Photo and Text by Guest Writer Andrew Harris
Andrew is the Food & Travel Correspondent for “Living the e-Life” heard on KFWB NewsTalk 980 (a CBS owned property) in Los Angeles, and a Food, Wine & Travel Journalist based in Marina del Rey, CA.
Given the current economic uncertainty you have to admire Rob Croxall, an infectiously passionate 35-year old, who is now living his dream as the hard-working brewmaster and proprietor of The El Segundo Brewing Company, the home of Blue House Ales in the quiet, beachside community of El Segundo, CA.
Previously Rob labored for 13 years as a respected director of finance for a large aerospace firm reporting to senior management. The compensation, benefits, and job security were great but he felt unfulfilled and restless.
What really excited Rob (since he happened on a home brewing kit after college) was creating distinctive recipes for flavorful craft beers. He got so good at the art of home brewing that Rob and his supportive wife, Amy, gave his artisan brews with the Blue House Ales label (the color of their El Segundo residence) as special Christmas presents to their very appreciative friends! His creations came to the attention of the management at the venerable Library Alehouse (serious beer geeks and pioneers in Southern California in popularizing the appeal of craft beers) in Santa Monica and they encouraged him to convert his hobby into a real production microbrewery.
Further motivation came last year when Rob was offered the opportunity, on a voluntary basis, to depart the aerospace firm with a generous golden handshake. The next step was to craft a very complete business plan. He raised the money for the brewery on Main Street in El Segundo (affectionately known by locals as Mayberry by the Sea, population 17,000, located just South of Los Angeles International Airport) through a small and well-connected group of local limited partners and was off to the Masters Brewers Program at UC Davis to pursue his beer brewing degree.
The first kegs of El Segundo Brewing Co’s Blue House Ales were tapped in May at Rock & Brews Beer Garden, a rock-themed entertainment and dining destination located literally across Main St. from the brewery. Revelers don’t get beer any fresher than that. Rock & Brews is serious craft beer country as a rotating selection of 38 specialty beers on tap are available at any given moment to be enjoyed with their satisfying pub grub. The 2nd account, of course, was The Library Alehouse.
El Segundo Brewing with its 15-barrel brewhouse is a family affair as Rob’s dad, Dick, a retired senior engineering executive formerly with TRW, is the resident engineer and lead investor. He was initially tasked with getting all the brewing tanks into the compact production space through roll-up doors with much tighter clearances than expected. All the investors have responsibilities with the growing enterprise. The key sales director is a certified cicerone, a distinguished beer sommelier.
The newly-completed tasting room at El Segundo Brewing, with a view of all the brewing equipment through a floor-to-ceiling glass wall, opened on October 21st. During tasting room hours guests can enjoy generous samples of three, or more, distinctive, full-bodied styles of Blue House Ales. Rob’s brewing mantra is creating higher alcohol ales with distinctive, richer flavors you can really taste in the West Coast style. Visitors can also take home any of the ales in half-gallon, refillable growlers that keep in the refrigerator, at the peak of freshness, for at least 2 to 3 days.
I was fortunate to be part of a group of 100 guests who partook of a afternoon tasting at the brewery earlier in the month as part of “The El Segundo Herald’s” (the well-read community weekly) 100th Anniversary Festivities. Rob and his dad did the pouring of Blue House Pale, Blue House IPA, and Blue House Wheat IPA.
The Blue House India Pale Ale (6.8 % ABV) is Rob’s favorite (highly hopped) and the initial recipe dates back to his days as a home brewer. His secret is Simcoe hops which add a characteristic pine and passion fruit flavor to the beer. Simcoe hops are in such demand that the dried blossoms are on allocation and a microbrewer needs to contract for his anticipated needs a year in advance.
The style that caught my attention was the unusual Blue House Wheat IPA. I tasted the wheat in the finish instead of the ripe banana notes I typically associate with a hefeweizen. It’s brewed with 50/50 American White Wheat and American 2-Row Barley with a 6.9 % ABV. It matches well with the BLT pizza served at Rock & Brews.
What’s next for Rob? With 50 active accounts, including the white hot Strand House in Manhattan Beach, he’s well on his way to maxing out his 1,500 barrel annual capacity and is quickly running out of physical space for storage. Rob’s desire is to provide local craft beer aficionados with easier access to his brews. There is already interest from important gourmet specialty food retailers in carrying the Blue House Ales on their shelves in bottles or cans. Serving that need is already in the planning stages.
With any luck Rob’s career change will yield future dividends for his family and backers. His timing couldn’t have been better! The market for craft beer is growing at the rate of 14 % annually while the overall beer category is declining at the rate of 2 % according to the latest information from the National Beer Wholesalers Association. In San Diego the appreciation and consumption of craft beer exploded in the last decade and now Los Angeles County is finally catching up with the launch of serious new microbreweries with local color.
El Segundo Brewing Company, the home of Blue House Ales, is
located at 140 Main St. in El Segundo. Phone is (310) 529-3882. Check tasting
room hours before visiting. Check out the brewery’s Facebook page to see what you can expect.