Orange County ska legends Reel Big Fish have been taking the stage and joyously tearing through their drinking anthem “Beer” night after night for over two decades. And for nineteen years, trombonist Dan Regan was right there to hear the drunken crowds scream to the heavens: “I think I’ll have myself a beer.”
Of course, when frontman Aaron Barrett wrote “Beer” in 1995, times were simpler — beer meant Budweiser, PBR, and other mass-produced lagers, not necessarily chosen for taste, but rather as a means to an end. But Regan’s tenure in the band, which ended in 2013, ran seemingly parallel to the meteoric rise of craft and independent beer, one that’s now culminated in a brewery of his own and, in many ways, a shift in the meaning of their iconic hit.
“We were just dirty kids — I was 18 when we got signed,” Regan insists, looking at a binder of old band memorabilia his mom had collected over the years. We’re in the backroom of his new brewery, Liberation Brewing Company in Long Beach, which opened in early May — a far cry from his humbling introduction to beer in the suburbs of SoCal. “We’d play a house party and I’d be talking to girls with a beer in my hand and Brad from Sublime would walk by and go ‘You’ve had that same beer in your hand for an hour! You’re not leaving until you’ve had six more!’” he says.
Around 1993, a friend jumped on the trend of brewing his own beer, and Regan’s world shifted. Those homebrewed pale ales, coupled with the mainstream rise of breweries like Sierra Nevada and Anderson Valley, changed not just his beer palate, but also his young life on the road. “The tour manager would come in in the morning and say ‘O kay we get three cases of beer, what do you want?’ and the drummer would say ‘Natty Ice!’ and then we’d still have two more, so I’d say Sierra Nevada. And then eventually I would start saying to get whatever was local.”
This created a years-long crash course in beer. During the earliest days of Twitter in 2011, when saxophonist and fellow beer enthusiast Matt Appleton joined the band and became Regans defacto on-the-road roommate, the two would post their city location and ask for beer recommendations before exploring exciting up-and-coming breweries.
“The bartenders would be like, ‘you don’t sound like you’re from around here,’ and we’d say we were in a band then suddenly we’d get a tour and meet the brewers,” Regan recalls. “Eventually it became that we’d hit up the brewery, have a couple beers, go do soundcheck, hit up another brewery, do the show. . . that was our routine for years. And they’re still doing it!”
The move from becoming a beer drinker to an active participant in Long Beach’s young beer scene wasn’t easy. To hear him tell it, Regan’s failed attempts at homebrewing in the late 2000s led to his Liberation Brewing partner Eric McLaughlin attempting the craft himself. And while McLaughlin would go on to brew at Ohana Brewing in L.A., Regan was spending his time on tour busses talking about how one day he’d open up a brewery of his own. “I talked their ears off about it for years,” he says.
When I ask if any of the guys from the band have had a chance to stop by yet, he pauses. “The bass player (Derek Gibbs) was in here during one of our soft opens, but they haven’t come in all together,” he says. Then Regan’s excitable disposition shifts for a moment. “I think when Matt came in was the first time I cried. It was three years of tearing our hair out, going grey, trying to get this place open…So to look up and see him, after talking about it with all of them for so long, it was a good moment.”
And then, just like the song, they had a beer.