By Frier McCollister
Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer
A global pandemic allowed patrons, restaurants and bars to discover the pleasures of outdoor dining and drinking. Despite relentlessly temperate weather and daily sunny blue skies, Southern California previously hadn’t had a real culture of outdoor dining or beer gardens.
Cerveceria del Pueblo is Pasadena’s first and only craft brewery with its own tap room. It boasts a lovely, shaded outdoor patio and a small menu of freshly brewed craft beers. Combined with a regular rotation of chef pop-ups and food trucks providing snacks and comestibles, the brewery has managed to manifest one of the most pleasant outdoor neighbor hangouts in town.
“Beer brings people together,” said Martin Quinones, the founder and owner.
“It’s unpretentious. Drink this beer and it feels like home.”
Born and raised in Bogota, Colombia, Quinones transitioned from a successful career in post-production audio engineering to indulging his burgeoning passion for brewing beer. He began brewing at home nine years ago.
“It became an obsession. My wife wasn’t happy,” Quinones noted. “She’s been very patient.”
His wife Monica is also Colombian. Her family had moved to the United States from Colombia in 2002, landing first in Miami as political refugees. Her parents were dentists and ultimately moved here to take advantage of California’s easier medical licensing protocols for foreign medical practitioners. They settled in Arcadia, prompting Martin to join Monica to pursue their relationship and his interest in audio engineering.
He studied first at Citrus College.
“Foreign students have to go to school full time, in order to keep our visa status,” Quinones said. “So, after I finished that program at Citrus College, I did a couple of years at Glendale College, because I wanted to study post-production at UCLA. I also took classes at Cal State Northridge. They have a media management program.”
While studying, he began working at a post-production studio in 2006.
“I was honing my skills and learning more,” he said.
He soon graduated to bigger projects and more responsibility, even as a hobby at home consumed more of his attention.
“I started home brewing nine years ago,” Quinones recalled.
“I bought a couple buckets, some ingredients from the home brew shop, and I got a recipe online. I was just adding stuff to a kettle and hoping for the best. I like doing things. I like building things. I like handiwork. It was fun. It was a mess, but I liked it. It was drinkable. It was a weekend thing. It was a hobby.”
The momentum of his interest in brewing accelerated.
“I became obsessed,” he recalled. “I was reading more books about it, technical books. I joined a home brew club. That was helpful. You learn from them. That was great.
“I kept doing it. I began reading business-oriented books. I had always been an employee. I didn’t go to business school. After I compiled all of that, I realized maybe there’s a chance, maybe there’s an opening I can try. People come to the U.S. to pursue their dreams. There’s always an open door that you can take. I said, ‘I’m going to give this a try.’”
Quinones and his wife have two young sons, Matthias and Max, ages 8 and 5. When Max was born at Huntington Hospital in 2016, that was the spark ignited for Quinones.
“I took two weeks off from work,” Quinones said. “I left home after we got back from the hospital to get groceries or something. I decided without telling anyone to just go to the permit center at City Hall here in Pasadena and talk to the staff there. ‘I’m opening a brewery. What do I need?’ It seemed complicated, but as a Colombian being here, I’ve dealt with bureaucracies for a while.”
Still, he was unprepared for the arduous process of permitting with the city, which took over two and a half years to complete.
“I don’t know if I was stubborn or just determined,” Quinones mused. “It was painful. It was a hard, long process. I know we have to follow the rules, but it was easier to become a U.S. citizen than to open a business in Pasadena.”
He considered abandoning the project, but he had the firm support of his wife and his parents.
“They supported me from day one,” Quinones said. “I got the certificate of occupancy in February of 2020.”
Meanwhile, he had started brewing in December 2019. With his permitting finally cleared, the pandemic lockdown descended in March with his brewing vats full of fresh beer. “I wasn’t going to dump the beer and I couldn’t drink it all myself.”
Quinones resorted to canning individual orders. He canned one beer at a time with a manual single canning machine.
“We did close to 18,000 cans, one at a time,” he said. “And you can punch me in the face.”
When outdoor service became possible in October of last year, Quinones again had to apply for permitting. This time, the “expedited” process took nearly five months, but he opened the patio space in February.
Although he doesn’t prepare food on-site, it is an important element at Cerveceria del Pueblo.
“I think food is a crucial component of our experience,” Quinones said.
“I love beer, but beer with food just elevates the whole thing. You can have a great beer by itself, and it will give you joy. But if you’re pairing it with food, it just opens up more flavors and more sensations. I think it enhances the experience.”
He began enlisting food trucks and pop-ups to provide a dining option for his guests.
“Now October is completely booked, and I just have a few dates left in November,” he said. “We have Cuban food. We have Argentinian food. Lord Empanada is a pop-up from Monrovia. We have a Colombian truck called ViVi’s. Arepas, empanadas and they’re here every Thursday. They’re the only ones with a fixed date. It’s a Colombian, Hispanic night.”
On a recent Sunday afternoon, chef Sergio Armenta from Shyo Original Ramen popped up with fried edamame and popcorn lobster. The updated schedule for food vendors at the brewery is posted on the brewery’s website and Instagram page.
There are seven beers on the menu at Cerveceria del Pueblo. Each is distinct and inevitably influenced by Quinones’ sensibility and background.
“What I envisioned, being Colombian, is a chance to show a bit of our culture,” he said. “So, I wanted to include South American ingredients. I wanted to show South American culture through beer. That’s why you see Argentinian yerba mate and Peruvian quinoa. You see Colombian coffee and cacao from Ecuador.
“People have liked it. Hopefully, they enjoy the beer and they have a good experience, but I want them to say, ‘I tried something I’ve never tried before.’ It’s unique.”
The current menu, at time of publication, at Cerveceria del Pueblo includes: Yerbatera pale ale (5.7% ABV); Quinoa Witbier (4.9% ABV); Juicy IPA (6.5% ABV); Panela IPA (7% ABV); two sour wheat beers, the Feijoa Berliner and the Lulo Berliner (4% and 4.5% ABV, respectively); and the popular favorite Gaviota coffee Kolsch (6.4% ABV), which uses coffee beans from Jones Coffee Roasters in South Pasadena. Each beer takes two to six weeks to fully finish.
“I do a taste test every day,” Quinones noted.
In June, Quinones teamed with the Pasadena Fire Department and local station No. 31 to craft a beer to benefit the 809 Fight 4 Awareness foundation, which promotes mental health support for firefighters and other first responders.
After hosting 40 firefighters for a beer 101 class, Quinones produced their Flight of the Parrot pilsener. “Working with the firefighters allowed us to be a part of the greater good. The beer was sold before we even brewed it,” Quinones said.
“I want this brewery to be part of the community. I want the community of Pasadena to think of us as their brewery,” Quinones said.
“It’s not my brewery. It’s their brewery. That’s why our name is ‘del Pueblo.’ It’s of the people. That’s what we want to be. We want to be a place where people can gather. It’s unpretentious. It’s very inclusive. I like that you see everyone here. You should be able to call this your own place. I know I’m not saving anyone’s life, but if I can improve their afternoon, that’s a big achievement.”