABW, while keeping the edge that it’s always had with educational events brought to you by our beer godfathers. And while we want to keep things classy and help everyone learn as much as possible, we still count on this all being way too much fun. There will be a lot of Angelenos calling in “sick” to work between September 19 and September 29.
We hear you’re organizing some of the events?
I am! My first event is new this year, but it’s something I think we’ve all practiced in the beer industry. It’s called Brewers’ Karaoke, and it’s happening at The Melody in Chinatown on Friday, September 20. I’ve always been deathly afraid of karaoke, but after a couple beers at Can Diego – an event I helped put together for the Craft Brewers Conference while I was working at Golden Road in 2012 – I didn’t seem to have a problem getting down, and neither did all the beer peeps who were there that night. Thanks to a couple more real late nights, I’ve had a chance to catch more industry regulars do their thing. So, the idea was born and my friend Teddy happened to be working on turning around a karaoke bar into a craft beer-only spot. Start practicing your song of choice, industry folks!
Next up is the Musical Beer Crawl, back for year three on September 24. It was originally inspired by Origami Vinyl’s Record Club at El Prado on Tuesday nights. I used to go with my brother and his friends and it was just this perfect blend of all the things I loved under one little roof. Once I got to know the neighborhood better and became more involved in beer, I started this choose-your-own-adventure kind of block party involving all the rad spots that have live music and craft beer in Echo Park along W. Sunset Blvd. It’s an incredible neighborhood that I’ve spent way too many late nights exploring, whether it’s for a Restavrant show at The Outpost, Deer Tick at The Echoplex, or just enjoying the company of the boys at Sunset Beer Co. The craft beer culture and support in that area has really kicked into high gear over the past year, so I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings. Last year I had about 18 places and companies involved, so it was a lot to juggle, especially when one place surprise-bailed on me an hour before the event! Other than that, all the places I’ve worked with have been very supportive of helping craft beer grow, but this year I’m refocusing my efforts to around five locations. I can tell you that we’ll finish at The Short Stop again, because ending the night by dancing to soul music is mandatory.
My third event, on September 26, is much more mellow. It’s called Blending at The Tap, at hands down one of my favorite bars in L.A., The Glendale Tap. This event is a showcase of the secret beer blends that brewers themselves are fans of knocking back. I’ve learned that a number of craft beer drinkers, myself included, don’t really know much about blending. While it’s not uncommon for a brewmaster to blend different batches, barrels, or beers together to get their desired finished product, it’s sometimes a nightmare for beer purists to find out that brewers actually love blending their own finished beers straight off the taps. When I was working at Golden Road, our former Brewmaster Jon Carpenter would sometimes mix beers together, to the dismay of others. The Burning Bush Smoked IPA and a Get Up Offa That Brown mixed together was our former Lead Maintenance Tech Jason Raimondi’s favorite blend (there’s a photo somewhere of us pounding one on a particularly tough day). As a longtime fan of Eagle Rock Brewery, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had a Stimularity: Stimulis, their Belgian-style amber ale brewed with Intelligentsia coffee poured with Solidarity, their Black Mild. I think it’s about time the public gets in on some of these fantastic blends that have only been known by word-of-mouth, kinda like In-N-Out’s secret menu. Thankfully, Steve at The Glendale Tap shares my enthusiasm for getting weird with things, like when I demanded Miller High Life on nitro, so I can’t wait to chill at this event as my LABW starts to come to a close.
What are your favorite L.A. breweries?
This is an impossible question. Eagle Rock Brewery will always be a place I can call home, especially if I keep breakdancing in their parking lot. Smog City, El Segundo, Monkish, Kinetic, Craftsman, Strand, Beachwood, Ladyface, Hangar 24 all have beers I dig and people I love.
Southern California breweries?
This is even more impossible than the above. I guess I should be glad you’re not asking about all of California! I can’t pick a favorite child but The Bruery really is one of my all-time favorites, as is The Lost Abbey/Port Brewing, all the Pizza Port brewpubs, Ballast Point, Societe… I know I’m forgetting some and I will be so ashamed!
How about breweries from anywhere that are up-and-coming?
Rhinegeist. Bryant Goulding, who I first met at a Dionicess dinner with Dogfish Head, up and left to open his own place in the historic Over the Rhine district in Cincinnati, Ohio. We’ve kept in touch, and just yesterday on one of our phone calls where we scream and laugh, he told me they’re having their big opening June 29! I wish I could be more like him in many ways, because he is a remarkable example of following your heart, no matter what it takes. The work he’s put into this dream blows my mind — everything from their location to branding to the beer itself is top notch. I can’t wait to get out to his place to drink his IPA in their ridiculously beautiful building while we laugh about life in bow ties.
Maui Brewing Co. is another one of my longtime favorite breweries for lots of reasons, including their environmentally-friendly practices. I finally had the chance to visit in December, and Garrett Marrero showed us around and shared with us what’s coming up for them in terms of expansion. I’ll definitely be going back next year.
