COLDCHELA 2018 Brings Homebrew Crews to East Los

by Abel Salas

On May 12th, over 20 artisan beer makers and hundreds of craft beer aficionados will gather in East L.A. to celebrate Latino homebrewers and sample their frosty, thirst-quenching concoctions at COLDCHELA 2018. Organized by the SoCal Cerveceros Homebrew Club, the first-ever homebrew craft beer celebration to be held on L.A.’s Eastside will feature tastings, unlimited pours while supplies last and a range of homebrew samples, a food court, DJs and live music.

The participating “cerveceros,” or homebrewers, explains SoCal Cerveceros spokesperson Richard Estrada, will also be competing for two principal honors being awarded at the event. All ticket-holders, he says, will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite craft beer from among the artisanal brews available to guests. A “People’s Choice” trophy will be awarded to the brew crew that collects the most votes from festival-goers.

Another trophy will recognize a homebrew based on the total score tallied from the results of a traditional point system, Estrada added. Scores given to each official entry for flavor, texture, aroma, drinkability and more, by a group of judges that includes several journalists as well as industry professionals will be compiled for a final ranking. The “brew crew” whose beer receives the highest total score will take home the juried distinction. Beer crafters were not required to become members of the SoCal Cerveceros, the increasingly popular association of Latino beer makers who produce specialized craft brews for personal consumption, to participate in the festival, said Estrada.

Ray Ricky Rivera, an entertainment industry veteran who has both managed and produced albums for a number of L.A.’s most popular Latino musical groups, is a founding member of SoCal Cerveceros, alongside Augustín Ruelas. According to him, the group began as an informal collective of Latino craft and homebrew enthusiasts who first gathered in a backyard several years ago to talk shop and enjoy a night out over a glass or two of their favorite craft chelas.

Many of those who joined them were thrilled to discover that there were so many other like-minded Chicanos and Latinos who shared their passion for home brewing and “cerveza artesanal.” Like Ruelas and Estrada, Rivera had accepted invitations from existing homebrew shops and brewing clubs which he’d heard about as he began experimenting with basic brewing kits.

“I would go to brew club events in Eagle Rock or places like that,” says Rivera. “And don’t get me wrong, people were always really cool,” says Rivera. “And no one ever made me feel like I didn't belong, but I’d look around and notice that I was usually the only Mexican there.”

Estrada and Ruela both recall similar experiences. Eventually the three found one another over a mutual interest in learning the fine art and craft of experimental mini-micro-brewing. Rivera says his interest was further spurred by a move to Norwalk with his wife after they were married.

“We noticed that there was a huge void of craft beer and live music in the area, so my wife and I started looking into the possibility of opening up a venue,” says Rivera, who still plans to open up shop eventually and even calls his homebrew experiment the Norwalk Brew House in anticipation.

The monthly backyard meet-ups took a new turn when the club began discussing the possibility of developing a more formal structure as a membership-driven organization to support the neophytes, the serious hobbyists as well as those seeking to someday turn their efforts into commercial ventures. Although nobody in the club has gone commercial yet, Ruelas, founder of Brewjeria Brewers, exemplifies the latter as a beer maker who has contributed ingredients to and helped brew special limited edition seasonal beers in collaboration with micro-breweries such as Border X Brewing in San Diego and Sanctum Brewing in Pomona.

The word “chela” is Mexican and Chicano slang for a single beer. The words “cheve,” “vironga” or sometimes even “una fría”—literally, “a cold one” are also used just as frequently. In neighborhoods across the Greater Eastside—an area moving from Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights and El Sereno to the part of unincorporated Los Angeles County in which East L.A. is actually situated and then stretching all the way to Pomona, the ice cold “chela” is more than a time honored tradition. It is, by all rights, an institution.

“Augustin came up with the name COLDCHELA,” says Rivera. Since the SoCal Cerveceros Facebook page went live three years ago, the club has recruited 38 active members and holds regularly scheduled meetings on the third Friday of each month. The meetings are usually held at one of several brew houses across greater Los Angeles that gladly host the all-Latino homebrewers’ club and provide a reserved section for their membership. The annual membership, according to Rivera, is only $30 annually.

The immediate popularity of the Cerveceros Facebook page, says Rivera, was what prompted the decision to formalize the organization, which they hope to register as a 501c3 non-profit. Ruelas describes the transition as the perfect precursor to COLDCHELA 2018, an event that will serve as the club’s informal third anniversary celebration. “We were in a backyard, we hadn’t known that many Latino homebrewers, so we didn’t what know was going to happen,” says Ruelas. The turn-out, he shares, was a surprise to everyone.

“Because of that, we realized that we could do more than just talk about recipes, but also about being able to give back to the community,” he continues. The COLDCHELA 2018 Homebrew Craft Beer Festival, destined to become a signature annual event, will benefit both The Gumball Foundation and the Lucille and Edward Roybal Foundation. The Gumball Foundation, which trains middle school and high school students to start their own business ventures and become micro-entrepreneurs, says Ruelas, an obvious choice given his own intention to go commercial with his Brewjería Brewers.

The Roybal Foundation, established by legendary U.S. Congressman Edward R. Roybal, has been awarding scholarships to college-bound East L.A. students since 1985. During a 30-year tenure in Washington (1963 – 1993), Congressman Roybal worked tirelessly on behalf of his East L.A. constituents as an advocate for equal education, equal opportunity and retired seniors. More recently, under the direction of Crystal Torres, the Roybal Foundation has expanded its mission to include cultural, educational and environmental programs for residents of all ages in the East L.A. community where its offices are based.

Tickets to COLDCHELA 2018 are available online through the SoCal Cerveceros Facebook page for $33.72 each. Great for groups, a four-pack of tickets is also available for just $107.62. Each ticket includes a five oz. “taster” glass and unlimited pours while supplies last. Beginning at 6 p.m., the Festival includes musical performances by The Altons, Casa de Calacas (featuring former Mezklah guitarist Greg Hernández) as well as DJ, and ends at 10:30 p.m.


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