The concept of Venice Duck Brewery all started in a bar – two actually. The owners, Christian Warren and John Binder, were sitting down having a cold beverage after a night behind the stick at James Beach, and the conversation came around that Venice needed its own brewery. As with all late night ideas, this too, for several years, remained just an idea. This was around 2001, and as John says, “Life got in the way.” Several years and kids later, the vision sprang to life once again.
Warren approached Binder with one question: “It’s time to brew our own beer, are you in?” With that they took off running, and stumbled. Their first batch of homebrew tasted as Warren put it “horrible” – not what they had hoped for, but they were undeterred. They hired a brewmaster, contracted with a brewer in San Jose and Venice Duck was born. But in truth it was not all that simple. Hops are hard to come by, so they joined The Hop Union Collective and purchased three different types: Citra, Simcoe and Zythos. Those get shipped to their brewer in San Jose who makes the beer, bottles and kegs it, and ships it down as needed.
Back to the two bars where it all started. One was James Beach where both Warren and Binder bartended, but prior to that was the fateful meeting at Hal’s bar on Abbot Kinney. Hal’s back then was like Rick’s from Casablanca, at some point, everyone goes to Rick’s. It was “Happy” or “Hap” the bartender at Hal’s who first introduced them. Hap is also the man who inspired the name behind the beer. Turns out that he woke one early morning on the canals after a night of consuming a few adult beverages to find numerous ducks nestled around him keeping warm from his body heat. Or were they keeping him warm knowing he was a local? Venice is that way towards its own. So they named the company after those friendly feathered locals.
Venice Duck Brewery’s first hatch was the Dogtown Duck, a West Coast IPA. “This beer is a reflection of Venice Beach,” says Binder. He explains that Venice is not one thing, it is an amalgamation of many and does not discriminate. Dogtown Duck does the same. It’s a nicely hopped beer, big and full-bodied like the champs of Muscle Beach while still smooth, think the curl of a wave, with a slight bitter finish, like that damn ticket you just got. Other brews followed like the Lucky Duck Agave Blonde and the Stoner Duck Hemp Brown Ale.
The original concept for the Venice Duck (e.g. Converse shoes, wallet chain, tattoos, etc.) was created by friend and local artist, Rudy Drat. And, each brew comes with a story printed on its label like this snippet from the tale of the Stoner Duck Hemp Brown Ale:
"Meet Stoner Duck, a professor of easy living and smooth vibes who holds a PHD in Biochemistry. Spending sunny days rapping with fellow “doctors” on the Venice boardwalk and his evenings in the lab, he has perfected this easy drinking, nut-brown ale with just the right dosage of organic hemp ... "
Growth for the company has been steady. Initially, they produced 100 barrels. Then 150. They’re projecting 250 this quarter just to service the local community. They also have plans to expand their beer distribution to cities beyond Southern California. It’s a far cry from where they started.
“We got a call from a bar owner who was in need of beer, fast,” says Binder, thinking back to the earlier days. “We were unloading cases and kegs, and the guy is peeling off bills from a big ‘ol wad. It was like an ‘80’s drug deal or something except it was all legal.” There is not a hope of world domination, rather a spreading of the Venice ethos, welcoming all, creating something special, and sharing it with others.
As for Venice’s own brewery? There are plans underway to secure a location and open their own Venice Duck Brewery tap house. And, they'll continue to roll out new, tasty flavors.
Find the Duck at Simon’s Market and Whole Foods Venice along with local bars and restaurants such as Melody Bar & Grill, Tar & Roses, The Arsenal, Hostaria del Piccolo Venice, and, of course, Hal's. All locations to get the Duck can be found at Venice Duck Brewery.