It’s been said that beer brewing is an expensive hobby, and when enthusiasts take the plunge to become professionals, it can cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars for the space, equipment and raw materials to make it happen. And that’s just the upstart cost – those who want to grow need to keep a checkbook handy.
That’s why one D-FW brewery is opening its doors to help other Lone Star operations expand. In December, Grapevine Craft Brewery founder Gary Humble created a subsidiary called North Texas Brewing Co. for the sole purpose of contract brewing, and he may be one of the first in the state to do so.
Contract brewing is a partnership where one brewer hires another to produce its beer. This often entails the hired brewer supply ingredients, sales/distribution and, of course, a brewing facility.
While contract brewing is a viable option for up-and-coming brewers, the establishment of North Texas Brewing Co. means more for local hopheads, who will soon be able to find new recipes from Texas operations as far-reaching as Houston that may not be available here otherwise.
So far, the company has deals with Infamous Brewing Co. (Austin), Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co. (Houston), quasi-gypsy brewer Guns and Oil Brewing Co. and, surprisingly, Armadillo Ale Works (Denton).
Humble hatched the idea for North Texas Brewing Co. after connecting with Josh Horowitz, founder of Infamous Brewing Co., who was in dire need of more production space. After several years of feeding thirsty drinkers in Dallas-Fort Worth, Infamous hit its 2,000-barrel capacity and had to relinquish distribution here to stock bars and stores in Austin, its hometown.
Horowitz then had two options: build a second brew house or find another brewery with extra fermentation space he could borrow.
"I asked everyone here [Austin] and no one has any capacity, everyone’s maxed out," Horowitz says.
But as luck would have it, Humble had just built a new facility in Grapevine with more than four times the space he needed. The two inked a deal for an "alternating proprietorship," which differs from contract brewing in that Infamous is now a licensed brewer at the Grapevine space; the businesses essentially share ownership the facility.
They filed the paperwork and then waited. And waited. And waited for their permit to be processed by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. It took exactly 197 days, Humble remembers, calling the process "insane."
"It's very prohibitive," adds Horowitz. "Even though they changed the law recently to allow this type of business to take place, they make it really hard." (In 2013, the Texas legislature defined "alternating proprietorship" and "contract brewing," and removed the prerequisite that a brewery must have been open by May 2005 to partake in these activities.)
Despite the hardship of permitting, the deal seems to have benefited everyone involved. Horowitz more than doubled his brewing capacity, affording local drinkers to have Infamous' Hijack Cream Ale and IPA on the regular. Those two recipes hit the market in late-January, and Horowitz hopes to expand offerings soon.
Meanwhile, North Texas Brewing Co. is firing up the brew kettles this month to produce Guns and Oil's new summer seasonal, a wheat bock called Wild Bill, which Humble expects to hit the market in May. Thereafter, the crew will brew the flagship American Lager. (Guns and Oil, which has been contract brewing since its inception, expects to open a small brewery in Austin soon.)
Then, it's Buffalo Bayou's turn. North Texas Brewing Co. will churn out the Sam's Daily cream ale and 1836 copper ale.
It's worth noting both Guns and Oil and Buffalo Bayou currently distribute to Dallas-Fort Worth, but the partnership with Humble's subsidiary will make more beers available more widely. That's not the case with Armadillo Ale Works.
Years ago, Denton-based duo Bobby Mullins and Yianni Arestis had a similar contract agreement with Deep Ellum Brewing Co. in Dallas, but relinquished it in 2014 with the prospect of their own brewery on the horizon. When that fell through, local drinkers were left with only memories of signature recipes like Brunch Money golden stout.
But last summer ushered a glimmer of hope: Armadillo Ale Works leased a new home near downtown Denton, which was supposed to open summer 2016. Since plans got delayed, the founders signed on with North Texas Brewing Co. to release a new, yet-to-be-announced beer in late summer.
[UPDATE April 20 at 12:35 p.m.: The new beer will be a blonde ale called Honey Please, brewed with wildflower honey and mesquite beans.]
Though this is just the beginning of North Texas Brewing Co., Humble has high hopes for its future.
"Contract brewing is going to become the norm," he says, referencing other states where it's more commonplace. "We are set up on a level to do this and make sure we’re providing a great product for anyone brewing at the brewery."