Written by Todd Martens for latimesblogs.latimes.com
In just 18 months, Eagle Rock Brewery has leapt to the forefront of the still-burgeoning Los Angeles craft-beer scene. The home-grown company’s handcrafted beers are now distributed by San Diego’s acclaimed Stone Brewing, and Eagle Rock’s Red Velvet Ale last year brought home a gold medal from Denver’s Great American Brewfest, a trophy that instantly put the tiny operation on the national beer map.
Yet Eagle Rock Brewery might still have a few locals to win over. Despite its quick growth, the brewery could be on the verge of suffering a serious hit to its operations.
Owners on Tuesday will go before City Hall in an effort to prove that the brewery has been in full compliance with its conditional-use permit, the license that allows the company to serve beer in the brewery’s tasting room.
Though the company’s president and brewer Jeremy Raub said he is confident the city will rule in the brewery’s favor, he stressed this hearing should not be taken lightly. “It certainly is paperwork and procedural in nature, but I don’t feel like we can just assume we’ll coast through it,” Raub said. He runs the brewery with his father, Steve.
“Every time we have to go through one of these processes with the city, it costs us a significant amount of time and money — time cost, paperwork and application-filing charges,” Raub continued. “I think we have to treat every one of these situations as a very real threat to our business.”
Tuesday’s hearing isn’t an unexpected one. When the Glassell Park brewery was first granted its conditional use permit one year ago, a neighborhood land owner appealed and protested the decision. While Eagle Rock Brewery won, the appeal resulted in additional conditions being placed upon the permit, essentially a return trek one year later to City Hall to ensure all conditions have been met.
But the hearing underscores the monumental challengers brewers face, said Tony Yanow, who runs Tony’s Darts Away in Burbank, is opening Mohawk Bend in Echo Park, and has plans to open a brewery in Atwater Village later this year.
“As someone who has been through this three times, I can tell you it is beyond burdensome,” Yanow said of the difficulty in getting a beer establishment off the ground. “The people of Los Angeles should realize that if they chase out people like Eagle Rock or guys like me, what they’re doing is sending jobs outside of our city and county. It’s almost impossible to make a living in brewing without having a tasting room.”
Raub said he is unaware of any additional neighborhood complaints filed against the brewery that is tucked away in the corner of industrial alleyway. It regularly offers beer education classes and often has food trucks park outside.
“I’ve spoken to lots of neighborhood folks, and they said that a couple years ago people avoided walking down this street,” Raub said. “Now I see people walking up and down this street all the time. I think our business has helped in that regard, and also our relationship with the food trucks has given people a reason to come visit this neighborhood — even if they’re not visiting our brewery.”
Multiple calls to the city’s zoning administration offices all went unreturned.
Eagle Rock Brewery has also won support of the local beer community, which has been encouraging supporters to attend the open-to-the-public hearing. ColLAboration, a consortium of four local craft beer bar owners, stages pop-up craft beer gardens and has been actively promoting the hearing via its Twitter and Facebook accounts.
“My whole business life is about selling craft beer and promoting craft brewers,” said Yanow, who helps oversee ColLAboration with the Surly Goat’s Ryan Sweeny, the Blue Palms’ Biran Lenzo and Clay Harding of 38 Degrees Ale House and Grill.
“There is no brewery out there making beer that I would like to carry or promote more than those of Steve and Jeremy Raub,” Yanow said. “They’re good guys. They’ve created manufacturing jobs in Los Angeles. They’re creating quality product, and they’re creating a local fresh product. It’s quite obviously in high demand because they’re growing pretty quickly.”
Though Raub is not expecting many –- if any –- protesters on Tuesday, he isn’t taking any risks. “We will just have to be as prepared as we possibly can for this hearing,” he said. “I’m hoping that if someone does have a complaint, they will come to us first and allow us to address it before surprising us at the public hearing. It seems like people are more likely to complain about you if they don’t know you, and don’t understand your goals.”
Yanow and others hope craft beer supporters may be taking some longer-than-normal lunch breaks next week for the 2 p.m. hearing.
“To have a really great home-grown brewery like Eagle Rock, who produce really good beer, is something that shouldn’t be overlooked,” he said. “I feel like if it were wine, and they were making wine of that caliber, there wouldn’t be much of a question. It just seems like beer gets vilified.”