We sat down for a chat and a "gruit" (more on that in a minute) with Saul Alpert-Abrams and Archie Carey, the founders and brewers of Solarc Brewing out of Highland Park. You can temporarily find their pours at Mumford Brewing in DTLA, as well as other local brewpubs like Hermosillo in Highland Park.
When did you know brewing beer was your calling?
Archie: The first time we hung out, we made mead. We learned that it takes a really long time to ferment—like a year. But we had so much fun, so we thought, jeez, we should just make beer… and it came out well. We brought it to a bunch of parties and shared it, and then we ended up making beer every weekend and got really nerdy.
Saul: The thing that really attracted us to making beer was the experimental side of it. We made traditional styles, but pretty soon after we realized beer was much bigger than that. The history of brewing is incredibly experimental and local and driven more than anything else by experience and connection to flavors.
Solarc specializes in the unconventional—specifically the hopless "gruit." What drew you to this particular style of herbaceous beer?
Archie: Saul has 20 different fruit trees in his backyard, so at a certain point we got bored of making classic styles and we started throwing some of that stuff into the beer. We made a kumquat blonde and a fig saison. We realized we could throw anything in. And we’re both big tea drinkers, so we got herbs from Chinese medicine shops.
Saul: I think we started to get inspired about making gruit when we realized we could work with a larger profile than the standard repertoire of beer. It allowed us to perform the creativity that we found exciting. There is just less regulation, and that's the approach we wanted to take.
Where do you source your ingredients?
Saul: We get almost everything from local vendors. I get all our tea from Artist Tea, which is a really great local tea shop that does all of their own blending. The guy has traveled all over to source his tea. We get coffee from a local roaster. These are all places where the people really care about their product. When we can, we forage. L.A. has a really fertile environment.
Given how creative the ingredients can get, what has been the weirdest gruit you have ever made?
Archie: We made one with Lapsang souchong tea. It’s a smoky Chinese tea. And we used a lot of it; like probably too much. It tasted like a campfire. Maybe one day we’ll scale it up. I tried to make a carrot cider. You know, when you make carrot juice, it tastes so sweet. But I also put in brown sugar, thinking it would taste like carrot cake. It ended up being 11% and it smelled a little like barf.
What has been your proudest gruit?
Saul: I’ve always been proud of Earl, which we made with foraged rosemary, lemon verbena, and earl grey tea. I think the balance is really good and I think it achieves a boldness of flavor that is hard to get with certain herbs. The reason people love hops is that it can produce intense and pleasurable flavors. And a lot of other herbs have the tendency to become unpalatable, just too bitter no matter how you use them. I am really proud of that one.
Archie: Dunes was our flagship for a while. It was the first beer we brewed on the professional scale, so there was a lot of R&D that went into it, and it has the most ingredients: sage, wormwood, mugwort, lemongrass and turmeric. It was the first beer we released and we thought people wouldn’t like it. It’s a little bit unapproachable because of the laundry list of ingredients most people don’t know, but a lot of people were open to it; enough for us to be able to make another beer.
Why L.A.? How have Angelenos taken to gruit?
Saul: I think the main reason this works in L.A. is because this city has always been a home for avant-garde. If you go back to archives, early 20th-century Los Angeles menus, they were so far out. They were using stuff out here that people are only now starting to think of as obvious things. I think L.A. has always been open to this stuff, and newer ideas in general when it comes to social or religious ideas.
Archie: A lot of the different brewers in L.A. have a niche. They’ve got their thing. So I think for us, it felt comfortable to come onto the scene with something that nobody else is doing. In a way, there was room for us to do that. And also, there’s something about the L.A. consumer that's just generally open to something new and weird—an "I’ll try anything once" attitude.
Any local beer bars/breweries you are really digging right now?
Saul: I always go to the Hermosillo. I love what he's doing there. His tap list is always diverse. They make trendy East Coast IPAs, but then they also experiment. That really gives people choices. That’s when opening up the options for the palate is so great.
Archie: Sunset Beer in Echo Park is probably my favorite place to hang and also do research. Almost every time we make a new beer or have an idea for a new beer or new label, we go there and buy five or six beers. It’s one of the places we used to go as craft beer nerds in awe of the place, and sort of jokingly had the dream of one day having our beer there. And now we are friends with the guys and they host our events.
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