King Harbor Brewing Company’s anniversary a celebration of ‘hanging out’
by David Mendez
On Saturday, April 11, the first anniversary of King Harbor Brewing Company opening its doors, the company plans to push its tasting room out by the parking lot, turning it into a beer garden, hangout spot, and celebration of beer culture.
By the seventh or eighth anniversary, they’re hoping that they’ll be able to take over the entire lot, co-owner Tom Dunbabin said — and, just maybe, they’ll have turned the industrial complex that KHBC calls home into the King Harbor Brewing Compound.
That’s part of the reason why, Dunbabin said, they signed a fifteen year lease on their space at 2907 182nd Street — they’re in it for the long haul.
King Harbor Brewing Company began life on the shortlist of business ideas that Dunbabin had while he was finishing his MBA at Loyola Marymount University. It was an idea birthed by a love of beer developed during teenage travels with a father who was into beer and bar culture, Dunbabin said.
He furthered his beer-drinking interests during a mid-2000s venture into Europe, prior to the advent of the South Bay’s heavy-hitting craft brewers, such as Strand Brewing Company. “I spent two weeks in Brussels, hitting breweries, and eventually, I wound up at Stella [Artois’ brewery], and it’s this giant fortress,” Dunbabin said. “That, for me, was like ‘Wait a minute — this is like Budweiser versus the brewpubs,’” he said. The success of those smaller European breweries gave him the idea that something similar could work in the South Bay: “We buy local here; we like craftsmanship here,” he said.
Years later, Dunbabin met Will Daines, introduced to each other by their then-girlfriends, and learned that the two shared a similar beer philosophy.
“We like sessionable beers,” he said, taking care to split his definition from the traditional view of sessionable beers that hover between four and five percent alcohol by volume. He prefers “the kind that you would be happy to drink pint after pint of while hanging out and talking to friends,” he said. “Beer that you’d want to take to the beach and drink when you’re playing volleyball. You can do that with Bud Light, yeah, but we’re about really good, locally-brewed craft stuff that you can have while hanging out.”
The two developed their business plan, secured funding and then, through a bit of good timing, happened to meet their next partner, brewer Phil McDaniel, when he responded to an industry job board – and, McDaniel says, he wasn’t even looking for a new job.
“I was always in the habit of checking the classified ads on ProBrewer.com — I would look at head brewer openings to see what new breweries were opening up in the area, or to see if one of my friends was starting up a project,” McDaniel said.
At the time, he was a lead brewer at The Bruery, a well-regarded craft brewing company in Orange County that specializes in experimental brews and barrel-aged beers — “basically, a head brewer minus some of the responsibilities,”as he put it. But what caught his attention was Tom and Will’s description of the gig: The opportunity to be a head brewer, with ownership in the company, getting in on the ground floor, before the tanks had even been placed in the building — plus, as they wrote, “it’s by the beach.”
“It was just enough description to sound interesting to me,” he said. “And as soon as I met them, at that point, I knew it was going to be a pretty good setup.”
According to Dunbabin, the trio are hugely collaborative. Their beers are the product of figuring out the experience they wish to portray, and building their beer around that, using their California Saison as an example.
“With that, we wanted a refreshing, dry-finish, citrusy beer,” Dunbabin said. “It just so happened that the Saison yeast profile fit that, and then using a little lemon peel, lemon verbena and Sorachi Ace hops kinda finished off that style. We didn’t say ‘we’re brewing a Saison, what do we want to do?’”
Their successful first year has opened up another venture for KHBC: the addition of a taproom opening up in mid-May on Redondo Beach’s International Boardwalk, between Naja’s Place and Quality Seafood. Dunbabin hopes for the spot to be open by May 25, Memorial Day, and would make King Harbor Brewing Company the first South Bay brewery to have its own off-site tasting room.
With the brewery’s first anniversary looming, King Harbor doesn’t have any lofty goals for the day. “We’re not looking to sell out, no goals financially, or turnout-wise. We just want to go outside and see people hanging out, talking, and enjoying our beer,” Dunbabin said.
To that end, KHBC has planned to feature a lineup of local bands; a dunk tank featuring their sponsored surfer, Mike Siordia; a reveal of their 22 ounce bottle koozie, made in collaboration with Jonesea Wetsuits; a photo booth; and, of course, a line-up of specialty beers and casks, a photo booth. The crown jewel of the specialty beers is their First Anniversary Imperial Brown Ale, a s’mores-inspired beer, aged in whiskey barrels and treated with graham crackers and cacao nibs. And further, Dunbabin said, a portion of the day’s proceeds will go to Richstone Children’s Center.
“It’s not necessarily about the beer that day, but about hanging out, having fun, and having beer be a part of that fun.”