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Food & Drink

Micro- to middle-brew pubs kicking up dust need to cling to that vision thing

Photo: Erik Gustafson, License: N/A

Erik Gustafson

Pick a beer, any beer: Freetail Brewing Co

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Blue Star Brewing Co. survives thanks to ‘mule-like’ stubbornness.

The Filling Station, which is slated to open in early 2012, is taking the small-investment, small-batch approach to starting a brewery. The South St. Mary’s establishment is being set up inside a 300-square-foot location recently vacated by a popular sandwich shop of the same name.

The founders, a seasoned home brewer from Southern California and the owner of the sandwich shop now in a larger space next door, plan to make beer in batches of about a half barrel at a time in hopes that the combination of low overhead and downtown’s density of craft beer lovers will make ends meet.

Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling Co., San Antonio’s only microbrewery, just celebrated its first year in the beer business and has created quite a buzz. The founders include three USAA marketing department employees and a full-time head brewer. Brewer Rob Landerman has been able to take some risks in making craft beer that will get the attention of craft beer seekers, but the regular offerings like Oatmeal Pale Ale, Mesquite Smoked Porter, and La Bestia Aimable caused the owners to lay out money for more equipment only a few months in to keep up with demand. While beer so far has been the bread and butter of the operation, diversification with small-batch bourbons — the first of which was released in November — is meant to put the “brewstillery” in the black.

Even in a mid-sized city like New Braunfels, entrepreneurs are going out on a limb with a brewpub and two to three microbreweries under construction in a town that already has one brewery. “It’s a risky industry. It’s very competitive,” said Jaime Martinez, a senior certified business advisor at the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Small Business Development Center. “I still like these kinds of industries, but it’s tough. They have to figure out what differentiates them from the competition.”

Freetail’s Metzger said how big you start out is less important than being true to your plan. “You have to decide what is the je ne sais quoi of your brewery and stick with it. If you’re going to be a lager brewery, be a lager brewery. If you’re going to be a brewery that makes funky beers, stick with that.” Metzger said. “People are willing to give you time to grow into your britches. But make sure you’re well capitalized and don’t over-extend yourself or you’re going to have to compromise. You have to be true to your vision.” D

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