Barley Forge Opens In Costa Mesa – Meet Greg Nylen

**Note: a version of this interview will appear in the December 2014/January 2015 issue of Beer Paper LA**
Have a conversation with Barley Forge owner Greg Nylen and you soon realize his words reveal as much about the brewery as they do about Nylan’s own character. Methodical and delicately worded, Nylen has been both a successful career lawyer and home brewer for the past 24 years. Barley Forge has been planned, again methodically, for the last 14 years. With brewer Kevin Buckley on staff creating some of his own recipes while also scaling up Nylen’s home brews, Costa Mesa now bears the fruits of these labors with the recent opening of the city’s first production brewery. Buckley’s resume boasts breweries from Iowa, Chicago, and Canada before working in San Diego at both Alpine and Back Street Brewing.
Located one street behind the always-packed retail and restaurant destination The Camp, Barley Forge is set to place a decisive stamp on a part of town that was in high need of a good brewery. Oh, and by the way, the beers are damn tasty. I sat down with Nylen to discuss the big plans and small details of opening a new brewery, transitioning recipes from home brewing to large-scale production, and what Barley Forge has in store for the community.

Nick: Tell me about your first experiences with beer, how did you get interested in home brewing?
Greg: I first became interested in beer other than the typical American light lager in 1984 when my parents moved to London for a couple years. I spent a summer and a couple winners there and was exposed to real British ale for the first time, and realized that beer could be favorable and have depth and flavor. We were right down the road from Fullers and I got to have London Pride and Directors Bitter and all sorts of amazing Fullers beers on cask through a beer engine. That just changed everything. When I came back to the states it was such a shock because the craft beer movement hadn’t really hit yet, except for then-fledgling breweries like Sierra Nevada.
I had a seminal trip to Oregon in 92 between jobs. That was even more eye opening to me because I realized that good beer was here too and it had its own character, it wasn’t European beer it was its own thing.
Those two experiences put the bite in me. That was at the beginning of my legal career. About 14 years ago I got serious about opening a brewery someday. I began entering competitions, became a BJCP beer judge; I went through the exams to train my pallet and judge a few competitions, which was fun. We got feedback and refined recipes. I figured if I could learn to brew to style first then I could learn to experiment outside the style guidelines. I was lucky enough to do pretty well in competition so that gave me encouragement that maybe I could do this.
Nick: How do you plan on incorporating your background as a home brewer into this production facility?
Greg: We have a pilot system. I fully intend on using it, the employees are excited because anyone that works here can do a brew with me and we’ll put it on tap. It allows us to experiment without putting a lot of capital at risk. It’s going to be a great way for people that work here to express themselves and become familiar with the process. In terms of the home brewing community, there used to be a home brew club in Costa Mesa that we’re going to try and reinvigorate. We’re going to have classes, BJCP study course, because they’re really hard to find. I took mine with the Maltese Falcons. I want to have a Pro-Am competition as soon as we can, and home brewing classes using the pilot system. The first one will be on Dec. 1st. Participants will get to taste the beer on tap and take a growler home with them when it’s ready. We want to integrate the home brewing community and be more than just a production brewery.
Nick: What have you learned transitioning from home brewing and opening your own brewery?
Greg: With respect to the difference between a dream and a reality, I could go on for days. It’s like having a child in the sense that it’s going to exceed your expectations. The difference is, it can exceed your expectations negatively because it will cost 2-3 times as much as you expected and take 2-3 times as long. To anyone thinking about this, plan your most detailed budget, and then double it. You’re going to be missing things you never thought about, and there’s no concise list of items to include that I found. A lot of it is going to be unique to your circumstances. We had $100,000 in fees alone before you get to the first bolt or screw.
In terms of brewing, unless you’re planning on doing the brewing yourself you need to find a good brewer, and we have one in Kevin. I would recommend first bringing a brewer on at the beginning of your build. And I mean the person you intend to have as your brewer, not a brewing consultant. I’ve found they’re a consultant and not a brewer for a reason. Your brewer is going to build it out the way they want it; they’re going to know the system intimately, and they can work with you on scaling up your recipes to the extent they’re going to be your recipes. They’ll tell you if something might be fine for home brew competitions, but for commercial use you may want to think about these other factors. You need a professional to scale up… don’t kid yourself. And keep using that home brew set up while your building out, so your brewers can see what it tastes like on a home brew scale.
Nick: Are the recipes your putting forward home brews from over the years?
Greg: Some are and some aren’t. The Belgian dark strong, Black Dahlia, is one. Don Perfecto, the horchata-style wit, is another. El Paisano, our amber ale with agave extract is mine as well. Our IPA and Double IPA are really Kevin’s recipes; Grandpa Tractor (a Dortmunder-style lager) is his as well. It’s a good mix.
Nick: What is Barley Forge about as a brewery? What kinds of beers do you want to bring forward?
Greg: Barley Forge is about brewing beers that, for one, draws upon local cultures and cuisines and appeal to cultures I feel are underserved by craft beer. For example, the amber with agave extract and horchata-wit draw upon Hispanic cuisine. Grandpa Tractor as well, we wanted a beer that would go well with Asian food. I think that community is underserved as well.
We’re also about brewing beers that people can have as their go-to beer. I really like breweries like Golden Road, Firestone Walker, and Hangar 24. When you get home from work you don’t want to get bombed or something exotic, you want something made really well that’s your go-to beer. I also admire innovation and experimentation, certainly Bottle Logic falls into that category. We’ll be doing barrel aging and more experimental beers down the road, but from a marketing plan we want to push our beers like Orange Curtain (IPA) and Grandpa Tractor. And El Paisano, the amber is really balancing out nicely and mirrors the home brew recipe; I’m really happy with it. Kevin’s DIPA is amazing. That will probably become one of my go-to beers; I’ll just have to watch how much I have of it.
Nick: On a personal level what does it mean to be opening your doors after all this time?
Greg: I’ve already seen the crowds building, which is great. We need to get going for a month or two before I feel like I can relax at all. There’s a part of my brain that’s excited but it’s so pushed back in my head right now that I haven’t let it come out yet. I just need to know that we’re going to be viable. I put everything on the line here, I left a major law firm where I was a shareholder, with a really good salary, and jumped off the diving board. I need to know that the water is going to be fine.
We’re trying to really be a holistic part of the community. We have a ranch that takes our spent grain for feed and gives us a discount on our meat. We have a restaurant because we want to be able to control our food; we’re going to be locally sourced, simple meals, high-end pub fare. Everything is thought through but we don’t have a big menu. We’ll have food and music every week. I played in a bunch of Irish bands so on Sundays we’ll have seisun (traditional Irish jam session).
Anyone in the area, stop by and pay us a visit.
Barley Forge’s tasting room is now open seven days a week, M-W 5-10pm, Th 5-midnight, F 5-1am, Sat 11:30-1am, Sun 11:30-10pm. 2957 Randolph Ave, Unit B, Costa Mes, CA 92626. More info at
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