British Beer In Beautiful Van Nuys With MacLeod Ale Brewing

I love the hell out of my 3 year old.  He is also a complete turd many times a day, but that’s the deal with toddlers.  Recently, I have been taking him to the park for long stretches to decrease the time he is a turd to his newborn sister, and those excursions can last upwards of 3 hours.  After that much time at the park, I’m basically ready to throw him into a ditch and let hobos raise him.  So when Alastair and Jennifer of MacLeod Ale Brewing were gracious enough to spend some time with me one morning, I was astounded that they gave me 3 hours of their precious time to go through an absolute ton of information on their new brewery.  In addition to being fantastic people and beer makers, with that kind of patience, they might have a future in toddler babysitting.

MacLeod is located in Van Nuys, which is an objectively crappy part of the San Fernando Valley.  The brewery is surrounded by auto shops so if you need paint job to go with your stout, you are in luck.  Despite this seeming disadvantage, Jennifer is completely enamored with their location.  She says that a funky location in a way skews expectations, so when you find a gem in an unexpected place, you are surprised and appreciate it all the more.  After less than a year in business, they are just about breaking even and expanding to the space next door, so they will be in their funky but well-loved location for the foreseeable future.

That creepy room is planned to be the employee lounge.  They could probably harvest some funky yeast from that couch.

That creepy room is planned to be the employee lounge.  They could probably harvest some funky yeast from that couch.

Alastair and Jennifer are also graduates of Tom Hennessy’s Brewery Immersion Course, which I will be taking in April, and largely based on his recommendation, focused their beers on British style ales.  They saw strongly theming their brand as a way to differentiate from other breweries, and they have definitely followed through on that.  Their beer is cask-conditioned , served at “cellar temperature” (mid-50s as opposed to fridge temp most of us are used to) and almost every beer is named after a bagpipe tune.  Neither have a background in professional brewing and yet they built a brewery and are selling beer - So it can be done, folks!

As far as business details, there is waaay too much to put here, so here is a list of things I think may interest (most of) you:

  • Their max output on their system (7bbl brewhouse with two 7bbl + one 14bbl fermenter) is approximately 1400 bbl per year, however the current output is approaching 14bbl per week.

  • They use Letina tanks, meant for wine production, but perfectly suitable for making beer.  Typical brewery Unitank fermenters cost about 2x as much.  I had an extremely delicious Yorkshire Pale Ale called Little Spree, so I can confirm that these tanks can put out some top notch beer.

  • Their space is 2500sf, with about 650sf devoted to their tap room (capacity of 45).  The expansion will double their space and allow them to create a second cold room in addition to their current 300sf cold room.

  • “Pairing” is a magic word and brings lots of people to the tap room - This means dinners that have beers paired to courses, and a particularly successful series of cheese pairing events.

  • Nearly all of their beer is sold through their tap room (on the order of 95%) with the remained sold by the keg, through a distributor.  Bottling is coming soon.

  • Above all other promotions (event nights, food trucks, etc) having a special beer on tap is what brings the most people to the tap room.

  • There is a surplus of farms in the greater LA area that are interested in the spent grains from breweries, especially if you are willing to give it away for free.  It should be noted that it took a few months and some failed prospects for MacLeod to secure their farmer. (For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, after you brew, you have hundreds of pounds of grain that needs to be disposed of.  If you can get a farmer to come pick it up for his livestock, it’s 100x better than loading it in the landfill)

  • They hired their head brewer, Andy Black, 1.5 years before they opened.  This is VERY early in the process, but they say he was vital in helping design the brewery and they feel that hiring him was one of their best decisions.

  • There are no provisions in the California ABC (Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control) law to get a 1 day event permit if you are brewery - You must partner with a non-profit to get that to happen.

  • By law you cannot have private events during posted business hours.  However, a new law allows for breweries to sell wine, beer from other breweries and brandy (huh?) during private events.

In all, it was a great morning and Alastair even tried to give me a free shirt, in addition to the free 11am beer.  What a guy!  Finally, I saw 2 wild parrots flying above their parking lot when I arrived at 9am.  Damn right, that’s a good sign!