The Sit Down: Humble Sea Brewing Company

April 5, 2018

So much has happened already in the year since we first sat down with Frank, one of the three long-time best friends who founded Humble Sea Brewing Company. Our interview took place just a few shorts weeks after they first opened their doors to the public and since that moment they have celebrated the release of several different collaboration beers with other local breweries, sold out of those collaboration beers within the first 48 hours of release, released a few of their barrel program beers, hosted connect four competitions, and welcomed over 2,000 people to their brewery in one day for their one year anniversary party. That's just a small snapshot of the excitement that has happened around the newest brewery to open in Santa Cruz County. 

Not only have they brewed a ton of beer in the past year but they have also brought together a massive community of Humble Sea beer fans and drawn new interest to a little known building on Swift Street in the westside of Santa Cruz. 

What is Humble Sea Brewing Company?

That’s a long question. We’re a brewery. We were founded in Santa Cruz by three local dudes who all grew up in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I think Humble Sea is more than a beer manufacturer. We’re trying to build a lifestyle and a space where people can build memories and moments here. It's a big project. We’ve been working on it for two and a half years now. People have the feeling we’re two months old, but realistically we’ve been going for 2.5 years building a culture and building a community before our tap room was even open.

Can you introduce the partners behind Humble Sea Brewing Company?

There’s Taylor West who manages front of house and sales accounts. Anything to do with human beings Taylor manages. And then there’s Nick who is the head brewer. He's been working on this project for over five years now and had been a home brewer for ten years. Humble Sea has been a long time in the making. 

And what about yourself?

Oh yeah, me. By trade I’m a designer so I’m technically the Creative Director of the company. I handle all of the visual communication, which includes naming of the beers, and the communication of the cultural side of craft beer. Our #1 goal for Humble Sea is to make the best beer we can make. But, there are a lot of people who just want to cruise in, not think about the beer they’re drinking, and most importantly have a good time with their friends and their family in a space that feels good. So that’s where I come in: everything that’s not beer and everything that’s not dealing directly with people.


From left to right: Brewer Ben Ward, Cofounder & Taproom/Accounts Manager Taylor West, Cofounder & Head Brewer Nick Pavlina, Assistant-Brewer Jacob Luna, Barrel Program Director Shane Winkler, and Cofounder & Creative Director Frank Scott Krueger (Photo credit: 

Jules Holdsworth)

What’s it like to run a brewery with your friends?

I think the coolest part, honestly, is that work doesn’t feel like work. And work happens outside of work. So whenever we come up with our ideas for beers or beer name or a design , it’s always at a bar, drinking a beer, traveling, surfing, and it never really exists in the office, which is awesome.

What’s the vision behind Humble Sea or what’s the philosophy of what you do here?

We break down our vision into three separate parts. Each one represents one of the three co-founders: 

Beer, Community, and Design

Beer: Make the best possible we can make and really focus on product. We're not making beer to just sling out the front door, you can go to the bar for a lot less money. Community: It's everything from collaborations with local businesses to events. Design: Sort of our approach to everything. How we improve our beer with every single batch. How we communicate visually. How we name our beers. How we bottle our beers.

Why the name Humble Sea?

Nick created the name when he was living in a little beach bungalow in Pleasure Point. He put together two concepts that he was very passionate about at the time, and still is today. The first is the ocean. We’re all passionate about the ocean and live here for a reason. The other one is humility. Nick has made good beer for a long time, even as a home brewer. People come up to him and compliment him all the time, but it is important for him to stay humble about his beers so that we can constantly be improving. So he sort of mashed together those two passions and that’s how we got the name.

Humble Sea seemed to be at a lot of events over the last year. Why was that important to you? 

We were just really eager to get involved in the community. We actually did our first event as a First Friday event with Event Santa Cruz and Matthew Swinnerton. It was before we had our ABC license so we showed up as the new brewery in town, but we couldn’t sell beer. We couldn’t even pour beer publicly. People came up, we’re super excited, asked "where’s your beer?" And, we responded,. "We can’t sell it, but do you want a t-shirt?" It was literal hand printed t-shirts from our printing press at home, and we made it work. Being there was a way for us to gain some awareness and exposure. Then once we got our licenses we got involved with as many events as possible. We did 23 events our first year which were sponsored by a non-profit and we gave 5-50% to the non-profit, which was also way cool. We partnered with groups like Save our Shores and Save the Waves, which are ocean oriented non-profits that aligned with our vision of responsible craftsmanship and also being involved in the community in the right way. 

Screen Print

The team screen printing t-shirts at home to sell at events.

What style of beer do you make here at Humble Sea?

We’re extremely experimental with everything we try to do. But realistically, you can divide our brewery straight down the middle. On one side we’ve got really clean, juicy hop-forward beers-soft, hoppy, and all about the aroma. On the other side, wild and sour beer programs. Everything’s done in oak. Everything’s rustic. Everything’s seasonal. Everything’s based on local ingredients.

Can you describe that moment, the 1st day you were able to finally open your doors?

It was absolutely insane. I walked in and the place was absolutely packed. I have no idea how everybody heard about it. I was looking around the yard, saw everybody’s glasses filled with Humble Seas beers, and it was one of those moments. It felt amazing.

Taproom Yard Saturday

The beer garden on the first day they opened.

