Peek inside the Westside’s first true brick-and-mortar craft brewery

By Rebecca Kuzins

Photo by Ted Soqui

Photo by Ted Soqui

The north side of Santa Monica Bay is known for world-class beaches, restaurants and other entertainment options … but not for making great beer.

For area craft brew devotees all the action is in the South Bay, with popular local breweries in Torrance, Redondo and Hermosa, and the celebrated El Segundo Brewing Company operating just under the LAX line.

Santa Monica Brew Works — the Westside’s only true brick-and-mortar brewery — wants to bring the craft brew movement home for those who, in the words of its slogan, are called to “Drink really local.”

“We wanted to build a local business that honored the city that we love and make a great beer in the place that we love — Santa Monica,” says Santa Monica Brew Works President and CEO Scott Francis, one of the company’s three principals.

While other entrepreneurs in Santa Monica and Venice have also gotten into the hops-and-malts racket, they’re all contract breweries. That isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with those beers. The recipes tend to be concocted locally, it’s just that the batch you’re drinking wasn’t actually manufactured here.

Santa Monica Brew Works stands apart in that all its products are produced at its own brewery on Colorado Avenue near 20th Street. That gives it the privilege to call itself “the first truly local craft brewery in Santa Monica,” whose “‘beach brewed’ philosophy fully embodies the essence of the world-renowned Santa Monica lifestyle … past, present and future.”

Santa Monica Brew Works makes three craft beers using recipes created by Drew Pomatti, a Santa Monica native and homebrewer who is now one of two brewers employed by the company.

There’s XPA (an extra-pale ale), PCH (a golden porter made with milk chocolate, honey and vanilla beans) and WIT a “Belgian style white beer, really pale, with a good portion of wheat,” Pomatti says.

“We’ve really been well received. People love fresh beer,” says Carl Sharpley, director of sales and distribution. “They like that we’re a small company and like to support local companies.”

Although the Santa Monica Brew Works has been producing beer since June 2014, Francis says the company has intentionally kept things quiet — the partners wanting to break the 100-customer barrier before starting a more aggressive marketing and sales campaign.

As of February, they’ve finally reached that goal.

Initially, the company focused on marketing to bars, restaurants and hotels in Santa Monica, Venice and Malibu.

“I would literally go with an ice bucket in my trunk and a shoulder bag and introduce myself, asking them to try the beer,” says Santa Monica Brew Works co-owner Richard Super, executive vice president of sales and marketing.

In Santa Monica, Super has landed accounts with Border Grill, Finn McCool’s, The Lobster, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Mondo Taco, Bar Chloe, Pizza Antica and Brick + Mortar restaurants as well as the Loews Santa Monica Beach, Shutters on the Beach and Casa del Mar hotels.

Santa Monica Brew Works beers are also served at the Farmer’s Market at The Grove, three Plan Check Kitchen restaurants, three The Counter franchises and the Rock & Brews at LAX, in addition to Venice Beach boardwalk haunts such as the Candle Café & Grill.

The idea of creating a Santa Monica brewery originated with Sharpley. While tending bar at Ye Olde King’s Head in Santa Monica, he recalls drinkers routinely asking him “Where’s the local brewery?” Tired of explaining that there was no local brewery and simultaneously realizing there was a demand for one, Sharpley set out to create a Santa Monica-based brew works.

Through a mutual friend Sharpley met Super, a Santa Monica resident for 24 years who arranges tours for comedians. Super says he jumped at the chance to enter the brewing business.

“I just loved the idea of making a piece of history,” he says.

Super’s lifelong friend Francis, a lawyer and a former executive of BMG Songs and Warner/Chappell Music, joined them in the mission and the three partners began building their brewery in 2012. Francis says it took two years and $2 million to obtain federal, state and local licenses and permits, raise funds from outside investors and find an appropriate location in Santa Monica.

“It was hard to find a place with the right zoning. There are very few places zoned for light manufacturing, small design,” Francis says.

The company eventually leased 9,300 square feet in a portion of a former Los Angeles Times distribution facility. They gutted the space before outfitting it with a drain, elaborate plumbing system, grain mill, beer barrels, a super-sized refrigerator and other necessary equipment.

The brewery is not open for public tours or tastings, but it is available for private parties and has even hosted an event for the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau.  Border Grill food-pairing events have also featured Santa Monica Brew Works beers.

Santa Monica Brew Works currently produces 10,000 kegs a year — in beer speak, about 5,000 barrels.

Francis expects production to increase to 30,000 kegs by the end of the year.

The company aims to install a bottling line in May so that it can sell to grocery stores as well as bars and restaurants that do not serve tap beer.

“Our goal is to grow, but we don’t want to grow too fast,” says Francis. “We take care in producing our beer — that’s our primary concentration. Our secondary concentration is to make sure our accounts are happy.”