Alex Nowell Brews great beer—a skill she’s honed through many years of plying her trade at quality California breweries including Sierra Nevada, Moylan’s, and Drake’s.
Today, in her role as brewmaster for Three Weavers in Los Angeles, she is mentioned frequently within the context of the brewery’s most unique feature—the pair of women running the business and the brewhouse—but that focus on gender (while important) should never overshadow her fundamental talent for making beer that is technically proficient and creatively engaging.
Her palate and approach have been informed by a deeply held love of diverse beer styles, and while there’s no one overarching theme to her loves—she’s just as apt to grab a pale, IPA, or Double IPA as she is a Pilsner or Belgian lambic—they all exude a sense of abiding quality paired with deep character.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
“This was one of the first hoppy craft beers I was exposed to living in Florida, where there just wasn’t a lot of good beer. It was always fresh, and it was the first time I was really exposed to a somewhat- aggressive hops profile. I was young and had just started legally drinking beer, and I was studying brewing science in college. It was fruity and fragrant and tropical—maybe not by today’s standards, but at that point in time absolutely. We were flooded in the market with Budweiser, Corona, and Heineken, but Pale Ale really set the tone for the beers I started seeking out.
“I was lucky enough to get an internship at Sierra Nevada as my entry into the industry. Living then in Chico, no matter where I went, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was screamingly fresh and pretty inexpensive. But even now, bars in Los Angeles that may not be so craft-centric all have Sierra Nevada Pale Ale handles, and because Sierra has been so strict on distribution, refrigeration, and storage of beer, it always tastes good. Always. “I still love that beer and there’s always a spot in my heart for it because it’s consistently fresh no matter where you go. One of the freshest Pale Ale’s I’ve had was at a bar in Turin, Italy, that had three Sierra Nevada handles. One of them was Pale, and I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m going to drink a Pale Ale.’ ”
Cantillon Saint Lamvinus
“I had this for the first time at The Trappist in Oakland, California. That crossover between beer and wine in such a refined manner, with some restrained sourness and a lot of complexity from the grape—it’s just a beer I’ve continually sought out, yet haven’t found very frequently, not even when I went to Cantillon. It’s so impressively complex, yet so drinkable as well.
“The first time I had Cantillon—Cuvée de Champions (now known as Cuvée Saint Gilloise), eight or nine years ago—I was so floored by a beer that was low in alcohol but approachably complex. I was working at Moylan’s at the time and moonlighted at Beer Revolution as a bartender, and when it came onto shelves in bottles, I bought most of it. But Saint Lamvinus was never that easy to find. Now, when I do find it, I don’t hold on to it—I always drink it fresh. Fruit beers aren’t meant to be aged, for the most part.
“Talking about it makes me want to go back to Brussels now to spend a healthy amount of time at Cantillon drinking whatever they happen to have on tap or in bottles. It’s an ethereal experience, being there.”
Žatec Blue Label Pilsner
“This is a beer made in the Saaz-growing region of the Czech Republic. I was invited to do a collaboration with them—the only collaboration the brewery has ever done, and the brewery’s been open since 1098. It’s built into an old castle wall. Really beautiful, soft water. They use only whole-cone Saaz hops. All open fermentors.
“Having that beer at the source, it’s the most perfect Pilsner in every way. Soft on the palate, full but dry. It’s totally refreshing, all Bohemian Pilsner malt. One malt. Very simple. The perfect amount of hops fragrance—slightly herbal and a bit spicy in the finish.
“I’ve always loved Pilsner as a style, but that beer was so perfect that it almost ruined the experience of drinking Pilsner for me—with the exception of something like Bierstadt [Lagerhaus] Slow Pour, which is the closest thing I’ve had to a true Pilsner made in the Czech Republic.
“[Zatec Pilsner] set my standard for the style so disgustingly high. Every time I drink a Pilsner I think about that one.
“For the collaboration, we brewed a Mosaic dry-hopped Pilsner. Their head brewer opened the bag of Mosaic, and she made a face of disgust. ‘This is so strong! This is not supposed to be in beer.’ We climbed to the top of their whirlpool, dumped the hops in, knocked out into the whirlpool and then into the fermentor, and the layer of hops matter left—they’d never seen anything so green. The staff was in there checking and marveling at how strange it looked compared to the beer they’d been making for centuries. I don’t think they’ve done another collaboration since.
