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Tapping into the craft beer trend

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The gig: Drinking beer. More precisely, Jeremy Raub runs Eagle Rock Brewery, an artisanal beer maker he co-founded with his wife, Ting Su, in 2009 that helped spark L.A.'s craft suds scene. The company runs a popular taproom at its brewery in Glassell Park where it also offers tours. Raub is opening a second brewery in Eagle Rock that will feature a 50-seat restaurant.

It's in the genes: Raub, 39, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., where his father regularly made beer in the family kitchen. Back then, there weren't any home brewing supply stores. Dad used what he could, like a lobster pot to boil the malt and hops. Father and son eventually bonded over the process, crafting amber ales and dark porters they would share with family and friends. "I got bit by the brewing bug," Raub said.

Career change: Raub studied postproduction at a Florida college, drinking a lot of watery, mass-produced beer in the process. The degree landed him a well-paying job in L.A. working on film and television projects.

He got back into home brewing when his parents retired and traded coasts to live closer to their son. Proper equipment and ingredients were much easier to find this time because of an established home brewing community. It was during one messy brew session with his dad about 10 years ago that Raub realized making beer could be his full-time calling.

"We had this moment brewing in the garage at home, and everything was going wrong with hoses spraying everywhere," Raub said. "In the middle of all that chaos my dad and I looked at each other smiling and we thought, 'We can do this every day.'"

White Rabbit: Raub still needed to be convinced anyone would buy his beer. That changed when Su, his most trusted taste tester, relished a Belgian wheat ale Raub and his dad had been refining. They called it White Rabbit at the time because of its pale complexion and the way its alcoholic buzz would sneak up on a taster. "That was sort of confirmation to move forward as a business," Raub said.

It wasn't long after that Su, who has a background in the restaurant industry, registered the brewery's name as a gift for Raub's 30th birthday. The White Rabbit evolved into the Manifesto Wit Bier, one of the brewery's most popular pours.

Red tape hangover: After spending a year to write a business plan and raising $600,000 from investors, friends and family, Raub and Su struggled to get the project off the ground because of permitting problems. There was nothing quite like Eagle Rock Brewery in L.A., which had a disappointingly small craft beer scene for a city of its size at the time.

Health inspectors, with nothing to compare it to, decided to regulate the brewery the way it would a wholesale food processing facility. That required expensive building upgrades that prevented Eagle Rock Brewery from opening for 18 months.

"That was definitely the low," said Raub, who had quit his postproduction job. "I thought we were going to close before we opened." The health department eventually relaxed its demands when it decided the brewery was sufficiently regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Heady success: Lines formed outside the door for the brewery's 2009 opening. The beer got so popular that Raub eventually had to hire someone to take over the brewing so he and Su could run other aspects of the business. Production is expected to hit 3,000 barrels this year, up from 1,800 in 2012 (a barrel contains 31 gallons of beer). Production will double once the Eagle Rock brewery is open.

The company also won a coveted best in show award at last year's San Diego International Beer Competition for a wood barrel-aged sour blond ale called Equinox, beating hundreds of entries from around the globe.

Tapping community: Raub has taken a populist bent to his marketing, using the tag line "Beer for the People." The idea was always to encourage a broader community of people who appreciated craft beer much like San Diego or Portland, Ore.

"There's definitely a sense of pride to be part of this community as it's grown," Raub said. "I think a bellwether was how friends would go to San Diego for the weekend to drink beer. That trend has started to reverse with people from San Diego coming to visit. L.A. stands up on its own."

david.pierson@latimes.com

Twitter: @dhpierson

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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