Far Field Beer, in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, marked their first anniversary earlier this year—but some milestones are harder won than others.
Starting a brewery is hard—and starting one amid a global pandemic is even harder. Changing government regulations, health and safety concerns, delays with permits and construction, issues with supply chain, and figuring out how to build and market to a new customer base were just some of the added stress points.
Far Field founder James Bardeen moved back to the Los Angeles area in 2018 and found that the craft beer scene there had exploded. He and his head brewer Bryce Lowrance—the pair had met as homebrewers many years before—got to work on planning their own brewery. They incorporated that same year and began looking for a space, finally settling in Lawndale. Things were looking great until COVID-19 shut down the industry in April 2020. They got their conditional use permit just a week later, but they had no real idea of when things would be up and running again.
Bardeen and Lowrance worked hard to stay positive. Getting the permit “was great,” Bardeen says. “It was a super insane time, crazy, and very stressful. Owning a business is stressful anyway, I guess.” They had to keep pushing forward.
One bright side of their planning was setting up their brewhouse with Ss Brewtech. Lowrance had used the company’s equipment during his homebrewing days, and he was always impressed by the design, reliability, and quality of the beers it helped him produce.
At Far Field, they decided on a seven-barrel, direct-fire system, plus three seven-barrel unitanks, one 15-barrel unitank, and a seven-barrel brite tank. They had contemplated a larger system, but given their space, the seven-barrel system fit best and paired well with their projections of how much beer they expected to produce and sell once open.
Bardeen and Lowrance cite Ss Brewtech’s customer service as a shining light during such stressful times. They say the Ss Brewtech team was nothing but supportive during the brewhouse assembly, and they even came by on the first brew day to lend a helping hand and offer tips on how to run it. They were always available for questions, concerns, or help. “If something happens, they’re always available to call,” Lowrance says. “I can’t say that for a lot of other manufacturers.”
Far Field finally held their grand opening in July 2021—thankfully, with a local community ready and waiting to support them. Far Field is the first and only brewery in the neighborhood, housed in a former auto body shop with an open and airy tasting room and plenty of outdoor space for gathering—perfect for Southern California’s beautiful weather. They also offer a variety of beer to-go.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Bardeen says. “And we’re in a very kind of small, interesting community. Lawndale is pretty tiny—it’s two square miles, and we’re part of the whole South Bay community. It’s been fun getting to know a lot of our different customers, because we have a huge range of customers that come to the brewery.”
Now that they’re open, Bardeen and Lowrance get to do their favorite part of the job—brewing what they like to drink—and in Lawndale, they have a wide range of customers with whom to share it. “The beers we make here are a great blend between what Bryce likes to brew and what I like to brew, and what we both enjoy drinking,” Bardeen says. Local enthusiasts appear to agree, and their top two scorers on Untappd are quick-soured fruit beers: Made with Luck, featuring guava, lime, and coconut, and Summer Lovin, with plums, oranges, cranberries, rhubarb, spices, and thyme.
To acidify these beers, they use the knockout arm to run their wort through the heat exchanger and get it down to about 100°F (38°C). Then, instead of running oxygen, they run CO2 to keep oxygen at bay and prevent unwanted off-flavors. For lagers, their pre-chiller runs in conjunction with the heat exchanger to knockout at 50°F (10°C) with ease, even in the middle of a California summer. For many of their beers, including their hop-forward ales, they take advantage of those brite tanks to get extra clarification before packaging, with minimal loss.
They’ve also left themselves room to play and experiment, with three smaller Ss Brewtech fermenters, one barrel each. Using those, they can split off portions of their seven-barrel batches to try different dry hops, fruit additions, or other variations for the tasting room without needing a full pilot system.
With Far Field’s first year under its belt, the goal is just to keep making beer, increase production, and continue to experiment. With the biggest hurdles of the pandemic behind them, the Far Field team is hitting their stride, able to have fun and be flexible with different styles, flavors, new yeasts, or dry hops. With the setup they’ve got, they’re also contemplating step mashes, double mashes (for high-ABV beers), fresh-hopped beers, more barrel-aging, and any other ideas they decide are worth pursuing.
Bardeen and Lowrance say they want to be nimble enough to experiment as well as go along with trends, if and when they feel like it. Now, they’re confident they can handle anything that comes their way.
Photos: Justin Graziano.