Ignacio “Nacho” Cervantes was the guest of honor at a recent 6th & La Brea’s hazy IPA release event, but he wasn’t front and center — he was playing pool with his fellow beer peers.
Back in January, the brewery was hosting Nacho’s Hazy Outlook Launch Party to celebrate the inaugural batches of his two hazy IPAs for the brewpub: “Unbeknowst,” a high-gravity haze made with Citra, Cascade, and Idaho 7 hops, and “Knownst,” a sessionable version of the same beer.
There were nachos served alongside the beers and plenty of big L.A. beer names in attendance, but there was one more new furnishing to look at outside. We went to sit at one of the patio tables, which had been painted earlier that day to read “Nacho was here.” And now he was.
So who is Nacho? Raised in the Napa Valley area, Cervantes went to school near Santa Barbara and is now based in San Diego. One of the three head brewers at the New Original Breweries, he is part of a trio that creates all of the beers for not just 6th & La Brea but the group’s other Los Angeles-area brewpubs: Bluebird Brasserie in Sherman Oaks, Stalking Horse Brewery & Freehouse in Rancho Park, and Broxton Brewery & Public House in Westwood. Previously a head brewer at San Diego’s Pizza Port Ocean Beach and The Bell Marker, Cervantes’ talent for crafting tasty suds has now been gifted to us lucky Los Angelenos.
But though he’s an award-winning brewmaster, Cervantes never even expected to be in beer that long. Here’s what has kept him crafting for more than a decade:
Emily Krauser: How did you get into beer?
Ignacio “Nacho” Cervantes: I ended up moving to the San Diego area, and there happened to be a little small place two blocks away from where I was living called Pizza Port, and I thought it looked cool. I got a job there, and a few weeks later, kinda got the vibe that everybody likes beer here because they make beer here. I really didn’t know what I was walking into and just got sucked in into the culture and everything about the place. That was my introduction to beer, really.
I didn’t expect to stay there long, so I was like, ‘I want the least amount of responsibility.’ I started prepping food. I realized if I started earlier, I could go home or go to the beach a lot sooner in the day, and I noticed the only other person there was the brewer at the time [Tomme Arthur, now at The Lost Abbey]. He started at about six in the morning, so I asked if he minded if I came in at six in the morning. That meant I’d be done by 10 in the morning — I could have the rest of the day to myself. And he’s like, ‘Yeah, that sounds great.’ So I would come in at six, and he would be like, ‘Hey, you’re the only one here, can you come give me a hand? I need to do this thing called dry hopping.’ I don’t know what he’s talking about, but like, cool, what do I do? And then I would ask, ‘Why are we doing this? What’s the point of this?’ And he would explain it and talk to me about it more and later in the day offer me a beer and ask me what I thought of it. Next thing I knew, I was taking on more responsibilities. Obviously, I stayed in San Diego, stayed working [at Pizza Port], and it came to the point where they needed some help on the brewery side, and I was more willing to fill that void. I feel like I was at the right place at the right time. Especially back then, the scene wasn’t what it is now. I think they were just looking for any kind of help, and I was there willing to help.
EK: And now you’ve been at it for 12 years! What do you like most about beer that’s kept you in the industry this long?
IC: I love the work aspect of it. I think that that attracted me in the beginning. I like the fact that you work hard, you make something, and people enjoy it. I really appreciate going to work, sometimes having a really hard day, but going home and being like, I did it, I got through it. Watching the fruits of your labor is really cool.
EK: Now that you’re at 6th & La Brea, what do you like brewing these days?
IC: Obviously the hazy craze is new, so this past year, I really got to play around with that. I didn’t know how to brew them before, and with this company, that has been a new endeavor for me. So far, in the last six months or year, I’ve probably done close to 10 different ones [for all four brewpubs]. Part of it is just trying to fill a void and going off of what I’ve had ingredient-wise. The more I was making It, the more I was going to different locations and trying to get more of an idea of what people are seeking out with these beers, so that’s been fun and new.
EK: Is there a particular style that you enjoy brewing most?
IC: Luckily, I’m a pretty big fan of most styles out there, but especially more traditional, noble styles. I try to open my mind for anything new coming out because there’s always something new. Some people tend to have their own opinions about any new trends, but I’m always interested and willing to try it. But brand-wise, when I drink a beer, whatever’s in front of me I’m usually a fan of. Sometimes I feel like having a lager or I want something dark or hoppy, but it really changes, and I’m kind of the same way when it comes to brewing. Right now, we’re still trying to work out what the best approach is, but I try to get my hands into brewing as many different growing beers as possible.
EK: The model here is very different – you have four different places you are making distinct beers for. What is the logic that would go into brewing something for 6th and La Brea versus something for Bluebird, Broxton, or Stalking Horse?
IC I’ve been trying my best to communicate with the brewers and the people that are up here and get an idea of what’s selling or what they want and let them know what I’m thinking. I just try to coordinate, make sure that if I’m thinking of making a certain style IPA, it’s not going to overshadow or compete at the location it’s going to. I think we’re still just in the beginning stages of that. They’ve been pretty open, and I’ll get two different answers: we need more of that beer or we just want more beer, whatever you want to send us, whatever you’re brewing. But we’re trying to narrow it down a little bit better now and work out the logistical, right way to attack that.
EK: Do you have a desert island beer?
IC That’s like asking me what my favorite album is! I’m an IPA guy. Once I found that first IPA I liked, it’s always been hard for me not to go back to that. I remember the first IPA I had that I liked because I was like, ‘This is… different.’ [laughs] It took a while until I finally like had one and was like, ‘I like this!’ It was weird — all of a sudden, I liked it. That was Port Brewing’s High Tide. It’s one of their fresh-hopped beers. I don’t know why or what was different about it, but after that, I couldn’t go back.