Last Name brews up party to mark 20 years of good beers
by Mick Rhodes | email@example.com
Andy Dale is getting nostalgic.
“Who woulda thunk that this craft brewing industry would last that long and just get bigger and bigger through the years?” said Dale, co-owner of Upland’s Last Name Brewing, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a free, all-ages bash from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, January 28 at 2120 Porterfield Way, Upland.
“We weren’t even thinking that far ahead,” he said about the frame of mind of his brother, Curt Dale, when he founded the brewery in 2003. “We weren’t even thinking in terms of five-year plans. Curt and I had been home brewers, and had very high opinions of ourselves, unrealistic I’m sure.”
That relatively youthful confidence — Andy Dale is now 58 — was clearly not without merit. Last Name beers have since won dozens of awards, and are now in supermarkets and on tap at restaurants and bars throughout the Inland Empire and elsewhere.
Andy Dale will debut a new beer at the 20th anniversary party — the first he’s created in several years — playfully called “Andy Dale’s Dandy Ale.” The party will also include activities for kids, and food from El Chilote at noon, and Graze and Gather at 3 p.m. The event will of course also be heavy on live music, which has been a regular feature at the brewery since the beginning. The lineup includes a quartet of Last Name faves: James Donaldson at 2:15 p.m., followed by Jonny Come Lately at 4, Claremont Voodoo Society at 6, and Groove Session closing out the party at 8.
The Dale brothers were born at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center and grew up in Claremont. Home brewers for years before dreaming of opening a brewery, they got their start because certain beer styles were simply unavailable in the U.S., and, Andy Dale recalled, when they were, they had taken the slow boat from Europe and were usually stale by the time they hit U.S. shelves.
So, out of necessity and a thirst for good beer for themselves and their friends, they began brewing.
“You could make anything you wanted, provided that you did your work correctly and cleaned all your equipment and all that kind of stuff,” Andy Dale said. “You could turn out a reasonable example of any beer style in the world.”
Emboldened by their success, the brothers soon began talking about one day opening a microbrewery. Andy Dale was living in Boston at the time, and since the brothers enjoyed spending time in Manchester, Vermont, population 2,500, they considered it a contender for their brewery. But practical, personal matters intervened to squash that idea.
“Neither one of us was married, and that just sounded like really bad dating odds,” Andy Dale said. “But we did toy with the idea of somewhere in New England.”
By 2000 the focus was on Southern California. Curt Dale began looking for a spot in or near Claremont. He checked into locations in the City of Trees and Pomona, but Upland ended up landing the business due to the city’s openness to the then new world of microbreweries.
Upland was “the first [city] that immediately said ‘Yes, and here’s where you can build a brewery.’” Andy Dale recalled. “They were ahead of the curve on that in terms of cities around here.”
The brothers were so new to owning and operating a brewery that their original business plan didn’t include a now ubiquitous — and lucrative — feature of all breweries: the tasting room.
After several false starts, in 2003 Dale Bros. Brewery opened its doors in a 1,000-square-foot industrial space on Ninth Street in Upland.
“What we were really hoping to do was to build a business that would continue to offer a lot of entertainment for us,” Andy Dale said. “I think when you come up through home brewing, that’s all fun and you’re getting together with friends making beer and drinking beer, and I think we had a delusion that it was going to be a lot like that.
“And it turned out, no, it’s still a business that requires a lot of work and a lot of attention.”
In 2007, Andy Dale and his wife Karen McMillen moved to Claremont and partnered up with Curt Dale. Though Curt Dale is still a part owner of the brewery, he pulled back from the day-to-day operation in 2017 to spend more time with his young children, and since last year has lived in England. His brother and McMillen now run the business.
In 2012 the brewery opened its doors at their current spot, 2120 Porterfield Way, Upland. With 8,000 square-feet, the business finally had room to grow.
After an attempt to register the Dale Bros. name with the United States Patent and Trademark Office resulted in a denial based on a previously existing brewery already making a similarly-named beer, in 2016 it rebranded as Last Name Brewing.
Nowadays Last Name has not only filled their space with multiple brew tanks, coolers, offices, and of course a tasting room, it is now booking an increasingly sophisticated roster of live concerts at an even larger space it has since taken over next door.
Music has always played a pivotal role at the brewery, which makes perfect sense since the Dale brothers were and are fanatics. In fact, Last Name’s flagship brew, “Pomona Queen,” took its name from a song by local heroes Rex Holmes, written by that band’s co-front man, Jerry O’Sullivan.
“I was really honored by that.” O’Sullivan said. One of O’Sullivan’s current bands, Claremont Voodoo Society, will be part of Saturday’s celebration, taking the stage at 6 p.m. “Andy and Curt have just always been great supporters of the local community, music and other things, so I’m really happy to be a part this thing.”
In 2015, Andy Dale spearheaded a modest audio and staging upgrade to Last Name’s live music programming. In 2020, the brewery invested further in much higher quality audio, lighting, and staging gear. Today, due primarily to the inventiveness and hard work of audio engineer, producer, and talent booker Ray Woods — himself a gifted, beloved singer/musician/songwriter — LNB has a pro-level live music production package that is luring more and more artists to Upland.
“When we joined forces with Ray, who of course has a lot of experience from Pappy and Harriet’s and other venues, and also had a passion for live music and brought along a little bit of knowhow and a little bit of vision. There’s nothing fancy about it, but like I said, the musicians enjoy it and it just seems to feed on itself. It seems to have good word of mouth among musicians.”
Sixteen years on, Andy Dale still enjoys the job.
“It’s amazing. I think back about it … I look back at old employee records and the files, and it’s just like, ‘Oh my God. How many people have worked here?’” he said. “Some people have stayed for almost 10 years, and at least one person was here for one day. This is over 25 percent of my life, and there are not too many things in my life that I can say I’ve been doing for 16 years.
“I think what really is the rewarding part is having a business that has really become part of the community, and I think that’s what really sets it apart.”