It is a lazy Monday afternoon, the first holiday weekend of the year. The fog in Santa Cruz has cleared and the sun is warm. Locals are busy exchanging pleasantries with family and friends. at Humble Sea Brewery, a perfect paradise for beer lovers who also love art and creativity. There is a line out the door with people waiting to quench their thirst. Every seat on the rustic outdoor patio is occupied, and the brew house is filled with a hoppy aroma as the golden beer flows through the tap.
The team at Humble Sea Brewery, including the co-founders—Nick Pavlina, Taylor West, and Frank Scott Krueger—have brought to life a brewery that is filled with energy, creativity, and, of course, delicious beer.
What makes Humble Sea a multipersonality brewery?
Frank Scott Krueger: We are trying to make the best style amongst multiple different styles. We think it is more interesting for the customer to be able to say, “Hey, I want to try some big dark imperial stouts,” or “I want to try something really light and delicate, like a pilsner.” It is also more challenging from a brewing perspective. Businesswise, you don't necessarily need to make all of these styles to do well. You can just hone in on one style. But we're super interested in making the best of each category that we can possibly make it. It is just more fun and more challenging.
What are the most common mistakes in running a brew house, even at the pro level?
FSK: One mistake I see often is the lack of balance between brewer’s ownership and customer experience. There is like this classic old saying in craft beer, “We make what we might want to drink.” You definitely want to make things that you do want to drink and are passionate about, but if you only make those things, then you should just be a home brewer. A lot of brewers overlook this aspect. You are making a lot of this liquid. There needs to be a lot of people that enjoy this liquid. Listening to what drinkers are saying and what people are interested in and having a conversation with the consumer is really important. That to me is like the biggest mistake that I see all the time.
How did you get involved in the craft of making German beers?
Nick Pavlina: In my early adulthood, finding different craft lagers was really hard, and finding a good one was even harder. That is why I wanted to start making them and experimenting. The first few I made, I was blown away on how good they were. I just obsessed over it, and that is how I got started.
What would be an ideal day for you?
NP: A perfect day would be like exercising in the morning and maybe go surfing, coming in brewing a batch of pilsner, sampling barrels and going home. That sounds like a pretty nice day.
FSK: I do like design and branding. Being able to sit down and crank out, from start to finish, a logo or illustration for a label would be ideal. I also like the feedback loop and experience of tasting beers and learning more about it. Having a tasting session is educational for the whole team, including myself.
Can you tell us more about the tasting sessions?
FSK: Whichever beers are new that week, we bring them up on a long table. We each taste in silence. We have different categories we focus on such as appearance, aroma, flavor, and the experience of tasting a beer. We give our feedback of what we like about it, what we think could change, and what is working. Usually, there is an interaction with the brewers as well. It is an educational moment for all of us. If we agree on something, the brewers will take note and then make changes for the next batch. It is really a fun process. Everyone learns and gets better.
Do you have any favorite instructional books or resources on beer?
FSK: I like the book Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher. He is not only a beer expert but also a graphic designer. The way he organizes information is easily consumable. It is less like a textbook. He is my hero!
NP: The classic book How To Brew: Everything You Need to Know to Brew Great Beer Every Time by John Palmer has everything a homebrewer needs to know.
How often do you change your beer menu? Do you have any favorites?
NP: Our beer board changes weekly. We hardly make the same beer twice. It is hard to perfect a beer if you only make it once. Procedures are one thing, but an exact recipe is something else. You can really hone in a recipe if you make it more than once. Socks and Sandals is our staple IPA.
FSK: Penelope Pilsner is a classic German pilsner named after Nick’s daughter.
What is your creative process to come up with these beers?
NP: Tasting other breweries, seeing what the market is trending for, and seeing what hops are available inspires me. Then there is the culinary inspiration and suggestions from our brewers, taproom staff, and friends.
FSK: We are constantly doing events and collaborations with other breweries and invitational style beer festivals. We were recently in New York for a festival and then trying different beers around the city, meeting with other brewers, getting to see their space, their process, and which ingredients they have access to compared to us. Things are obvious when they stand out to us as new, good, or interesting.
What about your job do you love the most and why?
NP: I like to have the creative freedom, flexibility of making my own schedule, and being my own boss.
FSK: Liberty. I like when an entire beer comes together, the beer name works well with the actual beer execution, style, flavor, and can design. When everything is a continuous experience, you can tell customers are getting that experience. It absolutely hits and people are blown away by it.
Humble Sea Brewery
820 Swift Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
This article originally appeared in Issue 11.2 “Device”