The idea of beer as a social lubricant is an ancient one and it’s one that the guys from Brewjeria Company keep close to heart. Agustin Ruelas, Milton Ramirez, Adrian Ruelas, Adrian Gonzales, Raul Gomez, and Isaac Ruelas have been brewing their own beer together in Hacienda Heights for nearly five years, with the ambition not only to make great beer but also to support their local community. The homebrewers are pulling from their collective experience working with non-profit organizations in order to create a socially-conscious and socially responsible brewing company that supports local Latino and inner-city non-profit organizations.
Their cultural backgrounds also play a role in their brewing. Recently, the brewers infused a beer with hibiscus (jamaica) and another with chocolate from Nicaragua. They have another beer in the pipeline to be made with coffee from Nicaragua.
I spoke with the guys from Brewjeria Company about how they got their start, the importance of being a socially aware group, and what truly separates home- and microbrewers from the big companies (besides money and marketshare!).
What was the catalyst that led you to start homebrewing?
Agustin Ruelas: To be honest, it’s kind of hazy. Someone just threw the idea out there and it just so happened we had a friend who already was brewing. He walked us through our first brew at his house. We just took the fermenter and literally put it in my backseat. We brewed it in Boyle Heights and we drove it back here [to Hacienda Heights] and put it in my house like “oh, we made beer!” To top it off, it was a Belgian, one of the harder beers to make but the funny thing is it actually turned out well. After that, we bought a simple kit and just kept going from there.
When did you guys decide to take homebrewing as a serious endeavor, creating a name, logo, etc.?
Milton Ramirez: From the beginning. We’ve always been serious about creating a business together. Maybe we haven’t reached the heights we’d have like to have reached by now, but the desire to create something has been there since the beginning.
Adrian Gonzales: All of us work at non-profits. We want to take this company and… not necessarily make it just about money. We want to make it so if we come up, you come up with us too. We all have to move together. It’s a social responsibility. I really want to push for that level of social enterprise. Yeah, we need money to make beer, but we also want to help organizations that are doing really good work.
If we come up, you come up with us too. We all have to move together.
Agustin Ruelas: Last year, for the East LA Community Corporation, they did a fundraiser for their executive director and they asked us to donate some of our beer. All the money from the sale of that beer went back into ELACC. They asked us recently to donate some six-packs for their annual Taste Of Boyle Heights for a silent auction.
Do you guys see yourself competing against or challenging ay of the craft breweries in LA and So Cal like Eagle Rock Brewing or Angel City?
Milton Ramirez: I think Angel City makes like five million a year. We’re not even close to that, but I don’t think it’s even about challenging anyone because in homebrew and microbrew, it doesn’t make sense to compete like that. We’re all playing on an even field. We’re all playing against a 95% market share of mass-produced beer. I think it’s more about pushing each other to make better beer every single time. I’d say we’d be participating with them in the craft brew industry.
Every society in the world that has a blue-collar class drinks beer. That’s who we identify with.
Adrian Gonzales: And keeping in mind our social responsibility toward helping other organizations, Latinos, and inner-city non-profit organizations – why not support this local brewery that believes in what you’re doing, rather than buying beer from that 95% and huge companies? Beer is a working-class drink. Every society in the world that has a blue-collar class drinks beer. That’s who we identify with.
Milton Ramirez: Beer is still an exceptional beverage. People will often times give wine more credit, but I think that’s totally wrong. The other night I paired a Nicaraguan cigar with Anchor Steam’s seasonal saison. It was surreal! It’s on the level of wine as far as a drink goes. It is something that the working-class in society in general drink, but it’s still an exceptional, delicious beverage that can be managed the way wine is. I think that’s where the microbrewers and homebrewers come in, because all we have is quality. That’s the only thing we have to hang our hat on, so that is why it’s so important for us to be here. We’re creating a product where there’s an experience to be had.
Adrian Gonzales: We want to provide folks with something that’s quality but also affordable.
Is your work influenced at all by your Latino heritage?
Milton Ramirez: I think so. We have a hibiscus brew which is jamaica. We did a Nicaraguan porter with chocolate I brought back from Nicaragua. We have another project we’re working on which is a Nicaraguan cacao and coffee porter, which will be out in the fall. All the things we grew up eating as kids we want to add to the beer.
Adrian Ruelas: That’s exactly what it is! The hibiscus literally came from my mom. My mom was drinking jamaica and I said “holy shit, that’s a great idea for a beer!”
Milton Ramirez: It’s inevitable. Brewing is as much of an art as painting. Who you are is expressed in the art.
Agustin Ruelas: We also have a beer we call Californio, which is the original Mexican population before it was overtaken by the US. That one is a little overtly political. Most people don’t know it and we have to explain it but that’s what’s cool about it.