A TALL BREW: Philip Sutton, president and head brewer at Skyscraper Brewing Co. in El Monte, displays Lug Nut Lager, one of his two beers, Thursday. Skyscraper Brewing Co. will open its doors today. (Photo by Keith Durflinger / Staff)

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EL MONTE - One batch of Bohemian Pilsener changed Philip Sutton's life.

He whipped up this homemade beer, his first attempt, while attending graduate school at the University of Utah in 1998.

"I found my passion," Sutton said.

His passion is coming to frothy life with the opening of Skyscraper Brewing Co., which Sutton serves as founder, president and head brewer.

Sutton is holding a grand opening at 4 p.m. today at 3229 Durfee Ave., El Monte.

The microbrewery is initially producing two beers - Bulldozer Honeyweizen, a golden American wheat beer made with wildflower honey, and Lug Nut Lager, a California Common-style beer with a citrus hop aroma.

Sutton sells his beer wholesale to restaurants, bars and other establishments, but at this point he does not sell beer directly to the public out of his El Monte headquarters.

He hopes to eventually have a more direct outlet to customers,


such as a tasting room or pub.

For now, he is trying to get his beer on tap at local bars and restaurants. He hopes to generate geographic loyalty, with Los Angeles County residents identifying with his local microbrewery.

Sutton said he enjoys the scientific and problem-solving aspects of brewing, such as working with complicated equipment. But he also likes the creative process of coming up with new recipes.

"At the end of the day I have produced something that people will enjoy," he said.

Sutton, 31, worked in his field of study - computer science and engineering - for about five years before pursuing his passion for brewing beer.

He attended the American Brewers Guild program in 2004 and then worked as an intern and head brewer at BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse in Brea, Sutton said. After gaining valuable experience with brewing beer on a larger scale at BJ's, he decided to start his own business.

Sutton's path is a common one. Most people who start breweries in this country or work as head brewers come from the home brewing ranks, said Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association.

Craft brewing grew by double digits in the last calendar year after growing 9 percent in 2005 and 7 percent in 2004.

Craft beers are produced with 100 percent barley or wheat malt or use other fermentable ingredients that enhance rather than lighten flavor, according to the Brewers Association.

"We're seeing a shift in what American beer drinkers are enjoying," Gatza said. "They're enjoying fuller-flavored craft beers."

The U.S. had 42 breweries in 1978 and now has 1,419 breweries of all sizes. Of those, 1,379 are considered craft breweries, including 403 microbreweries, which generate less than 15,000 barrels per year.

Skyscraper Brewing Co. has an annual

brewing capacity of 1,560 barrels, or nearly 50,000 gallons of beer.

Sutton takes samples at each station, from the mash tun, where barley and wheat are mixed with hot water, to the kettle where hops are added, to the fermenter.

He can test pH levels and check the yeast under a microscope and make adjustments to ensure he makes consistent batches from month to month and year to year. The entire process takes about two weeks, and he starts from scratch with each batch.

"Consistency is big in the beer industry," he said.

He chose Skyscraper as a company name because he wanted to draw a parallel between modern architecture and modern beer making.

"Both are based on very traditional recipes and practices, but I want to make everything modern and interesting for the public today," he said.


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