The Golden Road to Anaheim: Victor Novak Interview

Brewer Victor Novak discusses his time in LA and his return to OCNGingold_GRVictor_web_002

Golden Road Brewing announced earlier this month that they’d be launching their first major expansion brewery in Anaheim. The Los Angeles based brewery found 56,000 square feet of prime real estate just a few steps away from Angel Stadium. This second location not only solidifies Anaheim as a beer town to be reckoned with, but also brings home Victor Novak, acclaimed brewer from TAPS in Brea who has been working for Golden Road for the past six months; and who will be running the show at this new location. In Victor’s own words, taking charge of this new facility “couldn’t be more perfect for an Angel’s fan.”

I’ll spare you too many of the details of this new brewery because, first off, it’s been discussed in many other articles and blog posts, and secondly, I want to focus on Victor and let you hear him talk about this new opportunity in his own words. I sat down with Victor last week to discuss what he’s been doing with his time in Los Angeles, and found out how he’s going to approach the task he’s been given; putting the Golden Road stamp on a town already buzzing with terrific breweries.

Before we get too far into it, I first met Victor while working on the book California BrewMasters (shameless plug), he’s got a great interview in there where we talked a lot about his time on the east coast (he first home brewed in Philadelphia in an attempt to clone Sierra Nevada Pale, which he dearly missed at the time) and how those experiences shaped his affinity for classic or traditional styles. He made one of the best Irish red ales I’ve ever tasted at TAPS, and I was happy to find a red, brewed by Victor, currently on tap at Golden Road right now – similar recipe with a few changes made. Go try it.


So back to Anaheim, I was curious about the time line and what we’d find there once it was up and running. Here’s Victor’s take on the project:

Victor: It’s 56,000 square feet. That should be huge on game day. Right now it’s just a big rectangle. It will be interesting just opening up a tasting room, getting the brew house up and running. But overall it’s a pretty blank canvas there; it’s a big box, so not a lot to tear out. We can really construct that thing the way we want.

Phase one is to open a tasting room, which will allow us to open the brewery. We’re hoping to have that up and running by the fall of this year. Phase two is to get the restaurant done, hopefully by this time (February) of next year. And then phase three is to open the production brewery.

Nick: What will your output be at the new facility?

Victor: Initially we’ll have a 15-barrel system so we’re looking at close to 5,000 barrels the first year. We haven’t determined the size but we’ll be purchasing either a 50 or 100-barrel system and brew house. [In LA] we did 30,000 barrels this last year and we’ll probably do 50-60,000 this year. We’ll just continue to grow slowly and organically.

When I think of what Anaheim could be, and we’re still in the design phase, it’s a pub that’s maybe a little bit more elevated but not stuffy. That seems to be the trend, places like Bagby Beer, as an example. A place where you can have great food but it’s not a stuffy atmosphere and you don’t have to worry about being able to come in shorts and flip-flops. We’ll have TVs, and being right near Angel Stadium, The Grove, and the Convention Center, it seems like it’s going to be a pretty sweet spot.

Nick: Where will that beer be going once you’re up and running?

Victor: Most of it will be draft, primarily for Anaheim, the Golden Road Pub, Tony’s Darts Away, Mohawk Bend, and we’re looking at a place at [to be determined spot somewhere in downtown LA].


Nick: What’s the transition been like for you going from a brewpub to a production facility?

Victor: I’ve been here for about six months. The one thing I do love about pub brewing is that it’s all hands on; very physical. We did some distribution [at TAPS] but not a whole lot. To me it’s exciting to get some of the things I’ve created out in the marketplace. Growlers are great but they’re good for a day, really. So if somebody brings a growler to Northern California or San Diego it didn’t really represent what I was doing.

So it was pretty exciting to get some of the beers I’ve done on a larger scale out there. Initially I walked in and I was completely overwhelmed. I’ve never worked on any of this stuff before, so you feel like you have nothing to contribute. But after a month or so everything slows down and you feel like you’re just making beer; it’s just 200-300 barrels a day rather than 15 a day. I always make a comparison of a college quarterback going into the NFL, initially it’s overwhelming and then you get the hang of it.

Nick: So what have you been up to for the last six months here then?

Victor: Basically immersing myself in the culture. Having not worked on a system this large I needed to break it up, work on the brew deck for a couple months, get comfortable brewing (that’s where I’m most comfortable). I’m just trying to learn from these guys and contribute how I can.

It’s been a lot of work on my side learning large scale production brewing. We’re growing at a 100% a year, so you have to learn how to manage that growth. I’ve relied a lot on Jesse Houck (Golden Road brewmaster) for that as well as Paul Burgis, our CFO. Just now we were working on material resource planning. If I’m going to be writing recipes for Anaheim they basically have the software to allow me to write hop contracts without just going “uh, just give me 5,000 pounds of Amarillo and I think I’ll use it and I’ll sell it if I don’t.” Can’t do that anymore! They have systems in place that are really amazing and help us plan for production.

