Craft Beer Crusaders

By Kristi Willis
Photography by Dustin Meyer

Belly up to the bar at your favorite Austin pub and you’re likely to find a bevy of taps from Texas breweries—Real Ale, (512), Saint Arnold, Independence, Live Oak—and the list keeps growing. The craft-brewing industry is exploding, representing 97 percent of the more than 1,800 breweries in the U.S. as of August 2011, according to the Brewers Association.

Even with that phenomenal growth, the craft-beer industry is still a small drop in the bucket when compared to other beer sales. “In 2010, craft beer made up less than five percent of the total U.S. beer market, and that includes all the beer made by the large craft brewers like Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium,” explains Michael Graham of Austin Beerworks. “Spoetzl [maker of Shiner beers] is by far the biggest craft brewery in Texas, yet their beer accounts for just over one percent of the total beer sold in Texas, and they’re more than ten times larger than Real Ale or Saint Arnold, who are in turn over ten times larger than everyone else.”

To grow their market share, the Texas craft brewers work together to convert beer drinkers to craft label enthusiasts. “We view it as our mission to work together to change people’s palates,” says Mark McDavid of Ranger Creek in San Antonio.


Frank Mancuso of Saint Arnold Brewing Company in Houston, one of Texas’s oldest craft breweries, notes that for years “craft beer was a tough sell to get in anywhere. It’s always been us against them; them meaning the big guys: Bud, Miller and Coors of the world. We’re all on the same side against the yellow, fizzy, mass-marketed stuff.”

“If we can get people drinking craft beer, then they are going to keep drinking craft beer,” says Tony Drewry of Rahr & Sons Brewing Company. “Each brewery can have a handful of people that are loyal to their brand because they love it so much, but there are so many different craft beers to try that the more you can get them drinking craft beer, the more likely they will be to try your stuff, too.”

Participating in the Great American Beer Festival held in Denver, the industry’s largest tasting and competition, is one of the ways the brewers promote Texas craft beer. Even though only local producers Spoetzl and Saint Arnold currently ship beer outside the state, participating on the national stage brings major benefits to all of the breweries.


“It’s an industry event and a competition allowing all of the beers that we make to be judged against their peers in the craft-brew industry,” says Mancuso. “There is definitely some clout to be had if you win at the Great American Beer Festival. Since the majority of brewers aren’t distributing outside of their own state, it’s not a marketing thing as much as it is industry recognition.”

The Texas craft brewers worked together to have a strong showing at this year’s festival. Tim Schwartz, director of brewing operations at Real Ale and president of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, explains that while each brewery registered on its own, the brewers coordinated to rent a refrigerated truck to transport the beer to Denver to ensure that everyone’s product arrived in good condition.

The guild also stepped in to showcase the brewers who didn’t get registered. “The competition filled up so fast this year that they closed registration early and some Texas brewers didn’t get in,” Schwartz explains. “The Texas Craft Brewers Guild agreed to do a booth featuring Texas beers. Any members who didn’t get into the festival got first dibs on serving their beer in the booth.”

During the festival, breweries interact with a national audience of hard-core beer enthusiasts. Ben Sabel and Jud Mulherin of Circle Brewing were delighted to have feedback from aficionados from around the country. “It’s good—in a community like this where people are from all over—to make connections,” Sabel says, “because someone from Minnesota might come here, like the beer and remember Texas craft beer as being really good. They go home and tell people, and it’s definitely good to spread out and spread the word about your brand.”


Real Ale also uses the festival as a way to expose its employees to the larger craft-brew community. The brewery pays the way for two winners of its Employee of the Year award to attend the festival. “It’s helpful for our employees to understand that they are part of something bigger and to network with others from around the country,” says Schwartz.

For Twisted X Brewing, participating in the Great American Beer Festival was about carving out a space in their niche market. “Since what we are doing is fairly unique, we wanted to put our name out there and own the Tex-Mex beer angle on the marketing side,” says owner Shane Bordeau. “If, by chance, we happen to win a medal, that definitely helps us as we build up to phase two of our brewery.”