Closer to home, I couldn’t be more excited for Grantland coming up in Vista. I love the heck out of Grant Tondro, and thanks to my BFF Randy Clemens who made me eat until I hated myself at Urge a couple years ago, I was lucky enough to meet Grant, who was literally squatting at our table. Urge is a magical place, while their sister spot Brothers Provisions makes me angry since it’s so far away! Grant is building beer culture the right way, and I look forward to his bowling alley/beer “fantastyland,” especially with people like Mike Rodriguez and Jeff Bagby guiding his team.
Though it’s not up-and-coming by any means, I also have to say that I am delighted to see Mark Jilg of Craftsman embracing this beer wave as of late. I had the pleasure of having a conversation with him during a 2011 LABW meeting about his concerns with the industry, and it’s great to see the man talk more openly now, since he’d previously more or less held his silence and kept his brewing the priority over PR and image.
What is your role at The Bruery?
According to my fancy new business card I’m the Social Media and Marketing Manager. That means I keep up on every single thing happening in our brewery, whether it’s the brewing schedule, distribution, beer releases for our societies, weird barrels showing up, what Patrick’s thinking about, events, pilot batches, tasting room casks, new merchandise, what color shorts Ben is wearing… you name it. The Bruery has so much cool stuff going on and it’s my job to stay on top of it daily and tell those stories online. I dream up and post all our social media updates and blog posts, plus take the fancy photos and come up with occasional graphics. I also work on marketing efforts offline, like event planning, coming up with promotional ideas and marketing materials, and keeping in touch with bloggers and press whenever possible. I’m definitely still getting up to speed, since we have tons of moving parts and I started mid-April. Luckily, Patrick’s built a very talented team that’s super smart, organized, and receptive to my needs. But above all that we are also very good-looking.
What’s new with The Bruery?
Besides everything? I’m really excited about the Reserve Society beers we have up for sale right now. Mash & Grind and Mash is a duo of barley wines: one with coffee added, one without. The intention is for the customer to blend these beers to achieve the level of coffee they like. I’m into this beer because A) It’s a coffee beer, and I love coffee. B) It’s awesome to blend beer. C) We worked with Jeff Duggan of Portola Coffee Labs, another friend I made while working on Dionicess. And D) I suggested the name and they picked it! I wrote about the process of blending the coffee on ye olde Bruery Blog for those who are curious. We also have two ridiculously good sours out for RS members, which I can’t stay away from. Beauregarde is our blueberry sour (if you liked Sans Pagaie, you’ll love this) and our latest version of Sour in the Rye has kumquats added and it’s a citrus sour bomb. The fact that we even have an online store where you can order beer and have it arrive at your door if you live in CA is pretty much the coolest. I haven’t seen other breweries doing that yet!
Patrick also has an adorable pilot system where the team comes up with all kinds of kooky stuff like horchata beer! Last month, Grant Tondro came by to brew Urge’s 3rd anniversary ale with Patrick on this system, so it was nice to watch them look like brothers all day while they brewed.
Where else have you worked?
I worked with the owners of Golden Road Brewing, Mohawk Bend and Tony’s Darts Away to create and run a social media plan, and I also helped with their seasonal projects like ColLAboration and Vegan Beer Fest. I did a lot beyond social media and blogging, like putting together the B3 Fundraiser bike ride and coming up with events like the homebrew competition and blogger nights. Watching Golden Road in the formative stages was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I’m honored to have met and worked with some of the best and brightest in the industry. I loved getting to know everybody and I made some of my best friends in the process. It was tougher than I thought it would be to leave that part of L.A., but I’m counting on making more good stuff happen moving forward.
What was your take on the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest?
I have been to plenty of beer events, and this is one of the best out there. I’ve worked the fest both years, and I can say they take really good care of breweries. Jamie and his team do an unreal job getting that whole thing together. It’s a treat to see breweries that almost never come to California all in one place, pouring their most coveted brews with some of their most “famous” staff on hand. This was my first event as a representative of The Bruery, and since we make all kinds of unusual beers – like our Vitis series that incorporates wine ingredients – Tyler stopped at several vineyards on the way in and out of Paso for touring and tasting. We got to do some fun stuff, like ride ATVs with dogs and drink white wine from a concrete fermentor. It was good to see that we have friends in places outside of beer, so we can keep pushing the brewing boundaries and call on them for support or collaboration. All in all, the best part of a fest like this one is seeing old pals and making news ones. Clay from Sun King handed me some of their new beers just before I saw one of my most favorite musicians, The White Buffalo, alongside buds from Pizza Port, Port and The Lost Abbey. I’m fairly certain there’s not another industry out there that could recreate this kind of camaraderie and fun on such a regular basis. I’m pretty lucky, but I know I’ve earned it.