For these home brewers, making beer offers a sense of South Central pride
Story by Madeleine Gatto, Chandra Ingram and Kathryn Stone
Three young entrepreneurs were hard at work pouring barley, measuring water temperatures and stirring their newly crafted mix.
It takes hours to brew beer and can take weeks to get the carbonation and fermentation just right.
This wasn’t happening in a large-scale brewery, this was tucked away in Alex Ruiz’s backyard in South Central Los Angeles.
Ruiz — along with friends Zaneta Santana and Melvin Marroquin — make up South Central Brewing Company, a home brewery created by and for South Central residents. The trio came together a few years ago out of shared love for craft beer.
They began brewing as a hobby with plans to go commercial and start their own brewery in South Central. Southeast L.A. native Santana’s curiosity grew, as she started working at a brewery. They learned everything else they know about creating their own beers from the chemical formulas to the specific temperatures all from reading books and watching videos. Now they’re distributing their own craft beers made from locally-inspired recipes. The three brewers get together on weekends, taking a break from their day jobs to pursue their shared passions.
“Despite not having a physical location or a tap room in South Central, brewing on this level has really motivated us to not only work on our craft and our recipes and get feedback from people, but it’s also really given us the opportunity to network with other people in the industry, with other homebrewers and other small businesses,” Santana said.
To South Central Brewing Company members, being active in the community is one of the most important parts of the business. The brewers are part of SoCal Cerveceros, the largest Latinx homebrew club in the United States, co-founder Ray Ricky Rivera told KCET.
“That is really important to us, being able to talk to people,” said Ruiz, whose family has lived in South Central L.A. since 1993. “We get to meet people in the community and have dialogue about what we want to do and what this will mean.”
Ruiz is referring to the common fear that goes hand-in-hand with adding breweries to communities: gentrification.
In nearby Boyle Heights, community groups banded together last year to oppose outside breweries attracting “higher-income hipsters” to their neighborhood. Activists said breweries have invited affluent individuals to their community, furthering gentrification.
According to a 2017 report, craft brewing encourages more lower-to-middle income urban creatives. However, the report did not find a strong correlation between such breweries and gentrification.
In the eyes of Santana, Marroquin and Ruiz, it’s better to create a brewery in a community that they have already been part of, instead of acting as an outside business intruding into an area and pushing out local people.
South Central is a continuously changing neighborhood in regard to housing and other developments. A completely new complex of apartments, shops and public transportation is coming to Vermont Knolls. Exposition Park near USC will be home to the upcoming George Lucas’s Museum of Narrative Art. With new attractions popping up in the area in addition to renovated housing projects, there is a growing worry around the negative effects these improvements will have on the locals.
“[We want] to say, ‘Hey, we are from this area and we brew too,’” Santana said. “A lot of the recipes, the beers that we make, are inspired by our experiences, our family history, our culture, the sense of community that we get here. We truly believe that by sharing that with people in a responsible manner, we will [help] people continue to have that sense of pride just being from South Central.”
Family and friends have expressed concerns to the group about how a physical location for their brewery could potentially alter the community. Ruiz and Santana said they understand people feel that a physical brewery would drive out residents and erase the authenticity of the neighborhood. However, they think their brewery would do just the opposite.
To avoid contributing to the gentrification of South Central, the company wants to establish itself as a member of the community, not an outsider.
“[We’re] making sure that we are creating that safe space so that people can truly enjoy craft,” Santana said. “Yes, we are a business but because we understand that there are so many legitimate concerns. There’s been so many changes to the area … but it’s so much more than just a pint of beer.”