Brewing Beer in California: Step Into the Speakeasy Era at This Unique Small Business

©Photo Credit: Wylie Withers of Booze League

Step into Naughty Pine Brewing Company and you’ll be instantly transported into another world where the beers are brewed to perfection and the 1920s speakeasy vibes are in full swing. Naughty Pine Brewing Company’s fearless leader and owner is Brittany Brouhard (pronounced, no joke, “Brew-Hard”), who previously co-founded and opened a brewery in Maui almost 10 years ago. Today, Brouhard is back in the craft beer scene as the owner and head brewer of Naughty Pine Brewing Company, based in Westlake Village, California, hitting its one-year anniversary this year.

In this edition of our Small Business Spotlight series, Brouhard joins us to talk about her experience starting a microbrewery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, how the hurdles “sometimes felt endless,” how Naughty Pine supports other local small businesses and the pivotal role her daughter played in allowing Brouhard to make a leap forward into entrepreneurship. 

How would you describe the vibe of Naughty Pine and its menu of offerings?

We have a very cozy, speakeasy, early 1920s vibe, inspired by my love of that era and the show “Peaky Blinders.” We have nine beers on the board right now that span from traditional beers like our flagship, top-selling Bohemian Pilsner, to a classic British Brown Ale all the way down to a hybrid style, our Belgian-Style IPA called Alligator Skin, which was brewed for the Pink Boots Society Collaboration Brew Day for International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month.

What inspired you to start a business?

This is actually not my first time around the sun. I co-founded and helped open a brewery in Maui almost 10 years ago. After that was up and running, I got a job at our local brewery where I was the Lead Brewer for four and a half years. I truly never imagined I would go down this road again. The opportunity presented itself a couple times over the past few years, but I loved my job and was on a great upward movement path there so I turned it down. 

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But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and like a lot of people I did a very unexpected 360. Those few weeks in March 2020 when the whole world stopped, it gave me just enough time to consider what it could be like with the help of my neighbors. Then we got super busy at work again. I didn’t think much of it until the end of the summer, but it was always in the back of my head, especially knowing that this was probably my last chance to have a place of my own. And watching how my current job was growing and expanding was really cool and made me realize I wanted to make something to call my own, too. 

My inspiration stems from a lot of places, other brewery owners that I have developed friendships with over the years, my husband and his family, all who are small business owners and friends that took the same leap I ended up taking in 2020. And my daughter. 

My daughter was a major inspiration and factor in this decision. Going out on my own means being able to pivot at any moment if my daughter needs me at home, has a field trip or a dance recital. It also means building a place to call our own, be like a second home for her, being a role model for her as a mom and business owner and providing a space that maybe she will take over someday. There’s also no limit to the creative freedom of any aspect of the company, from the beer to the interior design, to the events and marketing. Having a place of my own means waking up in the morning, deciding a certain beer style sounds good and making it. Once I let my head wrap around that concept, I hit the ground running. 

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There was one other factor that played a huge role in this decision, and that was my diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in February 2020. My body needed a change of pace and a schedule that was in my full control, that I could manipulate depending on my good days and bad days and all the in betweens. 

Where does the name “Naughty Pine” originate from? 

The story behind the name Naughty Pine Brewing Company is one of comedy. During those first few weeks of the world being shut down, before distancing and masks came into effect, my husband and I were sitting around the fire during a power outage one night laughing with friends and neighbors about how everyone spells their street, Knotty Pine, the “naughty” way and therefore can never find their house. 

The question of someday wanting her own brewery came up, and someone said “Hey, Naughty Pine… that would be a great brewery name.” Jokes ensued about all of the “sappy” names for beers and merchandise. The name represents the street we live on, our home and the family and friends who have supported us on this journey. We would not be who we are without them and many of them have influenced our love of craft beer.

Once you knew you wanted to start a microbrewery, how did you prepare to make the leap into entrepreneurship?

At this point I had already been a part of the industry for eight years, opened one brewery and helped another very reputable one grow and expand a huge production line. I was able to use my knowledge and connections I had made during those times to prepare for this huge step. Craft beer is exciting because it’s never-ending learning. There’s always going to be a new malt, a new hop and a new hybrid style to play with.

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How did you decide on Westlake Village for your brick-and-mortar storefront location? What makes Naughty Pine vital to the Westlake community? 

We had looked at over 20 spaces between Ventura County to Simi Valley before deciding on Westlake Village. Our original business plan was for Newbury Park, but after a few too many roadblocks there we drove past this space in Westlake Village after lunch one day and I immediately fell in love. It was a corner unit, which is usually impossible to find. It had storefront windows, green ivy growing all around the front and it was the perfect size we were looking for. 

