Night Lizard Brewing Co. combines conservation with beer

Release Date: March 2,2018

Night Lizard Brewing Co. co-founders Megan, Jon and Chip Nassar pose at their new State Street location.
 
By / Friday, March 2nd, 2018

A career in biotech makes for an easy transition into brewing beer.

Family team Jon, Megan and Chip Nasser are funneling their experiences with Thousand Oaks-based biotech company Amgen and environmental stewardship into a longtime dream of opening a brewery.

The Night Lizard Brewing Co., named for a rare and threatened species found on the Channel Islands, is deep into renovations at its 607 State St. storefront which, when finished, brings a mission of conservation to beer sales.

After retiring from a corporate position at Amgen in 2016, Jon said it was the perfect timing to take on the project with his kids.

“It wasn’t a snap decision, but it was something I know both Chip and Meg were passionate about,” he said. “It was something that we thought we could have a lot of fun with and make a difference.”

With a background both at Amgen and with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Channel Islands National Park, Chip had spent time experimenting with new recipes while home brewing as a hobby.

“Brewing and biotech go hand in hand. They use primarily all of the same equipment,” he said. “A lot of the lab guys that make drugs also make beer because it’s pretty much the same process.”

Each brew will be named for a different endangered local species, they said, and a portion of sales will be donated to targeted environmental groups. The ingredients are also chosen with a “farmers’ market type mentality,” to reflect local flavors, with around eight consistently on tap once the buildout is complete and a handful of others that will rotate with seasonal ingredients.

“That’s something we definitely want to bring to the market is kind of helping people educate themselves,” Megan said. “It’s such a wine town.”

A new brewery with an environmental mission opening up on State Street will add to the downtown experience, said Kate Schwab, marketing and communications director for Downtown Santa Barbara.

The Westlake Village residents said they were attracted to the vibe of Santa Barbara and looked at locations along the Haley corridor, but couldn’t find any with the parking requirements they needed. When the State Street building opened up, it had all the zoning requirements to brew the beer onsite.

“It’s an old building, but it’s a clean building,” Jon said. “We’ve put quite a bit into it, but at the same time, it’s a great location.”

A construction crew was hard at work adding a rollup door to get materials in and out after they poured around 15 inches of concrete into the foundation to reinforce it and retrofitted the roof to bear the weight of the equipment. Inside, the 15-barrel system including five fermenters and a bright tank sat beneath a tall ceiling waiting to be fitted to the floors, and a reclaimed redwood bar and tables were nearly ready to be installed.

“The idea there was that if we did want to distribute beyond the Central Coast, we’d have the capacity to do so inside,” Jon said.

The family-funded business plan allows for at least one satellite location in the first three to five years, a tasting room and a manufacturing facility “somewhere that costs a lot less per square foot.”

“The business model really lends to something that could go into any community and have the beers be named after a local endangered species there and raise awareness,” Megan said. “It really is kind of a universal sort of business model right now, especially. Young people care a lot about the environment and really love beer, so it’s a perfect mix.”

In addition to a call for local artists to help design their labels, the three said they also hope to have a direct impact through things like beach cleanups and lecture series, as well as efforts to minimize wastewater at the site.

Initially, they hope to hire eight to 12 wait staff and a couple more salaried employees on the brewing team in addition to brewer Andrew Kormondy. Early on, the brewery will offer growlers and small kegs before distributing cans and bottles.

“We’re not only going to have what we believe is really good beer that people will come back for, but people will see that we are not just giving back, we’re educating,” Jon said.

“We’re not naive. We did our research and we know there’s a fair percentage of breweries that close, and most of the time the reason for that is that they didn’t finance enough up front and they didn’t plan for growth … but we got a great spot that we think is a gold mine on State Street that is going to help us launch effectively.”

• Contact Marissa Nall at mnall@pacbiztimes.com.

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