Hoppy Brewing founder resists fads while nurturing consistency

Hoppy Brewing co-owner Troy Paski, photographed March 11, 2016, at the Sacramento brewpub.
Hoppy Brewing co-owner Troy Paski, photographed March 11, 2016, at the Sacramento brewpub. Special to The Bee

Forgive Troy Paski, founder of Hoppy Brewing Co. and the longest-tenured craft brewery owner in the Sacramento area, if he comes off as a little jaded when you ask him about hot new brewery in town or the latest double IPA with mango, grapefruit and pineapple.

“People like consistency. They like familiarity. They also like new,” he said, seated at a table in the back section of the bustling East Sacramento restaurant and brewery. “But they also like to know that at the end of the day, when they are done visiting that new place down the street, that their comfortable place is still there.”

Hoppy Brewing, which launched in San Jose in 1994 by doing contract brewing and relocated to Folsom Boulevard in Sacramento in 1999, is known these days as part of the old guard. It’s just the way Paski likes it. It’s neither flashy nor driven by fads.

But sometimes it can be so reliable that it gets lost in the shuffle. When the new spots and the latest/greatest beers attract media attention and crowds, it can get frustrating.

“Of course, it’s frustrating,” Paski said with a shrug. “Don’t get me wrong. I like new. We have two new beers every month as seasonal specials. But we have seven beers on tap all the time that people really like.”

That concept runs counter to the way craft beer is moving. People want new and different. The beer geeks chase after beers they’ve never had, styles they’ve never tasted, creations they’d never considered.

Sometimes Paski is so determined to make a point and stand his ground that it can work against him, at least in the short term.

For instance, India pale ale is the best-selling style in craft beer and has been for several years. West Coast-style IPA, more specifically, rules the category. Think big aromas of pine and citrus, with plenty of bright hop flavors and a bitter finish that can be welcoming to many and jarring to others.

None of the beers at Hoppy Brewing is called an IPA, even though several might qualify. Why? Isn’t Paski leaving money on the table and losing market share to Track 7 and Knee Deep and Device, with their robust and hot-selling IPAs?

“I learned from my analytical side that people buy beer by color – whether it is dark, light or medium, and whether it is black, yellow, red, brown or orange,” Paski said. “That’s why we came up with the blond, amber and black as our three brands. I could go up to the board right now and change them to “black IPA,” “blond IPA” and “amber IPA.”

And why doesn’t he?

“I might,” Paski replied. “We’ve been working on a new label design the past two years. There’s some consensus that we might just name all those beers IPAs. I think we would do it in jest.”

Paski didn’t set out to be a brewer, or even an entrepreneur. Born in Kansas City, Kan., Paski’s family moved to Georgia when he was a child. He went on to attend Georgia Tech, then transferred to the University of Georgia, where he graduated with a degree in physics.

Why physics?

“It’s the hardest thing I could find in the curriculum,” he said with a laugh. “Once I got into it, I learned that physics people tend to use mathematics as a form of language to communicate, and that seemed natural to me.”

Still, when he graduated in 1984, he had no inkling what he wanted to do with his life. While in college, he paid his way through school by remodeling homes taken over by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In 1985, he moved to California on a whim. He had $600 in his pocket and no job prospects. He bounced around San Jose for a while before landing a job at Lockheed Martin, the aerospace giant, where he operated satellites and solved software bugs.

By the early ’90s, he got a home-brewing kit and started making his own beer. The response from friends was encouraging – “You should open your own brewpub.”

“I would say, ‘Listen, it’s a million-dollar venture, and I’m just a lowly engineer.’ 

But when he kept wining awards for his homebrews, he could resist no longer. He launched T. Roy Brewing in 1994 but soon changed the name to Hoppy.

At first he was brewing at established breweries, a common practice for startups called contract brewing or gypsy brewing. It wasn’t easy.

“I would get up at 3 in the morning; I drive down to Torrance; I’d work all day, get done at 8 at night; and then I’d drive home,” Paski said. “I’d do that once every two weeks – once when we were brewing, once when we were packaging.”

After five years, he was looking for a more permanent concept and moved the business to Sacramento, settling into an 11,000-square-foot building at 6300 Folsom Blvd.

The business took off and Hoppy became a fixture in the neighborhood. But by the time the new beer boom came around 2012, Hoppy was considered old hat by some.

About 80 percent of the beer that’s brewed is served at the brewpub. The rest is sold wholesale, either as kegs or bottles.

Paski is not the brewer, nor is he the day-to-day operations person. Asked about his role, Paski shrugged and said, “I try to do as little as possible. I like to be able to think that I’m the first guy that can be replaced. I work really hard to be able to do absolutely nothing, except maybe drink beer in the evening.

“I’m up from 8 in the morning until 2 in the morning. I’m a night person. I don’t sleep. I drink beer and socialize at a bar – here, and at other places.”

The future of Hoppy and the 50 or so other craft breweries in the Sacramento region is both and exciting and daunting. Will the brewing culture continue to expand? Or will some of those startups falter?

Paski doesn’t plan to sit still.

“We’re actively looking to purchase property for either a second location that is a restaurant/brewpub or a production brewery like Rubicon has. We’re also looking to open something on the East Coast,” Paski said.

Blair Anthony Robertson: 916-321-1099, @Blarob

Troy Paski – Hoppy Brewing Co.

What’s so special: With more than 50 craft breweries in the Sacramento region, he is the longest-tenured owner.

The local connection: Hoppy Brewing started in San Jose in 1994 but relocated to Sacramento in 1999.

Expectations: There is more competition and more variety than ever, but Hoppy Brewing’s consistency and familiarity are bankable commodities.

Quote: “Don’t get me wrong. I like new. We have two new beers every month as seasonal specials. But we have seven beers on tap all the time that people really like.”

Troy Paski, founder of Hoppy Brewing Co.