Taproom is new roost for fresh brew
By Frier McCollister
The flock of wild parrots who roar across the city every dawn and dusk are loud and green, and they fly in pairs.
The last note aptly applies to the creators and founders of Pasadena’s latest craft brewery and taproom, Wild Parrot Brewing Company, which opened to much squawking fanfare on September 23.
Brewmaster John Jackson and his wife, Kirsten, have spent the last seven years or so bringing this charming new neighborhood roost to life.
“At this point, she is doing a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff, the HR, the admin, she’s taken on social media duties,” John says about Kirsten.
“It’s the stuff that absolutely has to happen but that, for the most part, I just don’t have time for.”
These days, John is busy concocting the latest batches of fresh beer, brewed on the premises and served at the bar and taproom that notably shares space with the locally beloved nonprofit Rosebud Cafe.
As chronicled in Pasadena Weekly on April 8, 2020, the Rosebud operates an effective employment and training program for local disadvantaged teens, as conceived and managed by Dan Davidson.
Wild Parrot Brewing Company holds the master lease to the space.
“We’re not a nonprofit, but we see ourselves as a community-based company,” John asserts.
Rosebud’s ability to operate during the pandemic lockdown proved indispensable to the prospects of opening the brewery and taproom.
“We would not have been able to afford this place as a startup (on our own).”
The Jacksons attended the College Preparatory School in Oakland. The pair moved to LA in 2005 and married in 2007.
John earned a master’s degree in urban planning from USC and joined the distinguished Chinatown-based architecture and planning firm Johnson Fain.
He left the firm in June after a 15-year run. Kirsten was teaching elementary school in Burbank, where she now works for the school district. So far, there’s nothing here suggesting a path to craft brewing and taproom operation.
“Our experience in running bars is extremely minimal,” John says.
That said, he did have limited experience as a bartender from a youthful adventure in Ireland with a friend, where the two lads persuaded a pub owner in Cork to hire them.
“So, for about two months. I got to pull pints of Guinness. The guy had to teach me so I wouldn’t screw it up,” John recalls.
They moved into a loft in DTLA in 2007, shortly after getting married.
“I wanted to brew beer but the stove was electric, so I couldn’t get it hot enough and she (Kirsten) was worried about the smell,” John says.
“So when we moved to Pasadena in 2011, there used to be a home brew store in Eagle Rock, Eagle Rock Home Brew Supply. They had a home brew course. They gave you extract ingredients. It was the ‘Easy-Bake Oven’ version of brewing beer.
“You can make marginal beer that your friends will drink but not be super impressed with. I realized the limits of that after two or three brews. But then quickly you get into the more complicated versions. If you want to make the good stuff, you have to use actual grain to make your beer.”
He acquired higher-quality ingredients to improve upon the beer.
“So, then what you do is called ‘all-grain brewing,’” he adds. “You’re using malts, essentially barley. You mill it up. You do the same process as I’m doing here on a commercial scale but 5 gallons at a time.”
The Jacksons live in the unincorporated San Pascual neighborhood of Pasadena, just blocks away from the brewery’s location on East Colorado Boulevard.
Soon, John was producing high-quality tasty variations at home, which he began offering at the neighborhood’s annual Memorial Day block party.
“So that was the beginning of sharing the beer,” he says.
“It became a thing. Every year it was, ‘OK, what four beers is John going to have on tap?’ We had four taps. The party congregated around the beer. That kind of hosting and seeing how the beer brought people together was the genesis.”
The popularity of his beer with his neighbors and the conviviality it engendered inspired him to turn pro.
“How can we take that idea and create something for this area?” he says.
“Our area of Pasadena does not have a place where you can stop by and casually get a drink with friends, a low-key place where you can just drop in and get a beer. This place we see as the physical manifestation of the Memorial Day block party, but for a wider audience, for the neighborhood, for Pasadena.”
John’s first step was enrolling in a three-day, intensive, one-on-one tutorial course with famed independent brewmaster Tom Hennessy in Ridgway, Colorado.
