LAB Brewing Company: inside look at Agoura Hills’ newest gastropub

Just a mile east of Ladyface Ale Companie in Agoura Hills, CA sits the newly opened LAB Brewing Company, lead by brewmaster Roger Bott and Executive Chef Moez Megji. Our host Jace Milstead sat down with Roger to chat about his brewing days abroad, the role of yeast and transitioning from home to commercial brewing.

The restaurant

The space features 31 beers on draft with six taps for house brews, dining room, patio sitting, and a stage for DJs and live music. LAB stands for “Live Art of Brewing.” Roger tells us, “I strongly feel brewing is an art.” A walk through the restaurant reveals displayed artwork around the venue.

The gastropub is described as “eclectic American cuisine” created by Executive Chef Moez Megji, featuring menu items like BBQ duck quesadillas with mole sauce, LAB Burger with Angus ground beef, caramelized onions, bacon, blue and Gruyère cheese, arugula and garlic aioli and Hangar Steak Argentinian Style with Chimichurri garnish.

Dr. Hops abroad

Roger has been homebrewing for over 16 years. Before opening up LAB Brewing Co., he was brewing overseas in Holland and Belgium. He described these countries as “Disneylands of beers.”

He’s fascinated by the traditions kept by these old European breweries, “you’re in a building that’s probably a couple of hundred years old. Some of these abbeys are using yeast strains from the 1800’s. They still manage to keep it alive. That’s kind of their proprietary thing, that adds a whole lot of taste characteristics to the beers. Yeast is a huge element of the flavor profile, which they highly emphasis in Europe.”

Let’s get yeasty!

Roger explained the importance of yeast to us, “you have to buy it from a yeast provider. I didn’t realize how expensive it would be, it’s about $450 to get enough yeast for a batch. But then after that, you can just continue to reuse the yeast as long as you have aseptic technique and it continues to be healthy.”

The brewpub is using two yeast strains for their beers. One is Chico 1056 yeast, or common American Ale yeast, suitable for all sorts of different styles and the other is Trappist Abbey 2 yeast which is used for their Belgium beers.

Roger plans on starting a yeast lab at the brewhouse allowing him to experiment and save money in the long run, “when things simmer down and I have a moment to breath.”

From home to pro

One of the most difficult transitions of going from small, garage style brewer to a brewpub is the scale of cleaning and the attention to detail it requires. “When you are homebrewing, you swish around a little sanitizer and you’re good to go,” Roger explains.

The heat exchanger, a machine that cools the beer down from after boil of 212 degrees to 70 degrees in moments, is especially tricky. Roger tells us it’s been one of his worst nightmares, “it has so many nooks and crannies in there. It’s the highest source of potential contamination in the brewhouse.” Contamination means inconsistent beer.

Roger shared his wisdom with us, “One of my pro-brewer friends told me once, if someone comes in for a beer and when they come back two or three months later, they shouldn’t be able to tell much of a difference. But if they come in for a beer a year or two later, your quality should have improved.”

The brews

The LAB offers six house brews: Bad Influence IPA, LAB XPA, Big Ass Red West Coast Amber Ale, Take Her Home Belgian Tripel, After Midnight Moo Milk Stout, and Cold Fusion Java Coffee Porter. Expect the house brews to be on rotation regularly. Rogers plans to focus on Belgium style beers as well as west coast style IPAs.

Moving pictures

See Jace’s interview with brewmaster Roger Bott.