“Being able to put my West Coast spin on a beer so unbelievably traditional with their water and malt was really cool.”
Sint-Sixtus Abbey Westvleteren Blond
“Everyone talks about Westvleteren 12. Beautiful beer, don’t get me wrong. But I had the pleasure and privilege to visit Westvleteren last year, and you don’t see Blond get out too much.
Blond is meant to be consumed fresh, and the aggressive hopping is so structured and not what I expected. It was the first Belgian brewery I visited, because we drove over from the U.K. and just along the road it was the first one that you got to, really. So we went in, and the outdoor patio was beautiful yet smelled like horse shit because it’s in the middle of a farming region. I totally excused them for that because the beer was so incredible. Blond is bitter, hops-forward, but dry and blond with that complexity you get from the yeast.
I was so floored by it that I had another and another. And I just want to go back there to drink more and eat paté.
“I look at what I want to brew in my brewery, but I don’t think I could ever do that style justice. I almost end up leaving things like that to the people who created it so that I can experience it when I visit or when I’m in Belgium.
“Westvleteren 12 is excellent. That’s what they had available in bottles. I have maybe one left from that trip, and I’ll crack it open and still appreciate it. It does age much better than Blond. I’m so impressed by them, and as much as people talk about them, I think they’re worthy of every bit of praise.”
Firestone Walker Parabola
(Paso Robles, California)
“I love Parabola so much. It ages beautifully. I don’t have a large beer cellar because I really think that beer is meant to be consumed fresh and not stored, but Parabola is a beer that I do age on a regular basis, and I’ll always have a couple vintages in my fridge. Even fresh, it’s beautiful.
It’s sweet but not too sweet. You have the vanilla and coconut. The bourbon character. The body. It’s just such a well-made version of the style. I really do think it’s the pinnacle of the bourbon barrel–aged imperial style.
“I’m lucky enough to live by the Firestone Walker Propogator in Los Angeles, which is wonderful—I get fresh Pivo Pils all day long—but I remember opening a bottle of Parabola that had aged for about five years, and it had held on so beautifully well. It was like drinking a brownie. Dark beers and stouts were my first love as a style, maybe because in Florida, beers weren’t always stored the best, and [imperial stouts] were always good when I had them. So at first I was really into heavy dark beers, which was weird living in South Florida.
“When I had Parabola for the first time while working at Beer Revolution, I was like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ And ever since, I haven’t missed a vintage. I might be one of the few people who was disappointed when they decreased the bottle size to 12 ounces because now I need to buy multiples. I was upset because I can hammer through a 12-ounce bottle of Parabola easily. I’m such a massive fan of everything Firestone Walker does, and I love their Barrelworks program. They’re another example of a brewery, like Sierra Nevada, that pretty much does everything right.
“For the most part, I’m over scarcity in beer. Don’t tell me about something that I can never buy. Obviously, I’ve just said Saint Lamvinus and Westvleteren Blond, and there’s some scarcity involved there. But the accessibility of Parabola is a big plus—you can buy Firestone Walker beer in many states, and it’s going to be excellent.”
Russian River Blind Pig
(Santa Rosa, California)
“If I could choose one of my own beers for the list, it would be our double IPA, Knotty. It’s all 2-row [barley] and 20 percent rye, so it’s got this malt character to it that you can’t quite pick out. It’s not crystal malt, but it adds a bit of color and complexity. I just love the hops combination. It’s 8.6 percent, but it’s not hot. Aromatically, it’s just the beer that I want to drink all the time. In terms of fresh, hoppy beers, that’s the freshest, hoppiest beer that I can access.
“But since I can’t include that one, Russian River Blind Pig all day. It’s the unsung hero of their portfolio as everyone is always going for Pliny—which is also a fantastic beer—but I just find Blind Pig to be so much more accessible. As someone who likes to drink beer, I’d rather go for the lower ABV because I can have more than one without throttling myself.
“When it comes to hoppy beers, I’m very discerning in how I purchase them and where they come from because they’re so often poorly stored. And one of the worst things to me is an oxidized IPA. I don’t want to drink it. You shouldn’t get that oxidation of crystal malt character, and I don’t want my hops to die. Sierra Nevada sells to so few people that the chances are if they’re selling to that bar or company, it’s going to be in good shape.
“I love hops. I love variety in drinking, and I love beers that I can consume a lot of that aren’t necessarily going to tax my palate. They hit the mark on every level.”