I recently joined Tim & Bryan from St Elmo Brewing for a beer at their new Austin brewery. We talked craft beer, how they got to opening their own brewery, and what to expect from them and their St Elmo Neighborhood. They can hardly be called the new guys in the craft beer community though; Tim and Bryan are also both alums from one of Austin’s most beloved breweries- Austin Beerworks.
St Elmo Brewing is one of the first businesses open to the public in The Yard development. The Yard is part of the south Austin’s warehouse district and they’re keeping a commitment to preserving the Austin culture we all love. A whisky distillery and winery will also open up in this St Elmo development. Which just so happens to be pretty darn close to some other great Austin breweries.
Introducing St Elmo Brewing’s Owners and Brewers
It’s seems fitting that two guys from north Austin’s Austin Beerworks would come down south to make some good craft beer using their own ideas.
- Homebrewer and former brewer from Austin Beerworks
- Has been drinking craft beer since
he was 17he was 21
- Houston Native
- Homebrewer, former Brooklyn Brewery Brewer, and former front-of-house manager at Austin Beerworks
- Tequila enthusiast (preferably a nice, smokey anejo)
- New York Native
St Elmo Brewing – South Austin’s New Neighbor
Was there every a moment when you all were building your own brewery that you two were frustrated with the hurdles or felt like giving up?
Bryan: Since we signed the lease there was never. I never had the thought that it was not gonna happen, it was just of matter of when is it gonna happen, because it took forever. It took a lot longer than we wanted to. We found this space, signed the lease, raised our money, and we did all that in less than a year.
Towards the end we had some pretty major delays, but we were ready to brew and open in June and July. We couldn’t, we had like 3 or 4 things that held us up so that kinda sucked. It was a little frustrating but we got through it.
One of the cools things too at least, with that delay… every other tenet we met here at the yard they’ve been really supportive and super friendly and everybody has just been excited about having beer right here. That’s definitely kept the flame burning, since we knew that the moment we were able to pour beer to the public, we’d have a bunch of people literally, just doors away from us, ready to line up. That was a cool feeling.
You have tons of experience brewing beers and working in a brewery, what’s going to go into deciding new beers to brew?
Bryan: We don’t really have a rubric for how we are deciding the beers, we don’t have a schedule. We are going to brew to mood, to weather, to climate, and all that kind of stuff! And what people want and what people are digging.
Also, a balance in menu, we want to have a variety. So I’m not just going to brew four IPAs in a row. We’re gonna keep it fresh. Variety is a big part of whenever I’m thinking of what to brew next.
Do you two each have your own recipes that you’re bringing to St Elmo? Or will you be collaborating with each other on brand new recipes?
Bryan: Both, I came with I don’t know, twenty recipes or something like that. But then it’s like you’re learning your ingredients. I don’t have all of these recipes written out but once you learn how to use your ingredients, you can kinda make anything. We are definitely going to be making a lot of things we haven’t thought of before.
Tim: I think Bryan and I both recognized how much we’ve brewed at another brewery, many times over and we understand the process. Equipment matters quite a bit. And once your equipment changes, it can really throw you through a loop and you really have to think on your feet. The brewhouse and the tanks we have are fantastic but there are definite limitations to what we think we can do in this space and really all we have to do is purchase new, advanced equipment to handle different things. But for what we want to do right now, we have pretty much everything that we need.
From Homebrewers to Brewery Owners
What were you up to before Austin Beerworks?
Tim: I worked at Brooklyn brewery for over a year. I was just a homebrewer in New York City before Austin. I wanted to build a really cool homebrew setup here, but I didn’t get the opportunity. So I just did what I was used to and what was brewing on a stove and making it work.
What’s a quick tip for brewing better beer?
Tim: Get a fridge!
Bryan: For fermentation and temperature control, definitely.
Tim: Also sanitation, go overboard with cleaning. And make yeast starters.
Do you two have a piece of advice for anyone aspiring to open their own brewery?
I though, “Yea I wonder if I should work at one.” And then we worked at one and the thought of trying to do this without having done that is absolutely terrifying. But I guess I’m really impressed by those who can pull it off.
Tim: Dive in to the community, definitely. It’s an offshoot of what Bryan just said. Because we worked at one, but if we didn’t have many, many, many different colleagues in this community, even then, this wouldn’t have happened.
St Elmo is the Austin Neighborhood to Keep Your Eye on
What do you think it’ll be like in this part of south Austin in a few years?
Bryan: I think we’re on the cusp of an entire neighborhood change.
Tim: It’s cool being down here right now simply because we will drive further south down on Congress or around here, and we’ll see a new sign or you know, somebody will pop in here and drop off a business cars and it turns out they’re literally two blocks away. So that’s really cool because it’s constant discovery. That’s what makes a neighborhood vibrant, is that it doesn’t feel boring or people stopped going there years ago.
