Wiretap Brewing

Always Listening.

Wiretap Brewing is a micro scale craft brewery in the neighborhood of Lincoln Heights minutes away from downtown Los Angeles. Our beers are available by the can, bottle, and keg both direct and wholesale. Wiretap also imports and sells a boutique line of Italian wines.

It's the ABC edition Round 2

About almost a month ago exactly I worked on a blog post draft with Matt that was meant to be a few things. Most importantly it was some form of a business update considering our last blog post was nearly a year ago when we did a writeup of zoning in the City of LA which actually got us quite a few emails thanking us for details. The business update part was sort of us waiting for a bus that had no timetables. The majority of the post however was a long and detailed story of our experience in applying for an alcohol license with the State of California. It was pretty potent with direct excerpts of email and voice conversations without revealing anyone’s identity specifically (except ours, obviously) and our emotions and reactions to what on paper seemed like sometimes ridiculous situations. We wrote the post, thought about it for a few days, and decided to publish it despite the fact that we were basically evoking a volcano that we lived at the bottom of. At the time of writing it seemed like we were going nowhere and that was a way of both communicating the truth but also somehow emotionally dealing with the at-sometimes immense depression that can be generated by putting a lot of personal time and money into a major endeavour and having it all suspended by a process that is nearly 100% opaque (the opposite of transparent if you’re not a scholar or Photoshop nerd).


We published it with a sort of “fuck it” attitude and a number of people read it. The reaction was what we expected -a candid “wow that sucks, guys, sorry” sort of reaction. The post sort of floated out there in the cloud as we fully awaited that shortly one day somehow the ABC would see it, be infuriated, and our nine month process would explode into who knows what. About three days after posting I was riding my bike around 7pm and my phone rang -it was the ABC. It’s after hours for a government job so I’m already thinking shit this is it. I didn’t answer; mainly because I was riding my bike and also because I felt still somewhat committed that what was written was written and if you want to trash can our whole application process because the truth sucked well it wasn’t going to matter if I picked up the phone or not. I got a notification of a 1+ minute voicemail. Great. But within another minute my phone rings again -its the ABC. “Wow,” I think, this is gonna suck. Another voicemail about 30 seconds in duration. And yep, a third call again from the ABC, this time no voicemail. Now you might wonder why didn’t I just answer the phone but you have to understand riding my bike is a medicinal process so to have that interrupted by what has been a source of major anxiety and unhappiness was like sort of suffering another defeat and I figured the ship has sailed anyways so whatever.


I get home 20 minutes later and first thing I do is dismount and listen to my voicemails. This has to be the firehose of rage in the first voicemail followed most likely by additional brief rage and sentencing of how our application is completely hosed.


It’s not.


The first voicemail is an explanation that some other review shit had gone awry and asking if it’s possible to come into the office tomorrow to get one last document so things can move on. The second voicemail was just a followup hoping that I’d answer and that they were working late and hence hoping I’d answer on a third try.


The voicemails were the opposite of what I expected and another shooting star of hope that had appeared throughout the months long night of this entire process. Could this actually be concluding? And was the emotional honesty of our blog post worth further compromise? And also was what we said really fair? The answer to is/was the post worth it? No. Several of our friends immediately pointed out the fact that flaming the ABC at this point wasn’t a good idea and they were right but we did have our reasons. But was the multi page essay on dysfunction and failure fair? Probably no as well. People sometimes can only do their job well enough with the tools they’re provided. NASA engineers don’t do calculations with protractors and abacuses; conference calls aren’t recorded with written transcripts, even Amazon has written logic to evaluate whether your unhappiness with a product is worth their time and freight to restock it or you can just have it for free instead. The California ABC on the other hand has very little of this. This is an entirely printed paper process with wet signatures, notaries, and written-in elements. Files are not recorded electronically and then processed through some automation -they are overnighted daily to an HQ in Sacramento where they are again hand reviewed. Additionally, as I learned in my onsite meeting I talk about later, the LA metro office covers downtown LA, K-town, West LA, Santa Monica, Malibu, Venice, all the way south through the beaches to Long  Beach, then east into Inglewood, Compton, Gardena, then back to South LA and literally everything in between. That compromises easily the densest parts of LA undergoing the largest expansion and economic development compared to any other parts of LA.  And how many people have to work the caseload for applications? FIVE. Do they have Salesforce or JIRA or some other tool to automate a massive workload? NOPE. The Department requires them to collect nearly 50 pages (on the small side) worth of printed and hand signed documents to process a single application and that’s for non retail. If you’re a restaurant or public place you could easily double that document load. If there’s any rant to be made in this post it’s that the department expects its employees to process hundreds of applications per month with almost no digital automation infrastructure or modern document tracking systems.


