“Nando”, as he was dubbed by his Eagle Rock Brewery cohort Lee Bakofsky, is a super nice, down to Earth, humble guy. He would have to be waterboarded to sing his own praises. And yet, over the last two years, with Garcia as the brewmaster at Eagle Rock, the beers, which were always really good, have quietly, just like Garcia himself, become really great. When I pointed this out, Garcia responded, “Our beers are what they are because of the hard work and attention to detail that our entire team puts into the process. The beers wouldn’t be what they are without their contributions.”
Nandobrau is his Instagram handle, a combination of his nickname and what he does so well. It is also what they call their Oktoberfest beers at Eagle Rock.
Garcia bleeds Dodger blue and, like all Dodger fans, is hoping they can make an October run to win their first World Series since 1988. It is fitting that he is our October issue cover story and interview.
DRENNON: Tell me about growing up. What were you into? How did it shape you into who you are now?
GARCIA: I grew up as a suburban kid in Santa Clarita about 35 miles north of Los Angeles. School and soccer really took up a lot of my time… my job was to get good grades and not get into trouble. I used to love model rockets, playing roller hockey, summer campouts in the backyard. That was all possible because my parents worked really hard. My parents came from Colombia and Panama, met in Los Angeles and got married in the mid-1960s. They managed to get their college educations and raise three kids all while working full time jobs. That work ethic was never lost on me… I remember my dad making the really long commute from Santa Clarita out to Long Beach when I was in high school. My mom was a school teacher and she would always work through the summer. I’m really thankful because they did all that to ensure that their family was not wanting.
What was your training and path to be a brewer?
I had always been interested in math/science growing up but I graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a Business degree and went to work doing financial analysis after college. While living in Santa Clarita in 2006, I would occasionally go to the Wolf Creek brewpub. On one of those visits I was staring at the brewing equipment behind the bar and I thought “you know… I bet you could make beer at home.” I did some research and extract batches ensued. After an eye-opening trip to Europe and subsequently brewing my first all-grain batch with a friend, I was hooked and decided the desk job was not what I wanted for my life. I enrolled in the American Brewers Guild apprenticeship program and started helping out at Eagle Rock Brewery in January 2010. Upon completion of my apprenticeship at Bridgeport in Portland, I returned to ERB to work full time in September 2011 (one year as brewer, three years as head brewer, and now two years as brewmaster). Now that I write that, I can’t believe I just passed the six-year mark working at the brewery!
Do you have a brewing philosophy?
Balance. It’s something we always strive for, no matter the style.
What have been your most important lessons learned as a brewer?
The most important lesson is that there are always important lessons to be learned, be they from technical journals, conferences, or discussions with other brewers. The industry has exploded in recent years and craft beer is gaining more traction, so we have a responsibility to keep learning and improving our processes to ensure we’re releasing products of the highest quality.
Tell me how you came on board at Eagle Rock.
I knew Jeremy, Ting, and Steve (Eagle Rock owners) from the Maltose Falcons (Garcia was an award-winning homebrewer with the critically-acclaimed homebrew club for four years) and I had been following their blog about the startup process for Eagle Rock. Right after I enrolled in the American Brewers Guild program, I ran into Jeremy at the Verdugo Bar as there was a Lost Abbey/Port Brewing event. I had mentioned that I had enrolled in the ABG program and that I was hoping to get some hands-on experience by volunteering at ERB. As they were just starting out with a skeleton crew, he was happy to have extra help. ERB batch 7 in January 2010 was the first time I came to help and nearly 8 years later we’re a few batches away from batch 700! I also used to help out in the taproom on Friday and Saturday nights and I remember the craziness of the grand opening… the taproom was packed and there was a line out to the street. It was really an amazing experience to be part of something that people were genuinely excited for.
What is the vision for Eagle Rock?
Our mission is to keep improving and brewing the best beer for the people.
How do you feel about experimentation in new styles or doing twists on existing styles?
