On January 18th, 2017, Hapa’s Brewing Company opened their doors for the first time. For co-owners Derek Tam and Brian Edwards, it was a time of excitement, but also uncertainty. Opening a brewery is a tremendous financial risk and the factors that lead to success are many and varied. Luckily for Hapa’s they quickly found the recipe for success.
As their 3rd Anniversary celebration was approaching on February 22nd, I had the opportunity to talk to head brewer and co-owner Brian Edwards about their success. Brian was super excited about the upcoming anniversary celebration and commented that he couldn’t believe it had been that long. When asked about their success, he said, “Most businesses fail in the first couple of years, so it feels good to have made it this far. I’m not surprised because we had a solid plan, a solid team and a solid location, and all those things helped contribute to our success.”
In the past three years, Hapa’s has added 105 BBLs of fermentation space, which is about triple what they started with when they opened. It has been a steady growth over the three years. It gives them a current brewing capacity of about 3000 BBLs per year. Last year they brewed 1200 BBLs and this year it’s too early to tell since they will be opening a 2nd taproom at a location in Los Gatos. They have maxed out their current capacity, but they have the space to double their capacity if they were to dig out floor space and put in a foundation that could hold the tanks.
Most of Hapa’s beer is sold in the taproom, but they also do monthly canning runs which then goes out to wholesale in grocery and liquor stores. Their beer is also on tap at a few restaurant locations.
Brian’s background in brewing comes from his doing a stint at Dempsey’s Brewpub in Petaluma under the tutelage of Pete Burrell. Pete is a silent partner at Hapa’s and is still involved in an advisory capacity. As Brian describes Pete, “He is one of the OG craft brewers, back in the eighties, even before the first big run on craft beer and he also survived when the bubble burst.” Brian often bounces ideas off Pete in terms of recipe formulation and troubleshooting when things seem to be going awry. Also, Pete’s background is in a brewpub, so he has the restaurant experience which has been invaluable to Hapa’s as they plan their taproom in Los Gatos.
Brian’s training at Dempsey’s focused more on the old-school style of brewing classic styles of beer, and as he said, “Even (Dempsey’s) IPA would be considered conservative by today’s standards.” Starting his own brewery, Brian had to change his mind set with regards to the current trends. He had to learn how to make hazies and kettle sours, which have become very popular with Hapa’s fans.
As Brian says, “the Haze Craze is strong” and hence their most popular beers are the hazy style beers. He says he would love to try new styles, but he worries that they won’t be as popular. “Our philosophy is to make what our customers want. It doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what I want to make, but that’s who buys our beer and it’s our customers that we are here to serve”
Hapa’s released their first triple IPA for their 3rd anniversary. It’s actually a collaboration with one of their favorite bands, The Tens. The beer is called Time and Rescue, named after songs by The Tens, called Time and Rescue. It clocks in at 10% ABV and features four heavy hitter hops, Bru1, Idaho 7, Citra and Mosaic. All hops were late additions, so not a lot of bitterness, but huge aromas and flavors coming from those hops. On the brew day, Brian said he wasn’t quite sure all the grain would fit in the mash tun, but luckily it all fit. He thinks he might even be able to add another bag of grain next time to bump up the ABV. The Tens played in evening for the 3rd anniversary event and although I wasn’t able to stick around that late, Brian assured me that The Tens would “blow the roof off the place.”
As Hapa’s has grown, so has their staff. They added an assistant brewer, Trey Schaaf. Trey has a strong background in the brewing industry, including working at the famed Rare Barrel in Berkeley. With his background at Rare Barrel there is the desire to put that skill to work in developing a sour program. They currently have four barrels [MOU1] with sour beer, but, as Brian noted, they would need some dedicated stainless-steel tanks to really dive into it. The four barrels each have a different treatment, with different bugs and different fruit added, so they can do a side-by-side comparison of flavors.
The immediate future of Hapa’s is currently focused on the second location, the tap room in Los Gatos. They’ve been working on it for about two years, and it has been taking up a lot of their time and focus. Once they open, they will need to figure out logistically how to maintain two tap rooms. Brian has a hard time putting a date on when the second location will open, because he has tried so many times and has been wrong. Right now, he is saying sometime in 2020.
Hapa’s has become a staple of life in the Willow Glen area and a key brewery in the San Jose brewing scene. The quality of their beer and dedication of their staff and owners is a testament to their commitment to the brewing community and their fans in the San Jose area.
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