Hot rods and hand-crafted ales: The La Verne Brewing Company
Offering beer lovers a fresh tap
by Karleigh Neff
photography by Hunter Cole
It starts with 16 pounds of pumpkin, cut into large chunks and prepped for a slow roasting. A simple seasoning of salt and pepper will be just fine for this part. Next, eight different malt barley wheat varieties must be properly added to the gallons of boiling water at 190 celsius. The grains are what create alcohol content. The brewer’s yeast is incorporated next to induce fermentation, and finally the famous hops from New Zealand are added.
Still, the process is not even close to being complete; it will not be ready for drinking for another four weeks as it ferments in a tank. All of this effort produces one single batch of pumpkin beer, brewed from the small but productive La Verne Brewery Company with its seven barrel system.
La Verne brewing history
Owner Tony Feole and his business partner and father Richard Feole have lived in La Verne for more than eight years with their families. The concept of a brewery started when Tony received an at-home brewing kit from his wife Jordan Feole 10 years ago. He had no idea that his north La Verne backyard hobby under the old oak tree would turn into a passion and later into a thriving brewery.
Now, since April 2013, in a small and quaint warehouse bordering the NHRA track, locals and friends sip on craft-brewed beer in the presence of restored classic cars. Tony and Richard started the process of opening the brewery in May 2012. Nevertheless, Tony says, “It took more than a year to finalize everything. But we couldn’t be happier with what we have now.
It was tough to open a brewery in the city. First, the duo had to receive approval, which took six months. Tony and Richard convinced the city that a brewery would be of benefit, and did that by showcasing other local breweries. They had to locate the brewery far from schools or parks. With city approval, the father son duo still faced obstacles, including qualification for three different licenses: an ABC (applicable background check), an LLC license (low liability company license) and a TTB license (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau). Then, the L.A. County health inspectors had their own rules.
As a result, the men had to completely redesign the warehouse to fit regulations, including the installation of floor drains in pure concrete. “We literally tore up the concrete by ourselves; we did everything by ourselves,” Tony says. Just when they thought the brewery was finally ready for operation, the men faced yet another obstacle. Unlike most local breweries, Tony ordered his steel brewing equipment from China because it cost 50 percent less. However, there were communication flaws with their Chinese equipment retailer that set them back another six months.
Finally, on April 17, 2013, with the obstacles behind them, the La Verne Brewery opened its doors to the public, offering four freshly brewed beers from a seven-barrel system. “Crafting the beers is the easiest part after dealing with all of the obstacles,” says Tony. They started out by selling four beers first perfected in Tony’s backyard for family and friends.
Beer, food and car events
The brewery is only open Thursday through Sunday but offers a variety of events and activities on those days. The stage is set with the two old-fashioned vehicles, one placed
in front of the warehouse. The cherry red 1950 Ford truck is the center focal point and is placed in the center of several small tables with chairs. Richard and Tony both consider themselves “hot rodders” and collect cars, including race cars. “We are right next to the race track, so it was the perfect fit for us,” Tony says. “It adds something unique to our brewery that other local breweries don’t have. We plan on using that to our advantage by throwing racing events here.”
Inside the brewery, the mood is light as customers sip on their custom-brewed beers and talk to one another like old family friends. They say they enjoy the warm and welcoming atmosphere and smell of wheat fresh beer. Tony and Richard are constantly walking and talking to everyone. Most of the faces are regular friends and fans of the Feoles’ beer, which keeps them coming back for more. “We have a family vibe here because Tony and Richard are such family men,” Matt Coz, a brewery employee from La Verne says. “They just come hang out, have a couple beers and enjoy the company, and they usually keep coming back every weekend for more great tasting beer.” The brewery always has a different vendor or company catering to customers on the weekends, as well. “Juicy Dogs” regularly can be found frying up bacon-wrapped hotdogs on a cart right outside, filling the air with the scent of grilled peppers and onions. Pine Catering Company also serves hand-made food items on select weekends.
Brewing 31 gallons of beer in a seven-barrel system takes up to eight hours of hard labor and science. Michael Kress, a University of La Verne alumnus, and Dan Thomen, close family friend to the Feoles, are in charge of brewing the organic batch on Saturday mornings. A former La Verne chemistry major, Kress has several years of science and brewing under his belt. “It is a very precise process,” Kress says as he stands on a ladder and stirs the boiling oats in the huge steel tank. “It’s a lot of science and exact measurements with exact time slots.” The process for a typical Wheat Beer starts with cooking 260 pounds of grain, collected from local farms. As the grain cooks in the boiling water, the familiar smell of warm oatmeal on an early morning fills the air. The Brewery uses all local and fresh ingredients, and all of the left over grains are recycled for local farms or other breweries. “The freshness is what makes brewery beer better,” Thomen says. “The ingredients make the beer, and the ingredients have to be fresh.” Next, after a couple hours of boiling and stirring, the two men drop in three small bags filled with hops that are imported from New Zealand. These bags act like giant tea bags, steeping the hops into the liquid.
In the relaxed moments when they wait on the process, the men sip on beer and discuss new ideas and flavors. One of the newest creations by Thomen includes an espresso dark stout beer inspired by the famous Irish Guinness beer. The men used espresso from Coffee Berry—a local La Verne coffee shop—to show support toward other local businesses. Tony is the mastermind behind the main classic beers served at the brewery, including their most popular beer, the “B Street Pineapple Blonde”—a pale wheat beer with added pineapple for a slight sweetness and tartness. Other La Verne titles go down easily: “Palomares Pale Ale,” “LVBC Brown Porter,” “Lordsburg Double IPA” and “Heritage Pumpkin.”
With their unique flavors, small town appreciation and warm and welcoming atmosphere, the La Verne Brewing Company has only just begun to leave its frothy mark on the city of La Verne.