El Segundo: Los Angeles is Ready

Eno Sarris, March 05, 2014

Five years ago, Los Angeles didn't boast much of a craft scene. There was Craftsman, and then... there was Craftsman. And the city can be a "fickle place" as El Segundo partner Thomas Kelley put it -- there are many things to pull at your attention there, and beer had perhaps too many calories for certain elements of the population.

Just a few miles south of Los Angeles, though, a beer revolution was in full swing. And El Segundo brewer Rob Croxall noticed. Kelley admitted that Alpine Brewing in San Diego was their brewer's favorite brewery. He's not alone. And perhaps that love is part of why one of El Segundo's flagship beers, Hop Tanker, is a Nelson bomb, just like Alpines' most famous: Nelson. Maybe that's why they call themselves "hop-heads" and say things like "we make IPAs, it's pretty much what we do."

They know that the pale ales are tough styles when it comes to ratings. They know that other brands have had a head start. They know these things. They are making beers they'd like to drink that happen to be in popular styles and hoping the ratings follow.

And to some extent, the ratings don't matter a ton in the beers they make. Kelley knew that their Blue House Citra Pale has had a hard time against the extreme competition within the style (105 Style+), but he said it was their best seller and one of their flagship beers. Their White Dog IPA had an even harder time (98 Style+) and yet was another one that "does really well." Hop Tanker is, in the estimation of this writer at least, more than an average DIPA.

The disconnect between ratings and sales? "Rarity and esteem go into it," Kelley said. The self-distributed El Segundo might be rare, but the "the fairly new, fairly small" brewery hasn't quite earned the esteem yet. The bigger beers take longer in the tanks, even if they get rated well -- the smaller beers make more money. And really, IPAs are popular, and it behooves a young brewery to make popular beers. That's how the three-year old company has gone from 500 barrels to 2100 in three years.

Part of that success is staying out in front on hops and making aromatic bold IPAs. They've got Nelson in Hop Tanker, and New Zealand's Riwaka hops also contribute fruitiness to some of their beers. They often use 2-Row malts to add to the aroma and also because it makes for the "leanest, driest, cleanest" body. They do some "really excessive dry hopping" once they've made sure their aroma and flavor can handle all the hops. They work hard with local bottle shops to make sure their sales are high-velocity and their beer is fresh. They're being careful about expanding to Northern California because freshness is important to them. They try to pull all bottles off the shelves in 60 days, and their bottling company has a date on the bottle now.

These are the things you do when you're a small brewery in a nascent craft beer city, trying to make it happen on the back of a slew of great IPAs and DIPAs. This is how, by some measures, you become the best brewery in Los Angeles proper in your third year.

Brewery # Beers Avg ABV SOLID SOLID% Avg BAR BAR
El Segundo Brewing Company 11 6.9 71.59 55% 2.15 23.63
Golden Road Brewing 27 6.2 71.48 37% 0.86 23.25
Eagle Rock Brewery 13 6.1 71.5 38% 1.11 14.4
Angel City Brewery 9 5.5 71.47 22% 0.2  

Now the Los Angeles Beer Guild has 17 breweries, and companies like Golden Road (10k+ barrels a year) and Hangar 24 (35k+) are making a name for the city. But there's El Segundo, too, young but one of the older breweries in the city, still making excellent hoppy pale ales with innovative hops, also hoping to help Los Angeles enter the pantheon of great American craft beer cities.

Eno Sarris writes about baseball at FanGraphs www.fangraphs.com most of the time if he's not here. He doesn't always play daily fantasy, but when he does, he plays it at DraftStreet.com.