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Local Microbreweries and Craft Beer Gear Up for Return

www.flickr.com/photos/51809988@N06/ (CC BY 2.0)

In just three years, the number of Texas microbreweries nearly doubled, jumping from 59 in 2011 to 117 last year. And in that time, Waco was home to just one craft brewery, which shuttered its doors within a year. But as KWBU’s Carlos Morales reports, microbreweries are setting up once again for a return in the Heart of Texas.

Inside an expansive industrial room of a nearly 6,000 square foot building in downtown Waco, Jacob Martinka unlocks a hatch and opens up a sliding door to mitigate the heat inside the space that will become Brotherwell Brewing. Martinka, along with David Stoneking and Tommy Mote, have been home brewing for years and wanted to sell the beer they made. That led the trio to create Brotherwell Brewing and set up shop in a fledgling market where craft breweries operate in a largely underserved area. The 28-year-old Stoneking says that while everything may bigger in Texas, the state’s microbreweries are still working to catch up.

“The whole craft beer movement has really been taking off nationally over the last 30 years and it’s taken a while to trickle down to Waco," Stoneking said. "I think the folks who have come before brewing in Waco, even in the last 3 decades, they were on the early end. The market wasn’t quite right, the interest wasn’t there, the awareness wasn’t there, and surely the laws weren’t there to help.” 

Stoneking and others are quick to point to recent legislative changes in Texas that they say have contributed to the growth of microbreweries across the state. In 2013, the 83rd Texas Legislature enacted laws that redefined licensing for breweries in Texas. In the past, Texas legislation prohibited manufacturing breweries from directly selling their product – any samples given had to be free. Now, those breweries can sell up to 5,000 barrels on-site. Additionally, so-called brewpubs, which could previously only sell their product on-site, are now allowed to sell to distributors as well. These legislative changes also helped Keith Collier to set up Bare Arms Brewery – which, when it opened earlier this year, became the only local brewery in the greater Waco area since Scars and Stripes Brewery stopped operations sometime last year. Collier, who’s the president and brew master of Bare Arms, says it’s difficult to get into the brewing industry, but the paths have opened up.

“The industry just really wasn’t there yet, and with the craft beer explosion growth over the past several years it’s just really been highlighted that there’s nothing around in Waco or McLennan County," Collier said.

Before Bare Arms, there was the short-lived Scars and Stripes – a veteran-backed local brewery that never really gathered much momentum. And before that, there was the Bosque Brewing Company, which was open in the late 90s. Other than those, microbreweries have been few and far between in Waco. But in Texas as a whole, where more than 980,000 barrels of craft beer were produced in 2014, the industry is growing. According to the National Brewers Association, in Texas craft beer had a 2.3 billion dollar economic impact in 2012 – second only to California. But Charles Vallhonrat  – the executive director of the Texas Craft Brewers guild – is quick to offer a caveat, when discussing these statistics.

"Though we have some good absolute numbers, you know, we have a very large number of breweries; we have a very strong economic impact from our breweries, when you look at those numbers at a per capita level, given the size of the state of Texas, the number of people, the residents in the state of Texas, our numbers fall," Vallhonrat said.

Vallhonrat says he focuses on this metric not to highlight Texas’s struggle to catch up, but to underscore the Lone Star State’s opportunity for growth. And with one microbrewery already opened up in Waco – and another on the way – the development of a local craft beer culture is becoming clearer. Justin Veech is assistant brewer and partner at Bare Arms Brewery.

“It’s going to be cool for Waco to be going from zero to two," Veech said. "I’m excited for us, I’m excited for them, because I’m excited for Waco. At the end of the day, Waco is now going to have two craft breweries within a year from them not having nothing.”


With KWBU…