Fireman’s Brew is much more than a beer by firemen, for firemen. It’s a comprehensive brand that links distinct taste with the culture of its founders. With a blonde pilsner, redhead amber ale and 16-proof brunette doublebock, as well as a line of coffees and sodas, Fireman’s Brew is all about ‘extinguishing thirst’ and ‘igniting the party.’ But brand still sticks to its roots, donating a portion of its profits to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
COO Dave Johnson has played a critical role in the company’s growth, most recently working with investment bank Monarch Bay Securities to raise $5 million. Johnson sat down to discuss the brand’s continuing development.
How did Fireman’s Brew get started, and what drew you into the business?
“My business partner, Rob Nowaczyk, is an LA Country Firefighter. He got thirsty after a brushfire. He wanted to get a beer after work and asked his friends ‘why isn’t there a beer for firefighters?’”
“At the end of 2006, shortly after getting out of [USC] Marshall, Rob recruited me away from the sports business. He had me come in to write the business plan and raise the capital for [Fireman’s Brew].”
“I saw potential for a big brand here. This was an iconic and classic brand with national appeal. I wasn’t going to leave everything for a small-time brand. The name Fireman’s Brew and the mission we stand for appeals to people across America.”
How has Fireman’s Brew grown since you joined in 2006?
“You don’t really see how far you’ve come since you’re buried in [the business] every day. We used to deliver a keg at a time. Now we’re under contract with more than 40 distributors in 15 states, soon to be 17. [Fireman’s Brew] is in the top 20% of all breweries by production volume in the country.”
How would you summarize the Fireman’s Brew brand?
“We’ve got an incredible brand that fits a special kind of person. It all goes back to our roots. Everything you think about in a fireman, we want you to think about that character and quality in our products.”
“You don’t see a fireman sticking his nose into a glass of wine. You don’t have to be a connoisseur to enjoy our products. We keep a very limited line of flagship beers while still appealing to a broad range of people.”
Who is your target consumer?
“We’ve got a dual track here. One is the natural firefighter/public service person. That’s the built-in market and the low-hanging fruit, but we’re not going to become a huge beer company with that.”
“On the other end, we're looking at groups like millennials, with above-average income, college educated. Age 25 – 45, looking for a good beer that goes back to a good cause.”
What made you decide to branch outside of beer and make nonalcoholic products?
“Given that we’re marketing an alcoholic beverage in a public service agency, we want to recognize that there’s a time for fun and a time for work. That’s why we created ‘on duty’ drunks and ‘off duty’ drinks. We don’t want to give the impression that firemen drink on the job.”
“We’re also a family brand, so now we can have fireman drinking our products with their kids.”
Speaking of marketing plan, what is Fireman’s Brew’s marketing strategy?
“An insanely high amount of beer festivals and tasting events. It’s very important for us to get the product in someone’s hands and make a connection with the customer. We want them to get the name and taste of it, so when they see it at the store they’re familiar with it.”
“We’ve done quite a bit of publicity too. Things like cooking with beer segments on TV. We can’t afford big TV commercials but we do come up with creative pitches on the news.”
“We also work with our distributors to connect with local fire departments. Each market we go into, we work with firefighter charities to reach out to those communities.”
What are the next steps for Fireman’s Brew?
“We’re raising capital to increase our sales presence. We plan to build a tasting room in Southern California for [research and development]. It will be a great base for testing out new flavors, seasonal beers and other products.”
“Further down the road, we’re looking at multiple R&D facilities and tasting rooms. It’s a very exciting time for us and we’ve got some big things in the works.”
Fall means Oktoberfest across the beer world, and few are more prepared than The Dudes’ Brewing Co., known across Southern California for their myriads of ever-changing beers that stretch the boundaries of drinkable imagination. To bring in the season and celebrate Oktoberfest in their own right, The Dudes’ has released a seasonal fall beer selection that pays homage to German tradition.
