Thursday, December 10, 2009

More on Austin

I only spent 4 hours in Austin. It really isn't enough time to form a real opinion. For those of you who know me, I was in Texas for a job interview (non beer related). Sadly, the job itself isn't in semi-liberal Austin (which would make it bearable).

I was in the College Station (home of Texas A&M), which is also known as "Aggie Land". It, despite being a full blown college town, is very conservative, very stereotypically Texas. I was looking forward to checking out some breweries in College Station. Through my research, I was able to ascertain the location of two. One, I learned had closed, the other was so far out of town, that I gave up looking for it before I found it. So, zip, no craft beer made in the heart of Texas for me. Ironically, after searching for over an hour for a brewery or someplace cool by the Campus to eat and drink, I stumbled upon an empty beer bar in downtown Bryan two blocks from my hotel. The bar/restaurant had two storefronts, one was an Irish Pub called Murphy's Law, the other a German Irish and German Beer selections, very good.

I am surprised that there is a major college town (except perhaps in Utah) in America without a thriving craft beer industry (meaning at least two breweries or brew pubs), but my luck, I have found it. There are two possible reasons....1. people don't like change in this part of the world, so a craft brewery that can't make an extremely light lager is dead in the water, or 2. The "movement" hasn't reached this corner of the world yet. The fact that the city had two, and now has one or less craft brewery leads me to believe that reason #1 is the predominant factor, with reason #1 thwarting reason #2. This gives me a wild hare of an idea.

I am looking at a possible relocation to this craft beer desert. I brew damn good beer, and my beers tend toward the matly middle of the spectrum (not too bitter, nor too thick) so that light beer drinkers love to drink my beer. Perhaps I can start a nano-brewery in this place.

I need to understand both the community and the Texas State Laws governing breweries before I decide on anything. Can you self distribute as a small brewery in Texas (that would be a huge plus)? Is it a long and expensive process to get licensed in Texas (that would be the biggest road block)?

The next issue is equipment and location. Equipment means capital, which if you know me, you know that I have none of (would I be even thinking about Texas if I did?) Location should be a an easy one, but things are not so cut and dried in this locale. Ideally, you would want a location that was close to the college, but those locations are expensive. Also, college students like quantity over quality which is counter to a craft breweries charter. But you also want a trendy location (not a storage unit in an industrial complex) to at least entice your target clientele (anyone with money that is adventurous with their food and drink experiences) . I found a beer bar in downtown Bryan, which is a sleepy railroad/ag town north of College Station with brick buildings and a vibrant redevelopment effort....perhaps this is the place for a brewery. It depends on the rent (on the fringe of the downtown, which is 1 block away from the central downtown).

So, if I have a location, then I need equipment, which means I need capital. So the central question is, "Who wants to own a Brewery?" The answer for me is you, my constant reader....who of you want to own a brewery?

It is unclear whether I am reading the tea leaves (or hops floating in the wort) right or not, but it would seem that an extremely small test brewery could be set up on the cheap in a town like this. A 1/2 barrel system with computer control could be gotten for less than 15-20 grand (like a Sabco, some stainless steel fermenters, kegs and dispensing equipment and refrigeration). It would be more like a the dream brewery for a homebrewer, but if successful, could allow for a move to more professional set up later. If a failure, one or another of the homebrewers in the investment pool would love to own the equipment (I know I am one of those if I wasn't central to the whole debacle). So failure would be a liquidation of the equipment to those who already made a down payment on it....

So, who is with me? I figure 4-8 investors (you know who you are)at a couple of grand a piece would do the trick. Truthfully, I don't think that this job in Texas is going to be for me, anyway, but if it was, this is a really doable thing in such a location, baring any state regulations or local oppositions.

While in Austin, I went to Uncle Billy's Brew and Q. It was down by the river across from the Downtown, Capital, and University. I enjoyed the atmosphere, it was typical honkytonk, and reminded me of the college bars of Mount Pleasant with more windows. The beers were really good, but I was disappointed in the selection. They had one dark (Coffee Stout, good), one Amber Ale, one hoppy beer (a traditional pale ale, not as hoppy as IPA, but more of what I like), and three light offerings including their Wheat, Keller (that won gold at the GABF, which I would have had if it was warmer), and a blonde ale. I assume that this is the predisposition of breweries in the south toward light beers for maximum drinkability in warm weather and a reluctance of beer drinkers to try new things (they complain about this in the All About Beer magazine). I enjoyed their BBQ, however, choosing their hot links (regular, and jalapeno cheddar)....the stout with it was great (food-beer pairing experts be damned), the Pale Ale was even better.

While there, I learned that my flight was delayed. This gave me the opportunity to hit Lovejoy's Taproom and brewery downtown. The Lovejoy is located on Neches Street between 6th and 7th, and reminds me of the small music venues, such as The Foolery/Rubbles (Mt. Pleasant), Heidelberg, or the Blind Pig (Ann Arbor) of my youth. The difference is that this is at grade level. The interior is painted black. The chairs and stools are made of heavy durable steel and wood, painted black with easily cleaned black vinyl, the bartender (Marcello) has overgrown sideburns and a mustache and is also wearing all black. The difference from my youth is that they have 4 of their own beers on tap and over 100 other selections from throughout the United States rest of the planet (namely, Belgium). I am told by the locals that they shut down 6th street on the weekend nights and 100's of bands can be heard along this stretch of downtown. This is a place I need to visit again. They are very friendly, they know their beer, and they are as unTexas as I have ever encountered. I will make it a point to visit Lovejoy's at next year's GABF.

So, I can't decide if craft brewing is in its infancy in Texas (did I ever tell the story of meeting the owner of the Eola School Brewery during the GABF), and this is an excellent opportunity for the intrepid, or if the society in non-urban Texas is too closed off to allow craft brewing to succeed, and opening a brewery outside of Austin, or Dallas, or Houston is a fool's errand. More research is needed for me to make a decision. Are there any fools out there willing to take a chance? Are there local homebrewers that can further enlighten me?

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