So all of the outrage I had experienced re-doing countless documents with minute details and updated drawings or explanations of the space -did our licensing agent want that? Or were they doing that to help complete a process their superiors relied on in order to successfully process licenses? It’s the latter as I’ll explain in my story in a bit but that’s the main reason that original post wasn’t fair and we took it down the day we got those voicemails. We painted a picture that was largely unfair to the individual dealing with our application on account of the process they’re subjected to and this is our take 2.


Take 2 version of the story is just a synopsis “Where have you guys been since November of last year?”
— -60 Minutes interview aired 9/10/17

November - Signed a lease

December - Celebrated concluding 6 months of searching for a lease and felt a sense of accomplishment thinking we were really on a roll. Dead wrong. Spent month preparing ABC paperwork thinking we’ve done similar before at another company and it’s gonna rock. More dead wrong.

January - Submitted ABC application. Good story about that one. Got our public notice poster up on the 17th. Matt and I head to EU for 2 weeks of meeting with Dutch, German, and Belgian brewers to learn how much we don’t know about beer.

February - Fingerprints of ourselves, spouses, friends, pets, goldfish, and any other digital records sent to the FBI to confirm we’re not felons. We’re pretty sure they’d know already anyways.

March - Snooze.

April - ABC radio contact: Take a number.

May - Filled out some stuff wrong. Need some pictures for some forms. Hold the line.

June - We’re working on it.

July - We’ll get right back to you.

August - City confused themselves. Confused the ABC. City figured it out.

September - Trade Enforcement.


Trade enforcement? City confusion? How, why, where?

At the end of May we had a spell of good news -it seemed as though it was possible our license application was going to move to final approval in Sacramento. We started to ramp some things up, think about production schedules, sorta get our shit together in general. The month of June went by and we heard nothing until just after the 4th of July holiday that there’d be an issue where the City confused themselves on whether we needed a conditional use permit just to sell beer retail in the first place (we think -not sure other than whatever was considered wasn’t needed). Then whether our zoning status as manufacturing was valid. All to conclude that no, we didn’t need a CUP for something and yes we’ve been manufacturing status thankfully since the 70s.

Okay, so that’s figured out- what’s next? Well, the next transmission didn’t come until our previous blog post mid August which leads to the conclusion of the story on why I needed to come into the ABC office.


I got into the ABC office around 11am and and sat down in the row of chairs as is the custom because if you stand there like a lost child no one will acknowledge you.

I got into the ABC office around 11am and and sat down in the row of chairs as is the custom because if you stand there like a lost child no one will acknowledge you. I sat staring at the first person at the nearest desk until they finished typing something slowly and they said “we’ll be with you shortly.” I’m just here to see someone. I have an appointment. If they had just asked what I needed the person I was there to see could have been called. Now it makes it look like I was late to an appointment I cared very much about being on-time to. Whatever; 10 minutes later (yes, 10) I was escorted to a conference room. I sat down in a pretty dull room with three chairs at a table and one chair that literally faced a blank wall (I choose one that sat at the table) and noticed a very large pencil holder on the desk filled with a massive array of colors. Like literally any color pencil plus pens and highlighters. I kind of wish I had that selection in my own home sometimes. I thought to myself -what could be the purpose of all these colors? The universe has a sense of humor.


I met with our licensing agent and they explained two things. 1) In the detailed photos we’d sent I included one photo of pallets of wine we bought from a vineyard who had their stuff imported by another importer who went out of business and was fronting the warehouse bill themselves in NY. If we agreed to pay the freight we could potentially use that wine for demos on a new import of a new vintage. The ABC saw this and thought we’d illegally imported it. Crisis averted and I’m an idiot for taking a picture of that. 2) The floor layout diagram (Form 257 front if I recall) which had our floor plan needed to have squares drawn around which parts of the building were going to be used for beer production and which parts for wine wholesaling/importing. We’re not allowed to use the same space for more than one license type -the wine must be in a physically separated room from the beer business. And consequently that illustration needs to be colored on the diagram so management and the folks in Sacramento can clearly see that. DONEZO red and blue pencil’d! A nice conversation ensues after and our agent hopes we’ll have our license by labor day (its around August 16th currently).


