It is not very often in the warm and fuzzy world of craft beer that “breaking news” causes a palpable tremor. Ballast Point for a billion was such a moment. More local to Los Angeles and Orange County, the rumor that rock star brewer Evan Price was leaving Noble Ale Works has been the talk of the town, or shall I say, the talk of the second largest city in the United States for many months.
One of my favorite mantras is that this crazy craft beer renaissance we are experiencing is a result of the artistry of the modern American brewer. These brewers are artists just like actors, musicians, painters and sculptors are artists. They are turning centuries old brewing traditions on end, sometimes upside down --- all while honoring the history of the art of brewing.
It takes a master craftsman to have honed their craft and attain the level of artist.
Evan Price is such a brewer. The aforementioned reverberations of his imminent departure from Noble resulted from the legions of loyal fans he created in his ascendant five years as the master brewer there. To be fair, he was probably just a brewer when he arrived at Noble after having worked under brilliant brewmaster Victor Novak at TAPS for two and a half years as his head brewer. But make no mistake about it. Evan Price is now a brilliant brewmaster in his own right. He wouldn’t admit it. When I pointed out this irrefutable fact, he smiled and responded with his signature smirk, “I’m humble as fuck.”
Another of my mantras is that word of mouth is failsafe. Word of mouth on Evan’s increasingly excellent beers began to spread across Orange County and LA like a wildfire flamed by the Santa Ana winds. The unveiling of Naughty Sauce, his ingenious golden coffee stout, further fanned the flames and created even more loyal fans who sought out the beer whenever and wherever they could find it.
Price told me, “Brewers tend to get caught up on the need for their beers to be consistent. I always tell them, no. The beer needs to be getting consistently better.” Evan’s beers did just that. In 2014 and 2015, he won back to back “Best IPA” awards at the nascent LA IPA Festival at Mohawk Bend, for Tongue Tickles, a sublime DIPA, followed a year later by I Love It!, a superb IPA. In 2015, he won his first Great American Beer Festival (GABF) medal, a bronze for his trailblazing session IPA, Nose Candy.
Then in 2016, at the World Beer Cup (WBC) awards in Philadelphia, among pretty much every brewer on the planet, Price culminated his rise to brewmaster status by winning the Gold medal for I Love It! in the most competitive category by far, IPA, the Silver medal for Gosebusters in the Contemporary Gose category and the Bronze medal for Nobility in the DIPA category. The three medals resulted in Noble Ale Works being named Best in the Small Brewery category and Price being named Best Brewmaster in the small brewery category…in the fucking world.
Later that year, Nobility DIPA also won the silver medal at GABF as Evan’s run of success continued.
Less than a year ago, Noble Ale Works was literally sitting on top of the beer world. Evan Price is a rock star. What could possibly go wrong? The first sign of something amiss was the curious departure of Noble’s CEO Brian Rauso mere months after the World Beer Cup triumph. While at Noble, Rauso helped re-form and organize the Orange County Brewers Guild and served on their board of directors. He was well known and well liked within the fraternity of industry insiders. His sudden exodus was the initial tremor and eyebrow-raiser. But the shock wave hit full force when industry gossip started to spread that, in fact, Evan Price’s departure from Noble was imminent. Common sense speculation, if that is not an oxymoron, began to form that the two friends would open their own brewery. Neither gentleman would confirm the gossip. Price had been away from Noble anyway on paternity leave as his wife Aubrey had delivered twin boys, Connor and Dylan.
The idle speculation had to remain idle. And unconfirmed.
But no longer. Beer Paper is proud to confirm that Evan Price and Brian Rauso will open Green Cheek Beer Company in Orange. Their lofty goal? To be nothing less than “Purveyors of Happiness” according to Rauso. I asked Price, why open his own brewery, and why now? He responded, “I had gotten as far as I could as an employee. I felt that it was time to jump into ownership where I could control my own destiny. It was a tough decision. We had hired all of the Noble staff. We laughed together, we cried together. We were family.”
Rauso echoed his pal and new partner’s sentiment, “Green Cheek Beer will be a two-man show. This is a legacy play. It’s the end of the cowboy movie where you get on the horse and ride off into the sunset. This is the last place we both ever wanna work.”
They aren’t joking when they say they will be a two-man operation. Price will, of course, be the brewer. But Rauso, a successful businessman for over twenty years, will be Price’s assistant brewer. Conversely, Price will apprentice in the art of business under Rauso. Their ambitious goal is a mid-May opening to coincide with OC Beer Week. Green Cheek Beer Company will be located at the former Valiant Brewing location which features a state-of-the-art Premier 20 bbl stainless steel system. Price stresses that it is, sadly, a case of Valiant deciding to close their doors and sell their brewery equipment and that it was not a case of Price and Rauso buying their brewery. The timing worked out for both parties.
I asked where they came up with the name for Green Cheek Beer Company. Price told me, “We named the brewery after the wild Green-Cheeked parrots that fly around Old Towne Orange where Brian and I both live. They’re a lot like us…loud and social.”
I asked Price what his brewing philosophy will be at Green Cheek Beer Company. He offered, “The longer you’re a brewer, the more you realize the importance of drinkability. Every beer should have the appropriate amount of drinkability and a lot of brewers don’t seem to understand that. You have to figure out how to get the most magic out of the least amount of ingredients. The fewer the ingredients, the better. Also, with experience, the do’s and don’ts list just gets longer and longer. But my biggest concern is continuing to stay relevant. I am constantly asking, how do I continue to reinvent myself?”
Price, as he stated at the outset, is constantly looking to brew better beers: Even in the face of the acclaim his beers have already received. I’m pretty damn sure that is his recipe to stay relevant.
And we craft beer fans will be the beneficiaries of that constant evolution of Evan Price as an artist.
My final mantra is that California is the best craft brewing state in the country, bar none. We are rapidly approaching 800 craft breweries in the Golden State and the vast majority of them will be and should be jealous of the crazy bright future that lies ahead for Green Cheek Beer. You know what I call that?
Green Cheek Envy.
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