It was a match made in quarantine.
A month and a half into shelter in place, San Jose-based Hermitage Brewery released its first batch of its new pineapple-mango IPA, Staycation. In July, after the second batch of the beer had been released, local music artist Justin Engel approached Hermitage Brewery about doing a partnership that would benefit both of them from a brand and profile recognition standpoint.
The two collaborated and produced a soon-to-be released video of Staycation, which was filmed in Miami. In the leadup to the partnership, Engel had already produced a song titled Staycation from his first solo album, the DVINE project, which stands for dreams, visions, inspiration, no entanglement. Engel’s friend, Uno, produced the video and composed the music.
“Staycation is very relatable because literally the entire world was in the same circumstance,” Engel said in an interview with San Jose Inside. “We would all love to have a staycation.”
Allyson Bajor, Hermitage Brewery’s national sales and marketing manager, said her company and Engel clicked from the get-go. “We definitely had some awesome brainstorm sessions with Justin,” Bajor told SJI. “He was easy to work with and always was great in taking feedback for product placement for what the brewery wanted to be known for.”
The beer’s art design was modeled around a Miami Vice—the hit 1980s TV show—color scheme, which Engel was quick to pounce on. “It was decided to film the music video in Miami because at the time it was really smoky here (due to the wildfires), and we couldn’t film anything here,” he said. “With a shoestring budget, we got local talent to fly out to Miami to do the music video with a group of six and stay true to social distancing. We’re all proud of the work we did, and it all tied together.”
Bajor describes Staycation as a “crushable (read: easy drinking) IPA, dry-hopped with citrus cyro (hops) and bursting with tropical flavors of pineapple and mango.” Staycation’s sales took off from its initial release and hasn’t let up, as it remains one of Hermitage’s top sellers.
Initially planned as a seasonal spring/summer beer, Staycation, while not available in stores, can be consumed on draft at various locations in the Bay Area and at Hermitage Brewery’s tap room, which recently reopened for business.
Hermitage’s outside beer garden has been open and curbside pickup also remains an option for beer lovers to purchase something on the go. “Staycation has been fantastic for the company,” Bajor said. “Every time we release a batch, it sells out within two weeks. It definitely boosted our sales and though I wouldn’t say it helped us stay afloat during the pandemic because we were fully operational the entire time, it’s been a fun addition to our brewery.”
For Engel, quarantine has been a time of soul searching and deep reflection. A jack of all trades—besides producing music, Engel said he’s had various acting and modeling gigs, plays a variety of instruments and is a technical writer for a biotech company—the San Jose native and father of two daughters ages 15 and 22 really hit his artistic stride last summer and into the fall.
“The time in lockdown gave me an opportunity to focus on working on original music,” he said. “Even though it has been a difficult year, it is amazing how the harsh reality of life can serve as great inspiration. So I found myself in quarantine extremely inspired to write songs and express myself.”
This led to the release of Engel’s first solo album, the aforementioned DVINE project, which was his first shot at writing and transitioning from hip-hop and rap to R&B. “With this project, I found my voice,” he said.
A couple of months later, Engel released a second album, Quarantine Chronicles, and he’s scheduled to release a third album by January 2021. Engel certainly made good on the adversity he faced during lockdown. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Engel at one point slept in his car for several days.
With his dog and sewing machine in tow, Engel made face masks and gave them away to people in his surrounding community. The act of goodwill led to Engel developing his own clothing and merchandise business, GSM Merch. From that, he partnered with clothing company 262, which led to a connection with Hermitage Brewery.
Over the years, Hermitage Brewery has partnered with various local artists, restaurants and vendors, making the latest project with Engel an appropriate collaboration. “We love to partner up with someone who is local because we need to help each other out, especially during the pandemic,” Bajor said. “Justin has definitely pumped up our advertisement for this limited release and helped us gain traction for brand awareness.”
Engel and Hermitage are putting on a Staycation music video viewing event on Nov. 28 in the brewery’s tap room. A variety of IPAs will be served, and Engel—whose Instagram handle is @justinbustin408 and website is gsmrecords.com—will be giving away CDs.
“I want to be able to hand them to people so they can have something they can physically take home,” he said.