Alexandra Nowell of Three Weavers Brewing Company on Glitter Beer and Growing Pains

Going Pro by | Jul 2018 | Issue #132
Photo by Bernie Wire

For years, the Los Angeles brewing scene was the weird little runt of California’s brewing family: While San Diego and the Bay Area brewed styles that the rest of the country wound up chasing, LA struggled to generate a critical mass of breweries the city could define itself by. That’s changed recently, in no small part thanks to Three Weavers, a production brewery with a familial taproom that burst into Inglewood in 2014. Three Weavers’ founding brewmaster, Alexandra Nowell, arrived with a brewing palate shaped by Northern California stalwarts like Sierra Nevada, Moylan’s, and Drake’s. At Three Weavers, Nowell has driven phenomenal growth by running the stylistic gamut—from kickass IPAs, to classic interpretations of traditional styles like Kölsch and ESB, to a beer brewed with edible glitter that she swears is the city’s best. In an effort to ease growing pains, the brewery announced a strategic partnership with craft brewery collective CANarchy in July. Here are the nine steps that led her from a college classroom to a LA brewhouse.

Seek credit
Alexandra Nowell didn’t find a love of quality brew in a homebrew kettle or on a barstool, she found it in a course catalogue. Nowell began studying brewing science in college because she needed the course credits, and she thought it sounded cool. But something clicked in her head as she dug into the subject, passed time in tasting labs, and turned raw ingredients into beer in the lab. “Something about it completely captured me,” Nowell recalls. “I can’t pinpoint it. It was a feeling, a passion I hadn’t felt for anything else before.”

Get schooled
Two semesters of brewing classes weren’t quite enough for Nowell to declare that she’d found her calling in life, but they were enough to make her realize that she shouldn’t head to law school. “I needed to explore it more—it wasn’t a want, it had to happen,” Nowell recalls. As a training development intern at Sierra Nevada, Nowell helped build a training program to onboard new employees by shadowing department heads, documenting what they did, and “explaining what was going on within the brewery at an elemental level: why Sierra does the things the way they do, from their use of traditional ingredients, to their environmental stewardship.” It was a formative experience. “They let me in, gave me carte blanche, and told me everything,” she says. “It was incredible.”

Find your match
Nowell cut her teeth in the cellar at Moylan’s Brewery, in the brewhouse of Drake’s Brewing outside Oakland, and at Kinetic, a brewpub on the outskirts of the Mojave desert. She worked her way up the ladder, learning to run a production facility, and what she truly valued in a brewing job. When she met her current business partner and Three Weavers co-founder Lynne Weaver, Nowell knew she’d found her next venture. Weaver was looking for a brewmaster to help her launch a new production brewery, and Nowell was looking for a change of pace. They met through a brewing equipment supplier, and immediately hit it off. “I compare it to an arranged marriage,” Nowell jokes. “We basically looked at each other on paper, met, and said, let’s do this, and jumped in. I was really confident in her passion and her drive. She’s one of the most driven humans I’ve ever met.”

Foster culture
Nowell and Weaver have set out to build a great brewery Los Angeles can call its own—one anchored in a strong sense of community. “It’s built around this idea of sharing something special with friends and family,” she says. That community has also grown around the culture Nowell and Weaver have created for their employees. The primacy of company culture was a lesson Nowell took from Sierra Nevada, and she’s brought it into her own brewing facility. “It’s about treating your employees like family,” she says. “Brewing is a very laborious job. There’s a lot of hard, shitty work, and your staff is making it all happen. So you have to treat them with respect, and give them living wages and benefits.”

Run fast, if you can run well
Three Weavers has been driving near-triple-digit annual growth since launching three years ago, and Nowell and Weaver are showing no signs of slowing down. The key to sustaining that pace, Nowell argues, has been ensuring that it comes without compromise. “The first question Lynne and I reflect on is, Will increased pace force us to make concessions on quality? And if the answer is yes, we don’t do it. Will this make me push our Kölsch out sooner? If not, we make it happen. The growing pains can’t be on quality.”

Stay true
Nowell doesn’t have to look far to see the difference between craft beer and independent craft beer. California has been a magnet for corporate investment in craft, and Nowell sees the aftereffects every day. “There are things they can do with marketing and price points we can’t do,” she says. “We deal with unfair market practices every day.” The response from Three Weavers hasn’t been to try to compete on dollars, but to double down on the brewery’s core identity as an independent, community-focused institution obsessed with quality. “We have to stay true to ourselves,” she says. “We rely on the fact that our beer tastes better. It’s not just local flavor—it is better.”

Don’t mess with simplicity
For as long as Nowell has been drinking quality beers, she’s loved Kölsch. And throughout her brewing career, she’s worked to dial in her interpretation of the classic style, making subtle adjustments to get it to a crisp, clean, refreshing, nuanced place. “It’s a perfect beer,” Nowell says of the style. She sees Seafarer, Three Wavers’ year-round Kölsch, as a nod to both brewing tradition and to the understated beauty of quality ingredients. “Kölsch is a beer that doesn’t need to be messed with,” she says. “There’s beauty in simplicity. And we work so closely with these raw ingredient producers that have so much pride and respect for their ingredients, that we owe them the same level of respect when using those ingredients in an end product.”

Be a boss, do it right
Deep Roots ESB stands alongside Seafarer Kölsch in the category of beers that Nowell brews because she can. ESB doesn’t generate the kind of sales volume that Three Weavers IPAs do, but Nowell pushes out the style year-round because, she says, “I don’t want to be a one-trick pony.” Plus, the entire staff loves drinking bready, biscuity ESBs, so they’re going to brew the beers they want to drink. “You can’t find that style fresh [in Los Angeles], so we make it,” Nowell says. “If you’re not brewing the beers you want to drink in your own brewery, you’re doing it wrong.”

Don’t wreck, refresh
Before Three Weavers, Nowell brewed an India Pale Lager that leaned heavily on El Dorado hops. She loved what El Dorado did for that beer, so when it came time to formulate a flagship IPA for Three Weavers, she jumped on the hop, and blended it with Simcoe and Mosaic. The result, Expatriate IPA, is the one recipe Nowell hasn’t had to rewrite since Three Weavers opened. She describes it as heavy on tropical fruit, pineapple, and strawberry. “We want people to feel refreshed, and to want to drink another one,” she argues. “If you’re a business, you don’t want people to feel taxed by half of a pint. So few people are looking for that palate wrecker.”