Many home brewers dream of one day turning their hobby into a career. Seriously, what could be a better job? But then reality sets in. Anyone who has done even some cursory research into opening a brewery quickly realizes the insanity of the endeavor. But clearly there must be a lot of insane people, because breweries just keep opening up.
One such person is Nick Pavlina, head brewer and co-founder of Humble Sea Brewing Company. Nick started home brewing with his father and quickly caught the home brewing bug. He continued to hone and perfect his craft, much to the delight of his friends, who were recipients of his fine brew. Nick furthered his studies at the American Brewers Guild, receiving a degree in 2012. The next step was to assemble a team.
The First Year
The first year can make or break a brewery, and at Humble Sea they found themselves with a handful of challenges. The initial enthusiasm of Santa Cruz patrons caught them off-guard. They opened their doors with only a one-barrel system and quickly realized it wasn’t enough to keep up with demand. Soon they installed their 10-barrel system, but PG&E was dragging their feet in terms of upgrading the electrical to the building to make it feasible to run. One can only imagine the frustration of actually having the system there but not being able to use it.
And yet, customers continued to come. Humble Sea made do, brewing wort down the street at Venus Spirits, then trucking it back to their brewery to ferment and cellar. Eventually they even brought in generators to run their new 10-barrel system. Finally, PG&E got the building upgraded and things began to normalize. Customers continued to flood through the doors and fill the beer garden outside, and demand was so high they still struggled to keep the taps flowing. While it’s a good problem to have, Nick was frustrated. Although they were running at capacity, they couldn’t keep up with demand. A new tank on the way should help alleviate some of that stress, and hopes are to expand further into the building currently occupied by other tenants. For the moment, the bulk of their beer is sold through their taproom, with kegs occasionally going out, and can releases coming every few weeks.
Here the founders reflect on their first year of business.
Connecting with Customers
One key to success is connecting with customers. Although this may seem obvious, you’d be surprised how many taprooms haven’t caught on to this simple concept. From the first time I went to Humble Sea and the many subsequent times I have visited, I have always felt truly welcome and the bar staff was genuinely glad to see me. This attitude can be the difference between a one-time visitor and a loyal patron.
What’s in a name?
Coming up with a name for your brewery can be a tricky thing. You can’t be too flippant about it, because the expectation is this is a name you will stick with through the life of the company. You can’t really change the name after a few years just because you don’t like it. A good name should be picked with thought and meaning behind it, as is often the case with many breweries. Here Nick Pavlina explains the origins of the name Humble Sea.
The Craft Beer Industry
In the San Francisco Bay Area, we are surrounded by tech companies. Competition is fierce. Guarding your innovations and secrets is the status quo. In the videos I make for tech companies there is often discussion around not wanting to reveal too much info or revealing their “secret sauce.” And that’s why it has been so refreshing to get an inside look at the craft beer industry, where pretty much the opposite is true. Sharing of ideas is commonplace and collaborations happen often and are sought after. While there is a natural competition to sell your beer, there is an attitude that there are enough customers to go around. If a brewer doesn’t know how to do something they can just head over to the brewery down the street and ask them how they do it. It’s just not a problem. It makes me wonder how much better the world would be if this approach to business were more prevalent world-wide.
Humble Sea is quite possibly an anomaly in the craft brewing industry. Other brewers in the area say that Humble Sea is “killing it” and they are “knocking it out of the park.” And yet they just had their first anniversary. One might look at their three-pronged approached as a recipe for success. Clear delineation of the roles allows each co-owner to focus on and excel at their area of expertise. It probably helps a lot that Nick, Taylor, and Frank are all really good at what they do.
If you were to ask patrons what they love about Humble Sea you might get variations on three different answers. “Well, it’s the beer, obviously. The beer is fantastic.” Or “I just really love the atmosphere at the taproom and the staff is so incredible friendly.” Or even “Their labels and marketing are hilarious and playful. It’s so fun to see what new name they will come up with next.”
While these efforts may seem calculated and part of a well-executed business plan, which to some extent they are, Humble Sea is a team of goofy people who are just trying to have some fun and make some money doing it. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and you shouldn’t either. My best suggestion is to just go there, relax and enjoy their beer and the good vibes. Shaka Brah.