But for the most part it’s largely learning the culture here. I didn’t come in here with a bunch of ideas or telling people what needs to be changed. I want to work myself in and offer ideas on things I think can improve, but I kept my mouth shut for the first couple. Nobody likes, for lack of a better term, the big swinging dick coming in and saying, “I think I have all the answers.” I tried very hard to work myself in slowly and I think things have been working out.

Nick: And have you been working on recipes? Specialty beers?

Victor: I have some ideas, and things that I have done at TAPS that I want to tweak, like the Mocha Stout. We’re working on other things as well; like what Stone just did with their green tea IPA. We have a guy here, Ed, he went to Taiwan and biked to farms buying these beautiful teas, so we’re going to use some of his expertise in that. Of course we’ll be doing coffee beers with Portola Coffee Lab, we’ll work on chili beers and beers with fruit. All of this will be a small percentage of what we do.

You have to be mindful of the market. I have a reputation of doing classic or traditional styles. I think we should emphasize we here at Golden Road already do IPAs extremely well, as well as a hefe and a brown. I did the Irish red that’s currently in the pub. I tweaked the recipe a bit from what I did at TAPS, so we’re using some Simpsons malt and using Two Row. I’ve done some coffee beers too for specialty events using the base beers that Golden Road produces, we used their bourbon barrel-aged Hudson porter which we called Java the Hudson. That was pretty cool.NGingold_GRVictor_web_001

Nick: You mention being mindful to the market. Are you mindful of the Golden Road brand? Are you finding that you have to fit some of your recipes into that?

Victor: I think the cool thing is Golden Road is still only three years old; I’m in the early stages. Our reputations right now is very IPA focused, but that’s definitely changeable. Just look at Beachwood BBQ, Julian Shrago does incredible IPAs but he also does a great oatmeal stout and cream ale. You have to be able to do a wide variety because everyone is A.D.D. when it comes to style. People always want something new.

We’re going to do a helles and a German pilsner at the pub, and a really nice oatmeal stout and a bigger imperial stout that we’ll put in barrels. I don’t have to worry and I haven’t been told to put something in a box. Just make sure that it’s the best beer we can put out. And then our reputation is adaptable.

It’s awesome because with so many great breweries around, like The Bruery, Beachwood BBQ, Noble Ale Works, and others; they are doing these very creative, interesting beers and I think we have our own identity. We do IPAs and classic styles, but while still touching on those really interesting beers as well.

Nick: How closely linked will Anaheim be to Golden Road in Los Angeles?

Victor: Anaheim is going to be a playground. Jesse Houck will be working on it, and I want to take the brewers from up here in LA down once a month. Ross and Tim, JD, Clark, Kyle, everyone come down and brew a beer that they want to brew on that system. So there’s going to be a lot of creativity.

We’re also going to have a sour program. We’re going to temperature control the barrel room in Los Angeles, and then we’ll do the clean beers, whiskey barrel aged (bourbon and rye), maybe rum and some tequila, down in Anaheim. So that way it’s not “Anaheim is here and LA is there,” I want to get the guys brewing on that system and be doing cool one offs that they want to do so they’re invested in that location as well.


Nick: Tell me about the excitement as well as challenges opening up this new space. Any trepidation?

Victor: The excitement of course is getting back into Orange County. I was there for 15 years; and with The Bruery and Bootleggers around for a long time, and Noble Ale Works as well, I think it helped create an Orange County beer scene. We’re now integrating ourselves in what I consider a hot bed of creativity. It’s just exploding, I think there’s at least 12 breweries open or in planning in just Anaheim. I’m looking forward to getting back, integrating and immersing our culture into that. It’s going to be pretty seamless because I’m so comfortable there.

It’s not competition but it’s complimenting what is already there. I read something on social media that we were going to be opening up and someone posted, “Oh, what’s Noble think about this?” And I think they’re going to be pretty stoked about it. Evan Price (brewmaster at Noble Ale Works) and I are buddies… and I think we’ll compliment each other.

20 years in and it’s still very collaborative community. It’s not ultra-competitive. I think certain people are when it comes to beer names, but collaboration is still the spirit of our industry, and that’s why I love it.

NGingold_GRVictor_web_006Golden Road founders Meg Gill and Tony Yanow (photo from my archives, 2012)

Nick: Any final thoughts?

Victor: I think it’s going to be interesting, you look at the pub in LA and most days of the week it’s packed. It started in so many ways with Tony Yanow and Meg Gill, and the culture they built here. The people here are really happy to work here. They’re taken care of, respected, and what they have to contribute is respected.

Look forward to more updates on this facility and more fun profiles of SoCal’s best breweries and brewers coming up! Follow me at @CABrewMasters on the usual channels.

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