Q&A: Brouwerij West’s Brian Mercer on Bringing Belgium to San Pedro

Get ready for pristine tripels, experimental wheats, and fruit-infused saisons when the brewery opens to the public on February 27

Your new favorite Belgian brewery is about to open… in San Pedro.

Brouwerij West has been bottling innovative takes on traditional Belgian styles as a contract brewer (using the equipment of other breweries on off hours) for the past five years. Now owners Brian Mercer and Dave Holop are set to throw open the loading dock doors on their very own space: a giant, WWII-era Navy warehouse just feet away from the San Pedro waterfront.

I sat down with owners Brian Mercer and Dave Holop, the latter of whom is a man of few words (but considerable beer acumen), so most of the convo is between me and Mercer.

Q: The last time I was here, you were hoping to open by July 4th [2015]. What’s been the holdup?

A: Construction. A lot of construction. Our scheduled construction was supposed to be 16 weeks and we’re at week 42.

Q: Did it have anything to do with the fact that this is a historic building?

A: It’s not a registered historic building, but it is old. When they came in and surveyed the building, each one of these trusses is up or down by four inches from where it was originally. The bar at this end is three inches taller than the bar on the opposite end. It’s a challenging site. Any rooms that we build here can’t touch the building itself. So that bathroom is its own structure. It’s standing off from the wall by two inches.

Q: What’s the reason for that?

A: If you alter the outside structure at all—well then we would have to update everything to seismic [code], it would have been…

Q: Impossible?

A: Well anything is possible with money.

Q: But the opening date would then be July 4th, 2022.

A: Right (laughs).

The opening linup
The opening lineup of beers for the February 27th grand opening

Photograph by Jolie Myers

Q: So tell me about the beers that people will be able to try here.

A: Yeah, so at the moment we have mostly saisons… We’ve got two orange beers—we juiced 500 pounds of sour oranges from Northern California. So we have a 100% wheat wit beer with sour oranges, and then we held a portion of that base beer and added a whole bunch more of the sour oranges – that’s the Super Orange. Our mash filter is a really neat piece of technology that’s actually a hundred years old, invented in Belgium. People like Chimay and Rodenbach all have them. It enables us to save a ton of water, a ton of malt and a ton of time in the mashing process. But it also enables us to do really cool things like 100% wheat beers. So this wheat beer is 55% raw wheat and the rest is malted wheat. There’s no barley at all.

Q: Whoa. That’s cool. And that kind of project, is that one of the most exciting things about finally having your own space?

A: Yeah! We’re five-years-old as a brand. And for the whole time, I’ve been working at other breweries and the capability wasn’t always there to do stuff like that. We just have all these ideas and things we want to do. We’re really excited about that.

Q: You’ve said that this space was going to be a very environmentally-friendly space. Not overly resource intensive. Were you able to realize that goal?

A: I think at the moment we’re so new; we’re in a start-up phase. But as far as the mash filter – we’re seeing 98% malt efficiency, which is a lot, 30% less water usage, and it cuts time, which saves energy too. And then as a site, there are solar panels. And I just want to make an announcement here [BREAKS FOURTH WALL]: If somebody reading this would love to sponsor us for a desalination project, we are only 100 feet from the ocean. If we could just get a pipe on the other side of the breakwater, then we could be a desal brewery. That would be exciting.

Q: Are there any other breweries that are doing that?

Well I worked with one when I was selling [brewing] sugar. One of the breweries I exported to and worked with was in Perth, Australia. Little Creatures? I got to go down and visit them and they use fully-desalinated water. They’re right on the water in Perth, and the water is really tight there. I couldn’t believe it – they’re a decent-sized brewery. Like, 30,000 barrels? But the setup wasn’t that crazy. We just need someone to come in and sponsor ours.

Q: That is a sexy idea.

A: Tell your friends.

Q: Done. So how do you see Brouwerij West fitting into the environs? The Port, the neighborhood…

A: We want to be a force for good in the neighborhood. I’m from San Pedro. I’m fourth generation. We have a lot of interest and pride and love for San Pedro. We’re next to the park, we’re on the waterfront… We want a vibrant waterfront. Make it attractive to residents of Pedro. There isn’t a ton to offer down here right now.

Q: And what about the L.A. beer scene – Are you guys filling a hole that was there before?

A: I don’t know if I have the ability to say that. I think you’d probably be better to say that. There’s so much great beer in L.A. right now, there’re so many great brewers. It’s such an amazing time in brewing just in general. I just want to try everyone’s beers as much as I can.

Q: I feel like there’s a through line of community through what you’ve been saying.

A: I think that as a contract/homeless brewer for four or five years, I don’t know if I was ever part of the L.A. scene. I didn’t have a space. Now I’m excited to be a part of that.

Brouwerij West opens Saturday, February 27th at noon. 110 E. 22nd St., Warehouse No. 9, San Pedro