by joanne... May 16, 2016

Ed Gabbo, Harmonic

Ed Gabbo (pictured), along with partners Jon Verna and Eric Tisch, gets beer to bend to his will at Harmonic Brewing. [Photo Harmonic Brewing]

Add Harmonic Brewing Co. to the list of new breweries opening in the last 12 months that are 100% committed to serving their SF neighborhood.

In this case, that neighborhood is Dogpatch, a once-working class, rough-and-tumble waterfront community now undergoing a renaissance. Politics of gentrification aside, in terms of craft beer, the neighborhood is flourishing. Down 3rd Street from Harmonic, Magnolia Brewing Co.’s production brewery, its Smokestack restaurant, and Triple Voodoo Brewery all opened up in the last two years.

Ed Gabbo, Jon Verna and Eric Tisch launched Harmonic with a complete commitment to having it become one of the most comfortable and community-focused tasting rooms in SF. They were not aiming to bedazzle the masses or push product all over the state. They knew early on they wanted to serve their backyard first and foremost. And their beer philosophy? Likewise, one of utter simplicity: to produce high quality yet entirely approachable beer, well balanced and easily enjoyed. Together, they’ve made Harmonic a perfect neighborhood hang out.

True to that vision, when Harmonic hosts Meet the Brewers night Wednesday, May 18, at 6pm, the crew will be serving an impressive line-up of twelve beers of varying styles, all made with top notch ingredients, hand crafted and each exemplary examples of the style it represents — be it a dry Kölsch or rich stout, a farmhouse sour or hoppy or fruity ales.

Read about the 5/18/16 Meet the Brewers night and the Dogpatch Drink SF Beer shuttle, stopping at Harmonic, Magnolia Brewing at Smokestack, Triple Voodoo, Anchor Brewing’s beer garden at The Yard and Speakeasy, here.

Getting to where Harmonic is today, in less than a year and with twelve taps on the wall, took mettle and muster. We talked to Gabbo and Verna about their startup experience and how they got here.

Q: What most influenced you to become a brewer?

Ed: My Croatian family made many homemade products including wine, grappa and cheese. I loved the idea of making something that will make someone else happy and express myself through a product like beer. As a chemical engineer, brewing combined my science background with art.

Jon: [Early on] Ed and I figured we’d make a good team, with he crafting the vision and the product, and I bringing them to market. We also knew we had an ace in the hole: our good friend Eric Tisch, who cut his teeth at the renowned Avery Brewing. Eric, who lives to brew, was ready to move back to SF and help us launch Harmonic.

Q: Was there ever a ‘pivot’ moment when you had to shift your strategy?

Jon: We looked at lots of models early on in terms of different combinations of taproom business, self-distribution, and 3rd party distribution. Eventually, we agreed that driving taproom business while being very controlled with local self-distribution was the best way to bring our vision to life. We want to interact directly with customers as much as possible, and earn repeat business over time.

Q: Was there any ‘ah ha’ moments when an opportunity presented that you hadn’t expected? What has surprised you most now that you’re up and running?

Ed: Our Kölsch flying off the shelf was a surprise and an “aha” moment. We are seeing that craft beer drinkers are now more open to styles other than IPAs, and they’re appreciating subtlety more.

Jon: It also makes sense that lighter styles like Kölsch are great entry points into craft beer for macrobrew drinkers. This wasn’t a surprise, but more of a rewarding occurrence to see newer craft beer drinkers coming to our taproom and learning what they like and don’t like. They might start with a Kolsch, then be surprised at how much they like a stout or even a sour.

Harmonic co-owner Ed Gabbo, this time with the ingredients dominating him [Photo Harmonic Brewing]

Harmonic co-owner Ed Gabbo, this time with the ingredients dominating him [Photo Harmonic Brewing]

Q: How do you differentiate Harmonic from the other breweries launching around you?

Ed: I feel the breweries in the Bay Area all have unique personalities and all make beer that reflect these personalities. We exude [ours] in everything we do, from the beer, to the taproom decor, to the music we play. First and foremost, we consider ourselves a small, local, urban brewery that makes interesting, well-balanced beers.

Jon: Being the marketing guy, I’ll tell you that rock n’ roll inspired branding helps differentiate us, and the clean, yet gritty aspects of our warehouse facility help reinforce that “rock” vibe. Thankfully, lots of customers agree that our space feels warm, even with all the metal and concrete surfaces. It’s also been crucial that at least one of us is always serving at the taproom, always chatting with people who come by even when we’re not open to the public. It’s a personal business, and we try to connect with all of our customers on some level. Around town, people have started to notice our tap handles, which are simply the Harmonic logo cut out of a solid piece of aluminum. It’s very ‘rock n roll,’ and hopefully not in a pretentious or contrived way.

Q: How does where your located effect your business, its growth, the beers you make, how you market yourself?

Ed: We love where we are located: the edge of Dogpatch. We’re very much in SF but off the beaten path. We are in a great industrial neighborhood that matches our personality, surrounded by amazing neighbors and businesses who tend to be more genuine than in other parts of the City. It definitely makes our growth slower than being in a high foot traffic area, but we like the idea of organic growth. Dogpatch is growing and developing rapidly, and we’re happy to be a local brewery that’s playing a part in that growth, while staying true to the blue collar roots of the neighborhood.

Jon: We’re proud to be making beer in SF because it’s where we choose to live, damn the high living costs. We’re obviously going through another culture clash between old institutions and new money, and rather than take sides, I like the idea that a neighborhood brewery can provide some common ground. It’s cool when a 70-year-old woman is drinking a beer next to a 25-year-old guy at our taproom. They can both benefit from getting to know each other.

Beer-wise, there are already so many IPAs available to SF drinkers that we don’t feel a need to add much more. It’s more fun and rewarding to come up with beers that are unique, which is to say not gimmicky. I think Ed and Eric do a great job of taking traditional styles and making them unique to Harmonic in meaningful ways. Ed’s signature Rye Old Fashioned Pale is a great example. He wasn’t trying to make a beer that tastes like an Old Fashioned cocktail — that would probably taste horrible. Instead, he was inspired to craft a beer recipe with depth and balance, like a well-made cocktail.

Q: How do you see Harmonic evolving in terms of its craft beer offerings and overall growth plan?

Ed: We like to have our full core lineup, 6-7 beers, always available in the taproom with a few rotating specialty beers. We try to provide a wide range of beers for every palate. We don’t have grand plans to become a massive brewery. We may grow a bit but only to the extent that we can maintain our quality and persona.

Jon: The ideal growth model for us to follow is Russian River Brewing Co. Make a variety of great beer. Grow in a manner that feels right to you. Never put your profits before your integrity.