In just five years, Santa Cruz’s Humble Sea Brewing Co. has grown from a small diner on Swift Street to a culture-defining brewery with three destination-worthy locations.
Owned and operated by three childhood friends, Humble Sea opened in 2017 and quickly established a reputation for its goofy, surf-meet-pop-culture vibe – its first hazy IPA, Socks & Sandals, is still around. a best-seller – and a wide selection of chewable beers. They do it all: IPA, DIPA, TIPA, ales, saisons de ferme and pilsners. And head brewer Nick Pavlina is always innovating, trying new varieties of hops or new fermentation techniques.
An e-commerce website launched early in the pandemic has put Humble Sea in the hands of beer drinkers outside the Santa Cruz Mountains. And it helped Pavlina, Frank Scott Krueger and Taylor West grow much faster than they expected.
Last summer, the trio opened a second location, Humble Sea Brewing & Kitchen in Pacifica, where they serve their thirst-quenching beers alongside double smash burgers near Linda Mar Beach.
Now their new spot is attracting Bay Area beer drinkers to the mountain town of Felton. Open since mid-February, Humble Sea Tavern is a spacious 125-seat restaurant and dining room located inside the historic Cremer House on Highway 9. It features a full bar, brunch on weekends and a gourmet chef who brings a refined twist to comfort food classics.
We recently caught up with co-owner West to find out more about Humble Sea’s meteoric rise and how they stay crazy.
Q. How did you first come together to make beer?
A. We grew up in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Frank and I have known each other since kindergarten. Nick, who is our head brewer, was the cool older brother of a very good friend of ours. He started brewing at home with his dad and went to Chico State, so he was around Sierra Nevada Brewing. We started Humble Sea with a rigged single-barrel brewing system on Nick’s mother-in-law’s farm in Ben Lomond. After winning national homebrew medals, Nick approached us to open a brewery.
Q. What’s it like running a brewery with childhood friends?
A. It’s certainly a lot of fun. It’s really important for us to share hobbies outside of work too – kicking back, surfing or mountain biking together and visiting other breweries together.
Q. What is the inspiration behind your quirky labels?
A. Be fun and creative but still have a lot of intention. Frank runs a design studio called Good Knife made up of a group of designers from around the world. It is therefore a few creators from this collective who make all our labels.
Q. We heard you have a Slack channel dedicated to researching beer names.
A. We do. It’s called #beernames and there are 112 people on it. There’s so much creativity in there. Some people participate a little more than others. You might see a long list of ideas coming in at 10 a.m. or 2 a.m. Everything we do starts there.
Q. It sounds like the pandemic has actually contributed to your growth. What happened?
A. COVID has been a difficult time for us. When it started we had Swift Street and it was more about people drinking draft beer in the beer garden. It stopped immediately. We have gone from a staff of 30 to 14.
Overnight, we moved to an e-commerce model. Frank and (marketing director) Lee DeGraw stayed up three days in a row to launch the website. Almost immediately, we were shipping beer all over the state, reaching LA, San Diego, and other places we didn’t think we could reach.
Q. What makes the Felton Tavern particularly special?
A. It was built in the late 1800s as an old hotel. In the basement you can still see some of the old redwood beams. The owner of the building, Bob Locatelli, is me and Nick’s former high school football coach. He told us it was available and we knew we wanted to bring something there. We grew up in Ben Lomond and have roots close to Felton. It was nice to come back to the community.
Q. What are the most popular dishes? And what is kook sauce?
A. The Calamari Fritto and the Bigfoot Burger are very popular. We just put a New York steak on the menu, and it was very well received. Kook sauce is our Citra hopped aioli that goes on the burger.
Q. How do you grow and stay crazy?
A. We try to approach things lightly. We know it’s work, but we try to have fun while doing it.