By Matt Abendschein
With the news of Live Oak ditching their old digs for a brand new space near the Austin airport, feelings of sorrow rushed through me. ‘Out with the old, in with the new.’ That’s the saying right? With places like Live Oak, I don’t want the new. Give me the old any day of the week.
*Get me the cans of Live Oak though!*
With the explosion of craft beer lately, gone seems to be the humble brewery with tours and tastings. The popular thing nowadays is the fancy new tap room where the brewery sets itself up almost like a bar. When I first got into craft beer, the norm was a brewery tour with glassware. You pay an entrance fee and that gets you a certain amount of pours and a brewery tour usually led by the owner or head brewer. That’s a dime a dozen now. Where did it go? Why has it vanished into the mash tun of emptiness?
Michael Peticolas, brewer/owner of the infamous Peticolas Brewing up in Dallas, gave some insight into why they use the tours/tastings model and why the tap rooms are so popular right now.
As to why tap rooms are so popular right now, one reason is that it provides greater access to the beer. This truly is a win for the consumer when giving better access to the beer. Another reason, and probably an important one to the decision made on operating a tap room, is that it is an added revenue stream.
So why does Michael still operate under the tours/tastings model? And hell, why only twice a month for two hours? His first response?
‘I love operating a brewery.’
What he means by that is that by adding a tap room, you’re running another business, a bar essentially, and this is something he’s not interested in doing quite yet.
Yet another big reason why he operates under the tours/tastings model is for quality of life.
‘I don’t want to work every Saturday.’
And neither does his employees. He has only lost one employee in the four years being open and much of this is due to ensuring that people truly enjoy working there.
‘But the Saturdays that we are open, we’re all there. It’s all about connections, connecting with the brewers. It’s about me actually being there. It’s not all about money for me. I work to live, not live to work. Right now, it’s more about the quality of life for me and my employees.’
(End Michael Peticolas interview)
Don’t get me wrong, I love tap rooms. It allows me to get the freshest beer possible anytime I want, poured by people that love the craft as well. However, there’s nothing quite like seeing a brewery showing off what they’re really there for; their beer. I also understand the need for growth with these new spaces. But, it still hurts to see places like the old Live Oak space go.
The other weekend I finally made the treck up to McKinney, TX where Franconia Brewing is situated. If you’re not familiar, Franconia is a family owned brewery with a concentration on authentic German beer, very similar to Live Oak. I couldn’t help but notice the similarities with their operating space (tight, older brewing vessels) and touring style. It may not be much to look at, but their passion is evident when you take that first sip of their famous Dunkel made possible by old family recipes. That, to me, is what should be celebrated.
If you never got a chance to visit the old Live Oak space, I’m truly sorry for your loss. The old space at Live Oak was truly an anomaly. Dark, tight, small, cramped. Those are just a few adjectives that describe that space. More ‘large garage’ than brewery space. When it comes to Live Oak, great things truly do have humble beginnings. It’s quite the experience when you think to yourself, ‘How the hell does world class German beer come from a place like this?’ I have nothing against big tap rooms that are tied to big investments, but there is truly something magical about these breweries that celebrate the beer itself in humble spaces reminiscent of the garages they probably began in. Let’s cheers to the well deserved expansion of Live Oak and the best hefe in the world!
Here are some Texas breweries that still operate solely under the tour and tastings model.
Franconia Brewing (Saturday, 11am)
Peticolas (first and third Saturday, 1-3pm)
Rahr & Sons (Wednesday 5-7:30pm, Saturday 1-3pm)
(512) Brewing (Saturdays, 11am and 12:30pm)
Saint Arnold (M-F 2-4:15pm, Saturdays 11am-3pm)
Big Bend Brewing (W-F 3pm, Sat 1pm and 3pm)
Martin House Brewing (Thursdays 6-8pm, Saturdays 2-5pm)