Northern California craft beer lovers already know about Humble Sea, the Santa Cruz brewery that opened in 2017 and quickly earned a rep for its gulpable beers, sense of humor, and kooky vibes.
Now, one of the fastest growing breweries in the nation is giving its Bay Area followers a fresh reason to make the drive to the Santa Cruz Mountains: The new Humble Sea Tavern, a full restaurant/bar/taproom in the small town of Felton, will be a destination for even non-beer fans to get to know the quirky homegrown brand.
Humble Sea is known for its frequent releases and vast collection of juicy, foggy IPAs, DIPAs and TIPAs, as well as farmhouse ales, saisons, and highly refreshing pilsners. These are all recognizable to the initiated by the funky-funny graphic design of the cans' and bottles' labels, where beach culture meets pop culture in moments such as the Bart Shrimpson foggy DIPA and the Used Carp Sailsman West Coast pale ale. With staff input as part of the process and an entire Slack channel dedicated to brainstorming beer names, Humble Sea authentically captures the laid-back attitude of Santa Cruz life.
The latest release of Humble Sea brews.(Courtesy of Humble Sea)
And it's no wonder, as this hip brand was started by three long-time friends from the region: Brewmaster Nick Pavlina, Frank Scott Krueger, and front-of-house manager Taylor West (those last two met in preschool), started brewing in a Ben Lomond garage with a rigged home brew system that included old refrigerator-turned-fermentation vessels. In 2015, the trio of DIY brewers incorporated as Humble Sea and secured an ABC license. They produced 30 gallon batches, which they toted around Santa Cruz to sample at events and restaurants. The rest is hoppy history.
The three friends quickly fostered a thriving local business, keeping their nautical-themed Swift Street taproom going during the pandemic by upping production to meet demand for beer to go, delivery, and shipping. Now, at the light at the end of the tunnel, Humble Sea is broadening its horizons.
The new Humble Sea Tavern resides at the address formerly known as Cremer House, the oldest surviving structure in Felton. It was built in 1876 as a place for redwood loggers to eat and sleep and had the kind of ambiance that whispered of drunken brawls, prostitution, and even some murderous lore. In 2015, craft beer pioneer Emily Thomas of Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing revamped the space into a thriving restaurant and taproom, but that shuttered during Covid-19, leaving a turnkey transition for the Humble Sea team. The guys got the tip on the available property from the building's owner, Bob Locatelli, who also happens to be their former football coach.
“Cremer House was such a staple, and the local community is so happy to see something come back here,” says West, who notes that, aside from the hand-painted name on the building and some new saloon doors that lead to a merch and beer to-go shop, the new Humble Sea taproom is “pretty much a carbon copy" of its predecessor.
It's a hot spot out the gate, with a no-reservation policy and limited seating that likely means you can expect a wait if you're hoping to sit, eat, and stay a while.
The fried wild mushroom melt with gruyere on sourdough.(Courtesy of Humble Sea)
Chef Brian Hillan’s menu offers a refined take on comfort classics. So far, the most popular dishes include the fried chicken sandwich or the mushroom melt at lunch. For dinner, it's Bigfoot burgers with “kook” sauce on a seeded brioche bun; braised short ribs with veggies and maple-apple mostarda; and a half chicken with lemon-rosemary pan sauce and duck fat fingerling potatoes.
But Humble Sea's weekend brunch is perhaps the most exciting bit of food news for the mountain locals here who don’t have anything close to a brunch scene. The team is bringing it with avocado benedict with hop hollandaise; a breakfast sandwich with scrambled eggs, arugula, and goat cheese on a local Holey Roller bagel; rock crab omelettes; and banana sourdough French toast.
But don't forget the beverages. As expected, you'll find a thorough beer list, but the cocktail program is deserving of mention. Culled by general manager Danielle Byers, most recently of The Rare Barrel in Berkeley, the creative drinks list includes the vibrant purple Humble gimlet—with butterfly pea flower–infused gin, IPA simple syrup, and a Swedish Fish garnish—and the hot toddy–inspired It’s a Sage Thing with tea, lemon, and anise served hot.
In a historic building that's big on ambiance and mountain charm, this new Felton taproom is the latest addition to an already booming business—the team also recently opened a large taproom in Pacifica—but likely not the last. And, despite their meteoric rise in the beer world, the founders of Humble Sea remain, well, humble.
“In a lot of ways it just feels like a once in a lifetime experience, and we’re just really excited about the receptiveness," says West. "It’s always a little daunting being the new kids on the block, and we’re really grateful that people have been so kind to us.”
// Humble Sea Tavern is open Wednesday through Sunday; 6256 CA-9 (Felton), humblesea.com.
A garnish of Swedish Fish brings a sense of humor to the Humble gimlet, made with butterfly pea flower–infused gin and IPA simple syrup.(Courtesy of Humble Sea)