How did you get so interested in brewing?I played Lacrosse for the University of Texas at Austin and one of my teammates was a home brewer. One afternoon, after practice he invited me to his house to brew up a batch of homebrew. From that point on, I was hooked and continued to homebrew in college over the next 4 years. After graduating, I did like most UT grads and I worked as a waiter and a bartender in Austin for a couple of years while I continued to refine my skills as a home brewer. After two years in the service industry I decided that I wanted to open a microbrewery, but lacked the experience and the money to get started. I approached by parents about my new found destiny and my parents were encouraging about me following my passion and dreams, my dad's only advice was to go and work for another established brewery for a while and "learn on someone else's dime ". I thought this was great advice and started to harass the guys who opened up Saint Arnold Brewing Company in Houston to give me a job, of any kind. After six months of courting I was finally offered a marketing and sales position with Saint Arnold based in the Austin market. I worked for them for about 1 1/2 years until I was hired away by a small craft beer distributor in Austin by the name of Microbility Beverage. Microbility represented a lot of Texas Craft Brewers at the time as well had some Colorado craft products and some imported beers. One of my favorite brands that Microbility carried was Real Ale from Blanco, under the management of the previous owner. Phillip and Diane Conner. I would work during the week at Microbility selling the entire portfolio and on the weekend I would go out to Real Ale to help Phillip and his son Charles, brew, bottle and keg. My passion was definitely more on the side of brewing than on the distribution side of the business. One afternoon while I was at Microbility I got a call from Phillip, he informed me that they were going to be selling the brewery and he wanted to see if I could help them find someone interested in the purchase, I immediately responded that " I was his man". He quickly responded that I did not have any money, but seeing that there was interest, Phillip worked with me to find a way for me to ultimately take over the business from him and his family. That was back in the summer of 1998, two years after the opening of the brewery by the Conners.
Most people are rather ignorant when it comes to beer drinking, and knowing what a great beer is. What are the qualities you aim for when making beer?
Beer is 92% water and so the first thing is starting with high quality water. The Conner's originally picked Blanco for two reasons, first high quality water which is drawn from the Blanco River and a low cost of commercial rental space. So water is extremely important as well as starting with high quality ingredients, since there are only four ingredients in beer (water, barley, hops and yeast) you need to ensure you are starting off with the best. In addition, consistency is extremely important in order to maintain your customer base.
In your opinion, what is the key difference between mass-produced beer and microbrews?
Love and passion….now the reality is that both are well made beers. The big boys mainly focus on the lighter style lagers and the majority of craft brewers focus on more flavorful ales. That being said a lot of us still make lagers but most of our beers are full of malt flavor and hop character, which is significantly different from the mass-produced beers
Of all the beers you craft, which is your favorite? Why?
They are like children to me so picking a favorite is difficult to do. For me, my preference changes based on what I am doing and eating.
If I am sitting around and mowing the yard or hanging out with some friends I am likely to drink :
Firemans # 4
Rio Blanco Pale Ale
If I am eating I am more likely to open up :Full Moon Pale Rye Ale
Lost Gold IPA
Fireman’s 4 has become a widely popular beer – how has this effected the brewery?
Firemans #4 allows the brewery to venture off into the more esoteric beer styles that we make such as the Mysterium Verum line of barrel aged beers (http://realalebrewing.com/beers/mysterium ) or brewer's cut (http://brewerscut.com). That being said I think it also is a great beer on it's own, I think we were able to balance the malt and hop profile to make an interesting beer that appeals to a larger audience. Firemans makes up about 60% of all of our production, so it is a very important part of our business. It is also the reason that we installed a can line last summer, so that we could offer our customers a can option to take places where a glass bottle is not the appropriate package style. (beach, pool, golf course, sporting events, live concerts, etc )