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SoCal Cerveceros: A Revolutionary Homebrew Club That Supports Young Latino Brewers

“Have you ever had a Duvel?” Adrian Gonzalez asks, referencing the famous Belgian-brewed golden ale, as he pours a few ounces of his home-made version, Grapes of Wrath, into a small plastic cup. “Ours is kind of like that but we brew it with muscat grapes.”

Gonzalez is one sixth of Brewjeria, a spread-out collective of young Los Angeles homebrewers who all share two things: an interest in producing their own quality craft beer and their Latino heritage. 

Brewjeria, along with nine other homebrew operations, tapped kegs of their latest batches in the summer of 2017 at an exposition and charity tasting event organized by SoCal Cerveceros, one of the region’s relatively new homebrew clubs and the only one exclusively dedicated to supporting up-and-coming Latino brewers. 

This dedication makes it one of only a few, if not the only one of its kind in the country. Even though each monthly meeting only averages about a dozen people, it’s enough for SoCal Cerveceros co-founder Ray Ricky Rivera (whose Norwalk Brew House was also pouring at the event) to call it America’s largest all-Latino homebrew club. With the Brewers Association estimating that over 90 percent of professional brewers started at home, the club is playing a significant role in encouraging the next generation of Latinos to enter the field. 

Ray Ricky Rivera | Fernando Salazar

Ray Ricky Rivera | Fernando Salazar

Since 2014, SoCal Cerveceros members have come from across the L.A. basin for meetings held at a rotation of Latino-owned breweries, taprooms, restaurants and homebrew supply stores. At each gathering, they bring new experimental beers to try, give each other feedback on flavors, swap brewing tips, trade horror stories, share YouTube videos that have helped them along the way and commiserate about what it’s like to be a first- or second-generation Latino picking up a laborious hobby that has few ties to their shared cultural heritage.

“We are focused on bringing more minorities into homebrewing,” says another SoCal Cerveceros co-founder, Jaime Cardenas, who attended the tasting event wearing a promotional shirt for quirky local beer blog "Don’t Drink Beer" (it played on the imagery from the latest Kendrick Lamar album cover). Cardenas brews with both Brewjeria as well as Compton-based home brewery Hub City, which brought their dry-hopped Municipal Water IPA.  

“In our community, exposure to craft beer is low. We grew up on lagers and high-gravity malt liquors,” says Cardenas. “Even now, I gave my mom one of my IPAs and she said it tasted like a ground up Christmas tree. It's not their style yet but we're hoping to change that.”

The stereotypes about the craft beer industry being filled with bearded white men is a fair one. In most places in the country, that is the case — though L.A.’s female-supporting, diversity-embracing beer scene is a beautiful, glorious anomaly. After all, the barley necessary for brewing beer has grown in Europe for centuries and the Mayflower only decided to make landfall once the crew realized they were running low on their travel supply of beer. Couple that with the fizzy yellow German-style lagers that have defined America’s post-Prohibition beer scene, and beer’s continuous presence in the U.S. can be seen as a direct result of its white colonial and immigrant histories. 

Beer Pouring | Fernando Salazar

Beer pouring | Fernando Salazar

By contrast, the staple grain native to Latin America is corn, with its beer scene has long been defined by imported practices. Even though the first official brewery in the New World was founded in Mexico in the 1500s, it closed soon after, leaving beer production dormant in Latin America until German, Czech and Austrian immigrants brought their own processes to the region in the 19th century. 

These differing histories are directly reflected in each’s respective homebrew cultures, which in Latin America is growing but remains virtually nonexistent. Even with Prohibition halting all legal beer production in the country for 13 years (or possibly because of it), making your own beer remains a long-standing tradition in the U.S., one that’s encouraged everyone from miners to presidents to take part. 

