Every time Keegan Gibbs cracked open a cold one, he felt he was making a compromise. When he grabbed a heritage-brand lager, he was compromising on taste. When he opted for a speciality craft product, he sacrificed drinkability.
As far as as the Crossroads School alumnus was concerned, the best of both worlds had yet to be invented.
Wedging its way into the ever-crowded suds scene is House Beer, a vehicle through which Gibbs and his co-founders are trying to marry the branding and accessibility of major domestics and the culture and quality of the craft industry.
“We’re not going to appeal to the extremes,” he said. “Someone who only drinks Coors Light, they’re only going to drink Coors Light. On the craft side, there are people who are only going to drink the heaviest, biggest, boldest IPAs. This is for the people who want to find that balance between drinkability and a quality, well-made craft lager.”
Brewing a brand
The Venice-based company provides a professional balance for Gibbs, who has channeled his background in film and photography and his interest in beer into his current post as brand director for the young brewery.
Crossroads was where Gibbs, who hails from Malibu, had the opportunity to nurture his artistic talents. He began developing skills in graphic design and film, and after graduating from the local private school in 2003 he pursued film studies at Chapman University in Orange.
Gibbs initially was interested in working on feature movies but fell in love with documentary filmmaking because he enjoyed, as he put it, “telling stories of real life.” He found his way into commercial photography as he shot a documentary about Ozzy Osbourne and gained exposure to marketing while working with Pat Tenore, the founder of lifestyle clothing brand RVCA.
The potential value of those experiences crystallized for Gibbs while on a surfing trip more than four years ago in Indonesia, where friend Brendan Sindell floated the early concepts of a beer company.
“He was just asking for my opinion, but I kept gravitating towards the idea of carving out something for myself,” he said. “I said I could help out with images and branding, and slowly as time went on we kept working together.
“I had learned so much about how to tell a story and create a brand, and I found something where I could apply all those tools into one solid, defining brand.”
It’s the brand that Gibbs is still cultivating today. He handles the creative projects on a team that also includes Sindell and his brother, Isac, as well as Derek Wilson.
The group is dedicated to one style of beer, a 4.8-percent lager with noble hops and crystal malts. The batches are made at Sleeping Giant Brewing Company in Denver, a contract facility run by ex-Coors veterans that handles operations for smaller craft brands.
Gone are the days of home-brewing in the garage of Ryan Boring, who came up with the recipe. And gone are the days of running the company through a group thread of text messages.
The House Beer crew now has its headquarters on Rose Avenue in Venice, a location that made sense because Gibbs was living on Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica and Sindell had a place near 3rd Street and Ashland Avenue.
“It gives us great visibility for where we’re positioning ourselves,” he said.
House Beer has steadily built up its presence in Santa Monica, securing contracts with The Bungalow, Bareburger and Ashland Hill. One of the first area businesses to offer the beer was The Firehouse in Venice, which is run by the family of one of Gibbs’ friends from high school.
The beer is also available at Whole Foods markets in the Los Angeles area, and the company recently broke into the New York City market.
House Beer, which is served in bottles, 12- and 16-ounce cans and on draft, aims to offer an economical middle ground. It’s a little more expensive than Budweiser and major domestics, Gibbs said, but decidedly cheaper than other craft brands.
“A lot of people who started on Miller Lite or Coors Light and went to craft beer don’t want to be seen walking into a dinner party or barbecue with Coors Lite, so they grab Heineken or Stella [Artois],” he said. “We’re trying to take that drinker and put pride back into America craft lagers.”
Gibbs was that drinker himself. He grew up on Coors, found Sierra Nevada as a gateway into craft beer and began delving more deeply into the complex flavors of smaller, niche brands.
“Even after learning what the great beers were, I still found myself wanting something lighter,” he said. “We wanted a brand that was familiar and safe, something that could be your go-to.”