Asking people about beer right now can seem, well, weird. We’re living in unprecedented, scary times, and the coronavirus has taken its toll on people around the world, and that, of course, includes people in the brewing industry. Yet, all of that actually also makes this the perfect time to talk about beer, a drink that is a great equalizer and has the ability to bring communities together.
I met Kolaan Busbice, head brewer at Modern Times’ Dankness Dojo in downtown Los Angeles, in late January at Hop Culture’s Juicy Brews Festival in San Pedro. That was a mere two months ago, yet feels like two years because of all that’s happened in just the past two weeks. When we caught up a few weeks later, the impact of the coronavirus was just starting to be felt in L.A., so you won’t find much of that in Busbice’s “Session.” Instead, we’re doing what we do best — getting to the heart of why he’s in craft beer, what makes Modern Times so great, and the styles he loves drinking the most.
Busbice is technically new to the L.A. beer scene. Though he’s from the area originally, professionally, he started off in the cellar at Modern Times’ Lomaland facility in San Diego and spent two years down there. Still, what he had to say about the scene here before all of the breweries had to close their taprooms mirrors what many of us hope to see when 2020 stops being so damn weird. “I have tried some amazing beer around town. My hope is that the L.A. beer scene stays humble like we currently are and doubles down on making excellent product. Many people turn towards San Diego or Sonoma County when talking West Coast IPA, but I’ve drawn the most inspiration living here in L.A. I think some of the best hoppy beer is coming out of this area, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I can’t help but feel that L.A. is a horse at the starting gate waiting to take off.”
From Busbice’s lips to the beer gods’ ears. And here’s what else he had to say about the time he’s spent in L.A.:
Emily Krauser: What made you want to get into beer?
Kolaan Busbice: I got my degree in Biology with an emphasis in Conservation/Restoration. I love being outside and working in the field, but I was also working in a microbiology lab during the summers for lab credits. I pitched the idea of brewing beer in the Sonoma State Biology department and actually got senior research credit to brew my own beer. After graduating, I kept volunteering my time at breweries that were willing to let me hang out, and I stuck with it.
I really connected with the crew at Lomaland. I enjoyed the hustle and flow of day-to-day work. I learned the brew deck and soon moved to a brewer position. All the while, I kept homebrewing on my days off. I kept bringing in my homebrew and looped it in with our sensory panels during the week. A few of those recipes were scaled up for batches in L.A. When our Anaheim facility became a thing (a long thing, we know!), Keith Shaw took the position of head brewer, leaving an opening at the Dojo. I applied, and here I am!
EK: What makes the Dankness Dojo different to you from Modern Times’ other locations?
KB: We are first and foremost an experimental facility. We test out different cellaring procedures, brands, and processes before making bigger batches elsewhere, so we end up with a lot of weird, one-off ideas. Some take off and others need to be re-examined, but all of our beers end up at all of our tasting rooms to get customer feedback. Most do not see distribution.
EK: What is your favorite beer style?
KB: I love Belgian Saison and Trappist Single (table beer). I was never a fan of the in-your-face American renditions of Belgian farmhouse ales, but when I visited Belgium, it was almost like drinking a nice Helles lager with a ripe juicy finish. I was hooked and I still love a nice, crisp sessionable Belgian.
EK: Do you have a go-to session or post-work beer?
KB: ICE! Or any lager we pumped out recently.
EK: What are the best and the most difficult parts about working in the beer industry?
KB: The best part, without a doubt, is the people. We brew beer, sell beer, slang beer to guests, and all of us don’t make a whole lot. You tend to make a lot of good friends busting ass for a marginal payback. The downside to the industry is the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle for a majority of hourly employees.
EK: Desert island question: If you could only brew one style for a full year, what would it be?
KB: Triple Decocted Helles Lager. It’s simple but complex and could make the brew days worth it.