When Budweiser aired its Super Bowl commercial this year poking fun at those who like to fuss over their beer, it irritated the craft beer industry. But not House Beer founders Brendan Sindell, Derek Wilson, and Keegan Gibbs. Their American lager — the first and only beer they brew, which launched less than a year ago in Venice, California — straddles the chasm between craft beer "fussiness" and macro-mindless drinkability.
"We align more with the craft guys, our brewing process, the ingredients we use, we use all noble hops, we use crystal malts, very high-end ingredients...
Three years ago, when Sindell was a student at UC Santa Barbara surviving on a consistent diet of macro light beers, the idea to launch a craft American lager came to him. "You can drink a lot of [macro light beer] without getting too drunk or too full like the craft beers," said Sindell. "But those brands are so big that they [don't] really speak to our generation in terms of their marketing message." At the time, the only available craft beers for sale were pricey, big flavor, high-ABV brews, and he saw a niche to be filled.
House Beer's American lager, according to Sindell, fits into the beer space presently occupied by Stella, Pacifico, and Heineken. But, the guys are targeting young metropolitan professionals looking for a domestic choice made with quality ingredients and no adjuncts (unmalted grain used for cutting costs) or artificial sugar. Maltodextrin, a corn-based food additive that functions as sugar, is used in all major beers because it’s cheap, easily controllable, and ferments quickly. Thus speeding up the brewing process. Less brewing time means more beers made. A normal lager takes five or six weeks to brew, but the big guys are doing it in 15 days.
House Beer enlisted L.A. home brewers Ryan Boring and Craig Shapland of Maltose Falcons, America’s oldest home brew club, to create their beer. The goal: a high-quality, clean-tasting lager that won't fill you up. After developing numerous recipes, the House Beer crew settled on a brew they liked and entered it into Maltose Falcons’ yearly home brew contest, the 2013 Mayfaire Homebrew Competition, where it won for best American lager.
"We align more with the craft guys, our brewing process, the ingredients we use, we use all noble hops, we use crystal malts, very high-end ingredients," Sindell explains, adding they won’t reduce their lagering time for the sake of making an extra profit.
But the House Beer guys do agree that the Bud commercial got one thing right. Lager is the hardest style to brew because the beer's flavor isn't masked with hops or malt.
Despite their beer’s growing popularity and a recent partnership with Sleeping Giant, a new state-of-the-art brewery in Denver, the guys don't have plans to create House Beer Light or different House Beer styles. Sindell, who is currently attending graduate school at USC, questions how sustainable it is to constantly offer the next newest beer to customers in a market so oversaturated: "All these new young breweries keep opening up. If your consumer base is just going from one to the next to the next, trying all these new things, it’s a small margin business and you have to sell a lot of beer to survive." He’d rather just do one thing and do it well.
"Craft is all about new flavor profiles and trying something new. Which is great, it’s great for the industry. And I like to try the different IPAs and stouts, but that’s not what we grew up drinking," he adds. Their beer may not be currency for bottle shares and beer clubs, rather it's a beer more appropriate for tailgating party or a day at the beach.
House Beer costs 25 percent more than a 12-pack of Coors Light and is currently available in Southern California at places like Whole Foods and the Ace Hotel Group. In the next couple of weeks, House Beer will debut more packing options (in addition to their current 12-pack), with future plans to distribute to major metropolitan cities like San Francisco, Denver, and Austin.
Per Wilson, "the consumer market is now looking for easier drinking, more relatable beer that they can identify with and enjoy from a drinkability standpoint." Whether the craft beer industry has reached its apex or not, the microbrew market is so saturated that it’s run out of names to call its beers. At the 2014 Great American Beer Festival there were 90 different styles of beer. But, House Beer stands out for its simplicity in not just its label, but beer style. "There has been a push in the past to start doing session IPAs but there’s no premium American lager that’s craft," said Sindell. Until now.