DO THESE MEN HAVE THE BEST JOB EVER?
Down by Venice Beach, in an airy white lounge, a bunch of surf buddies kick back and drink a six pack. It doesn’t look like it, but this is “work”. The lounge is technically an “office” – a clean, minimalist office with sofas and a patio, and a chilled out four-year-old mutt named Roger. And the afternoon drinking? Well, it is a beer company.
“Dude, this is how it all started,” says Mr Brendan Sindell, all of 28 years old, with the wonderful job title of president of House Beer. “I was just shooting the shit and drinking a brew.” It was while hanging out with a friend on the beach, trying to find a way out of a dull job in wealth management, that he struck upon an idea. “Why doesn’t someone do a modern take on American lager? Everyone’s about craft beers right now, but if you want a classic lager, you’re stuck with those heritage brands our dads drink. So right away, I called Derek...”
Mr Derek Wilson, his half-brother, 10 years older, was working as a real estate agent at the time, out in the valley. “It’s the obvious call to make!” he laughs. “I know nothing about beer or trends or marketing. But I can drink pretty well, so...”
That was five years ago. Today, House Beer has carved a niche as an easy-drinking lager for hip millennials. It’s found wherever hip millennials hang out in Los Angeles – Whole Foods, Coachella, The Bungalow club, the Ace Hotel, Jon & Vinny’s pizza joint on Fairfax. And it has become one of those inspirational LA stories. Partly because House is a plucky underdog going up against the big guns of Budweiser and Coors. But also because they’re a bunch of mellow guys who grew up in Malibu, surfing and drinking beer, and somehow managed to strike liquid gold and make a career out of it. A beer company by the beach: talk about following your bliss.
First impressions: Mr Brendan Sindell is the business guy, the firm handshake. He has the corner office, with the view of the Rose Café across the street. Note the local artist Neckface on the wall and a framed design of their first 12-pack case. His younger brother Mr Isac Sindell, 27, is marketing director; the hustler – he’s out sponsoring events and parties, forging cool associations, inspired by a quote from East Of Eden he has framed up on his wall. Their half brother Mr Wilson, 38, is the class joker, the vice president with the hipster tache and who put up initial cash. He gets the cosy office at the back, the one with the exhibit of vintage beer cans, about 60 of them, all bought on eBay. And Mr Keegan Gibbs, 31, the only non-brother, is the creative director. He’s also the artist of the group, with pieces all over the walls – a psychedelic painting by his artist friend Mr Thomas Lynch, and a larger piece of his own front and centre: a photo project about beach umbrellas.
“I came on board during a surfing holiday in Indonesia,” says Mr Gibbs. Which figures. “We were on this boat and Brendan showed me some can design mock-ups.” It’s a retro look – redolent of classic Americana, with the stars, the red, white and blue, simple to a fault – old but new, perfect for a hipster generation. There’s a beautiful logo-painted mirror in the entranceway; they had it made in Australia. “You know on The Simpsons, how it just says ‘Duff’ in big letters? Ours just says ‘Beer’.”
Eight months went by, and the guys still didn’t know anything about beer besides being pretty good at drinking it. But then, a lucky break – a guy on Mr Sindell’s weekend basketball team knew a couple of brewers, a father and son, deep in the valley, who were part of the Maltose Falcons, a well known brewing group. So he asked them to brew up some options. The brief was to use quality ingredients – crystal malts and noble hops, things that beer aficionados appreciate – but for a simple lager. It was a slow process: each brew took a couple of months, and they went through four or five iterations before finding one they liked. But it scored straight out of the gate, winning the best American lager award in The Mayfaire Competition homebrew contest in 2013.
“So we had the can, and we knew that people respected the liquid,” says Mr Sindell. “Now we needed to go into production.”
There was a hiccup. Their first contract brewery, in Wisconsin, put the wrong beer in their cans – that relationship didn’t last long. (They now use a couple of ex-Coors guys out of Denver, Colorado.) But production was easy compared to distribution, which is the key to the beer business.
“We didn’t know anyone in the restaurant or beverage industry,” says Mr Isac Sindell. “Zero contacts. So we were literally selling beer by the case out of the back of our van. Driving to local restaurants and hotels, pulling in the back and saying, ‘Hey guys, you wanna buy some beer?’ We didn’t know any other way!”
Traditional distribution meant competing with the giant corporations for fridge space in stores – an uneven fight to say the least. And this was an established industry, set in its ways. “Most distribution is run by old boy beer guys,” says Mr Isac Sindell. “They don’t get us. They don’t see the simplicity and the confidence of our brand, they just see it as cheap. And everywhere we went, we heard the same thing – ‘People want craft beer, lots of varieties. Not just one kind of lager. Lager’s a shrinking market.’ So we were definitely swimming upstream.”
But this is the charm of the House story. It grew organically out of their laid-back LA lifestyle. The boys had friends who were artists, and who ran parties and events. So they pushed their beer that way instead, at parties and concerts and gallery shows. It has given the brand a cool edge from day one. One of their first breaks was sponsoring Ms Kate Hudson’s Halloween party in 2014.
“Here, look,” Mr Wilson says, showing me an Instagram picture from the night. “That’sKenny Powers [Mr Danny McBride] with our beer. That’s awesome.”
That was around the time that they moved into this office space. It’s prime real estate – a short hop from Abbot Kinney, Venice’s achingly fashionable high street. And it’s so House, this place, so relaxed and unfussy. No corporate clutter or scribbly white boards. Just local artists on gallery-white walls; a gleaming glass fronted fridge, packed with a showcase of product, all the logos neatly aligned; and a few sofas out front, where the guys are discussing the year ahead – over a beer, naturally.
“Isac’s got us into Art Basel in Miami, so that’s cool,” says Mr Wilson. “There’s Coachella, too. That’s why this job is fun. We get to interact with these cultural things that we want to go to anyway. And we go to a lot of parties. Always looking for cool people to collaborate with.”
“Oh, we’re doing all these things now – soap, bottle openers, apparel. We’ve got a backpack coming out this year. But only one lager. That’s not changing – we like to keep things simple around here.”
And that’s what it is, in the end. The brand, the office, the cold beer in the late afternoon sun. Hang out at House for a while and life just doesn’t seem that complicated after all. Work with your friends. Go to parties. Drink beer. It does exactly what it says on the tin can.
“Hey, it’s nice work if you can get it,” says Mr Isac Sindell, holding out a fresh beer. “Another one?”