Every night at 12:01am Adam refreshes the ABC license website, Status: Pending. Labor Day comes and goes, Pending. We take off for a week to the UK for a wedding and on Friday the 8th low and behold the status gets a new exception: Trade Enforcement. While this doesn’t sound good it actually is -our application finally made it to Sacramento. Monday the 11th our licensing rep drops us a note asking for a digital version of the color version I did in the office and said Sacramento had told them “within a week” we’d have our license.


It’s September 14th. Talk to you all next week :)


That was written September 14th, it’s October 3rd, stay tuned for the next installation of what happened in between. 

That's Chapter One, Would You Like To Have Chapter 2?

You better you son of a b*tch I know the way.

We sure hope you do, Raleigh.

In July we incorporated Wiretap Brewing in the State of California, funded a bank account, and got to work looking for a "warehouse."

Historically Matt and I have started a few businesses and in each of those cases finding a place to call headquarters has been a product of picking a location, setting a budget, and leasing some space. In July when we began our search for 'just a warehouse' we had no idea we were setting out on what some people have told us would be the 'hardest part' of starting a brewery. They were not wrong.

Perhaps some of your entrepreneurial sorts will find this interesting but I thought it would be a service to anyone considering opening a brewery in California, or perhaps anywhere in America, to hear a little bit about the cliff you face in your first steps of entering this business. This is of course based on the concept that you're two guys, or girls, or a handful of folks, who gave up good jobs (in tech, as it were for us) to do something you believe in; you have a budget that you care about deeply since it involves your checking account and you just really want to make this work. If you're rolling in with a loan for half a mil and a slew of investors... cool. Throw money at things, and you will have to throw a lot. But if you're grassroots and trying to make it as a small business then welcome to the fireside chat.

First off, in California currently and probably for some foreseeable future, know that inventory of industrial type spaces is at an all time low. There are a lot of very big buildings (like 10,000sq.ft. or more) still available but unless you plan on a >$15,000/month rent this wont work for you. But before you even start using services like Loopnet or Craigslist to peruse what's sort of[1] available you'll need to check the zoning first.

If you were like us the concept of zoning was something that you thought dictated what types of buildings were built. Well, that's still true but zoning has a major impact on what kind of businesses are allowed to operate in those buildings. So if you have a multi-tenant building somewhere there could be restrictions that say you can operate a nail salon but not a dentist office; or you can have a car wash on this corner but not a recycling center. Sometimes the zone is clear, sometimes the zone is very ambiguous. Sometimes and in some cities the zone defines what you're doing exactly -like "microbrewery" or "brewery"- but in other cases you're a "beverage manufacturer."


So before you even bother looking at a map of what your options for a place might be you need to first look at a zoning map to figure out where your options can be. Let's take some cases in point:

We received some excellent advice[2] that we should consider incorporated cities outside of the City of Los Angeles during our search. One of those cities was Glendale, California. If you look at Glendale for industrial type spaces you'll see there's quite a few -not as many as others, but a lot- but the problem becomes that unless that building sits in a 'IND' 'IMU' 'IMU-R' or 'SF/MU' you can't operate there. Why? Well, Glendale defines a microbrewery as a 'beverage manufacturer.' A beverage manufacturer sits in the defined category of 'Light Industrial' and that category of operation is only allowed in those zones. 😬

Here's a quick snapshot of Glendale's current zoning map:

I clipped the top portion which included most of the legend but that's OK. Industrial and Industrial Mixed as well as the San Fernando Mixed Use are coloured aqua blue, purple-ish, and a bright yellow which you almost can't see at all. That image btdubs is clickable to the actual file if you'd like to have a look around.

The moral of the story in this case is that while Glendale currently offers massive economic and business development support to specifically breweries, unless you're right along the San Fernando Road corridor you're not zoned to operate. Bummer. Glendale FWIW at this time is offering cash incentives for naming beers after them, expedited use permits, concierge services for permitting process, and dedicated staff in economic development to help you. Major kudos to them.

But you’re in LA, right?

Yep. So lets take a look at the next case in point:

Based on our existing research and after failing at a few lease offers elsewhere and not finding much in general we focused in on a few parts of LA and areas we knew either had existing breweries or just sort of 'fit the type' for expecting what the zoning would be. Ie. the Garment District probably didn't have a lot of options (and it doesn't). So we looked around The Arts District, Chinatown, Lincoln Heights, Boyle Heights, Frogtown, Atwater, Highland and Glassell Park, and sort of the general swath of land moving northeast from downtown LA, rich with industrial and commercial zoning. But what exactly about the zoning should you know? Great question.

