There are no taps behind the reclaimed wood bar at Benny Boy Brewing – a new brewery opening this weekend, about 50 feet off the 5 in Lincoln Heights. This is, of course, uncommon for a brewery. Instead, beers are poured directly from the tank, where the beer has been naturally carbonating since being brewed. The tank bar, as it’s called, is the first of its kind in LA, and just one way that the folks behind Benny Boy hope to distinguish themselves in the California beer scene.
As the first combination brewery/cidery in LA, Benny Boy will also be the only brewery in Lincoln Heights. When I visited their soon-to-open taproom in mid-March, husband and wife co-founders Chelsey Rosetter and Ben Farber were hard at work with a small team putting the final touches on the new space; printing tap lists, finishing flight paddles, and hanging lights.
The idea for Benny Boy started six years ago when Rosetter and Farber took a beer tasting trip in Belgium. Ben had been homebrewing for a while, and was inspired by what he saw, especially at Brouwerij de Ranke, so he sent them an email.
“I didn’t hear back for six months,” Farber told me on a visit last week. “And then out of nowhere, they were like ‘Yeah, come on out.’ So I booked the ticket, and it was just the most amazing and difficult experience that I had… Well, prior to starting this.”
Rosetter, meanwhile, has extensive local experience in the industry, having worked at Eagle Rock Brewing, Los Angeles Ale Works, and Firestone Walker in Venice.
As far as the beer goes, Benny Boy wants to stand out by brewing New World flavors with Old World techniques. The most critical thing, Farber and Rosetter both emphasized, is using whole flower hops, which has increasingly fallen out of favor compared to hop pellets, which many say provide a more efficient, and predictable, brew.
But after brewing the same recipes with whole hops that he used to brew with pellets, Farber said he found a huge difference. “The whole flowers provide a rounder, smoother flavor from the hops,” he said, adding that this brewing style also contributes to better head retention. Benny Boy is following in the tradition of some other well-known California beers – like Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale and Russian River’s Pliny The Elder – that are still made with whole hops.
Benny Boy also uses an old school three-step mash – increasing the temperature of the mash in stages – which many brewers forgo because malts have become so well-modified for whatever style is being brewed. But some brewers – Farber included – believe that by using the step mash, they can increase extract efficiency, and more specifically manipulate the wort to get a sweeter or more bitter flavor.
Finally, Farber said that natural carbonation is the last key to Benny Boy’s beer, as opposed to forced carbonation. “[Naturally carbonating beers] creates finer bubbles,” he said, “which imparts more flavor to jump. It’s a smoother mouthfeel.”
That Old World/New World dynamic shows up in much of their tap list, like the Desert Champagne Gose, a traditional German-style salty ale, brewed with the most California of ingredients: prickly pear and sage. Other beers on the opening tap list include a farmhouse ale brewed with fresh basil, a bright, dry Belgian-style table beer, and a Belgian-style dark ale, which drinks surprisingly light for its 7.6% ABV. There’s also Lincoln Heights Lager, a Mexican-style lager, which is served at a discount for Lincoln Heights locals.
There’s a whole separate production space and tasting room dedicated to cider – which was necessary due to their production licenses, but also a happy accident, because they could create a more intimate bar, which doubles as a private event space. In the middle of the ciderhouse is an actual antique apple tree, decommissioned by the Santa Cruz County orchard where Benny Boy sources its cider apples.
Most of their ciders are made with Newtown Pippins and Gravensteins, two small, super-tart cider apples, resulting in clean, clear, and crisp pours that range in flavor from dry to semi-sweet. Beyond the pure cider, they have some options with adjuncts, including pomegranate, pineapple, and agave nectar. They’re also experimenting with pommeau, a French aperitif made by mixing fresh apple juice with brandy, and aging the mixture in brandy barrels.
Benny Boy’s gravel-covered patio – dubbed “The Backyard,” which avoids any comparisons to parking lot biergartens – features lots of communal seating, two firepits, and space for pop-ups. They’re starting off with a bang, too, hosting La Sorted’s Pizza and Villa’s Tacos, two of the most in-demand food vendors in the city.
Standing in The Backyard, you can see a giant smokestack just across the 5 freeway: BREWERY, it reads, in giant black letters. This is the site of Pabst Blue Ribbon’s original LA brewery, which has long since been converted to artist lofts. Now, a brewery is finally back in Lincoln Heights.
Explore more images from our visit to Benny Boy, courtesy of Jason Flynn Photography, @pintpeople on Instagram.