Written by Steven Armstrong for blogs.laweekly.com
As often happens in life, collegiate eccentricities lead to post-baccalaureate vocations. For one Harvard dropout, late-night computer programming led to multi-billion dollar “facebooking.” And for three Loyola Marymount graduates, a low-tech stovetop experiment grew into a high-tech commercial brewing operation. But while Chris Enegren, Matt Enegren, and Joe Nascenzi — the three guys behind Enegren Brewing Company — may not be printing money like Mark Zuckerberg, they are producing some high quality beer. And enjoying their product doesn’t require a breach of your personal privacy, either. All it takes is a few bucks, a fifty-minute drive up to Moorpark, or a jaunt down to Library Alehouse on September 14.
It all began about eight years ago when Chris Enegren, then a sophomore studying mechanical engineering at Loyola Marymount, bought a Mr. Beer homebrewing kit and brewed his first batch of beer on a dorm room stovetop. The next year, Chris moved into a house on Fordham Street, and immediately graduated to a ten-gallon all-grain brewing system he’d built from the remains of a college keg party.
With the help of his brother Matt, who entered Loyola Marymount that year as a freshman, Chris brewed a fresh batch of beer every weekend. So when he moved into a condo that couldn’t accommodate his custom built contraption, Chris determined to keep the weekend tradition alive. He asked his friends on the lacrosse team if they had any space to spare, and it was Nascenzi, Chris’s teammate, who offered to let the brothers brew in his garage. Nascenzi would soon become a full-fledged member of the Enegren brewing crew. And after Chris and Nascenzi both graduated from LMU in 2006, the trio relocated its weekend brewing operation to the Enegren family’s garage in Moorpark.
“That’s when things got over-the-top serious,” Matt said.
After landing a job at a biotech firm, Chris began salvaging broken parts from work each week, refurbishing them, and using them to expand the trio’s brewing operation. Before long, Chris’s manually operated, compact brewing apparatus had evolved into a fully automated, ever-expanding brewing system that threatened to take over the Enegrens’ garage.
So last October, the trio pooled its funds and signed a lease in a nearby Moorpark industrial park. By late June, they had finished build-out and completed the permitting process. And on June 25, 2011, they brewed their first batch. Enegren Brewing Company celebrated its grand opening soon thereafter, opening its doors to the public on July 30.
Unlike most fledgling breweries, which tend to rely on aged, low-tech equipment and heavy doses of manual labor, the brewery at Enegren Brewing Company is completely automated–designed by Chris, built by Premier Stainless in San Diego, and later assembled by Chris, who still retains his day job as a biomedical engineer.
“He knows how to hook it up,” Matt said, referring to the brewery’s high-tech three-barrel system, “So we just let him have fun with it.”
But Chris isn’t the only one to keep his day job. Matt still works sixty hours a week as a tax consultant, and Nascenzi does online marketing in El Segundo.
“That’s in addition to the forty hours a week we put in here at the brewery and tasting room,” Matt said. “It’s non-stop.”
“You’ve been slacking off,” Nascenzi joked from behind the tasting room’s wood bar. “I’m having you meet with HR on Tuesday.”
On a recent visit to Enegren Brewing Company, Chris was out of town, but Matt and Nascenzi were both there manning the tasting room, chatting with customers, and giving tours. In addition to the brewery’s two flagship beers–a California Altbier named Valkyrie and an Imperial IPA called Protector–Nascenzi poured a special American Blonde Ale dubbed Captain’s Summer Session (the tap handle featured a picture of Chris swathed in swashbuckling regalia, channeling his inner Captain Morgan).
When it comes to beer, the Enegrens are Germanophiles. Most of their malt comes from Weyermann Specialty Malts in Bamberg. They also drew inspiration for the brewery’s crest from ancient Germanic heraldry, before adding their own playfully modern twist (the twin griffins, beers in hand, are engaged in a friendly high five). But the California Altbier–a version of a traditional German-style beer that they’ve brewed here with California yeast and a blend of German and Oregonian hops–has a more robust malt profile and a higher ABV than its German counterpart. With notes of chocolate derived from chocolate wheat malt and hints of cherry drawn from melanoidin malt (they also use German Pilsner, German Munich dark, and CaraMunich III malts), Valkyrie may be the most complex and seductive Altbier this writer has tasted.
The Imperial IPA is equally masterful, if less genre bending. Protector weighs in at 7.5% ABV and 120 IBUs, and like most California-style Imperial IPAs, it’s bittered with a generous helping of American hops. But more in keeping with the East Coast style, Protector features an aggressive malt profile.
Beside Valkyrie, Captain’s Summer Session was the favorite beer of the day. At only 4.9% ABV and 28 IBUs, this refreshing ale is perfect for a hot summer day–at once accessible and nuanced, with a biscuity malt flavor balanced between two varieties of American hops (Cascade and Nugget), this beer is designed for some serious outdoor day drinking.
While the Enegren Brewing Company guys may only have two months of professional brewing experience under their red belts (they each wear a matching uniform complete with EBC crest, red belt, and black rubber boots), this crew clearly knows what it’s doing. But for those unwilling or unable to travel as far as Moorpark to meet the guys and taste their brews, you can expect to see more of them, their beers, and their signature jumpsuits in bars and restaurants throughout the L.A. area, beginning with a Meet the Brewers event scheduled to take place at Santa Monica’s Library Alehouse on Wednesday, September 14. Also keep an eye out for Enegren Brewing Company’s upcoming seasonal release: a harvest ale Nascenzi plans to brew with his own homegrown hops.