In less than three years, Canadian-born entrepreneur Tony Yanow has opened two successful bars and a brewery in Los Angeles, a town that's traditionally been a wasteland of beer culture. Like Red Hook in Seattle, Sweetwater in Atlanta, or New Belgium in Fort Collins, Yanow wants his beer to become LA's go-to local brand.
It all started in April 2010, when Yanow bought a little-known dive bar in Burbank named Tony’s Darts Away (no relation to Yanow). He revamped its kitchen and added 30 California micro-brews on tap. Suddenly, people were darting into Tony's Darts Away.
"We wanted it to be a community pub," says Yanow. "I was expecting crowds, but I had no idea the impact that Tony's would have on the community."
The bar created a huge buzz in Burbank, but it also drew in beer geeks from around the city thirsty for specialty ales and seasonal stouts. When Tony's first opened, it was still one of just a handful of LA bars with a decent selection of craft beers.
"I used to go to San Diego or San Francisco to drink," says Yanow. "If I'm going to take a cab to Santa Monica to go to Father's Office - that's a day trip - and I might as well go to San Francisco and go to Toronado. My wife and I would do that. And I wondered how it's possible that San Diego has seventy plus breweries, and the Bay Area too, but LA - which has twice the population of both of those put together times two - has no breweries. We had tiny breweries like Craftsman in Pasadena, but it's very small. And it just seemed like nobody had done it."
So Yanow stepped in. Within a year of opening Darts Away, he opened Mohawk Bend, a restaurant and bar in Echo Park focusing on California food and booze. And just a few month later, in September 2011, he and partner Meg Gill launched Golden Road Brewing so they could make their own beer. They brew a Hefeweizen, a brown ale, an Irish stout and more, but their signature beer is an IPA (Indian Pale Ale) called Point the Way. It's a low-gravity IPA, meaning it has relatively low alcohol, which Yanow says was a choice tailored toward the LA market.
"There's a trend right now in beer to brew the strongest or hoppy-est or fruitiest - everyone's going to extremes. I love those beers, but they aren't the beers you pick up a 6-pack of to go to your buddy's house and watch the game. And the truth is, at the end of the day, most people drink beer in that context - in a casual atmosphere, after work or something like that. We want to make beers that suit that vibe, that ethic, and the palettes of people in LA."
Yanow's interest in brewing an everyday 6-pack is a new concept in the craft beer industry, and maybe a little contrary to the idea behind craft beer, which until now has been to focus on quality and diversity of beer. Yanow says Golden Road has done those things, and that the brewery is now focusing most of its attention on distribution. It's rolling out its canned beer line in major grocery stores and boosting capacity from 8,000 to about 60,000 barrels a year.
"Meg and I kept asking ourselves," says Yanow, "how is it possible that we're in the #2 market in the country and there isn't a brewery brewing more than 2000 barrels within 100 miles (not including Budweiser and Miller). So a lot of people are asking us, 'Why are you guys starting so big?' Well we are starting pretty big for a craft brewery, but the reason is that we want to be LA's brand. LA doesn't have a brand. Any city in this country, you name a city, I'll name you the brand that's the local beer. We don't have it here yet. Hopefully we're making strides to be that brand."
Golden Road Brewing probably won’t displace Tecate and Bud Light in terms of pure sales in LA, but it has signed up more than three-hundred bars to pour Golden Road draught beers in LA County, and will sell canned beer exclusively in Southern California grocery stores.
To hear why Tony Yanow prefers canning beer over bottling, see our latest EatLA segment.
Do you think Golden Road can be LA's go-to beer? Have you tried any of their labels? Tell us what you think!