behind the bottle

Hapa’s Brewing Company: Old friends provide the right mix for a maker’s life

By / Photography By Coline LeConte | March 29, 2017
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Hapa’s Brewing Company partners Brian Edwards, Derek Tam and Peter Burrell, left to right

Brian Edwards wipes his hands—he’s just finished brewing a blonde ale—and offers a warm welcome to Hapa’s Brewing Company. His hands are a bit coarse and dirty, “jacked-up,” he calls them. They’ve seen a lot of work in the past few months as Edwards has transformed an old warehouse into a state-of-the-art craft brewery. But, he says confidently, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Edwards, 34, a Los Gatos native and Harvard graduate, had a promising future in the corporate world but after successful stints at Salesforce and Google he quit to become a professional brewer. To explain this hard-right career turn, he holds out his hands.

“I spent a long time at a desk looking at a computer, but I realized that I needed to use my hands to make something. Being a brewer is the embodiment of making something.”

Interested in being sustainable and local, Hapa’s donates their spent grain to local farmers, such as Allen Renz, who uses the grain to feed the cattle on his farm in Morgan Hill.

In addition to being a brewer and new business owner, Edwards has also learned how to be a carpenter, mason and sometimes plumber. “I didn’t know how to make tables,” he says as he waves his arms across the industrial-chic taproom triumphantly, “but then I made these tables.” He grins, “and I think they turned out pretty great!”

This whole experience confirms what he felt: that he is a maker. From tables to award-winning beers (he won a gold medal at the Home Brew World Cup of Beer last April), he is happy to be using his skills, old and new, to bring his vision to life. “A lot of people say they don’t like beer,” says Edwards, “but I can find a beer you like.”

He has selected a focused roster of beers to serve, starting with an IPA made with hops from Oregon. He will also offer a light, dry, blonde ale; a mocha porter; a Belgian-style wheat beer with hints of coriander; and, finally, a malty, full-bodied Irish red with deep caramel flavors. With this list, Edwards hopes there will be something for everyone to love and he can then expand the portfolio, adding a double IPA and maybe a barrel program.

While Hapa’s is a business, Edwards relishes the creativity and science behind brewing. “The first day of brewing I fell in love with it,” he says. “It’s this perfect intersection of science and art.” He was just home from college and trying to stay busy when he stumbled on a home brew kit. “I advanced from buying a recipe to creating all these crazy Excel spreadsheets to put recipes together and try new hops and different yeast strains.”

His mother donated kitchen space and, later, her garage as Brian’s hobby became a passion. He smiles, “The recipes that I came up with back then are the same ones we’re using today.”

Meanwhile, Edwards had the perfect partner in both business and brewing in long-time friend Derek Tam, 32. Not only do the two share an entrepreneurial spirit, but, Tam says, “one thing we’ve always done is brewed beer together.” He explains how “a few years ago we were talking about our jobs, life, and we went down a path of opening up a brewery together—it’s been in motion ever since.”

The two have a unique bond, one that stretches back to their days playing Little League together. Tam, who will continue working full time in investment management, says, “Brian is the realist of the team while I think of myself as more of a idealist and big-picture kind of guy. Combined, it creates great discussion and sometimes conflict but we both always speak our mind and keep the other one level.”

Edwards sees things much the same way, adding, “I tend to react emotionally to problems where Derek stays cool and level-headed. I create lists of things that stress me out and Derek keeps me calm enough so we can get to work crossing things off those lists. His omnipresent optimism is the fuel that drives our company forward.”

But to make the dream more of a reality, they enlisted the help of Peter Burrell. Burrell, a family friend, made Edwards head brewer of his Petaluma restaurant and brewery, Dempsey’s. For Edwards, “to be a professional brewer before going out on our own was incredible.” Burrell is now a partner in Hapa’s and helps with sourcing the best ingredients from some of his long-time suppliers. Tam believes that the three make a dream team: “Brian is a great brewer and he spent the last decade in the business world. Combine that with Peter’s background in the brew industry and my background in finance and business development, that’s a pretty robust team and a recipe for success!”

Hapa’s Brewing Company, named for the Hawaiian word meaning “mixed,” is an opportunity to create something special. Edwards says, “I get to make beer and craft it and shape it and make it my own, make it something that I like and hopefully something that other people like as well.” And according to Tam, “you’ll definitely see Brian and/or me behind the bar. Seeing a customer enjoy a beer we made is something Brian and I will happily stand across from!”

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