Any time we have the chance to try something new it is exciting. It can be nerve wracking as well if you’re delving into uncharted territory because the beer still has to be good. I’ll read as much as I can about the style and will try commercial examples if I can find them. I want to have a wealth of information before I sit down to write that recipe.
Do you plan to do any collaborations and, if so, why do you like collaborating?
We have a few collaborations lined up… we’re brewing beers with HenHouse Brewing Company and Temescal Brewing (Bay Area), Mason Ale Works (San Diego), and Institution Ale Co. (Ventura). Collaborations are excellent learning experiences. It’s always fun to pick other brewers’ brains regarding recipe formulation. Collaboration field trips are great as you get to see how other brewhouses operate. I’ve often walked away thinking “now that’s a good idea.” And did I mention doughnuts!
Now a few personal questions if you don’t mind, so that our readers can get to know you as a person. Who were your favorite bands growing up?
I was a pretty big fan of Rage Against the Machine. Tom Morello’s guitar work is what inspired me to pick up a guitar when I was in high school. Other than that, I liked a lot of popular rock of the day. College is where I really began exploring music and discovered the greats like Hendrix, Beatles, Stones, Bowie, Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Minor Threat, Clash, etc.
Who are your favorite bands now (if not the same)?
I like just about all music genres but a few of my favorite bands are Queens of the Stone Age, Failure, Brian Jonestown Massacre. I’m also a big fan of crate diggers like RJD2… people don’t give DJs enough credit but it takes talent to be able to use elements from a few different records and come up with entirely new music.
What were your favorite movies as a kid?
I was a kid of the ’80s/’90s so I grew up on a healthy dose of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, etc. on VHS. My older brother exposed me to a lot of good comedy as well… Caddyshack, Naked Gun, any Mel Brooks movie.
What is/are your favorite food(s)?
You can ask everyone at the brewery, I’d be hard-pressed to turn down an Eagle Rock Italian Deli sandwich (or any sandwich for that matter). I really enjoy a good bowl of ramen or pho and I can easily polish off a couple orders of Din Tai Fung dumplings. And then there’s that In-N Out place…
Do you follow any sports and, if so, who are your favorite teams and/or players?
Dodgers, duh. My father and sister got me started when I was a kid and I’ve been a lifelong fan. This season has been insane though. We’ve seen one of the most dominant performances in history, which put the team on pace for 117 wins, only to see them drop 20 of 25 over the last few weeks with nothing seeming to go right. Hopefully that dominant team reappears for the playoffs, because 29 years since Gibby and the Bull Dog’s World Series heroics is too long of a wait! (No offense to the long-suffering Cubs, Red Sox, and Indians fans.)
If you could take a month off and do anything, what would you do?
Easy: I would tackle the John Muir Trail, which runs 210 miles from Yosemite Valley to Mt. Whitney. I read about the trail in a magazine article back in 2013 and was blown away by the accompanying photos. Home to idyllic meadows, craggy peaks, and alpine lakes, the Eastern Sierra has some of the most beautiful scenery in world. Reading about the JMT is the reason I got into backpacking in the first place. Since reading that article, I’ve managed to hike sections of the JMT, but I haven’t yet wrangled enough time to do the whole thing.
If you could take a month off and travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Aside from the JMT, I’d like to go back to the Hawaiian island of Kauai… a picture of that island should appear next to the definition of “relaxation.” Ocean water that’s the perfect temperature, snorkeling (and hiking) opportunities aplenty, and tuna poke that blows any mainland imitation out of the water? Sign me up!
If you were stranded on a desert island and could only take three beers, which would you take?
Sierra Nevada (my first), Bitburger (everyday drinker), and Orval (desert island special occasions).
Between talent and work ethic, which is more important?
Brewing truly is a test of one’s work ethic. Early-morning brews… late-night brews… broken equipment… Saturday equipment repair… Sunday cellar work on account of Saturday’s equipment repair… fermentation doesn’t stop.
If you weren’t a brewer, what would you be?
Park Ranger in Yosemite.
If you had to describe yourself in one word or phrase, what would it be?
“Work in Progress.”
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