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Breakout Brewer: Three Weavers Brewing

Supported by sales of their polished and nuanced core beers but looking to a future of more mixed-culture stuff, barrel fermentations, and farmhouse styles, Three Weavers Brewing Company is building a reputation for award-winning, high-quality brews.

John M. Verive September 23, 2017

Breakout Brewer: Three Weavers Brewing Primary Image

Black Sabbath music and the smell of hot wort spill in equal measure from the brewhouse onto the patio of Inglewood, California’s Three Weavers Brewing Company, and although the tasting room won’t be open for hours, a small group plays a rowdy game of dominoes at a picnic table, half-emptied glasses within easy reach. Three Weavers’ Founder Lynne Weaver (top, right) and Brewmaster Alexandra (Alex) Nowell take a break for a round of bones with their friends—travelers who missed their morning flight out of nearby LAX and sought refuge (and inebriants) at the brewery. There’s laughter and Kölsch and an impulsive plan to fly to Portland. The vignette demonstrates that the brewery’s commitment to community isn’t just marketing copy. Three Weavers (named for Lynne Weaver’s three daughters) is a family business that’s built to grow.

The brewery, just over two years old, was founded by certified financial planner and homebrewer Lynne Weaver, who thought a craft brewery could be a captivating intersection of her interests. Early into the development of the brand and business plan, Weaver partnered with Nowell to handle the recipe development and run the brewhouse, and their working relationship seems closer to family than business. Much like sisters, they’re quick to finish the other’s sentences (or just as often to offer a correction or contradiction), and they clearly share a unified vision for the future of Three Weavers Brewing. Their lofty goals are tempered by a patience and acumen for the business side of brewing not often seen in startup breweries. That is not to say the pair lacks passion for the creative side; their complementary skill sets are the foundation for a brewery known in Los Angeles for consistently high-quality brews.

Three Weavers doesn’t focus on the trophy IPAs or the envelope-pushing wild ales that beer geeks line up to purchase. Instead, the beers are about striking a balance between traditional techniques and styles and showcasing the best ingredients in the world. From Kölsch to pale ale to English porter, these pints aren’t flashy—they’re polished and nuanced. Sleeper brews among a field of hot-rod beer.

“I’m mindful and respectful of the ingredients,” Nowell says. “We take all this care to produce the best beer possible, and our ingredient vendors have the same sentiment. We’re really paying respect to their efforts.”

Now one of the largest independently owned breweries in Los Angeles, the original 15-barrel brewhouse was upgraded to an outsized 30-barrel system (featuring a 50-barrel brew kettle and 50-barrel mash tun) in 2016. The brewhouse expansion was always in Weaver’s detailed business plan, but the brewery’s production capabilities needed the upgrade almost two years earlier than she’d expected. It’s a recurring theme with the brewery: the—sometimes painful—capital costs pay dividends when looking at the big picture.

“I talk business with many people in this community,” Weaver says. “A lot of people view our financial moves as risky, but I see them as calculated and much lower in risk because I’ve done all the work to model them.”

Weaver, who gets as excited about spreadsheets or new accounting software as Nowell does about new hops varieties, says her models and business projections get re-evaluated and revised every three or four months. She’s always looking for operational drag to streamline, and analysis drives the business forward. Besides the larger brewhouse and more fermentation tanks added to increase production capacity, a centrifuge and grain silo increase efficiency and lower the per-batch cost of operating the brewery. The financial impact is significant, but Nowell reveals another important benefit.

“It comes down to a safety thing, too,” she says. “Our brewers’ backs aren’t being stressed as much because they aren’t lifting 50-pound bags of base malt every batch.” The brewery is also looking at a “super sack” system for specialty malts to further reduce the number of bags that brewers would need to handle. “It makes the job easier and safer for the employees. It can be backbreaking work, but I want this to be an enjoyable place to work,” Nowell says over the thump of the brewhouse sound system that threatens to overpower her words.

