The craft beer industry drives more than $26 billion in sales per year and now accounts for more than 23% of the overall sales in the U.S. It’s a staggering niche of the overall beer market that’s driven by small, independent artisans committed to crafting only the very best products.
Here in California, there are more the 900 craft breweries in operation. One of the newest is GameCraft Brewing, and it was opened recently by Scott Cebula in Laguna Hills, CA, marking the city’s first craft brewery. Along with head brewmaster Andrew Moy, Scott wanted to offer more than just beer making. The brewery was also designed around one other passion – gaming.
From playing vintage games of yore, to enjoying live esports tournaments on the a video wall made of 6-Series TVs, the experience at GameCraft was intended to provide customers with more than just a good drink. We sat down with Scott to find out a little more about his brewery and the unique space that he’s created.
First, tell us the story behind GameCraft Brewing.
I've had a long career in health IT and over that period I spent a lot of time creating communities, getting people to work together for a common purpose. As a hobby, I started homebrewing in the late '90s and the beer became a feature at off-hours team events. In 2016, I decided that doing something to build community in South Orange County was going to be my passion project, and a brewery was the ideal vehicle for that.
Gaming was the final element; when looking for an authentic theme, I reflected on the fact that I've been a videogamer since I was 9 and a board gamer since before I can remember. The esports, gaming and tech businesses of our area, and my own childrens' love of games, just confirmed my theme.
Andrew Moy joined in August 2017, and we started building the concept out. He's an incredibly skilled brewer and he also shares that passion for games.
Gaming and craft beer obviously take center stage at GameCraft. How did your love of gaming influence the design of GameCraft?
Culturally, beer + gaming + community are our foundation. So the experience has always featured games along with beer and food. Video games were the model for much of our design and the use of TCL panels. So we have a videowall and menu signage using 6-Series TVs to give a modern vibe, in a space that echoes titles like Overwatch and Portal.
The twist was the addition of community, so we pivoted from a videogame (arcade) experience to a face-to-face traditional game format. We want people interacting here-and-now, because that is what helps build local community. The love of gaming brings people together, and the beer and food help keep the session going.
Aside from being a place where customers can enjoy a good beer, what was your vision for the overall customer experience?
My two guest experience touch stones are the public house and the tasting room. We emphasize tasting, because it implies an interactive learning experience. We aren't looking for guests to knock back inexpensive drinks. We want to share a cross-section of great beers, and then help them choose one they really enjoy. If the style is new to them, all the better.
The other touch stone is being the public house, that place where everyone feels welcome and relaxed. So we carry wine, guest beers, non-alcoholic drinks, and we feature house-made food. Making people welcome also means slowing down the visit, so the guest has time for a game or two along with food, drink and conversation. We regularly have groups that use tables for 3 hours... Imagine trying to do that in a restaurant!
What have been the most challenging aspects about building out the space?
The first challenge was getting stakeholders to see and support the vision. Opening a brewery in Denver or San Diego is easier in that way, the model is already proven. While our city and community have been quite supportive, we had to convince some others to move forward.
Challenge 2 was the build itself, primarily equipment manufacturer issues and construction resource constraints. The economy has been good, so we did not have optimal architect, engineer and subcontractor availability at times. Likewise, manufacturers were backlogged on their orders. All in all, we still got this built quickly. We were pretty fortunate!
You have several 6-Series TVs around the brewery, including a wall made of four 65” models. What are these TVs used for?
We have three groups of TCL 6-Series TVs. The most prominent is the videowall of four 65" sets, 2x2 in landscape. From the beginning these have been used to stream. Twitch is most commonly used to show various game content, with a little thematic color added with other video. In the near future, we'll also be able to form a videowall for esports events or other specialized presentations.
There are two 65" sets that are used for merchandise signage and special events. The last group is comprised of three 55" sets in portrait mode; these are behind the bar and show our beer and food menus.
What do you enjoy most about the 6-Series? How have these TVs enhanced the space?
Personally, I love the depth of color. Before I installed these in the brewery, I tested one at home vs. my other high-end local-dimming panel. There was no comparison, the TCL was easily the better set.
The brewery is enhanced by the feel of being in a living space, a place where people live as we all do with large panels showing cool stuff. Having these centerpiece TVs reinforces our cutting-edge modernity and how important video games are to us.
What are your favorite games? What have you been playing lately?
Tough question! Right now I am finishing out a replay of Fallout 4, before I dive into Fallout 76. Red Dead Redemption 2 is the game I most want to play next. I'm a PC gamer, hence the order. Note to developers: early PC releases please!
As to favorites, here's a top 10 stream of consciousness list:
- Fallout New Vegas
- The Half-Life Series
- Portal/Portal 2
- StarCraft, StarCraft II
- Dungeon Master (obscure Amiga title)
- The Ultima Series
- Space Invaders, Asteroids, Defender, Joust, Galaga or Galaxian (tie)
You’ve started offering a number of collaborations with local breweries around LA and Orange County. What can we expect from GameCraft's own brews?
We have quickly ramped up to 7 of our beers on tap, with several more actively fermenting.
As a general theme, Andrew and I really like clear, clean traditional beers. So IPAs and lagers will be the core of our beer production. Our released IPAs already include two Smashs (Single malt and Single Hop), a West Coast and a Brut. We're very excited about the Brut IPA trend, and it's a style Andrew excels at.
But I think our lagers will lead to a whole bunch of "Wow!" moments. Andrew underwent training in Germany, and we are really looking forward to his Helles (light), Dunkel (dark) and Pilsner.
What’s next for GameCraft?
Grand opening, crowlers, local keg distribution, canning and those lagers. We're multi-taskers, so many years of game play!