What’s your relationship to all the breweries in town?

We’re all friends. We all collaborate. We all make beers together. We go to the same events together. It’s an amazing scene. The thing about beer is, none of us can keep up. All of us are struggling to make enough beer for the Santa Cruz population, and it’s a really good problem to have. Right now there are 14 breweries in town and I would love for there to be 30-35 breweries in town and for everybody to continually raise the quality of beer. Because ultimately what we’re interested in doing is making Santa Cruz a beer destination. We really want to make Santa Cruz the Napa Valley of beer where people travel here just for beer tourism. Similar to how they do it in Portland or San Diego. And I think we have a really good chance. 

What’s special to you about being on the west side of Santa Cruz?

We’re surrounded by like-minded businesses. Right across the street we’ve got a brewery, Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery, We’ve got an amazing butcher shop, El Salchichero. We’ve got cafes all around us and this side of town is growing, which is really awesome.  

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What was your biggest fear in opening Humble Sea and how did you guys overcome it?

My worst fear is opening a business that is only in existence to make money. I think that’s a horrible idea and it’s also not something that I want to wrap my life around. Our whole philosophy is ‘Give before we make money’. So we get super excited about raising money for causes that we actually care about. Tomorrow we’re doing a big music and beer festival, raising money for Digital Nest, in Watsonville. And that’s a big deal for us. We’re so much more excited about raising a bunch of funds for a local non-profit that we care about than just cranking out a bunch of bills and growing to a level that is just too big for us to handle. 

What was one the biggest challenge in opening your brewery?

I think opening up with a system that’s way too small to keep up with demand. Right now we’re brewing on a 1 barrel system, which brews 2 kegs of beer at a time. That means we brew 10 batches of beer a week. Most breweries do 1-2 batches a week, maybe 3 if they’re crazy. So the reason we’re brewing on a tiny system is because we don’t have the proper power in our building. We applied for an upgrade from PG&E about a year & a half ago and we still haven’t had the upgrade, which has been really frustrating to actually run a business on a homebrew system, basically. We've been waiting, and based on help from Economic Development we’ve been able to come through. Economic Development put some serious pressure on PG&E to say, "Hey guys, there’s a business struggling here. They need more power to actually make their business function." And finally we have a date. They’re coming in next week to upgrade our system and we will make 10 -20 times as much beer as with our current system.

Brewery Buildout Permit 1

Nick and Taylor celebrating the day they received their building permit.

What’s your favorite part of running a brewery?

I think, honestly, the beer culture. It is so much fun to be part of this industry. Everybody is so giving. Everybody shares. All the time we’ve got other brewers coming from Discretion, from Sante Adarius, or from across the street at Santa Cruz Mountain. They’ll bring in cool new bottles of beers they’ve made or beers they’ve found. There’s really no currency exchange that occurs between brewers. It’s all about sharing knowledge and experience. It’s amazing.

You’re all from Santa Cruz originally, why did you choose to stay here?

We chose to stay here because the lifestyle is so awesome. We kind of have everything at our fingertips. All three of us, at least the three founders, we surf almost every morning before work. We couldn’t do that if the ocean wasn’t three blocks away. So it’s absolutely amazing. Another thing is the food and beer industry is growing so much in Santa Cruz and that’s a huge part of our lifestyle.

Economically it makes a lot of sense to start a brewery here. There’s already a strong beer scene here and the lifestyle supports the extra time to clip off of work early and go down the street and grab a beer.    

What other businesses helped you launch Humble Sea?

We’re actually next door to a bar and taproom called Westend Tap & Kitchen. Taylor was managing there at the time, and the business was open enough and collaborative enough for us to literally launch our business through their bar. We had a tap takeover for our first event, announcing that we were here and over a thousand people showed up and it was one of the biggest days that that restaurant had had in history so it benefited them as well. I would have had no idea how to get our name out there besides through our connection with Westend.

We also did some really fun collaborations in the last year and a half or so, and one of them was with a company that’s not even a brewery. We worked with Ventana surfboards. They do a really cool thing where they take discarded wood and they upcycle it and they make a new product, a surfboard. They're gorgeous. We absolutely love what they do. We worked with them and we actually infused beers with the wood they use in their surfboards and then released the beer and the surfboard at the same time and it was an amazing experience.

Who designed and built out your space?

We worked with local architects, Nielsen Studios. And they did a great job. And then they handed the job over to Stripe, a local design studio, and they did such a good job designing the interior of this place. We get so many compliments about how the space feels, how it looks, how the lighting is, the color palette. We couldn’t be happier.

How was the process working with the City? 

I mean, to open up a brewery, it’s tough. It’s a long process. But every time we ran into an issue, or were stuck and didn’t know how to get out of it, Economic Development came through. They really helped us out and they consulted, they hosted meetings, and they sort of got us unstuck, which was the most we could ask for. 

What’s made all of this worth it?

I think the moment where… I would describe as the tipping point, where I would see the local community, our bar staff, and everyone involved in the company take over and make Humble Sea their own. We’ve really got people who come in here, regulars and others, who I feel like it’s even more a part of their day to day life and their culture than it is mine. It’s just such a cool feeling.

I think the coolest thing about the community owning this brewery is, for me it’s very satisfying to make something and then to have it grow much larger than me or than the founders. 

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