There are dream jobs, and then there are DREAM JOBS. Racing Formula 1 cars? Check. Playing for the NBA? Check. Stylist to the stars? Check. Head of marketing for Humble Sea Brewery? Check, if you’re Lee DeGraw.
Although she’s been driving the brand’s marketing for two years, she helped put the head on the up-and-coming brew back in 2015 and has been along for the ride ever since. As the Humble Sea team rallies around their newest location in Pacifica and anticipates the opening of that space in May, they’re clear-eyed on the next prize: taking over the former Cremer House location in Felton, and spreading their wings (and cocktails, and beer, oh my) with Humble Sea Mountain Tavern, slated to open in mid-summer.
DeGraw has been enamored with the Santa Cruz Mountains for years, as have all three Humble Sea cofounders: Frank Scott Krueger, brewmaster Nick Pavlina, and front-of-house manager Taylor West. All three founders grew up in SLV, and their friendship predates their legal drinking age.
“We’ve got deep roots as family friends—Taylor and I met in preschool, and we won the Best Friends Award in seventh grade. It’s the most cliche business-founding story ever,” Krueger said.
The brand’s first batch was brewed on Pavlina’s grandma’s property in Ben Lomond; after a few years, Humble Sea had enough momentum (and investors) to open its homey space on Swift Street in Santa Cruz.
Then the pandemic hit, and it was brew or bust for the Santa Cruz business.
“We had to pivot overnight, and Frank and I built an e-commerce site in one weekend,” said DeGraw.
That first weekend, the store received 500 orders, DeGraw said.
“Frank and I were hand-labeling boxes on the floor of our apartment, and now we have a shipping team that manages those orders,” she added.
It took a solid foundation to get to that point, and Humble Sea has it. In 2019, the company was on the Forbes list as the third-fastest growing brewery in California and 11th in the nation.
“Today, we’re making more beer than ever, and the demand is out there,” DeGraw said.
Indeed. Humble Sea has gone from brewing 200 barrels its first year (a barrel is equivalent to two kegs or 31 gallons or 165 12-ounce bottles of beer—ask Siri or Alexa if you want that in metric) to 6,000 barrels in 2020. And for 2021, they’re on pace to brew 10,000 barrels.
“It’s been pretty fun, and we feel really lucky,” said Krueger, who also creates the can art for each new brew.
Ultimately, the trio wanted to come back to the mountains, and they put out their feelers for a hopping place in the middle of it all: the Cremer House.
“It felt like going home,” DeGraw said. “The building is historic, and so beautifully appointed inside, that it seemed like a natural place for us to be.”
It was a long process, said DeGraw, but they’re looking forward to having a full kitchen and plenty of taps to create a friendly space for locals to wind down.
“We’re excited to use that porch for a welcoming environment, and we’re hoping to partner with the Felton Music Hall for their summer series,” DeGraw said.
Which leads to Krueger launching into his favorite small-town story.
“Back when Felton Music Hall was Don Quixote’s International Music Hall, we sold our first keg of beer to them for a Coffis Brothers show (Krueger grew up with the Coffis family),” he said. “We had gotten our brewing license, and worked our butts off to brew product for sale during their show. It was the biggest deal ever for us, to sell our beer to this legendary bar for our best friends’ concert. We dropped the keg off a few hours before the show, and there was a regular perched at the bar. The bartender had to remove the Coors Light handle to make room for our beer, and she was trying to upsell our beer to this local. She told this man how we’re local, we’re from Ben Lomond, and we’ve got an awesome IPA he should try. And the guy ordered a Coors Light.”
Want to learn more about this up-and-coming brewery? Visit humblesea.com.