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‘Beer Saved Me:’ How a Former Convict Turned His Life Around By Chugging, Then Brewing Dank IPAs

12:31 PM PST on December 1, 2022

    Opening a craft brewery in 2022 anywhere in Los Angeles is an act of defiance against capitalism, monopolies, and what craft beer enthusiasts refer to as “Big Beer.” But for Edgar Preciado, opening a craft brewery means redemption and a successful re-entry into society.

    “Craft beer saved my life—straight up,” the Compton native tells L.A. TACO during a tour of Beer Thug Brewing, his innovative new microbrewery within the Border X facilities in the city of Bell, California.

    After going viral on Instagram in 2019 for his entertaining “Cholo Chug” videos, featuring various videos of Preciado chugging highly coveted, expensive, and rare craft beers from around the country, his passion for craft beer quickly outgrew the act of simply drinking it. 

    “I didn’t want to end up just as a cholo meme, so I stepped it up,” he says.

    Soon enough, Preciado joined a local home-brewers club and taught himself how to make the beers he loved to drink.  

    He hired brewmaster Steven Andrade, formerly of the now-shuttered Indie Brewing in Boyle Heights, to make his dreams of launching a craft beer business come true.

    “These days, you gotta throw down at least half a million dollars at the bare minimum to make noise as a new brewery in Los Angeles," Preciado says. "We don’t got that kind of money, so we had to get creative."

    Beer Thug Life Brewmaster Steven Andrade, founder Edgar Preciado, and his son Angel Preciado. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
    Beer Thug Brewing's brewmaster, Steven Andrade, with founder Edgar Preciado and his son, Angel Preciado. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO
    Inside Beer Thug Brewing. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
    Inside Beer Thug Brewing. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.

    Preciado is joining forces with Border X and Mujeres Brew House to rent out the San Diego and Bell brewery's tanks and space in an “alternate proprietorship” community approach to opening a craft brewery in Los Angeles.

    “If you ever go to a gas station and see a Subway inside there, that business-within-a-business is the same principle as what we are doing,” says Preciado, who is grateful to David Favela, Border X’s founder.

    “I’ve seen a gang of homies die in front of my face. I’ve been shot two times. The last time I got shot, the gun was pointed at my head, but by the grace of God, the gun got jammed, and that’s why I’m here. I looted and participated in the L.A. Riots. I went through all that shit.”

    But first, Preciado had to get a brewing permit from ABC and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau which, given his criminal background, he would also have to “get creative” about to nab.

    “The approval normally takes 60 to 90 days, but it took seven fucking months… because of my prison time,” he says.

    Preciado refused to take no for an answer. He gathered letters of support for him to legally open a craft brewery from the mayor of Compton, the U.S. Marshals, a Supervisor from California’s Department of Corrections, an attorney in Sacramento who works for California Governor Gavin Newsom, and others. 

    “They all vouched for me; this is what I love about the craft beer community," Preciado says. "Yeah, I fucked up in the past a lot of times, but that’s who I am now. When you get out of prison, the easiest thing to do is get right back in."

    Preciado is talking about the startling statistic that shows 50% of previously convicted inmates often end up back in prison.

    “I had so many job opportunities as soon as I got out of jail," he recalls. "I had a shot at $28 an hour in just a couple of weeks out of prison, but on the first day, HR and the manager called me in and told me I couldn’t keep the job because of my past felony.”

    Preciado is not afraid to talk about his past if you ask him. 

    "Thug Lite" beer will be aimed at converting Latino residents nearby the brewery who prefer to drink lighter beers. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
    "Thug Lite" beer will be aimed at converting Latino residents nearby the brewery who prefer to drink lighter beers. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
    Beer Thug Brewing's Brewmaster Steven Andrade and founder Edgar Preciado. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
    Beer Thug Brewing's brewmaster Steven Andrade and founder Edgar Preciado. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.

    “I’ve seen a gang of homies die in front of my face," he says. "I’ve been shot two times. The last time I got shot, the gun was pointed at my head, but by the grace of God, the gun got jammed, and that’s why I’m here. I looted and participated in the L.A. Riots. I went through all that shit. I got nothing to hide. My life is an open book.”

    Preciado was locked up in 1998 and would spend the next decade in and out of jail. The first offense was for possession of cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, and five guns. The system gave him probation, but then he went to prison in Tehachapi after getting busted with “one-sixteenth” of cocaine.

    Preciado was released from prison in 2010, and he still remembers the first craft beer he had.

    “It was a Sam Adams," he says. "I was a Modelo drinker at a Chivas game in Carson, but they ran out of it at the stadium. I remember my dad sipping it and being like, ‘What the hell is this? It’s so strong!’ I never looked back after that.” 

    “This is a full pour or nothing kind of spot, homie.” 

    Preciado credits his wife, Maria, for standing by his side for the last 27 years, as well as his children for helping him get back on track. Raised in Compton, one of Preciado’s sons attended Princeton, and his other son, Angel, is working alongside his father at the new brewery.

    Like other small contract brewers, Beer Thug Brewing is releasing collaborations with musicians and artists to attract different demographics of customers to their beer. Their first “Below the Heavens” hazy is a collaboration with hip-hop duo Blu & Exile. They are also collaborating with a local, regional Mexican corrido singer to make another light beer. Beer Thug Brewing also plans to begin a barrel-aged sour program.

    “This is a passion first, but now that we are a business…we gotta make money,” he says.

    Nonetheless, Preciado and Andrade are aware that the higher cost of craft beer can sometimes be a barrier for many to experience the virtues of locally-made brew, especially in Bell, where the average household income is only $47K. So they are committing to always have a $5 pint on offer, in order to make their beer accessible for everyone.

    While “super dank”—the term lovingly used by beer nerds to describe the citrus-like hoppiness of ales—IPAs are the primary inspiration for Beer Thug Life Brewing. Preciado and Andrade are diversifying their selection to make sure there is something for everyone. Their opening tap list includes a hazy double IPA, a porter, and a German-style, 100-calorie “Thug Lite” leichtbier that will be aimed at converting southeast L.A.’s Bud Lite-loving Latino communities.   

    Continuing with his bold Beer Thug Life approach to craft beer, there will be no half-pour flights—only full tulip glasses and tumblers full of beer.

    “This is a full pour or nothing! Kind of spot, homie,” Preciado explains.

    The budding beer-maker reflects on his life journey every day and never takes a single day of freedom for granted. 

    “I never imagined being the C.E. muthafucking-O owner of a brewery, but here I am," he says. "If I can do it, anyone can.”

    Beer Thug Brewing is located inside Border X Brewing at 4400 E Gage Ave, Bell, CA 90201.

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