Four craft breweries have popped up in the Los Angeles suburb in the past six years, making the San Gabriel Valley a craft beer destination.
On an unseasonably gray spring afternoon, locals lined up for food and drinks throughout Library Park for Monrovia Days, a festival dedicated to the 13.73-square mile enclave located along the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. Despite being located just 20 miles northeast of Los Angeles, Monrovia feels more like Small Town, USA than a big city suburb.
Inside the Monrovia Days beer tent, festival-goers congregated shoulder-to-shoulder, with police officers greeting townsmen with handshakes and shoulder squeezes as dads flashed beer tickets in exchange for a quick brew before joining their families by the bouncy house. All four of Monrovia’s breweries were represented at the portable taps — Pacific Plate Brewing Company; Hop Secret Brewing Company; Wingwalker Brewery and Taproom; and Over Town Brewing Company, as were two other craft beer hot spots, 38 Degrees Ale House & Grill and Azusa’s Congregation Ale House.
Wingwalker Brewery and Taproom owner Dave Robkin and Over Town Brewing Company owner Ryan McKay stop for a quick photo during the Monrovia Day festival earlier this year. Photo by Emily Krauser.
The city has been supportive of craft beer coming into town, which is a big reason why four breweries have opened there in just a few short years. “They’re very good neighbors, and they’re concerned about how their neighbors perceive them, which for us is huge because that means they want to do the right thing,” says Craig Jimenez, Monrovia’s community development director. “We’ve got two right next to each other — we may end up with something like a brewery row. That would be really cool. It’s not something we’re necessarily planning for, but we’re ready for it if it does happen.”
To start, Monrovia partnered with Lyft last year on the GoMonrovia program, which allows shared rides to and from Old Town Monrovia and the Gold Line station for 50 cents, as well as to other locations for a reduced rate. The next step will be to capitalize on the breweries’ proximity to one another, and the owners are starting that journey with talks of an ale trail.
Until an official route comes to be, here’s where you can get started on your own Monrovia brewery tour.
Pacific Plate, the brainchild of homebrewing friends Steve Cardenas, Steve Kooshian and Jonathan Parada, was the first to set up shop in Monrovia. The trio launched the craft brewery when they realized that people liked their beer enough that their hobby could turn into a true profession. They purchased a one-barrel system and started brewing in Cardenas’ parents’ house before officially opening up shop in an industrial space just south of the 210.
The most unique of the four Monrovia breweries in terms of recipes, Pacific Plate, which will celebrate its sixth birthday on Aug. 31, shines when they focus on their Latino roots. Their Horchata Stout, a customer favorite, was adapted from Kooshian’s mom’s horchata recipe. They’ve also recently won second place at the 2019 California Commercial Craft Beer competition for their Shock Wave kölsch.
“We try to pull from all these different cultures, get inspiration from what we like, and then bring them into our brewery,” Cardenas says.
The dedication to Latin flavors doesn’t go unnoticed in a town that is nearly 40 percent Hispanic. In many ways, the local community has rallied around Pacific Plate, and it’s led the brewery and its patrons to become one big family.
Two members of Pacific Plates’ mug club — it’s one of the only San Gabriel Valley breweries to employ the practice — became silent investors after Cardenas’ partners left, staffers have helped customers move and Cardenas even went on a trip to Thailand with one of the guys who inspired their Tom Yum Beer, a spiced herb beer brewed with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and galangal.
The taproom adds to the feel-good vibes. It’s got roomy booths to settle into, games to play at long tables, beer-inspired pop culture paintings made by a local artist (prints are for sale near the bar, including a fan fave Simpsons rendition) and even a couple of seats at the bar for the regulars who like to saddle up with the bartenders. A garage door opens up for plenty of light but allows you to feel like you could just be visiting a friend, especially if you pop in for “The Office” trivia night.
1999 S. Myrtle Ave., Monrovia, CA 91016
Hop Secret arrived on the scene in September 2015. Owner Gary Gates, a San Fernando Valley native, grew up on light-bodied German beers and proclaims a love for brews with a “full body, nice mouthfeel and low ABV.” His goal for the brewery was to offer solid basics — at least one dark beer and IPAs, the latter of which have numerical, secret agent-esque names that regulars love.
“There are some things now that as I begin to age seem more fundamental to me: a nice social environment surrounded by a nice carbonated beverage and the customer enjoying that interaction,” Gates says. “I don’t really grow tired of that.”
Walk in through one entrance, and you’ll be greeted by a high wooden bar and ten taps. Come in through the parking lot, and you’ll get an up-close look at the microbreweries’ machinery before ordering your beer. Though it can be difficult to find Hop Secret — no signage is allowed on the outside due to the building’s homeowners association — the regulars who have can be found saddled up at the bar or conversing under local artwork, often chatting with the affable proprietor.
162 W. Pomona Ave., Monrovia, CA 91016
Wingwalker’s Dave Robkin was a longtime homebrewer looking for a change of pace after decades working in theater. Like at Hop Secret, the drink options lean European, but they have playful names such as the Physics Phest festbier and Romancing the Choice altbier. They also offer nitro stouts, including the coffee-based Persephone’s Virtue and the chile-and-cacao-laced Howl of Cerberus. The cavernous space, which features wooden picnic-like tables and metallic light fixtures, had its grand opening in February. An American flag and an airplane wing hang over the bar.
The result is Robkin’s own “Cheers,” a callback to his days growing up in semi-rural Wisconsin, where local taverns were an integral part of his life. “I’ve had that feeling in various places of L.A. before, and I really cherish it,” Robkin says. “There’s a value to that, and people seek it out. It’s really hard to maintain in this city and, for better or worse, I’m trying to do it myself.”
235 W. Maple Ave., Monrovia, CA 91016
Over Town welcomed its first customers in March. Owners Ryan McKay and Carlos Plazola, who met at Woodbury University, combined their design and marketing skills with a semester of architecture to create a warm, welcoming environment. The space is the brightest and airiest of the bunch; street signs line the wall as you walk in, leaning into the overall California rustic vibe, and nooks and crannies allow you to hide if you want to quietly sip your brew. The overall feeling is one of openness, however, and you get the idea that they’d like to get to know you. After all, there’s a large map of the United States opposite the bar with room for bottle caps representing every state, and they’ll need your assistance in filling it up.
As far as the beers go, the owners’ goal is to make the traditional beer lover happy, as Plazola fears “people are forgetting what the original beer is supposed to taste like.” While they’ve experimented with eclectic combinations, like Honey Tea Ale and Blonde Melon, clean, easy-to-drink options like the Samson’s Brown Ale, Hop Springs IPA or O’Ryans Red are popular.
“We were trying to go back to the basics and just make some really good, standard beer,” McKay says, “but we’re also designers, so sometimes we’ll take a little bit of a batch and do something special with it.”