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Brewmaster responds: An open letter from the former Angel City owner

By Hayley Fox
Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2012, at 08:22AM
Courtesy Michael Bowe

Bowe in front of the brewery with JR -- the artist responsible for the large mural seen behind them.

Downtown's Angel City Brewery changed hands earlier this year and new owner Alan Newman has plans to open a tasting room, experiment with new beers and expand the "underdeveloped" craft beer scene in Los Angeles.

Angel City's founder and original owner, Michael Bowe, began as an award-winning homebrewer in the '90s before buying an 8,000 barrel brewery on eBay in 2004. He then moved to Downtown in late 2010 and settled into the Roebling & Sons building at Alameda and Traction. In January of this year, Newman and his company took over the brewery.

Now, Bowe has written an open letter about his brewing dreams, business hurdles and the reality of Angel City's future.

Read Bowe's unedited letter below:

Dear Blogdowntown,

I have been sailing the Channel Islands all week and was out of touch with your reporter. First, I want to say that I’m a fan of Blogdowntown , who gave Angel City Brewing our first press in 2010. We subsequently received a lot of press but Jenni Simcoe’s article has remained one of my favorites.

Moving Angel City Brewing to Downtown Los Angeles was my grand vision and a huge risk, we were terribly under funded and by some great stoke of luck and fate landed in the John A Roebling Building. The building had amazing potential but was also a mess, I spent months covered in and coughing up 90 year old dust!

To make the brewery work we needed to upgrade every utility which not only cost us a fortune but also took a long time. While I’m a huge booster for Downtown LA and was helped by the Mayors Office and Jan Perry, we were stymied by the notorious Building and Safety Dept. The Plumbing inspectors alone cost us 4-6 months of expensive delays and only finally by having Jan Perry intervene did we get approval to install our floor drains.

The Health Dept tried to close us down even though production breweries were except in their codes. We had a valid ABC Small beer manufactures license which according to the ABC Asst Director, allowed us to serve onsite, but the city fought us every step of the way and only because we were able to get a Special Event Permit every week, were we able to open on Weekends from March till December.

During that period we had incredible support from the community and hosted many fine Art shows by such local greats as Robert Reynolds and Emeric Konrad. Street Brewed! our amazing Street Art show where I convinced the Artists to paint on huge 10’x12’ panels that we built.

Many great exhibits and events followed as we continued the battle to get the brewery operational. I reached out to many potential investors but was unable to secure funding that conformed to my corporate investment structure of existing shareholders.

I had known Alan Newman for many years and knew that he had been recently forced out of the brewery he started in Vermont, Magic Hat Brewery, by some Hedge Fund Venture Capitalists. I was determined not to let that happen to us.

When Alan came to visit, I asked him to invest in Angel City. He had just formed a subsidiary with Jim Koch at Boston Beer Company and they wanted Angel City Brewing to be their first foray into buying and developing small breweries.

I’ve known Jim Koch for many years and admired his brand development, integrity and willingness to help small brewers. I had no intention of selling the brewery but considering that Boston Beer Company is the largest and most sophisticated Brewer in America plus the fact that they offered us millions, convinced me that they could take my vision to the next level.

Considering the wolves at the door, I decided to take the deal.Part of the agreement includes a non-compete clause so I’ve had to turn down many offers to start new breweries, even in Downtown LA!

How is the brewery doing so far? I think they are off to a slow start and lament that they are not using any of my brand innovations like Che Pale Lager, The Jazz Beers including Charlie Parker Pale Ale and Rahsaan Roland Kirk Stritch Stout, India Pale Lager, IPL, Belgian IPA, Belgian Night Train and Vitzen.

Typically when new people take over a business, they want to change it in a way that reflects on them and Alan gets to do it his way. Even though I’m still being paid as a consultant, Alan doesn’t want my help, but I am glad he hired many of my workers.

As you can imagine my life is very different these days, no seven day weeks and no sword of Damocles hanging over my head. I’ve recently been pursuing my lifelong passion for sailing and bought a 42’ ft Sailboat and plan to cruise to Mexico and beyond next fall.

I miss Downtown LA and all the friends I’ve made and still visit occasionally but remain a Westsider where I’ve lived for over 35 years. Much like my two sons who have gone off to university and new lives, so has my ”little brewery that could.”

I look to a great future for Angel City in Downtown LA and am proud to have been a part of its story. My new title is "Brewery Founder Emeritus.”

My thanks to all the people that supported us,

Michael Bowe


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