Of course, bringing home the gold is the main goal of the competition. “Winning medals is a lot of fun,” says Schwartz of Real Ale’s win in 2010, “and it’s really hard. There are hundreds of entries in each category. The competition is fair and there are so many high-quality beers that, if you can make it to the second round, then you should be proud. And if you win, then you are brewing great beer.”


In 2011, Texas breweries brought home four medals from the competition: Uncle Billy’s Brew & Que at Lake Travis for their Bottle Rocket Lager, Austin Beerworks for their Peacemaker, North by Northwest for their Barton Kriek and Humperdink’s Restaurant & Brewery in Dallas for their Uberbrau.

“[Winning a medal] reinforces our belief that we’re making great beer and motivates us to keep doing it,” says Michael Graham of Austin Beerworks. “We have no intention of that being the only medal we ever win.”

For these brewers, making more great beer available is what it’s about, and helping each other by lending equipment, sharing grain shipments or giving advice to a start-up brewer makes it easier to achieve that goal. Josh Hare of Hops and Grain in Austin was shocked by how many people offered help as he was getting started. “We are all challenging each other to make better beer. The worst thing you can do is to pretend that you know everything when it is so easy to ask for help.”

“The more we can stick together as the small guys to have a voice—at the beer level, sales level, political level,” notes Drewry, “the more we have a say in things, and it’s starting to really make a difference.”

Cheers to that!

Meet your local craft brewers!
Saturday, December 10, 1 pm
Black Star Co-op
Tent and food sponsored by Wheatsville Food Co-op


* Indicates brew pub

Austin and Central Texas
(512) Brewing Company
Austin Beerworks
The Barber Shop (Dripping Springs)*
Black Star Co-op Pub and Brewery*
Circle Brewing Company
The Dodging Duck Brewhaus (Boerne)*
Double Horn Brewing Company
   (Marble Falls)*
The Draught House Pub & Brewery*
Faust Brewing Company (New Braunfels)*
Flix Brewhouse (Round Rock)*
Fredericksburg Brewing Company
Hops and Grain
Independence Brewing Company
Jester King Craft Brewery
Live Oak Brewing Company
Lovejoy’s Tap Room & Brewery*
Middleton Brewing (Wimberley) *
North by Northwest Restaurant
   and Brewery*
Pecan Street Brewing (Johnson City)*
Real Ale Brewing Company (Blanco)
Root Cellar Cafe and Brewery
   (San Marcos)*
Spoetzl Brewery (Shiner)
Thirsty Planet Brewing Company
Twisted X Brewing Company (Cedar Park)
Uncle Billy’s Brew and Que*
Wimberley Brewing Company (Wimberley)*

Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex
Deep Ellum Brewing Company
Franconia Brewing Company (McKinney)
Humperdink’s Restaurant & Brewery (Arlington and Dallas)*
Rahr & Sons Brewing Company (Fort Worth)
Two Rows Classic Grill (Allen)*
Uncle Buck’s Brewery & Steakhouse
Zio Carlo Magnolia Brew Pub (Fort Worth)*

Houston Metropolitan Area
Karbach Brewing Company
No Label Brewing Company (Katy)
Saint Arnold Brewing Company
Southern Star Brewing Company (Conroe)

San Antonio
Blue Star Brewing Company*
Freetail Brewing Company*
Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling

Other Locations
Big Texan Steak Ranch (Amarillo)*
Cypress Street Station (Abilene)*
Eola School Restaurant & Brewery (Eola)*
Jaxon’s Restaurants & Brewing Company
   (El Paso)*
New Republic Brewing (College Station)
Padre Island Brewing Company
   (South Padre Island)*
Port Aransas Brewing Company
   (Port Aransas)*
The Republic (College Station)*
Triple J Chophouse & Brew Company
Wicked Beaver Brewing (Wolfforth)