Is opening a craft brewery in California during a historic drought the most insane business decision ever?
"Yes. I think the answer to that is yes," Dave Hodgins says. Yet he's doing just that. This fall, the 34-year-old entrepreneur aims to open the greenest brewery in Los Angeles, maybe the country.
"We're in a drought, and as an environmentalist I wrestled with it," says Hodgins. "Where I ended up was: Yes, I should absolutely do this. More breweries are coming, drought or not."
Dry River Brewing, located a block east of the L.A. River in a mostly industrial swath near the Arts District, is his baby. Hodgins says he has already gone through plan check and will be pulling permits so that construction can start this week. If all goes as scheduled, Dry River Brewing will begin production in late September or early October, with the first bottles hitting Sunset Beer Co. by Thanksgiving.
The brewery won't have a tasting room — neighbors weren't keen on people being able to buy beer on site — but you'll be able to sign up for a mail-order club that delivers Dry River's brews. The idea is to stay small and hyper-local, at least for now.
You've heard of slow food? This is slow beer. Hops grown at a community garden within a couple miles of the brewery. Brews flavored using leftover fruit from grocery delivery service Good Eggs. Beers that have been barrel-aged for months, even years.
The recipes are funky and draw on rarely used, old-timey brewing techniques, but what Dry River is attempting on the back end is more ambitious: becoming a zero-waste brewery. The biggest problem is water.
A brewery might use six barrels of water for every barrel of suds it produces; that's a 6:1 water/beer ratio. A leader in sustainable craft brewing like Sierra Nevada has reduced its ratio to 4:1. Dry River wants to go a step further and bring that down to 1:1.
It's an ambitious goal and it won't happen the moment Dry River opens. "Our goal is to have zero waste," Hodgins says, "but it's going to take work to get to that."
That means natural carbonation, solar-powered equipment, advanced water reclamation techniques and more. If things work out, Hodgins wants to share these processes so other breweries can reduce their water footprint.
"The technology exists. We could capture all of the water that's used in cleaning, treat it and use it for different things, but that's never been done before. Sometimes codes have to change," says Hodgins. He's already working on it. As executive director of the LA Better Buildings Challenge, Hodgins spends his days helping property owners upgrade their buildings to be more water- and energy-efficient.
He's not alone. The Dry River Brewing team includes Hodgins' wife, Vanda Ciceryova (a yoga teacher with a background in hotel management), Johnny Byul Lee (to handle marketing and social media) and brewer Naga Reshi, who designed and built the solar-powered Karumuru breweries in Brazil. Reshi also helped open Wynwood Brewing in Miami and consulted for Kodiak Island Brewing in Alaska.
At Dry River Brewing, the environmental — and financial — stakes are higher. The brewery's name refers to the city's penned-up waterway, but could just as easily refer to the thirsty condition in which California finds itself.