A new generation of boutique beer makers has emerged across the Valley region as pandemic-era business restrictions ease. Among them, microbrewers from North Hollywood’s Lawless Brewing Co. and Westlake Village’s upcoming Naughty Pine Brewing Co.
aim to bring back the neighborhood taproom with handcrafted brews and intimate tasting experiences.
“When you open a taproom, you serve your beer directly to the community; it doesn’t get any more local and any more fresh than that,” Ben Wallace, owner of Lawless Brewing, said of his new brewery on Craner Avenue in North Hollywood. While his doors have been open as a soft launch since April, the brewery just celebrated its grand opening July 1.
Wallace, who has been home brewing for nearly 10 years since his wife bought him a do-it-yourself kit as a gift, knew from shortly after his first batch that he wanted to build a career out of it. He said he wanted to be able to share his creations with friends and family and quickly began creating a business plan for a small brewery and drinking space in his neighborhood.
“I knew it wasn’t just going to be a passion, it was something that I really wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. I have a really good day job, nothing against it,” Wallace, who is also working as a coordinating producer for “Entertainment Tonight,” said. “It’s just something that, as soon as I started brewing, I was like, ‘No, this is what I need to be doing.’”Lawless Brewing, currently on track to brew 1,000 barrels in its first year, is only one of a new crop of small breweries opening in the area. Naughty Pine Brewing in Westlake Village is aiming to open doors by the end of August. After several years of delays, Mad Era Brewing Co. in Simi Valley is finishing construction and will open later this year. Each location is hoping to serve niche neighborhood markets, seizing upon the national trend to support small businesses, with small batch brews and taprooms.“I think the small hometown brew pubs are starting to come back a little more. I think the people that are like Enegren (Brewing Co.) that are mass producing are the ones that are going to take over now,” Brittany Brouhard, owner and brewer of Naughty Pine, said. “People are appreciating it more now. I see people visiting small breweries more than they were before because, when we closed down, all you could get was what was local — so I think it kind of shifted people back into focusing on local businesses, which is really nice.”Brouhard, a home-brew hobbyist turned lead brewer at Enegren in Moorpark, saw the pandemic as the right moment to start building her own taproom, having developed several concepts in Maui alongside her husband over the last 10 years. “When COVID hit and we had that two weeks where everybody was just home, it kind of gave me a second to step back and think, ‘My child’s almost four. Where am I now? Where am I going?’” Brouhard said. “’And what could life be like if I was running my own place?’”Buy local trendAccording to restaurant and beer consultants, the trend of community breweries has grown steadily nationwide for years, while support for local businesses has surged this last year. More than half of consumers said they are more likely to buy from a local business instead of a national retailer during the COVID-19 crisis, according to a survey by ZypMedia. When asked why supporting local businesses is so important, there were two main reasons – supporting their local community (84 percent) and the local economy (54 percent).Though the pandemic caused delays for openings, leading to a backlog of construction projects approaching completion, the timing of the new openings lines up nicely with increased consumer demand.
“It’s happening all over the country. People, because COVID is hopefully on the downslide, are really anxious to get out and have a good time,” Howard Appell, founder and publisher of Today’s Restaurant News, said.
While microbreweries are popular because local brewers are making beer tailored for the area, he said, it’s also the atmosphere that keeps them coming back. “(Local bars) become a place like ‘Cheers’ – everybody knows your name. When you come in, you know everybody and you know what to expect and you see the same people over again. So it becomes like a club.” Both Brouhard and Wallace are leaning into the neighborhood market with big plans for regular community events to promote their selections of beers. Wallace has daily food trucks serving meals in his parking lot and Brouhard has intentions for live music nights on her patio once things are up and running. And, while Lawless Brewing and Naughty Pine Brewing beers may eventually become available in limited quantities nearby, neither brewer plans to rapidly expand any time soon.“I want most of my beer to go out of my tasting room,” Brouhard said.