But it’s not only historic precedent that made craft beer white. Today, with an estimated 1.2 million homebrewers in America, it’s clear that homebrewing around the world is now steeped in not only racial disparities but class ones as well. Homebrewing might be a hobby, but it’s a costly one. Getting started with a basic homebrew kit will set you back at least a hundred dollars, which for anyone scraping by is no small investment. Costs go up from there as you make more batches, purchase better equipment, source quality ingredients and splurge on gear for experimental brews. These barriers of start-up are even greater in areas that don’t yet have amenities like breweries, beer bars or homebrew supply shops.

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“Why aren't there more Latinos that homebrew? For one it's expensive,” says Compton native Alex Ruiz, an educator by day, who — along with partners Zanetta Santana and Melvin Marroquin — poured beers under the name South Central Brewing Company at the SoCal Cerveceros event. “Growing up in our family, parties were all about Corona and Modelo because that’s what we could afford.”

South Central Brew Crew | Sarah Bennett

South Central Brew Crew | Sarah Bennett

SoCal Cerveceros is one of several L.A. area homebrew clubs to emerge over the last several years, as craft beer’s latest wave draws in fans from all corners of the county. They all build atop the city’s rich homebrewing legacy. 

In 1974 — four years before California became the first state to legalize the practice — The Maltose Falcons gathered at a home winemaking shop in the western San Fernando Valley and became the country’s first homebrew club. The six founding board members (all white, three beards) were invited to the initial signing of the bill that legalized homebrewing in California and were also instrumental in working with a local senator to submit a bill to legalize homebrewing throughout the U.S.

Over 40 years later and the club is still one of the world’s most renown, though it’s no longer the only one in L.A. From South Bay’s Pacific Gravity and Strand Brewers to Long Beach Homebrewers to the Montebello-based Yeastside Brewers, big clubs sprang up to fill in the location gaps, and, increasingly, smaller clubs like SoCal Cerveceros are forming around specific social circles and their individual homebrewing needs. 

“It can be intimidating to a new brewer to come into a homebrew club that’s already established,” Ruiz says. “Here, we are all learning together. This has been helpful for me to meet other people who not only look like me but have been through the same stuff as me. Having that cultural capital can be empowering.”

The creative results of that mutual cultural capital was on full display at the intimate SoCal Cerveceros tasting event in 2017, which brought about 100 people to an outdoor event space at Echo Park’s El Centro Del Pueblo (also the benefiting charity).

In addition to South Central Brewing, Norwalk Brew House, Brewjeria and Hub City, there were tents for Preston Brewing, Inquisitor Brewing, Bruit Urself and more. By comparison, 2016's event only included three breweries and was held in the backyard of one of the club’s members.

Preston Brewing | Fernando Salazar

Preston Brewing | Fernando Salazar

Most SoCal Cerveceros members have only been making beer for only a few years, but taps flowed with the latest flavor experiments, ranging from a gauzy New England-style IPA and a tart fruited Berliner weisse to a cranberry oatmeal stout and a Belgian-style saison. 

Anomalies included a wine-infused Belgian tripel from Brewjeria, the largest and most experienced operation of the bunch (one batch nets two kegs of beer). Hub City’s Robert Hernandez brought meads (fermented honey wines) that used materials from Monrovia Homebrew Supply Store, which he also co-owns. And Daniel Moreno of Bruit Urself made a hard apple cider with the same yeast used by monks in Belgium.
 
South Central Brewing had by far some of the best quality beers of the day, including Stout Central — a mole-inspired beer made with spice and cacao — and a clean witbier that used pineapple sage from nearby Expo Farm. 

To South Central Brewing’s Marroquin, homebrewing with the SoCal Cerveceros is about more than just making beer. It’s about using the resources around you to create circles of support within your own community and showing those outside of it what’s possible when you break down all the barriers to build something new and authentic from within.  

“We want to do stuff in South Central because we are from South Central. We want to show people that craft beer can absolutely come from South Central,” he says. “Nobody thinks about South Central as a cultural hub so it's not just about beer. It's about showing that there is craft and culture in South Central that others should be interested in.”

South Central Beers | Sarah Bennett

South Central beers | Sarah Bennett

Top image: zmurciuk_k/iStock

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