All the extra space and new toys were largely driven by the sales of the brewery’s flagship beer: Expatriate IPA. Known as “Expat” around town, the firmly West Coast−styled beer is aroma-driven and moderately bitter with a clean, dry finish. The beer will account for at least 45 percent of the brewery’s production in 2017, and while Nowell is wary of the idea of a flagship beer that defines the brand, she knows Expat is important to the brewery’s future. Velocity solves all problems in the craft-beer world, and the kegs and bottles of Expatriate do not languish in lines or on shelves. The brewery’s sales team is careful where they place the in-demand Expat kegs, and retailers who don’t respect the beer don’t see an allocation.

“It’s mostly whirlpool and late hops additions,” Nowell reveals of the Expat recipe, adding, “It’s hoppy, but it isn’t bitter, and it’s got a healthy dry hop.” Mosaic and El Dorado varietals provide the dense and tropical hops character, with Simcoe adding the bass note. “We don’t actually talk about the hops we use in that beer on the package because it’s an agricultural product,” she says. “We match the profile, but we don’t [always] match hops. If we need to, we can increase or decrease individual varieties to match the same profile every time.”

AN-at-the-Zwickel

Nowell, a Florida native, became obsessed with ingredient quality early in her professional brewing career when she interned at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (Chico, California). Stints at Bay Area breweries Moylan’s Brewery and Drake’s Brewing Company followed her formative experience in Chico and taught her the importance of process and consistency. While working at Drake’s, she forged relationships with hops farmers that developed into partnerships and access to cutting-edge hops varieties today. “We’ve aligned ourselves well with a lot of growers and breeders,” she says. “I just like the [hops farmers] as people. I’m proud to call many of them friends.”

Before signing on with Three Weavers in 2013, Nowell worked briefly at L.A.’s Kinetic Brewery, where she earned two medals at the Great American Beer Festival for a session IPA and a Kölsch. She brews both styles at Three Weavers, and Seafarer Kölsch is the brewery’s second biggest seller. The bright golden brew is perhaps a shade more bitter than is traditional, but the hoppy bite offsets the imported Pils malt character and fits L.A.’s climate beautifully. A roasty imperial stout (Midnight Flight) and a rich and malty ESB (Deep Roots) round out the core lineup.

3W-taps-2

The tap list at the tasting room is filled out by special-release beers, R&D batches, and collaboration brews. The latter beers are not always collaborations with other breweries but collaborations with woodworkers (their Knotty double IPA was brewed with the shop responsible for the brewery’s tap handles), record labels (including the World Beer Cup medal-winning Blood Junkie imperial red ale), and visual artists. It’s one way that the brewery builds the community at the core of the Three Weavers mission.

For the brewery’s two-year anniversary, a doubly special collaboration beer was made: Le Petit Fox. The tart saison with pluots was a collaboration with Cincinnati’s Rhinegeist Brewing, and the bottle art was designed by Jay Howell (Bob’s Burgers, Sanjay & Craig). The beer offers a glimpse at what future Three Weavers brews may look like: complex fermentations (the beer is tank-soured with Lactobacillus before a free-rise fermentation with saison yeast), fruit additions, and wood-aging treatments. “I wanted to have a California component to the beer, so we hand processed a metric shit ton of pluots since there are no commercial purees available,” Nowell says. Some of the batch was racked into red wine barrels and refermented with freshly sliced pluots.

Now that the new brewhouse is dialed-in, the recipes scaled-up, and the brewing staff up to speed, Nowell says that she can devote more attention to beers besides the core lineup. “You’ll see more experimentations from us [next year]—more mixed-culture stuff, barrel fermentations, and farmhouse styles,” she says.

For her part, Lynne Weaver is happy about her transition to brewery owner: “I used to be a certified financial planner. I worked crazy hours during tax season. This is way more fun. The [beer] culture is incredible. I want to be around these people and to share this experience with them.”

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PHOTOS: JULIE & JOHN M. VERIVE

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