This is actually the second time I’ve tried to do this Q&A with Frank Scott Kreuger, Co-founder and Creative Director of Humble Sea Brewing Co. Leading up to our Juicy Brews Apres-Ski Party, I left some questions with Frank who didn’t get a chance to answer them. Second time’s the charm, they say.

In all seriousness, though, I think it’s better that we had to wait to hear about Humble Sea’s humble beginnings. We’ll be flying out to meet them on their turf (or beach?) in the days leading up to Juicy Brews WestFest to brew a collab beer, camp out in the brewery, and catch some waves in the morning. These activities all started as jokes–“Let’s brew a collab!” “Should we have a group sleepover in the brewery?”–and now we’re actually doing it.

Frank is an incredibly genuine person and, though it may sound like marketing talk, Humble Sea has found success by being authentic. In the short time we’ve gotten to know each other (as Humble Sea and Hop Culture and as Frank and John), we’ve become quick friends and I admire the work done at Humble Sea. From introducing the “Foggy IPA,” Bay Area terminology for NE IPA, to living out the socks and sandals lifestyle, Humble Sea finds fans through irreverence and a quality product.

There’s more to the Humble Sea story than can be covered in a brief Q&A, but a longer story will certainly follow. At the very least, there are sure to be some incredible photo opps at our collab brewday. In the meantime, learn about the frenzied early days of Humble Sea and try some of their beer at Juicy Brews WestFest on April 20th.

John A. Paradiso: Any horror stories from your time at the brewery?

Frank Scott Krueger: The whole thing’s been a horror story. But like, in a good way. (I’m supposed to be humble and stay on brand.)

We literally started Humble Sea in the dumbest way possible. We had no money (classic story, who gives a shit, right?) and we had 0 lbs per barrel of patience. We just HAD to get started! IMMEDIATELY! No time to waste on planning or finances. Let’s pull together $10k and start the business on Nick’s homebrew 15-gallon setup.

Being real estate tycoons, we found a “loophole” (it’s not a loophole, it’s stated obviously in Santa Cruz County codes) that we could transform a property zoned residential/agricultural into a home occupation including a winery or brewery. This is the Santa Cruz Mountains, after all.

It just so happened that Nick’s grandmother-in-law had this property. AND a carport to brew under.

And whammy, a 1 bbl production brewery with a focus on distribution was born! 0 profits for the first 2 years! In fact, we lost money (obviously, you can’t expect to make money brewing 2 kegs of beer at a time, you surfer fucks).

We refer to the first two years before opening our taproom with a 10 bbl system as the “R&D phase” because, honestly, we did brew 120 unique recipes that year, and we learned an unbelievable amount about our beer, our market, and ourselves (deep).

While building out our “real” brewery in Santa Cruz (not the mountains, although we miss your horses, grandma) we flat ran out of money. Stop all spending, wages, and construction because this ship is going down. “Hey construction guy, don’t touch that drill.”

We needed an actual income fast, so we rushed to open our taproom before our 10 bbl brewery was built out. Naturally, we tried to open a taproom on the sunny west side of Santa Cruz on a 1 bbl system. We opened our doors with 15 beers on the board! What a triumph! The following Monday we had 4 beers left in all of our inventory: a brown ale, a porter, a dry stout, and a clean saison. (Bangers man. ISO whatever those guys have.)

Enter guest taps and brewing on our friend’s system up the street just to catch up. Fuck, this thing has been a nightmare. Why am I smiling right now?!

JP: How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for future success?

FSK: Being idiots who charge “whatever wave of life” is ridable, I genuinely feel that starting on a 1 barrel brewing system was the best thing we did to open a brewery. It forced us to innovate quickly, design new recipes, and react to our audience at lightning speed. It also gave us some time to figure out our brand voice before our beer was available in any meaningful way. It was like a mini-accelerator program for innovation. But, we lost money doing it. So, more like a college where you end up in a ton of debt but with life-long friends.

JP: What are your thoughts on the state of hazy IPAs in the industry?

FSK: You mean foggy IPAs?

JP: What is your favorite beer to drink now?

FSK: Moonlight’s Death and Taxes. A widely distributed dark lager?! It’s a lager. AND IT’S DARK. Those are two very tough words to sell to Californians, bruh. If I hear “I drink Pliney what do you make?” one more time…

I honestly think the reason why folks in the brewing industry love drinking lagerbier so much is that we’re infatuated by a small brewery that manages to successfully gain a reputation as a great lager producer. Most of us can’t even fathom slanging a lager as a core beer in the land of the IPA (by “land” I mean our planet).

Not only have they done a fantastic job, but they’ve also managed to garner the respect of brewers and drinkers alike. WITH A DARK LAGER. Da fuq?!

JP: What’s the best idea you’ve ever had?

FSK: Yeah, I hate how smug this answer is but you’ve given me no choice: Being a creative director, I don’t place very much value on individual ideas. I find it incredibly rare that a single idea finishes in the same form that it started in. All of our best ideas come from random places like a regular having a beer and saying “Hey, have you guys ever tried…” or a bartender saying “I was riding my bike yesterday and thought we should totally do…”

We try to create space for everyone to share these ideas because often we’ll share an idea, and people will riff on it until it legitimately becomes a viable business plan or beer recipe.

(Being a creative director means I herd the ideas of kittens into one direction. Don Draper is a lie.)

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