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Saturday, Sep 23, 2023

Brew Mistress

For her 35th birthday, homemaker and freelance graphic designer Cyrena Nouzille received a present that would change her life. Her husband Jean-Luc Nouzille gave her a kit for making homemade beer, and her first attempt was a pale ale brewed in the kitchen sink and on the stove top of her Agoura Hills home. Fast forward 14 years and Nouzille operates LadyFace Ale Companie – Alehouse & Brasserie, the first brew pub and microbrewery in the Conejo Valley. The brew pub opened three years ago, making Nouzille one of the first local female brewers. Now she is taking on a new challenge: distribution to area restaurants and bars. “It would certainly allow us to open up a different market,” said Nouzille, 49. “There will always be a group of people that want something different. Craft beer rises to meet that.” LadyFace, named after an adjacent mountain range, has grown steadily since it opened, with Nouzille claiming just north of $2 million in gross sales last year, an 11 percent increase from 2011. She produces about 20 different beers, including a best-selling IPA with a higher alcohol content that traditional American beers and a light Belgian ale that is more similar in strength to typical mass brews. Ladyface beers can now be found at the tap of 25 bars and restaurants ranging from San Diego to Ventura. Her success comes as the greater Los Angeles craft beer scene has exploded. Other craft brewers such as Golden Road Brewing in Los Angeles, which operates two brew pubs, and Eagle Rock Brewery have earned cult-like followings. Nationally over the last five years, craft beers have stolen market share from corporate giants such as Anheuser-Busch InBev, which produces popular brands such as Budweiser and Beck’s. Last year alone, craft beers gained 5 million barrels in sales while the industry as a whole lost 6 million, according to Benj Steinman, president of New York consulting firm Beer Marketer’s Insights. “Craft has been on quite a roll,” Steinman said. After about six years of making beer at home, Nouzille began writing a business plan for what would become LadyFace. She teamed up with David Griffiths, who was the brew master at the BJ’s Restaurants Inc. production facility in Oxnard. He left the chain to become a junior partner. The idea was simple: a brew pub featuring Belgian and French fare in Agoura Hills. And on Nov. 3, 2009, with an investment of about $500,000 from Nouzille and private investors, the doors opened at one of the first craft breweries in the area. Her 20 beers, with seasonal additions, are on tap with prices ranging from $1.50 for a five-ounce taster to $15 for a pitcher. The pub at 29281 Agoura Road also sells 64-ounce growlers to take home. Hungry patrons can get anything from sweet potato fries to duck confit salad and merguez, a North African dish that features house-made lamb sausage, Israeli couscous, pine nuts, spinach and beer currants. Distribution move to other outlets came easily for LadyFace. Rather than spend hours on the phone trying to find bars willing to carry her beer, Nouzille had a waiting list of bar and restaurant owners who had sampled her beers at industry events such as the Los Angeles Beer Festival and at her pub. Still, the process began slowly, with Friday afternoon distribution drives. For several months, Nouzille would load her Chevy Suburban and Griffiths’ pickup truck with about 15 kegs and deliver. Nouzille said less than 10 percent of the beer produced at LadyFace went out for distribution last year. In December, volume was high enough that she purchased a used van to make deliveries. But she’s still driving. “It’s still a lot less expensive for us to distribute ourselves,” Nouzille said. Camila Dizon is general manager of The Oaks Tavern in Sherman Oaks, one of five San Fernando Valley spots with LadyFace beer on tap. She first learned of the beers from customers. The bar manager now gets about a keg of beer a month. “It’s highly sought after,” Dizon said. “They make a good quality beer and the demand is very high.” The distribution end of business is just getting started, but Nouzille already has her eye set on expansion. The brew pub has a brewing capacity of about 1,100 barrels a year, and is currently brewing about 750. Nouzille expects to max out production in the next year. To boost her capacity, Nouzille is interested in acquiring more space, but said it will take time as she wants to avoid going into debt. “We have to stay supplied and profitable at this location and that will fuel our future growth,” she said.

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