LA has commercial and industrial zoning and increments the types of uses by a numerical factor. So a commercial place could be zoned C1 or C1.5 or C2, etc and the same goes for industrial which starts with M1 (manufacturing) and includes M1.5, M2, and M3 with M3 being the heaviest of industry. So how does one navigate this code? The first place to start is by understanding definitions of zoning code and what your business is defined as. In this case as we saw before where Glendale called a brewery a beverage manufacturer the City of LA actually defines a "brewery" in one of its zones and it's in zone MR2.

Wait, "R?" Yeah, LA also splits up certain zone levels into more complicated levels like this one where MR means Manufacturing Restricted, 2. This is the only zone in all of the code that defines a "brewery" and if you just search for MR2 zones in LA you'll be really disappointed, which leads to our next lesson. Zones often cite other zones to offer a blanket inclusion of certain uses into their zone. Fortunately for a brewery zone M2 includes all uses allowed in MR2, making zone M2 a candidate zone, and M3 calls all uses from M2 as OK as well so now your candidate zone list is MR2, M2, and M3. Phew.

Wiretap is in zone Urban Innovation “UI”

Awwwww shit. What? Also wtf why isnt M1 permitting a brewery? If you look at the types of buildings in M1 they can be identical to M2 and M3, same goes for the neighborhood, streets, and everything else. Well welcome to navigating a big city and its zones. It just gets better from here.

We found a really cool spot at 341 S Avenue 17. Warehouse that was a carpet mill that got revamped into smaller warehouses with new electric, plumbing, roof, and windows. Goldmine. We checked LA's awesome zoning tool[3] for that address and it comes up "UI". WTF. It turns out LA is making real progress revitalizing formerly heavily industrialized parts of town through the help of zoning that actually makes sense. I know, seems like a conflict in terms, but when I said it gets better I wasn't kidding this time.

The new zone called Urban Innovation is a part of a major project overlay and specific plan called the Cornfield Arroyo Seco. It provided revamped zoning making a lot of lighter uses of industry available but also including more commercial uses like retail and restaurants. It also revamped residential parts under Urban Village "UV" zone and open spaces under Greenway "GW". There's one more called Urban Center but you get the idea. Urban Innovation permits things like "beverage manufacturing including alcohol", things like bars and restaurants being directly permitted as "ancillary" to another major use -like a brewery, and fixed supercritical things like parking -requiring 0 spaces if none previously existed. Cool. Very cool.

So this all sounds good but how do you know for sure? If a brewery is defined in MR2 why isn't it specifically defined in this new zone? Well, at some point you need to define you own concluding factors so that when certain stars align you'll make the plunge to go navigate the awesome halls of city departments downtown[4]. For us that time had come. We found a great space at a great price, the landlord wanted us there, we wanted to be in this up and coming part of town newly benefiting from revamped zoning, and to top it off the zoning seemed to indicate we were good.

Step 1: LA's Department of Building and Safety. They offer many "counters" to go and do a variety of things like just ask questions, talk to planners about zones, review plans, get plans approved, and navigate many other mountains of ministerial processes. FWIW just about every city has this. Glendale actually had an online appointment system which was cool. LA has a webpage with live stats on wait times based on enquiry type.

The Zoning Counter: this is pretty much where you want to start once you've nearly finalized on a building you think will work. In our case we came with two, one we knew was in a vanilla M1 zone, and our now home, in UI. The first address fell flat and most of our beliefs and concerns were validated that M1 just doesn't permit breweries[5]. Lame. Okay so what about UI? Blue screen of death. The zone was so new the folks at the counter basically couldn't tell us anything except that we needed to talk to an actual City Planner. Right.

The City Planner: if you have the opportunity to meet with an actual city planner before anyone else you'll probably feel better about life but they'll probably ask if you talked to the zoning counter prior. You need to keep in mind it is a constant waterfall of people coming to the zoning desk and the answers can get a bit automated without consideration. Talking to a planner who is a part of the system and gives a shit can be a real gamechanger. In our case, it certainly was. The twist was that when we sat down with a planner rather than jumping straight into questions about UI and the specific plan of the zone we backpedaled and asked more about breweries and why only M2 and M3? Well, as it turns out there's an actual use definitions list on the planning website and it's updated annually. In the 2016 edition (dont know about prior) there's a "brewery" which again is permitted in the zones we said before, but there's also "microbrewery".  😂 And guess where that's permitted?

