Seeing L.A. Dodger hat-and-high sock-wearing residents of Lincoln Heights gingerly sip on hard cider made from heirloom Newtown Pippin apples, while sitting on a two-top table about 75 feet away from cars gridlocked on the 5 Freeway, is a sight to behold. Their eyes open up in surprise as soon as they feel the refreshing, beer-like dryness, taking another, much longer sip. The apples are trucked in from a third-generation family farm in Santa Cruz, the cider extremely apple-y tasting, since there are no sulfites added.
It’s another 90-degree afternoon at the three-month-old Benny Boy Brewing, which opened in the shadow of theLxHxTxH barrio’s Daly Street overpass. Nearly every table and chair by their fire pits are filled, with both local residents and people who drove here to try out L.A.’s first brewery-and-cidery-in-one, plus a handful of customers in scrubs getting a drink after work from the nearby USC’s Health Sciences campus. The enticing smell of sourdough pizza is also in the air, served by the day’s food vendor, Quarantine Pizza Co. Mexican Institute of Sound is bumping inside the cidery half of the space, which resembles a barn
“So many people come in and are like, ‘what’s cider?” co-owner Chelsey Rosetter tells L.A. TACO. “It’s super fun to introduce them to good cider since so many people have preconceived notions that it is too sweet.”
Rosetteropened the ambitious brewery/cidery hybrid with her husband, Ben “Benny” Farber, who makes the juice. Even though the cidery is brand new to the neighborhood, the dozens of customers—mostly Latino—make the space feel like it's been around for years.
Rosetter is originally from the midwest and studied journalism and Farber is from Colorado. He is a general contractor who built the tables in the tasting room and studied sour beer making in Belgium. They have both lived in a Venice backhouse for 16 years and commute to Lincoln Heights for work.
“We were really going for a backyard vibe and it’s been an honor to have locals come in right away,” Rosetter says. “We did a lot of neighborhood outreach before opening and made many friends, from neighborhood councils to lifelong community residents, and advocates like Robert Vega.”
Before even opening, they received messages full of requests to host office parties, birthdays, and more life-milestone gatherings from locals.
Rosetter says that Lincoln Heights felt like the perfect neighborhood for Benny Boy, which was seven years in the making. They both love its community-based way of life. The staff at nearby community gem Lanza Brothers Market already knows Farber’s “usual” sandwich order and the couple sources Benny Boy’s zesty michelada base for their beers at nearby Correa’s Market & Mariscos, as well.
Rosetter also brings up Lincoln Heights’ deep history in beer and fermentation, going as far back as recognizing the facilities a few blocks away that used to be Eastside Brewing Company, one of the first breweries established in Los Angeles before World War II. That brewery then brewed Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, all the way until 1981.
In the U.S., there aren’t many cidermakers who make this style, but now you can find it in Lincoln Heights—of all places.
“It’s special to make beer and cider in Lincoln Heights for the first time in 40 years,” Rosetter says. The two are trying to promote the neighborhood as L.A.’s “fermentation district” given there are seven nearby facilities in Chinatown and other neighboring communities, making everything from wine, hard kombucha, beer, and more cider.
Benny Boy Brewing currently offer eight different ciders, including one made with guava and another one with agave. Their Spanish-style cider called “Manzana Rustica” stands out among the rest though, for being extra cloudy and bone-dry. The extra-sour ancient cider style tastes more like pulque or makgeolli than the bottled stuff you see in the refrigerated section. It goes back to Spain’s autonomous Basque region to the year 1000. Sailors in the whaling industry would take barrels of the spontaneously fermented apple juice out to sea for their month-long voyages in search of whale oil for candles and precious ambergris. Water would spoil and poison the sailors, but cider would just keep fermenting and stay fresh. In the U.S., there aren’t many cidermakers who make this style, but now you can find it in Lincoln Heights—of all places. Though, Farber takes the thousand-year-old cider formula a step further and ages it in a barrel a bit, which rounds it all out.
Despite the permits to produce, vend, and enjoy alcohol on-premises being notoriously difficult to obtain in L.A. and sitting as an easy target for anti-gentrification activists, Benny Boy Brewing has encountered little to no resistance from the neighborhood. They both acknowledge their stereotype: a white couple who opened a brewery and cidery in a gentrifying part of town.
“I grew up in extreme poverty in Colorado,” hesays. “I started working at a dairy farm when I was eight, full-time, delivering milk. I never went to high school. I never went to college. Our parents don’t come from money. This entire project is bootstrapped and we relate to hard-working people because that’s how we are. People can think about what they’d like, but that’s not the reality.”
They crowdfunded Benny Boy’s opening and have a few investors, and are getting ready to deliver on some of their promised incentives to people who invested in them, including personal tours and a French-style, higher-proof apple wine called pommeau, which tastes like a boozy apple butter and will be the first of its kind made in Los Angeles.
“People see our faces here every day, get to know us, become friends, and say hi to us in the street here,” Farber says. “We are not doing this to get rich; we work 80 hours a week because this is the dream that we always wanted. We know we are extremely lucky to be here.
And yes, both Farber and Rosetter drink their own cider or beer, every day they are working.
In regards to opening a cidery and brewery during a historic drought in California, Farber takes a pause to answer. “Our apples are all dry-farmed and the people need beer. That’s all I’ll say on record.”
Benny Boy Brewing, 1821 Daly St, Los Angeles, CA 90031
Editor for James Beard Award-winning L.A. TACO. Associate Producer for JBA-winning Las Crónicas Del Taco. Former restaurant scout for Jonathan Gold. Co-Author of "Oaxaca: Home Cooking From the Heart of Mexico (2019, Abrams) and "Asada: The Art of Mexican-Style Grilling" (2023, Abrams).
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