Long before Torrance was known as the go-to South Bay town for quality craft beers, Laurie Porter and her husband, Jonathan Porter, started up a then-scrappy operation called Smog City Brewing Co. This was 2011, and even Eagle Rock — the OG in Los Angeles’ booming craft beer scene — was a baby brewing operation. But Porter, as Jonathan is known, had been brewing professionally and personally for 10 years at that point, and the couple knew it was time to bring Smog into the world for all to try. Born from a “passion for creation, innovation, and self-reliance,” the pair began to sell and distribute Smog City across L.A.
Fast-forward nine years later, and Smog City doesn’t just have a lively taproom in Torrance and beloved beers that have become household names in the Southland (we’re looking at you, Sabre-Toothed Squirrel and Coffee Porter!), they’ve also taken over the old Zymurgy Brew Works space across town, opened a satellite location in Long Beach, and have plans to open a fourth spot at an incoming food hall in Glendora.
You could say the Porters are a busy brewing family, but the people drinking their beers are why they keep going with an impressive amount of positivity. “This community of passionate craft beer fans made the ride so exciting!” Laurie told Hopped LA. “Almost nine years later, it’s still exciting! It’s just more crazy and more stress, but still something I’m very passionate about.”
There’s way more to Smog City’s story, though. Find out all about what makes the South Bay stalwarts so special in our latest “The Session” with Laurie:
Emily Krauser: What made you want to get into beer?
Laurie Porter: Porter is a seeker — he loves the culinary arts, the perfection of a product, tinkering, creating, innovating. He loves making something delicious that people love — and he loves cleaning! All of these bits and pieces come together to make one hell of a great brewer. My personal journey is I was in love with the art of craft beer and the authenticity of the craft beer community. I love how craft beer fans are passionate and inquisitive, like me. It’s fun to hunt for greatness, and I got really wrapped up in that adventure, so much so that I said yes when Porter said he wanted to open a brewery — and then I said yes when he asked me to marry him! [laughs]
EK: Do you have a favorite beer style after all these years of brewing?
LP: My personal favorite is Smog City Coffee Porter! I could drink that beer for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and still make room for a coffee porter for dessert. I love the combination of a low ABV dark beer that tastes of coffee and chocolate. What could be better? We’ve been brewing this beer since 2011, and I feel like it’s simply perfect.
My [go-to post-work beer], besides Coffee Porter is our Little Bo Pils. I adore it; it’s bright and full-flavored at only 4.4% ABV. Little Bo Pils is the brewers’ beer, the one that all craft beer professionals try first when they visit our taproom. It sets the proverbial standard for quality, process, and expert recipe development. Besides that, it’s a wonderfully refreshing beer to enjoy after a long day.
EK: What would you consider to be the best part and the most difficult about working in the beer industry?
LP: The best part is undoubtedly the incredible community that has built it, supports it, and expands it. I love beer people, both inside the industry and out. The worst is the constant pressure to drive more and more trends that are about the way a beer looks, like pink beer, hazy beer, or glitter beer, and less about the excellence in how the beer was crafted and tastes. You can’t taste an Instagram photo. I guess it makes sense that the excitement is driven in a different way now, but I worry that brewers are undermining quality for an untenable “like.”
EK: What is your hope for the L.A. beer scene in the upcoming year?
LP: I would love to focus more on brewing excellence and education around what quality beer actually means. I want customers to give a damn whether the beer is the best of its style or not, to know great beer when they drink it. I think education is the pivot point for craft beer and the long term success of our industry. Can we get customers to care more? I think so, but how? Thankfully, there are still a good amount of very passionate craft beer lovers that truly care about the quality of their beer. We applaud them and hope they share that passion with their friends.
EK: What do you consider to be your biggest personal beer accomplishment so far?
LP: I’d say my biggest accomplishment is serving on the L.A. County Brewers Guild board for five years and being elected to the California Craft Brewers Association board in 2019. I love being part of the conversation and helping drive the direction of our industry. It’s such an honor to represent and defend craft beer in California, and I look forward to continuing to be deeply and thoughtfully involved going forward.
EK: Desert island question: If you could only brew one style for a full year, what would it be?
LP: IPA. I’d miss all the other beer styles terribly, but IPA is a serious crowd-pleaser and with the wide variety of hops available out there, there are practically infinite combinations to play with. We’re experimenting with the style right now with our new, year-round Smog Days IPA Series. Smog City is playing with all kinds of fun hops and really pushing the creative side of west coast IPA and hazy IPAs. I’m especially looking forward to the next hazy release in the series, Exploding Clouds Hazy IPA, which will be out in late April or early May.