By Michael Koger, RLn’s Brew Columnist
Walk to the back of San Pedro Brewing Company, and you’ll find a trophy case called the Hall of Foam filled with first and second place medals, ribbons, and beer mugs from competitions they’ve won at in the last few years. You won’t find any medals or plaques from 2011 because there isn’t any room for them there. But Jason Welke’s pride in those victories are as evident in the pride he takes in the beers he brews.
“I make every single beer to be the best beer possible,” Welke, the brewmaster at San Pedro Brewing Company tells me.
Welke, Brewing Company owner James Brown, and restaurants manager, Greg Arn, are the reasons for the Brewing Company’s success.
The San Pedro Brewing Company team, BrewCo for short, signed up for these competitions to see how they stack up against large breweries like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada, two breweries whom they have beaten in past competitions, along with dozens of others.
“We go to these competitions for three reasons,” Brown states. “Comparison, marketing and to receive notes.”
Every beer competition is judged by a blind panel tasting, which submits tasting notes to the breweries who are competing. “If there are any off flavors present in the beers, the panel will tell us in the notes,” Brown says.
The BrewingCo team is preparing for three important competitions: the Los Angeles County Fair, the San Diego County Fair, and the California State Fair. The first two competitions feature breweries from all over the world, but the California State Fair features breweries only from California. They also are preparing to attend the Great American Beer Festival in Boston, which is one of the largest gatherings of brewers and beer fans in the world.
Another reason they like to compete: They want to put the Los Angeles beer scene on the map.
“What we like to do is take the glory of Southern California beer and bring it to Los Angeles,” Welke says.
Southern California is rich in beer communities like San Diego, Orange County and the Pasadena area. The Los Angeles beer scene is just starting to grow. Welke acknowledges there are “little pockets” of breweries coming together. Torrance has three operating breweries with a number of others in the works. The El Segundo and downtown Los Angeles areas also have new or soon-to-open breweries and brewpubs. However, San Pedro Brewing Company is only one of a handful of breweries in the area to compete.
Welke points out that all of their beers not only look good but taste fantastic. He credits patience and focus for BrewingCo’s brewing success.
“Our beer is about time,” Welke said. “I give it time to clarify and taste better.”
“I brew beer I want to drink,” Welke says. He says he “focus[es] on the fundamentals of beer” by using “traditional ingredients.” He does not use the same ingredients for a pale ale that he would use for a pilsner. That makes the difference.
Their focus on basic styles of beer also sets them apart from other breweries in California.
“Everyone is doing hoppy beers,” Welke says.
This is true. California breweries and drinkers seem to love hoppy, bitter beers. Welke prefers to focus on Pilsners, Lagers and other European styles.
This focus on traditional style beers has led Welke and Brown to launch a bottled beer venture called Port Town Brewing Company. For the first time ever, the Brewing team will distribute beers distilled in San Pedro Brewing Company’s own brewery vats.
Welke and Brown admit being pushed to take this step after patrons continually asked where else can they could buy BrewingCo’s beers. Starting in June, BrewingCo fans and will be able to get Port Town Brewing Company beers at a handful of beer bars across the South Bay.
“Our flagship beer is going to be a German style Pilsner,” Welke said. Welke also says he would like to try brewing other styles such as Stouts and Porters. Welke gives me a bottle of the Pilsner to try, and it is delicious. It’s crisp, refreshing and should be able to appeal to both craft beer fans and the average drinker.
Between the juried beer competitions and the rollout of Port Town Brewing Company, June is going to be a busy month for the BrewingCo team. But judging from their wall of fame, they’re ready for the competition.