Discover more from on hand
LeAnn Darland and Tara Hankinson of Talea Beer Co.
Issue 8: Two former home-brewers on making beer everyone can love.
Why hello there! Welcome to on hand! If you’ve landed here and somehow aren’t subscribed, I got you:
I met Tara and LeAnn in fall 2019 and a lot has changed since then. A pandemic, obviously, but also an expanded product line, kids, and a soon-to-open space in Williamsburg. Armed with MBAs from top-tier programs and resumes that include finance, consulting, and startup experience, LeAnn Darland and Tara Hankinson and their fledgling brand — Talea — are pushing the boundaries of what the craft beer industry can be.
On a frigid fall afternoon I met LeAnn and Tara at their old space in a WeWork in Midtown Manhattan. A former Signal Intelligence Officer in the US Navy, LeAnn was able to help the duo secure free workspace as part of a program called Veterans in Residence, a six-month incubator and leadership program built through a partnership between WeWork and Bunker Labs.
Unlike many craft beer startups, LeAnn and Tara don’t necessarily have well-established backgrounds working directly in the industry. Both avid home brewers, they met while working at e-commerce beer startup, Hopsy. “Tara joined Hopsy as head of customer experience and we hit it off right away,” LeAnn said, “I was like wow here’s another woman who is homebrewing who was willing to leave her stable career to join an unknown-ish beer e-commerce startup.”
That was in early 2018, and in just a few years, LeAnn and Tara have fundraised, rapidly grown their beer offerings, started distributing at some of New York City’s most exciting beer bars and shops, and are due to open a brewery.
The pair wanted a spot where they could have production and retail in the same location, but also a place where you could hang for hours with friends, your dogs, or your babies. They found a space in a neighborhood with a proven appetite for beer, and establishing themselves in Williamsburg, Brooklyn will mean they’ve got great neighbors in Brooklyn Brewery, Grimm, and many others.
As with most things in New York City, opening a brewery is expensive. They have been fundraising to open the space since spring of 2019, and the space they found is not in great shape. “We’ll need at least a half a million dollars to bring it to a white box,” LeAnn said, all while continuing their contract brewing elsewhere, bringing new beers to market, and building a brand that will make their new brick-and-mortar brewery a success.
To build Talea, they worked with a London-based designer to help them turn their ideas into a more well-developed brand. “Our ultimate idea is to have multiple spaces and we didn’t want to tie ourselves to a particular geography,” LeAnn said, and the designer took “nuggets of our identity” and created a style that is easily expandable. The cans are colorful and give off Miami Art Deco vibes that can be easily spotted on shelves. “Packaging is important to us because we knew we wanted to be in Whole Foods and meet customers where they are,” she said. Eventually, the bright and funky styles of the cans will be translated into their Williamsburg space.
If you follow Talea on Instagram, you’ll quickly notice that LeAnn and Tara are deeply involved in their hustle, delivering beer themselves, and meeting with bar owners to try to broaden their distribution across New York City. Talea is still so new and they don’t often see people actually drinking their beer, but LeAnn remarked that “It’s really surreal and fun to meet people who know and like our beer because what we’re doing is so physically, mentally, and financially draining.”
Getting the non-typical craft beer drinkers excited about beer is at the core of Talea’s founding. The pair explained that “We found there are so many people out there who assume craft beer is bitter, high ABV, and overwhelming, but some people are looking for more crisp, wine and cocktail-like flavors. If you want to expand the craft food market, you have talk to the customers who don’t see craft beer being for them.” Ultimately, LeAnn and Tara want to educate people on the variety and accessibility of their beer, so the next time they might grab a Talea beer instead of a hard seltzer or wine.
To start, they are focusing on beers that are low in bitterness and more fruit-forward, but also know that certain styles do well in bars and shops. When doing research on a new beer style, they’ll go buy multiple versions of that style that are currently on the shelves and talk through all aspects of the beer. They take inspiration from beers on the market, but also wine and cocktails, and then work with their head brewer to develop Talea-specific brews.
At the end of the day, Talea is about drinkable beer and a modern and beautiful taproom. “But sometimes I drink wine out of a mug and that’s ok too,” Tara said, “We can’t take ourselves too seriously or throw jargon around because no one is going to want to drink our beer. At the end of the day, the beer and hospitality have to be great, and it has to be a welcoming space.”
The craft beer space in New York City is surprisingly small for a city its size, and the industry is growing at a rapid pace, especially for women. “A rising tide of craft beer in New York City lifts all boats,” Tara said, “There’s a lot of camaraderie among women in the community because less than 2% off the brewers in America are run only by women.”
Women are the fastest growing segment in the craft beer industry and with their growing fleet of beers and soon-to-open space, LeAnn and Tara are leading the pack.
Other things ~
Do you own a heavy iron pot like a Le Creuset? I do and its permanent home has been on the stove since the day I got it. It looks great and I don’t have to move it around to use it. Eater feels similarly and argues you should store your fanciest pot on the stove.
This is very specific to New York City, but Eater looks at the 24-hour empanada establishment, Empanada Mama. Pre-pandemic, I’d never had their empanadas, but for a brief period of time in the summer and fall where our transmission rates were very low in NYC, the Empanada Mama on Bowery was the area’s hottest after hours club. There was a bouncer to control the line, insanely good ‘nadas, and margs to go that you definitely didn’t need. I can’t tell you how many times my small, safe group ended up here after the bars closed.
Soup season is in full swing and today I made a giant pot of pozole verde, a Mexican soup with hominy, pork, and green chilies. I feel like it’s less common outside of the Borderlands, and that it’s generally not part of the canon of Mexican dishes that Americans eat. I’m here to say you’re missing out. I don’t follow a recipe, but this is a good place to start.