by Cat Johnson (thefreelancecat.com)
Nick Pavlina had been home brewing beer for four years when he decided to turn his hobby into a business. His friend Allie Pomianowski approached him about opening a brewery and the two started working out the details. When Pomianowski passed away, however, plans for the brewery were put on hold. Two years later, when Pavlina found the perfect business partners in his longtime friends Frank Scott Krueger and Taylor West, Humble Sea Brewery was finally launched.
With Pavlina as the head brewer, Krueger as the media and marketing creative, and West as head of operations, the three soon established Humble Sea as one of Santa Cruz’s standout craft breweries and emerging local companies.
The Humble Sea team is focused on creating top-quality beers and also giving back to the community. They’ve had a philanthropic angle from the start and they regularly work with partner organizations, including Save the Waves, on fundraisers.
“The community part is huge,” says Krueger. “Right now, what we’re doing is simply giving away product…but we’re really inspired by what a brewery can provide for a community.”
He references the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico as an example of a brewery making a positive impact on its community. The company is among the area’s top employers and they have a sustainable manufacturing facility. In 2010, the brewery was named Green Business of the Year by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
“They’re so sustainable,” says Krueger, “that they actually put energy back on the grid. And they’re producing an unbelievable amount of product.”
This big-picture vision is at the heart of Humble Sea. Even the name Humble Sea speaks to a sense of purpose. It’s inspired by a love of the ocean and a desire by the founders to approach their business with humility.
“Growing up in Santa Cruz County, the ocean’s always been an important part of my life,” says Pavlina. “And I always try to stay humble with everything I do, especially making beer.”
When Krueger first heard the name Humble Sea, he liked it immediately and could easily visualize building a brand around it.
“I could already see the whole maritime system that could go below this thing,” says Krueger, explaining that the many of the Humble Sea beers have maritime themes. “We stick within the theme of the ocean but we try to be as creative as possible with the names—kind of funny, out-there, zany, ocean-oriented themes. It’s a unique angle to differentiate ourselves because there’s a lot of good beer out there.”
Now on tap at several restaurants and bars around town, including Beer 30, East End Gastropub, West End Tap & Kitchen, the Picnic Basket, Assembly, and the Food Lounge, Humble Sea is definitely a local hit. In fact, demand for the beers far
exceeds what Humble Sea can currently produce, so the team is scaling up, bringing in a larger brewing system, opening a new brewery and taproom on Swift Street, and, rumor has it, creating a taproom in the old Miramar space on the wharf.
Once they have their own taprooms, people can taste all of the Humble Sea beers in one place rather than having to go all over town to sample all of the brewery’s offerings. These are big steps for a young company to take, but all signs point to go for Humble Sea. They have a solid presence in the community and the support of the rapidly growing Santa Cruz beer scene, including some of the well-established area breweries that suggested buying as big a brewing system as the founders could afford. They predicted that Humble Sea wouldn’t be able to keep up with the demand and it’s proven to be true.
“We’re slammed,” says Krueger. “It’s crazy.”
To further establish themselves, the Humble Sea team has been making the rounds of local events, including several with Event Santa Cruz. It’s at these events that the founders can interact with the consumers of their beers, rather than just dropping off kegs to restaurants and bars. These interactions are a highpoint as they talk with the people, hear what they’re saying about their beers, and see whether they make repeat orders of the same beer. Events are also a great way to share information about their process and the Humble Sea story.
“It’s awesome to be able to educate our community,” says Krueger. “The more you know about the beer, the more you like it, so a huge part of our marketing is just storytelling, and educating the community about what we’re doing.”
For Event Santa Cruz’s upcoming Brew: Part II event, Humble Sea is partnering with Verve Coffee Roasters to create beer infused with Verve coffee. Pavlina hasn’t brewed with coffee before, but he has some recipes he’s excited to try. The partnership is a nice example of the vibrant entrepreneurial spirit in Santa Cruz—one that is currently booming, but has long been part of the local culture.
“Growing up in Santa Cruz, you see the entrepreneurial aspect everywhere,” says Pavlina. “I love following my dreams and doing what I want to do. That’s the whole vibe around Santa Cruz and it’s awesome.” He adds, “That’s why I love it here.”
West adds that a lot of locals pride themselves on supporting the local economy. “The people of Santa Cruz enjoy supporting small, local business,” he says. “They want to give their money to small businesses.”
With two new taprooms on the horizon and the capacity to brew in larger batches, Humble Sea is positioned to scale in Santa Cruz and beyond. They’re currently seeking a second round of investments and are excited about the possibilities of further establishing Santa Cruz as a hub for craft beers. They’d also like to bring Humble Sea to different demographics in the area.
“Right now, the primary demographic of craft beer is middle to upper-class caucasian,” says Krueger. “We’d really like to expand into different communities. Everybody drinks beer but craft beer only occupies a very small part of the beer market—somewhere between 11 and 15 percent. Everybody else is drinking conglomerate beers. We’d love to introduce craft beers to people who are drinking those kinds of beers and have it be part of their community.” He adds, “We’re all about inclusion and not the exclusivity that tends to come with high end products like craft beer.”
Because the founders take great care to buy the best ingredients they can, Humble Sea is not inexpensive. But the founders are working to find ways to involve the community and push down the prices where they can. “We want to provide people with beer that we believe in,” says Krueger, “and also expand our community.”
Don’t miss Humble Sea at our next event on May 19th: Event Santa Cruz Brew: Part II
Cat Johnson is a freelance writer and content strategist. She helps purposeful businesses tell their story with content. Get content marketing tips at thefreelancecat.com. Follow @CatJohnson on Twitter.