Microbrewery (on-site consumption) – CUP in
R5 (see ZA 2007-5927 for restrictions), CR,
C1, C1.5, C2, C4, C5, CM, MR1, M1, MR2,
M2, M3; must meet ABC requirements


You can actually have a microbrewery in a WHOLE BOATLOAD OF ZONES. Major WTF now. After the planner pulled up this document and we picked our jaws up from the floor we asked what's the major disconnect? Well, as you'd expect there isn't really one except the city isn't as broken as you'd began to expect. Updating zoning is a very extensive process but what the city considers types of uses to be can be defined inside of actual 'definitions' like this here. Just like Glendale could specifically define a brewery but doesn't, LA drew a distinction between big and small. In almost verbatim from the planner "...microbreweries are a place people want to go to. They should be located next to other similar commercial uses and in proximity to residents." Amen. He further explained that the more traditional brewery classification is something you might think of in a large industrial operation where the public probably would not go. 

But, like everything has been thus far, there are more wrinkles. The planner further explained that while zoning for our size of a brewery could work in a lot of places we ultimately needed to consult the local director of any specific plan overlays since -not in his words- they seem to have a sort of rule or say on what happens in their plan areas.

So now to the source: a conversation with the folks over at City Hall who manage the Cornfield Arroyo Seco Specific Plan. Initially this seemed daunting but the planner gave us a giant list of all the plans and what people are assigned to them. He also advised us on the username nomenclature for City emails which turned out to be incredibly fast and helpful. After a long winded introduction and attempt to explain our good intentions we got an email back that was very positive, pointed us to zoning information online, and informed us that any change of use within the zone 'generally' required an "administrative clearance" and further instruction on how to do that. Thinking that an administrative clearance had the possibility of going south we prodded a little more on what that was and what it did. Remarkably we got another clear explanation about the intent of the clearance and validating our use within the zone is permitted -which it is fortunately, but the need for the process to validate what's happening in a place the city obviously cares about.

In now what felt like an eternity of searching, finding, validating, invalidating, trying, failing, going forward, going backward, we finally had something conclusive. The landlord was good, the space was good, the contract was good, the city was good, the zone was good, so we inked the deal.

We are yet to finish the admin clearance and following that will still need a conditional use permit, a license from the state for a brewery subject to the completion of a CUP, and a federal alcohol tax certificate which is estimated to take up to nine months to receive. But as experts of pushing paper that now seems to be the easy part. If you're considering opening a brewery or have already embarked on the adventure and are questioning life our advice is a) be prepared that absolutely nothing will be simple, and b) do the work. Digging through zoning codes sucks. Going to various city agencies sucks. Permits cost money. Looking at buildings takes time.

Work hard, stay positive. Email us if you want help. A lot of people have given us tidbits of info along the way so far and it was all in a general positive spirit for one another to be successful. We'd be more than happy to pass that along.

[1] "sort of" is a reference that services like Loopnet are sorta like what Redfin or Zillow are for homes but for commercial spaces. However, Loopnet is not totally free. The free version lets you see about maybe half of whats really out there. For a cool $300/month you can get full access or you can get yourself a broker who already has access to that and better things like a different service called CoStar. We recommend the latter.

[2] If you're in the LA area we were fortunate to run into Mike Lanzarotta with NAI Capital. He's been a commercial broker for the last half decade and prior to that spent 20 years running a brewery called Crown City Brewing. Which, if you're from around the San Gabriel Valley should resonate. If you're a newcomer to the area then the current home of Congregation Ale House at Del Mar and Raymond in Pasadena has a nice tribute to Crown City inside (the former tenant). You should use a broker and using one who has experience on both sides of the equation and has so far found space for a lot of startup breweries means that things like nuances with cities, zoning, and various people you should talk to come as part of the expertise. If you want Mike's info send us an email.


[3] Her name is Zimas.

[4] You'll want to head to the Department of Building and Safety which is over at 201 N Figueroa in downtown. NOT City Hall!

[5] If you just read this and got bummed out and quit keep reading.

Top. Men.

With the recent launch of our website and integrated blog posty system we couldn't just let this page sit here with nothing on it! Who's on it? Top men.


Top. Men.

If you get it, you get it.

This week we're brewing non-sale demos for Vauxhall Cross and CRTL+ALT. 

Stay tuned for more details. Or don't. We're listening either way.

©2018 Wiretap Brewing Corporation. Wiretap is a registered trademark.