You wouldn't expect a beer revolution to take place just a couple of steps away from Venice Beach, but once you take a sip of a 12-ounce can of House Beer, you might think otherwise.
The can is unassuming enough. It touts a minimalist design with the words "Premium Crafted Lager" and might remind you of the kind of beer you used to purchase at Trader Joe's when you couldn't afford to buy the name-brand stuff. However, the flavor—refreshing, full-bodied, with an essence of toasty hazelnut, thanks to the crystal strain of malts that are used—might make you do a double-sip. It definitely isn't the best beer you've ever tasted but on that same note, it tastes a hell of a lot better than the gallons of the skunky lagers you shotgunned as a teenager.
This middle ground is exactly what Brendan Sindell and Messrs Keegan Gibbs are banking on. They are the co-founders of House Beer, a company based in Venice that is perfectly content doing one style of beer and one style of beer only: lagers.
"Growing up in Malibu, the a-ha moment was when we realized that we enjoyed drinking the major domestic stuff but everybody was doing all of this esoteric craft stuff. Why couldn't we combine the quality aspect of craft and the drinkability of a domestic?" Sindell tells me as I sit down in their headquarters on Rose Street. Facing this question, they decided to hire one of the most reputable members of The Maltose Falcons—a home-brewing network spanning all of California—to develop a lager recipe for them.
Sindell cracks open a couple of frosty beers for me to taste and on a hot, muggy day on the beach, and I am impressed. Although I am one of those diehard IPA-lovers that they aren't necessarily aiming to win over, I wouldn't mind drinking a House Beer every once in a while to give my palate a rest. "We were just two guys who had zero experience with beer and this sense of being naive ended up helping us," Gibbs tells me. One of those things was having no idea how difficult it would be to perfect the American-style lager. "Because this style of beer is so clean, pure, and simple, any tiny little flaw will be easy to notice, exponentially," Gibbs says. This isn't the case, say, with a double IPA that boasts 100 international bitterness units that can definitely mask any imperfection in the brew.
When the time came to actually brew the beer, both of them proudly decided to contract-brew out of a brewery in Denver—a brewery that was actually started by a renegade ex-Coor's employee. "I guess we could have opened a brewery in the city of Vernon, but it was a quality of life thing, since then we would have to live in Vernon and not have this office by the beach," Gibbs tells me.
It has been two years since the company started and its beer is now available at more than 400 places scattered across Los Angeles, including influencer restaurants like Jon and Vinny's and The Bungalow in Santa Monica. Two weeks ago, they launched in New York, and they also just entered their beer in the World Beer Cup and have gotten some positive remarks about their style. This year alone, they plan to go through 7,000 barrels of beer. It helps that the beer has been embraced by chefs, craft beer enthusiasts, and drunk uncles who have only consumed beers like Budweiser and Coors—the exact sweet spot that House Beer was hoping to grasp.
When I ask what their goal is for five or ten years from now, the two thirtysomething dudes respond half-jokingly by saying, "Not die?"
But really, what these two surfers have done is create a sessionable, everyday lager that Angelenos can claim for themselves—as opposed to drinking the same stuff that that their parents and grandparents drank, or buying into the concept that imported lagers are somehow more premium than a domestic.
"A big goal for us is just to have a beer that our friends can call their own," Gibbs says.." A beer that they can naturally go to as their go-to beer every time. If we can do that, nationally or internationally, that is success to us."