I made an appointment with the broker to take a look inside and it turned out it had all the right amenities as far as water, power, gas, plumbing, rebar floors, patio area, etc. And it had a fireplace! It was just a facade at the time but now it’s a fully functioning center piece of our space. So we did some research and it seemed like the area could use a brewery, submitted the LOI, found out the landlord and property manager were hugely on board which is a major hurdle in this adventure, and it all fell into place after that.

Naughty Pine opened in 2021 with much of the construction and overall business planning occurring throughout 2020 and 2021. What was it like to start a small business, especially one that has a physical storefront, during the COVID-19 pandemic? What were some of the challenges, and wins, in pulling everything together? 

Oh man, the hurdles sometimes felt endless. Delays upon delays. Everything changed during the pandemic. Stainless steel parts that brewers used to have access to overnight were now a three month delay. Brewing equipment had lead times from six weeks to six months for things that used to have two week turn-arounds. The entire process of submitting plans and permits changed because no one was open to the public. Truckers were dropping shipments to pick up higher-paying gigs, leaving your equipment at truck stops for other truckers to finish the route. It was pure madness. 

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But we had some wins. The City of Thousand Oaks was fantastic, my team of planners from the SUP to the Building Permits were incredibly supportive and helpful. I don’t think we would have gotten this space if the pandemic wasn’t happening. A space like ours rarely hits the market for more than a few days and not without a lot of competition. 

As a microbrewery owner, how do you select the lagers and ales served on the Naughty Pine menu? 

Being the owner means getting to do whatever I want, literally. That’s how styles are chosen. We knew going into this we wanted to specialize in European styles as that’s what we love to drink, but I also pick styles to brew that sound fun and ones that I have never done before. At my old job we specialized in German beers, which I love, but there wasn’t a lot of room for experimenting with anything else. 

Now that I am on my own here the creative options are endless. I can wake up in the morning, decide I want to make a Black IPA and do it. I brew all the beers myself and come up with the names. My names usually come from nerdy facts that I found interesting that relate back to the inspiration for the beer. 

How has inflation affected your business and how have you been coping with it? 

It has been hard. The cost of ingredients has increased as well as the shipping for them. Prices for parts and equipment we use have skyrocketed because it’s mainly stainless steel. As of now, we have held off on increasing prices of current beers on the board. However, we may have to slightly increase prices on the newer ones coming out to keep up with the inflation. 

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Aside from delicious beers, what else does one experience when they visit Naughty Pine? 

Walking into our space is like stepping back in time. If you’re a “Peaky Blinders” fan you’ll know that was the inspiration for the space the second you walk through the doors. We have our “blinders hats” hanging on the tap box and that speakeasy, 1920s decor all throughout the space. It’s a very warm and welcoming vibe. 

I love music as much as I love beer, so we have live music almost every night of the week. I have an amazing team behind the bar, so you will always feel welcomed when you walk through the door and well taken care of. I love to support other local small businesses, and have quite a few friends that own them. You will find “locally made munchiez” for sale at our spot from jerky to nuts and charcuterie. I source as much as I can locally when it comes to my tasting room. Everything from my merchandise person who is a friend and local beer scene entrepreneur, to my tap handles that are made by a friend who owns a craft house in Moorpark and my flight boards, beer token, and signs all made here in Westlake Village by someone who has become a friend and regular at our spot since we opened. We have that small town feel, even though we aren’t exactly a small town. Somehow everyone knows someone who knows someone. 

What is the most rewarding aspect of being a business owner, especially as a woman in the microbrewery space? 

Seeing people enjoying our space. Watching that family sit by the fireplace laughing, playing one of our games or a couple on a date night enjoying the rocking chairs under the stars. Getting to know all the amazing musicians that come through for gigs and their stories. The magical vibe that happens during open mic night when a room full of musicians from all walks of life join in on a song together and knowing that those memories wouldn’t be happening if I hadn’t taken this journey. Seeing my daughter interacting with customers and telling them about how mommy makes the beer. It’s all that that really makes those long hours and gruesome days of owning a business so worth it. 

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For a long time I was the only female brewer in Ventura County. Now I am the first female-owned-and-operated brewery in Ventura, a fact that I am still getting used to, but the support has been incredible so it’s been a pretty rad journey so far. I like to stay pretty lowkey, but hopefully it provides some inspiration and helps forge a path for more to come. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own business? 

Do your homework. Don’t go into a huge amount of debt to start up. Be humble. Don’t be stubborn. Accept advice, but stay true to yourself. 

What does the future hold for Naughty Pine throughout 2022 and beyond? 

2022 is full of some fun beer releases, a few events and our one-year anniversary. Beyond 2022, we have some small expansion plans, nothing major as I want to stay small. A little added space for an office, a real lab, some dry storage and an extended patio will be in the works over the next couple of years. 

Stop by and visit Naughty Pine Brewing Company at 766 Lakefield Rd., Unit A, Westlake Village, CA 91361!

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