When I heard a brewery was opening in my neighborhood, I was quite excited, to say the least. And when I finally set foot inside their doors and tried their wares, I was not disappointed.
Hapa’s is a confluence of many fortunate events, the foundation of which is the high-quality beer that brewer Brian Edwards creates. As Brian puts it, his role is to take all the raw ingredients and guide them through the brewing process until they end up in your glass. That’s where his job ends.
The name Hapa’s is catchy in that for most it’s an unknown word. I’ll admit I first thought it was a made-up word that was a play on the word hops. But as owners Derek and Brian explain, it’s very much a real word.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Aside from the myriad of things that make opening a brewery a steep hill to climb, finding the right location is among the toughest. Many breweries are located in industrial/warehouse districts that don’t exactly lend themselves to foot traffic. Patrons have to seek out these locations and even then, they can be hard to find. Finding a location that fits both the industrial needs of a working brewery and has drive-by traffic is a goldmine. In that sense Hapa’s hit pay dirt. While it isn’t in the heart of Willow Glen, it really isn’t far from downtown Willow Glen. And that means a lot of patrons can make it there easily.
Aside from the physical location, the structure and environment lend themselves to people having a great time. It has a huge open feeling with high ceilings and tons of natural light. There is plenty of space to move around and an outdoor area with plenty of seating and the opportunity to play cornhole. The vibe in the Hapa’s taproom is a huge part of its success.
A LONG JOURNEY TO OPENING
A typical patron enjoying the beer and environment at Hapa’s will never know the multi-year journey that Derek and Brian took to make Hapa’s a reality. Both entrepreneurs at heart, they kicked around multiple business ideas before landing on the idea of opening a brewery. Both were passionate about brewing but were working in tech at the time. Brian took a huge leap of faith and quit his job at Google to take a job at Dempsey’s Brewery in Petaluma. Under the tutelage of Peter Burrell, Brian learned everything it takes to brew quality beer and run a brewery. And he learned it the hard way. As Brian puts it, he went to “the school of hard knocks” for brewing.
The brewhouse at Dempsey’s was not very modern. When Dempsey’s opened, automation of the various tasks was either not available or not affordable. That meant that after milling the grain, Brian would hand carry the buckets of grain to add to the mash tun. Keep in mind that often meant hundreds of pounds of grain. Once the grain was in the mash tun, there were no rakes to mix the mash, so Brian had to hand stir the mash with a paddle. Imagine stirring 400lbs of oatmeal. The side benefit of course is a great workout. People often imagine brewers as being overweight from drinking so much beer. The opposite is often true because of all the physical labor involved in brewing.
FOCUS ON STYLE
A lot of breweries tend to lean one way or another in terms of style of beer. That isn’t to say they don’t cover most of the bases, but once those standard styles of beers fill out the tap list you will find the extras tend to lean towards specific styles. One place may be heavy on the hazies, while another might have an amazing sour collection. Whatever that may be, there can be a wide range of possibilities within a specific style, as Brian explains here.
As homebrewer you mainly are brewing beer for yourself and your friends. Cost savings may cross your mind, but profit certainly doesn’t. But a brewery is a business and without profit you won’t last long. (Unless you are Twitter.) And the question then is, how do you sell your beer? Sounds easy, right? Not so much. There are over 6,000 brewpubs, microbreweries, and regional breweries in the United States, and the concentration in certain areas in immense. You either have to convince people to get through your doors or get your beer out to the bars, restaurants and grocery stores. For a brand-new brewery without a well-known name that is tough. Adding your beer to a tap means moving another one off. Putting your beer on the shelf means less room for other well-known beers. Breaking in can be very frustrating.
GETTING TO KNOW YOUR CUSTOMERS
Obviously without customers a brewery wouldn’t last very long. Developing a relationship with your customers is key not only to growing your customer base but also to ensuring repeat customers. As enticing as the environment at Hapa’s is, the staff help add to that with their friendly, helpful attitudes. The one unique relationship is that of the brewer with the patrons. Since the brewer spends the majority of their time in the brewhouse, they don’t always have the opportunity to mingle with patrons. And when they do it can be fraught with the insecurity of an artist walking among visitors at an art gallery. Do they like my beer? If they don’t, why not? Brian explains his experience with this, and his way of dealing with it.
One question that Hapa’s was unprepared for was “Do you have a sour beer?” The answer was no. To make things worse, Brian didn’t even really know how to brew one. Sours are a style of beer obviously defined by their sour flavor, but beyond that the style is pretty much wide open. And often the magic and beauty behind the style are the unexpected results. Introducing bacteria to your beer is a very uncontrolled method of defining the flavor and it can take years to understand and perfect the style. But as Derek and Brian explain, the pressure was on to make one.
As I discussed in my blog post about Humble Sea, the brewing industry as a whole is unique. The openness and camaraderie among fellow brewers is really astounding. While some may be a little protective of their exact recipes, the sharing of ideas is commonplace. Helping one other out when one is short on this or that ingredient happens all the time. I’ve even seen them borrow equipment from one another and payment at the end is usually a case of the beer they brewed that day. It’s heartening to see an industry that can thrive in an environment of cooperation rather than competition.
While Hapa’s is still very young — they recently celebrated their one-year anniversary — they seem to have a very bright future ahead. Judging by the crowds in the taproom on the weekends, they must be doing something right. They recently added a new fermentation tank to help increase volume and keep the tap list filled with a variety of beers. While Brian continues to maintain his staple beers, Hungry Dog, Amish Rifle, and Barbie’s Blonde Ale, he keeps thing fresh with new hazies and zero-IBU IPAs each month. Recently he experimented with the new brut IPA style, which came out quite nice. It’s crystal clear and quite refreshing, with low bitterness. Time will tell if this style catches on.
As the San Jose beer scene grows, Hapa’s will undoubtedly be among one of the top spots for beer lovers. I can only imagine the name will grow in recognition in the stores and taps in restaurants and people will come to seek out Hapa’s wherever they can. I for one will always have it as my “neighborhood brewery,” and for that I am thrilled.