Small-batch brewing takes off in a big Texas way | Crain's San Antonio

Small-batch brewing takes off in a big Texas way

Adam Cryer didn’t set out to be a craft brewer. The Rice University-trained engineer enjoyed making his own beer with a kit his mother-in-law gave him. He started making small batches but soon graduated to a five-gallon, 20-batch system and later to a 15-gallon, 70-batch system.

“That’s when we started thinking we could start a small business with it,” he said.

In September, Cryer and his wife Sarah Pope opened Baileson Brewing Co. in a onetime car repair shop in Houston near Cryer’s alma mater (“Baileson” is a blending of the names of their dogs Bailey and Jameson). So far, business is good, with their beers often selling out before they can make another batch. “We’re barely keeping up,” he said. “If we had extra kegs, we could sell them out.”

Vera Deckard also didn’t plan to be a craft brewer. In 2011, she bought a book on small-batch brewing for her husband Brent, who was serving in Afghanistan with the U.S. Air Force. She went to inscribe it but ended up staying up all night reading it. “By the time he came home, I had two, five-gallon batches ready for him,” she said.

San Antonio restaurateur Chad Carey took an interest in their German-inspired brew after tasting some samples (Vera was born in Germany) and the couple started making plans to open a brewpub. After three years of trying to find the right location, they opened Künstler Brewing about six weeks ago in a onetime carpet foam recycling center in the Lone Star Arts District. So far, sales are hopping. “We’re busy all weekend long,” Brent said.

Baileson and Künstler are just two examples of the explosion in the number of small-batch brewers opening up shop in Texas.

According to the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, last year there were 201 craft breweries in the state, twice as many as there were just three years ago, ranking it eighth in the country. They produced 1.16 million barrels of beer, resulting in an economic impact of $4.54 billion.

Observers say the industry’s growth is the result of the Texas legislature allowing breweries to sell beer from their own taprooms in 2013. “We finally could sell beer directly to the consumer when before you could only sell it at a bar or restaurant,” Brock Wagner, founder of Texas’ oldest craft brewer, Saint Arnold’s Brewing Co., told Crain’s in May.

Baileson’s Cryer agrees: “2013 helped everyone.”

Cryer said his business also has benefited from its location, which is next door to where Kay’s Lounge – one of Houston’s oldest bars – used to sit before it shuttered and was demolished last year. The disappearance left a gaping hole in the neighborhood for a beer-drinking meeting place.

For now, Cryer and Pope are keeping their day jobs, his at the engineering firm he co-founded, Pinnacle Structural, and hers at BP. Their brewery is only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with Pope taking a day off from work to do the brewing with an assistant about every 10 days. They currently have a seven-barrel system that produces about 220 gallons.

The brewery only makes ales (lagers take two to three times as long, Cryer says), typically four to six different ones. They include an English-style brown ale brewed with molasses and a stout flavored with coffee from nearby coffee roaster House of Coffee Beans.

Baileson doesn’t serve food, instead lining up different food trucks from the area that cook up barbecue, Brazilian-style sandwiches, wood-fired oven-baked pizzas and Gulf Coast catfish. On any Saturday afternoon, you can see beer aficionados sitting outside on picnic benches, often with their children – and dogs – in tow. Their logo features the heads of two dogs in profile with the slogan, “Man’s Other Best Friend.”

Cryer said he and Sarah are looking at adding refrigeration space to store kegs of their concoctions, but they aren’t interested in getting big enough to sell their beer at other bars or in grocery stores. “We didn’t want to be involved in that,” he said. “We just enjoy making beer and being the neighborhood ice house.”

Künstler Brewing’s Vera and Brent Deckard, meanwhile, are also enjoying the experience of having their own brewery, where they serve old-world beer with a modern flair every day but Tuesday. They offer several types of brews, from porters to ales to stouts, as well as Shacksbury Cider from Vermont for grain-intolerant patrons. But one of their more popular brews has been the Hawaiian Fog IPA, which is reminiscent of a mai tai with a fragrance of guava. “That’s the beer that put us on the map,” Vera says.

The couple also serve Texanized German food, including an all-meat Texas chili reminiscent of German goulash with Texas spices instead of paprika and a bacon-and-cheddar bratwurst served on a soft pretzel.

The space is cozy inside, with a long bar and four-top tables but no televisions or loud music to interfere with conversations. On the weekends, Künstler Brewing opens up its garage for watching sports events on TVs and occasionally has live music.

To attract regulars, the Deckards are offering a frequent buyer club for an annual fee of $200, or $350 per couple. The membership, which is limited to 150 people, includes a 20-ounce stoneware mug, a 15 percent discount and other perks. They also offer a 10 percent discount to those who walk or bike over to the brewpub, which only has eight parking spaces.

Artistry and care are part of Künstler’s mantra (which is German for “artist”). Their trademark is “Hecho Mit Liebe,” which means “made with love” in a combination of Spanish and German. And over the door is a sign that reads, “Kunst und Bier gibt es allhier” – “Art and Beer: Get it here.”

Vera Deckard grew up in the hospitality industry, working at her mother’s restaurant when she was young and visiting her grandparents’ bed and breakfast in Bavaria. She met Brent while the two were working at the Calistoga Inn Restaurant and Brewery in Napa Valley (she was a wine expert before moving into the beer-making business).

Vera runs Künstler while Brent works a day job flying airplanes for Federal Express. Their 24-year-old daughter Emma oversees the kitchen while running a personal training business.

Right now, Künstler’s system can produce just under 1,000 barrels per year, or around 20,000 gallons, all of which are sold in-house. The system is expandable so the couple could move into distribution someday, but for now, they’re pleased with what they’ve created. Says Vera: “We wanted to be that neighborhood brewpub.”

December 12, 2017 - 2:25pm