Rob Croxall is a born-and-bred El Segundo man currently living what many would consider the new American dream: he ditched the corporate world and now owns a killer brewery with beers appearing on 45 beer lists full-time and 140 total restaurants and beer houses.
Ten years ago, deep into a career in the aerospace industry, he gave home brewing a shot, thanks to a friend at Boeing who passed along a kit to him. With some help from the folks at Culver City Home Brewing Supply, Rob ignited a solid hobby that, over a decade of increased practice and painstaking sampling, began to overshadow his nine to five. His first beer, named simply Blue House Pale Ale in homage to his house, attracted a huge following among his friends as it was perfected into a light entry-level craft brew.
But the pastime likely would have remained as such had it not been for a series of fortuitous developments: Croxall developed a tight relationship with Thomas Kelley, then general manager and Cicerone (beer sommelier) at Library Ale House in Santa Monica; Rob was accepted into the prestigious Professional Brewers Program at UC Davis; and he was suddenly faced with the lay offs of his staff at Northrop. He took a severance package to spare his staff, threw himself into the Davis program, and opened El Segundo Brewing Co., with Kelley as director of sales and marketing.
Croxall carved out a spot at 140 Main St. and the brewery made its first delivery in May of 2011 to Rock & Brews, right across the street. He, his brother, and his father had the first three pints served, and Croxall remembers watching anxiously as people around him at the bar started to try it.
His beer was a hit. ESBC has been on a roll ever since, quickly becoming one of the most respected new craft beer producers in a quickly expanding market. Croxall was shocked by and incredibly grateful for Kelley’s ability to move the first few batches of the beer.
“But it also scared the hell out of me,” Croxall said. “Right out of the gate, we were on every A-list beer menu in town.”
All of this nervousness was for naught: El Segundo Brewing Co. has not only earned and maintained its position on these lists but also managed to double its capacity only a year in. A canning system is on the horizon, way ahead of schedule.
Kelley said that the burgeoning craft beer scene throughout LA is particularly hungry for locally made beer.
“The LA market is so ready for beer that is being made in LA,” Kelley said. “Everybody is going to give you a shot. And I already know everybody, so it’s just, ‘Hey guys, try our beer.’”
If you can’t wait a few months to bring Croxall’s beer home, ESBC opened a small tap room at the brewery in April to fill growlers for the locals and for the impressive amount of beer enthusiasts that come down from the city. The tiny but charming spot also satisfies the growing demand for an inside peek at the process (check out the events section of their website for hours: (www.elsegundobrewing.com/events.htm).
Blue House Citra Pale Ale, White Dog Wheat IPA, Two 5 Left Double IPA, and Hyperion’s Double Stout were on the tap when I stopped in last Saturday. The Citra, a double dry hopped pale, drinks like a hard-nosed IPA but comes in at an easy-drinking 5.5 % ABV. It’s a crowd favorite, for sure. I went gaga for the White Dog Wheat IPA –it has the cloudy, smooth character of a hefeweizen without the sweet, coating mouthfeel thanks to an influx of hops. (Did I mention Croxall’s love for hops? It’s borderline maniacal and right in step with the current demand for hop-heavy IPA-style brews). The humble brew master attributes his success to his small, dedicated team – Kelley is his only full-time employee – and the incredibly supportive relationships the local breweries have with one another. Joel Elliot at Strand and Henry Nguyen at Monkish Brewery, Croxall says, have been instrumental in the success of ESBC. The community of South Bay brewers knows that the better the product the local spots produce, the bigger the interest in the scene here.
“The LA beer scene is just exploding,” Croxall says.
And ESBC’s hop-centric approach promises to firmly establish itself in that scene.
“Godspeed people making crazy beers,” Kelley said. “But they are not beers selling all day long every day – hoppy beer is one of those things that at the end of the day, you just want a beer, and to me, that’s a pale ale or IPA.”
El Segundo Brewing Company, 140 Main Street, El Segundo. (310) 529-3882.