Meet Daniel Drennon, the New Editor and Owner of Beer Paper LA
A half-year ago, with the two owners of Beer Paper LA moving on, Beer Paper LA was about to move on as well, were it not for its head writer stepping in to take over. “There was a very real possibility the paper would’ve ended after two years,” said Daniel Drennon, Beer Paper LA’s head writer. “Beer Paper is largely a passion project, since the time commitment is large and the money we take in is small.” With Aaron Carroll and Rob Wallace, its erstwhile owners, no longer able to stay on – with Carroll getting hired as Creative/Marketing Manager at Beachwood BBQ and Brewing and Wallace being transferred to Dallas by his day job – the owners could have let it go. However, Drennon offered to take the reins as the head writer, saying “I was the natural person to take over Beer Paper LA. I have always felt that I bleed Beer Paper LA. It was Aaron and Rob’s baby, but I felt it was my baby, as well…at least adopted!”
Since taking over Beer Paper LA this summer, Drennon says he has “made some fairly significant philosophical changes to Beer Paper LA. “The paper was dedicated to LA breweries and beer bars, whereas I felt it was for LA beer fans,” said Drennon. Thus, it would be totally within the purview of his philosophy to write about San Diego breweries, for instance. Thus, they recently had an issue about San Diego Beer Week, which fits within this vision for the paper. January will be the first ever issue to focus on the Bay Area breweries and beer bars to coincide with San Francisco Beer Week.
In addition to changing the focus of the paper, Drennon admits “it has been a steep learning curve – I used to be the writer who had to crank out two or three stories a month. Now, I’m responsible for every aspect of the paper, such as editing, marketing, getting ads, distribution of the paper, and more.” As to the distribution, Drennon notes that Beer Paper LA is self-distributed: “We distribute to over 300 places, from San Clemente to the south up to Ladyface Ale Companie to the north – about 1000 square miles.” However he knows nothing about lay out, so he makes sure to note that he is glad that he found Matthew Combs, Beer Paper LA’s creative director, who does that.
Drennon has continued his role as head writer for Beer Paper LA. He has been the head writer for Beer Paper LA since its inception and had been writing about beer regularly for years before that, but he does not regard himself as a beer journalist. “To me, beer journalist is an oxymoron. It’s beer, people!” He is not looking to describe hints or notes of flavors – he simply seeks to share if he enjoys the beer or not. “I have three ratings for beer,” Drennon described, “Delicious, damn delicious, and fucking damn delicious. If your beer does not fall into one of these three categories, I will probably not be drinking your beer.” He then quoted one of his favorite brewers, Brian Hunt from Moonlight Brewing, who said, “Enjoy that beer in that moment,” Drennon agrees wholeheartedly, saying “Just enjoy the beer. Don’t rank it. Don’t analyze it. Enjoy it.”
His view is to simply enjoy beer from a consumer/end-user’s perspective versus weighing the technical aspects of it. He illustrated this with a moment from a film course he took at the University of Southern California, while earning his master’s degree in communications management. The professor was discussing camera angles. Drennon was not interested, saying, “I don’t want to be thinking about the damn camera angle. I want to immerse myself in the story.” Similarly, he is not interested in the technical aspects of beer. “That is for the brewer to know and for the brewer to deliver.”
Drennon said he writes about beer as he does screenwriting: he wants it “to be entertaining to the reader, sometimes funny, definitely edgy.” He is a writer, he says. Any kind of writing. He described himself as “an old Southern storyteller” such that he “can write anything – a poem, a beer article, a short story, a screenplay,” and so “writing is just like brewing or acting or singing – it is about perfecting your craft.”
Drennon got into beer writing while discussing craft beer with folks who worked for the LA Weekly and was astonished that, despite that publication having food writers and wine writers, they did not have any beer writers. So, from 2009 through 2011, he wrote 1-2 pieces a week for LA Weekly on craft beer. His challenge was, “How do I establish credibility as the LA Weekly beer writer?” His strategy was to go to every beer event and tap takeover in greater Los Angeles, often having beer at lunch, happy hour and dinner and reporting about it to LA beer fans and to be as passionate and excited about beer as they are.
His move from the LA Weekly to Beer Paper LA occurred just as Beer Paper LA began. Two and a half years ago, Carroll came up to him at Beachwood, their shared home bar, and said, “Rob and I are going to start Beer Paper LA, would you like to be our head writer?” What made it easy for him to make the switch was that he had been getting into constant arguments with his LA Weekly editor about Drennon being overly descriptive in using terms like “bad ass brewer.” Carroll assured him that Beer Paper LA would give him the free rein to write in his own voice.
Drennon points out that “you have to self-edit as a mature writer.” He shared with me that while he uses the f-bomb in his writing, he does so when he is excited about a brewery or a beer and, most importantly, because it means something in the context of what he is communicating: “As a writer, as a storyteller, I’m very conscious of dropping the f-bomb. I don’t do it lightly. I don’t do it for cheap effect. I do it because it’s heartfelt, because beer fans are passionate and creative and I want to talk to them like they talk to me. We share a passion. We share a voice.” Drennon adds, “Because we are so spoiled by a riches of great locally brewed craft beer in California, I’m always looking for a jaw-dropper, what I call the ‘wow beers’.”
Other writers began writing for Beer Paper LA who incorporated profanity in their writing, but Carroll said (using DFD, a nickname for Drennon), “No one is allowed to use profanity except for DFD, because it’s integral to what he’s writing.” (By the way, the nickname DFD stands for Daniel Fuckin’ Drennon, a tongue-in-cheek nickname that was coined by Rob Wallace when Drennon would inevitably appear at beer events.)
Drennon has been writing since he was twelve. He started by writing predictions about NFL games for his local newspaper in North Carolina and has been writing ever since. He moved to LA in 1989 to write screenplays – has written nine and optioned three. It certainly doesn’t hurt that his mother was an English teacher. “As a writer, the number one skill I possess is the ability to put myself in someone else’s shoes. In creating characters, I’m very adept at putting myself in other people’s shoes.”
One beer writer of whom Drennon is a fan is Brandon Hernandez in San Diego – “I admire Brandon because he will write about breweries with complete honesty, which sometimes means his review are negative.” While Drennon does not write negatively about breweries (he just doesn’t write about them if he has nothing good to say), he says he loves Hernandez’ courage to tell it like it really is.
Drennon shared two concerns that people in the beer industry have – the first is that they are paranoid about the wave of buyouts of craft breweries by macros such as AB InBev and MillerCoors. But “the more insidious danger”, he believes, are the people who are starting local craft breweries that produce mediocre beer. It is more insidious since people may have those bad local craft beers as their first experience with craft beer and be turned off from continuing to drink craft beer.
It looks like, despite the transition in ownership and editorship of Beer Paper LA, Daniel Drennon is committed to making sure the paper continues to be a resource for LA beer fans. His goal is to keep us beer fans informed of what is going on with craft beer. But not just any beer. It’s California. So the beer better be delicious, damn delicious, or fucking damn delicious! Otherwise, DFD won’t be writing about it.