The sacrifice of brewing craft beer

December 7, 2015

Matt Humbard and Graham MacDonald are co-founders of Handsome Beer. Photo courtesy Handsome Beer.

BY SCARLETT SALEM— Washington City Paper recently posted it’s annual “Beer Issue,” reporting on the DMV’s surging craft brewery scene. In a series of posts, beer enthusiasts highlighted the more glamorous aspects of craft brewing: the taste and taxonomy of micro-brews. But for Hyattsville resident Matt Humbard, brewing requires sacrifice.

“We brew in Virginia, but are based in Hyattsville. It’s an hour commute to the brewery. Every weekend I drive out there. … And that’s time away from my kids,” said Humbard, whose Handsome Beer label became available to the public in September. Humbard has a Ph.D. in cell biology and previously worked as a cancer researcher at the National Cancer Institute. He writes the home-brewing blog A Ph.D. in Beer.

Handsome Beer is a newcomer in the world of craft brewing, and co-founder Humbard is still balancing a full-time job with his new project. “I have another source of income because I have a family. We self-finance the entire brewery, no loans, ” said Humbard.

Handsome Beer’s other co-founder, Graham MacDonald, has taken on the label as a full-time job. “Yep, I’m working on this seven days a week,” he said. MacDonald, a Washington, D.C. resident, has worked the past several years in the D.C. restaurant scene as a manager and beer director. “Most of my time is currently spent visiting with bars and restaurants in the area. … We’re an extremely small company, only him and me, so there’s plenty for me to do.”

Their business partnership has found a working equilibrium, which can be summarized simply. “I make beer, he sells beer,” Humbard said. “He’s a good person to have in the sales arena because he is … thoughtful and outgoing. I’m a scientist. I’m analytical and thorough.” Humbard, who has over 10 years of experience home brewing, brews and packages the beer, then ensures it gets to the distributor.

Handsome Beer’s reception has been favorable. Washington City Paper cited it as an up-and-coming option for local beer enthusiasts. “The beer has been served in about 30 different locations at this point and sells out quite quickly at each location and there are no complaints. We are new so we are just trying to put it in the market,” said Humbard. “When it [the beer] shows up places, it sells out fast. The trick is getting us into places. There are two of us, [it’s] not a big workforce.”

“I’ve had two of their beers: Strange Charm and the Galaxy Saison,” said Hyattsville-resident Andrew Geffken. “Both beers are good, well-made and will appeal to beer drinkers in the area.” Geffken is a co-founder of the Baltimore-based Charm City Meadworks, a brewery that specializes in craft mead. “I enjoy drinking brown ales in the fall as the weather cools, so the Strange Charm really hit the spot,” Geffken said.

Town Center Market in Riverdale Park, Md. hosted its Handsome Beer Release Event on Oct. 2. Town Center Market co-owner Ted Spiropoulos, who also orders the majority of the craft beer they sell, was pleased to feature a new local brewery at the event. “I didn’t know about them until our salesman told us they were local and we love supporting local breweries,” he said. All six kegs were sold out at the event. Spiropoulos said the beer was “well-received.”

A handful of unveiling events have attracted a healthy assortment of press coverage from Urban Scrawl to an industry leading website, www.americancraftbeer.com.

Handsome Beer’s preliminary success has withstood its share of challenges. The paperwork alone took a year and a half to complete. Then there was the issue of where to brew.

Humbard said that in a traditional micro-brewery, the official address is wherever the beer is brewed. For licensing purposes, Humbard’s Hyattsville home serves as the brewery’s official address. “We didn’t have the money to build a brewery,” he said. The company contracts with Old Bust Head Brewery in Warrenton, Va., where the actual brewing takes place.

The concept of contract or “tenant” brewing is common in the beer world. Handsome Beer simply rents out the unused capacity that Old Bust Head isn’t currently using. “The long term goal would be to build something here, in this quadrant of Riverdale, Hyattsville, and College Park,” said Humbard.

MacDonald believes the demand is there for Handsome Beer to move local. “ I think we’re starting to see a lot more [regional] venues picking up craft beer, local craft beer in particular, relative to only even a year or two ago,” he said.

The duo is currently experimenting with label art and estimating costs to offer a competitively priced six-pack price, but that’s approximately six months down the road, Humbard said. “I want people to recognize this is a local brand even though it is complicated. It’s a company in Hyattsville and eventually going to be a physical place that people can go to,” he said.

For more information about Handsome Beer and their brews, include where to taste and purchase it, head to their website at: www.handsomebeer.co. To follow their beer and attend upcoming events, visit their Facebook and Twitter pages.