At the helm of the release is Lead Pilot Brewer Marco Leyton, a well-built and well-bearded army veteran who began his brewing career while stationed in Germany. Leyton was quick to note that the fall beer lineup was absolutely a team effort, though it certainly couldn’t hurt to gain influence from Oktoberfest ground zero.
The beirhalle hefeweizen starts off the lineup, light in color with a mild finish but strong in depth and character. Certainly the kind of beer that lives up to its namesake, where with each sip one can visualize the endless communal tables in beer halls across Munich (or Stuttgart, which Leyton notes is as the German Oktoberfest that has far more locals and fewer tourists). Same goes with the Oktoberfest, which has a crisp, clean mouth feel primed for enjoying many times over the course of a day (or four).
The Dudes’ pumpkin ale is the newest edition to the famed juicebox fruit series, and everything that a pumpkin spice addict could ever want in a beer. It’s equally smooth as the rest of the beer lineup, so no overpowering hints of clove or nutmeg, but enough pumpkin essence to easily make the point. And to round it out, you’ve got grandma’s pecan brown, an always-loved icon at The Dudes’.
Each of these beers finds an excellent pairing with The Dudes’ expanded food menu, which is now way beyond the original pizza, salad and pretzel concept that they debuted when first deciding to add a kitchen to select taprooms. The Dudes’ takes as much care in their food as they do their beer, making virtually everything from scratch. House-made bruschetta pairs nicely with the hefeweizen while their pretzels, complemented with an addictive beer cheese sauce (made with The Dudes’ own beer, of course), are a natural fit with the Oktoberfest. The pumpkin ale goes with a house-made burrata and the pecan brown with some excellent steak chimichurri bites.
Pizza remains a staple, with specialties like the sausage mushroom white and the margherita going well with just about anything from the extensive beer lineup. And while beers and food vary by location, The Dudes’ continues to expand with huge plans for new locations. Stay tuned for new opening announcements. TheDudesBrew.com
Art Beyond the Glass saw another successful year, bringing together a lively community of LA’s bar and beverage professionals in electric and ever-so-festive fashion. The annual event, which is dedicated to celebrating the artistic side of bartenders’ lives—literally—showcases painting, music, and all types of performance for a like-minded and rowdy crowd. Throw in endless craft cocktails and vendor experiences that stretch the realm of creativity and you’ve got about as ironically sophisticated take on a college party as you can get.
Held in the Los Globos Theater, Art Beyond the Glass welcomed an array of classic and up-and-coming drink purveyors that came ready to cater to their seasoned audience. Hendricks Dry Gin commemorated the event’s timing with a ‘midsummer solstice’ that included a number of summery drinks combined with a fully-costumed [read: scantily-clothed] Puck, emblematic of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Ilegal Mezcal was back with hand-injected Jell-O shots (yes, they had syringes on hand). Adjacent to them, Tromba Tequila offered up a sinfully sweet alcoholic melon sorbet topped with vanilla tapioca.
While Art Beyond the Glass is not necessarily known for food, Marker’s Mark made the day by dressing up their booth as a makeshift In-n-Out and—you guessed it—ordering dozens of In-n-Out burgers for the crowd. Patrons chomped and drank away whilst playing Duck Hunt at the Super Mario Bros setup hosted by Suntory.
Ford’s Gin went the extra mile by serving their drinks in gigantic ice blocks. Jägermeister promoted its new Jägermeister Manifest, but only for those who deemed themselves worthy by completing a medieval maze in 2 minutes or less to obtain the key necessary to unlock the libation from its display case. Jack Daniels, which hosted “Lynchburg Crossfit,” served up a drink that supposedly required handstand pushups and burpees to order, but—unsurprisingly—most were able to try it by just asking nicely.
On the artistic side, Art Beyond the Glass featured a number of live art creations, a silent auction, and musical performances. Event proceeds benefited Beautify Earth, an LA-based nonprofit dedicated to beautifying communities through public art. Be on the lookout for next year’s Art Beyond the Glass, taking place June 2020. For more information, visit ArtBeyondTheGlass.com.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.