What do you think are some of the biggest reasons craft beer has grown so fast here and why it shows no signs of slowing?
Bryan: Under-served. Absolutely under-served. Well I guess there’s a few now, but until five years ago, there wasn’t a brewpub in south Austin except for Uncle Billy’s. And it’s still under-served. There’s nothing south of Stassney and there’s like, a hundred thousand people that live down there.
Tim: The other thing too is you’ve got particular models for the way certain businesses work and Austin is still just trying to figure out what works well, in different areas. I don’t mean this in a bad way, it’s still an immature market, it’s still young compared to plenty of other cites. Business owners are adapting, the city is adapting, and of course, the state is adapting Just takes time for all this to really ease into place.
Do you think the oftentimes restricting Texas TABC laws has held back the growth of craft beer in Austin?
Bryan: Maybe, 2013 was a big year for sure. And we’ve seen a lot of growth since then.
Tim: If you look at other states throughout the country.
Bryan: Look at New York, they have way easier laws, and then especially in the city they don’t have nearly as many breweries as we have.
Tim: But it’s also the barriers to enter are much greater there from a market standpoint and they literally went from having three brewpubs to having a dozen within two years. And that’s really fast, especially for a place where you’re not gonna find affordable rent, literally anywhere.
Bryan: Well I would say there isn’t a law that would drastically change our business anymore. Or any other brewpub in the state of Texas.
And Some Other Great Craft Beer Cities
Outside of Austin, what is another awesome craft beer city/area/scene?
Tim: Mine has a lot to do with experiences and memories. I really had a great time in Portland, Maine. I went to Allagash shortly after they started doing spontaneously fermented beers. They build this really crappy wood shed but it had a really nice stained glass window on the door, and it was the little bit of detail they had. But aside from that, they had these really cool windows. They swing them open and they’d run their beer into a big wide troth and let the bugs infect it.
Bryan: There are a lot of really cool ones, but Denver, Boulder, For Collins area is hard to beat. It’s always so much fun.
Tim: So Bryan’s example is one thing that we don’t have here in Austin, which is in Denver you go downtown and there’s Wynkoop Brewery, which is a fairly significant place, and then there’s Great Divide just a couple blocks from there. And they’re both really big breweries, and they’re in the most densely populated part of town. That’s so awesome you can literally stumble from one to the other to then find a really cool bar that serves a bunch of ridiculously good beer. Austin still doesn’t have that. We’re excited to be in this district, in this part, but all those crazy kids that hang out Downtown in the central business district, it’s barren.
Bryan: Thing about Wynkoop Brewery and Great Divide is, they opened like 20-30 years ago. When they did open that, it was the east side, no one lived over there, no one went over there. Then think about Austin’s east side in ten years, it’s a similar timeline, it will be the same.
Tim: We did have breweries before and it didn’t work out. They were too early to work out.
Bryan: On that topic, Denver, has been a big city for a really long and they have had industry for a really long time. Austin has never had industry, the only type of industry we have ever had here is moving oil and the basic industry you need to sustain a city. In Denver and Portland and all these other places, they have all these old buildings that no one is using anymore because we are not an industrial nation like we used to be. They can make some really cool breweries in those old buildings. And in Austin you don’t have all these giant breweries because there aren’t all these giant buildings.
What is St Elmo Brewing Working on Next…
St Elmo’s Grand Opening Party is December 3rd and we can expect it to be a great night celebrating the opening of your brewery. Besides the Grand Opening, what else is in the works for the brewery?
Bryan: We’re gonna do a Christmas sing-a-long! So my wife’s family, they’ve been doing this for 10 or 15 years, and then one of their friends and one of our investors, he’s a local musician, he was here last night and we were talking about it. They put lyrics up on the TV and play the guitar with his buddy and lead all the singing. So we’re gonna do that here. People don’t sing in bars very much together these days. We aren’t good singers but we do like to sing!
Tim: Classic, classic, Hollywood movie where it’s the holidays and you walk into a crowded bar and people are all singing together.
St Elmo Brewing will have three year-round beers,
- Kolsch-style ale, Carl.
- An American Pale ale called Chico.
- And Agnus, the dry stout.
Rotating beer styles will include kettle sours, lagers, Dampfbiers, and more. St Elmo Brewery will also serve coffee from rotating roasters. Dogs are allowed outside and the place has free wifi making it a great place to chill and get some work done. They have an on-site food truck and when I visited, they were finishing up the work on an small, outdoor stage.
I also spotted a curious looking barrel near the brew tanks… Guess we’ll have to wait and see what comes of that!