“He’s the godfather of creating breweries (with taprooms) on a budget,” John says. “I think he’s probably helped to start 100 breweries across the country and internationally. That was really the kickoff.”
Hennessy emphasized a concept he calls “nailing the oyster,” which refers to the combination of producing excellent craft beer while providing a comfortable and congenial atmosphere for the public taproom.
“It’s the feel of the place, the décor, the music. It’s a big thing that we’re trying to do here. It’s creating a space, where the vibe is a brewery vibe but there’s more going on,” John muses.
Judging by the happy buzz in the air on opening day, the Jacksons are getting something right.
The course with Hennessy also provided Jackson with access to experienced peers.
“We all have a network. It’s an alumni network, and we all help each other,” Jackson says.
He called on Nathaniel Miller, owner of Big Choice Brewing in Brighton, Colorado.
“He came out here for five days and helped me set up a lot of the stuff,” John says.
“He essentially held my hand for the first two brews, which gave me confidence. Now I’m brewing everything by myself. Without his help, we would not have the delicious beers we have right now. Our beers right now are being very well received.”
The limited and eclectic menu at Wild Parrot Brewing Company speaks to John’s evolving mastery of various styles.
Jackson offers six varieties, each available in pints or small “taster.”
These include the Snobby Town, a “German-style Pilsner” (4.9% ABV, $7.50/pint, $3/taster); the Porch Chill, an Amber lager (5.3% ABV, $7.50/pint, $3/taster); the Pandemonium, a “West Coast IPA with Citra and Amarillo hops” (6% ABV, $8/pint, $3.50/taster); the Suburban Weekend, a coffee stout “using beans from Lotus Coffee & Tea” (5.1% ABV, $8/pint, $3.50/taster); the Margadena, a “kettle sour with lime” christened by Kirsten Jackson (4.8% ABV, $8/pint, $3.50/taster); and finally the Doug Heavy, described as a “big American lager” (6.2% ABV, $7/pint, $3/taster), which is the choice that Jackson points to, as the best introduction to his craft.
All the beers are also available in 32-ounce “fun cans” to take home.
The tap room also offers a tightly curated selection of wine by the glass ($13) as well as two hard ciders ($8.50/pint).
Snacks feature nachos ($12), a large soft pretzel with pub cheese and honey mustard ($9), a carnitas melt sandwich with chips ($12), and a grilled cheese sandwich with two types of cheddar and chips ($10). Look for the food menu to slowly expand in coming months.
The perfect spot
The Jacksons spent the better part of two years searching for a suitable location, determined to open in Pasadena.
“Our No. 1 criteria was that it had to be in Pasadena,” John says. “We had heard at the time how difficult it is to find a space in Pasadena and to start a business here. Honestly, this was the first place we toured.”
At the time, it was shared with Chirp, a children’s karaoke spot.
“A kids party venue with a brewery? Not going to work,” Jackson says.
“We looked all over the city. Old Town is not for the townies. We are filling the gap because we want a place like this.”
Prospective landlords did not welcome the business model of a brewery/taproom startup, and the search went on.
“We were looking for creative solutions,” John says. “We had visited so many places, and it just wasn’t working out.”
They returned to their neighborhood, where Rosebud Cafe had landed.
“We approached Rosebud here. (We said,) ‘You guys are a morning and afternoon business. We are an afternoon and evening business.’ Then came the long slog of negotiating the lease and working with the city. That started even before we signed the lease.”
As far as the city permitting process went for the Jacksons, “long slog” seems a generous understatement. The Jacksons signed their lease in January 2020. Construction on their buildout, based on final approval by the city, did not commence until January of this year.
“We did this…” Jackson pauses for a moment and becomes emotional.
“It took a lot to get to this point. I want people to understand. We did this to create a place for people to hang out. It’s a simple idea. And it took longer than expected. But I think the product we have created is spot on with our vision.”
Wild Parrot Brewing Company
2302 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena