After 10 years in politics and four years as a Marine Corps officer with one combat deployment, Mark Phillippe was searching for his next career and life path. An idea started brewing in 2010 while he was fishing with family in his father’s home state of Montana, on the banks of the Blackfoot River. Inspired by his love for craft beer and encouraged by two of his mentors, Tito’s Handmade Vodka founder Tito Beveridge and Deep Eddy Vodka and Sweet Leaf Tea founder Clayton Christopher, Phillippe set his sights on a microbrewery.
To set things in motion, he took coursework in brewing science at the University of California, Davis, attended the Business of Craft Brewing program at Portland State University and graduated from the Boots to Business program in entrepreneurship at Syracuse University. His hard work and efforts paid off when, in 2017, Hi Sign Brewing opened in East Austin. Named after his family’s cabin at the end of Hi Sign Road in the mountains of Montana, the brewery has enjoyed rapid growth and great success in just over two years.
The one-acre property houses the brewery as well as a small tasting room and an ample, grassy backyard. Although the space is large, it is quite cozy, and children and dogs are always welcome. Phillippe built the bar, beautiful tree-slab tables and benches where beer lovers share pints and conversation. The staff is friendly and eager to chat about the beer and pour samples.
“Consumers today want fresh, high-quality beer,” says Phillippe. “They are open to new and different stuff, and we are open to change, and we constantly innovate.” Hi Sign’s head brewer, Andrew Shelton, is a graduate of the Master Brewing Program at UC Davis and has an extensive brewing background which includes jobs as assistant brewer at Revolver Brewing in Granbury, Texas, and head brewer at Big Storm Brewing Co. in Clearwater, Florida.
Shelton’s lightest offering is the Christie American Blonde, crisp and refreshing with a hoppy finish. Violet, a version of the blonde with subtle hints of fresh blueberries, is one of the best-selling local beers in Austin. “It is a great crossover,” says Phillippe. “It appeals to craft beer bars, mainstream bars and restaurants.” Rounding out the core beers are the Shamus Irish Red and the flagship Wooderson IPA. Since October 2017, Hi Sign has been canning their four core beers, brewing 30 barrels and selling more than 500 cases per week. All are available at retail outlets as well as on tap at the brewery and various bars and restaurants.
Limited-release beers are available at the taproom only, in four-packs of 16 oz. cans and on draft; the varieties change seasonally, although they lean heavily toward IPAs and Double IPAs. Among popular offerings are the Astronaut Double IPA and a double dry-hopped version called Super Astronaut IPA that boasts a whopping 9.5 percent alcohol as well as a Top 14 honor from a field of 165 entries in the prestigious Alpha King Challenge. In January 2019, Hi Sign released No Scooters, a 7.4 percent American IPA brewed with lactose, oats, El Dorado, Idaho 7 and Amarillo hops, and double dry-hopped with Motueka. The brew drew a following for its juicy, citrusy kick, but the can design — a stick figure on a motorized scooter circled by the classic red slash sign — sealed the deal for its popularity. These limited-edition cans are garnering national attention from craft beer aficionados.
But all this success and growth has come at a price. Phillippe is working long days ensuring everything runs smoothly. “I have never had more anxiety, worked harder or slept less, but I have never been happier,” he says. “I have a six-month-old daughter who I would like to see more, so every day is a lesson in humility. I have a great team that likes what they do and enjoys working together. Our mission is to make great beer, sell great beer and have fun doing it.”
Lately, visitors have found it difficult to find the brewery because extensive construction along Highway 183 has blocked direct access. For the time being, visitors must enter from W. Highway 71 by taking a right on Bastrop Highway, just past P. Terry’s. It is not hard to follow the detour, and the fresh beer and welcoming atmosphere make it completely worth the effort.
For more information, visit hisignbrewing.com
By Claudia Alarcón • Photography by Andy Sams
The online version of this story has been updated for clarity.