Deep in the heart of Texas, there’s a little brewery hell-bent on excellence.
If you’re one of the 24 million annual tourists flocking to Austin over the past six years, you’ve probably heard of Austin Beerworks.
In a sense, they’re still the newbies on the scene; and yet, Austin Beerworks — with its gold teardrop logo — has quickly become about as patriotic as Lone Star.
Although Austin is still a relatively small city, the Live Music Capital of the World boasts over 500 bars, and a downtown zip code with the highest number of bars per capita in the entire country. Swing by for a visit, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a place without at least one of Austin Beerworks “core four” beers on rotation.
Their sleek iconic teardrop, designed by Christian Helms, can be found on tap handles across the city, and on 6-packs of cans, stacked high at the end caps of almost every grocery store.
With such widespread popularity among locals and travelers alike, the question on everyone’s tongue is, “When will ABW expand distribution?”
For now, this precious unicorn is only available in the greater Austin area, with the exception of national beer events, where it consistently rakes in the awards. Most notably, they won the World Beer Cup for their Black Thunder — a German-style Schwarzbier beer that went up against several high profile German breweries.
Speaking of winning, Austin Beerworks has also won the hearts of all of us here at uShip. Their bold, yet crowd pleasing characteristics make them the perfect choice for company events. Their playful vibes and dedication to community fall right in line with what we’re all about here. So we were really stoked when they came to us for help with shipping over two tons of beer to DC for the Craft Brewery Conference in April.
Within a week, Austin Beerworks was able to find the right less-than-truckload (LTL) carrier at the right price to transport their three pallets of beer over 1,500 miles — and it went off without a hitch.
We were so excited to do business with the local legend, that we decided to pop by the brewery to chat and celebrate.
Austin Beerworks just underwent a $5 million expansion, making it appear more like one of those huge west coast breweries than their original manual operation with a 12 barstool tasting room. Six years ago, the beer was hand canned by the owners themselves – and their army of friends who’d volunteer in shifts for the opportunity to take home six packs of low-fills.
Now, the brewery has expanded to include six fermentation vessels at 240 barrels each, four brewhouse vessels at 60 barrels each, a 2,000 sf space dedicated to mixed fermentation, a canning line handling 200 cans per minute, and a tasting room that comfortably fits at least 250 guests. It’s really a sight to be seen, and a great place for us to take a mid-morning break from the office.
Upon walking in, we were greeted by Brewmaster Will Golden. After pouring us a sample of his new creation – using hops so new they literally don’t have names — he was kind enough to sit down and talk with us about the beer business, as well as a bit about the transportation industry.
We dove right in with the million dollar question.
uShip: Does ABW have plans on expanding distribution?
ABW: As of now… no. We’re a wholly local brand. We like sticking to Austin and surrounding areas so we can self-distribute. In Texas, you’re allowed to move up to 40,000 barrels per year without a distribution partnership. We’re fine with that for now. Besides, beer is best consumed at the point of production. We currently have a fleet of 11 vans and four box trucks dedicated to distribution.
uShip: Does Austin Beerworks have any interesting shipping stories?
ABW: One thing’s for sure. The cost of shipping is wholly overlooked every time we’re budgeting for new projects. You always forget about special permits and regulations on oversized shipments. We’ve shipped used equipment from Odell’s, Sweetwater, and Karl Strauss. Now, we pretty much stick to buying and shipping new stuff. It’s funny when friends of the brewery see big pieces of equipment we’re shipping as they’re going down the highway.
Once, we shipped an order of 700 new kegs to the brewery. They were supposed to be palletized and wrapped, and yet, when they got here, it seemed like someone had just opened the shipping container and dumped the kegs into the truck like a box of root beer barrel candies. It was a mess.
uShip: Y’all just used uShip to ship a ton of beer to a conference in DC. What else is on the national or international agenda this year that our readers can look forward to?
ABW: This year, we’ll be at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver the first week of October. We’re also doing the CANvitational in Indianapolis, and Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp.
uShip: Which craft beer events have been the most fun, and why?
ABW: Man.. It’s all so blurry. But definitely the Great American Beer Festival. It’s just nice to get up there every year and see 5,000 of your closest buddies in the brewing industry.
uShip: The brewery just went through a major expansion! What were your goals from this project?
ABW: Just like our sign above the tap room says, we wanted to expand on our goal of “Quality of Beer. Quality of Life.” We didn’t just want to ramp up volume. We want to grow organically and be able to control our growth. The plan is to keep to 5,000 barrels of growth per year. Obviously, we can do a lot more than that, but it’s not our intention. We believe it quality over quantity all the way.
uShip: Will there be space for a 99 pack canning line? How did you transport and distribute the 99 pack?
ABW: The 99 pack was the best worst idea we ever had. It was a great marketing tactic, but it was super manual, and we had to modify the vans for delivery. It only lasted a month. Since then, we’ve talked about producing some again for charity work.
uShip: You just celebrated your 6th anniversary. A lot has happened since then! How would you describe the brewery you were back in 2011 versus the brewery you are now in 2017?
ABW: We operate on the same principles, but just with nicer toys. We adhere to the same quality levels as we grow. We definitely had to become more professional. We’re not just a couple of buddies hanging around making beer together anymore. There’s been a steep learning curve on the HR and people management front, especially as we continue to add more employees. We’re working on it though.
uShip: Has ABW exceeded the expectations of the original business plan?
ABW: Yes. So when we started out, we had three business plans. We had a worst case “ ship is sinking” plan, the “everything is fine” plan, and a best case scenario plan. Our best case scenario plan had sales goals set for our first five years, which we broke in our first six months. We thought that selling 10,000 barrels a year in Austin was unachievable. Right now, we’re doing 20,000 a year, and we still have unsatisfied accounts asking for more. Our sales guys have a unique job because it’s more like account management… working to maintain relationships and stay relevant. We’ve got a lot of new competition out there.
uShip: There are four founders. Who does what around here? Will, you’re the brewmaster of course…
ABW: Adam Debower is the plant manager. He’s in charge of maintenance, and he’s also on the board of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. Mike McGovern is head of distribution, finances, and HR. Mike Graham is in charge of marketing, sales, and compliance reporting.
uShip: Clearly you all wear a lot of hats. How do you handle working with friends?
ABW: The four of us all recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so there’s a clear definition of workload. Partnerships fail when everyone is trying to be “the face.”
uShip: What’s the secret to your success?
ABW: When talking about success, people usually discount luck. There’s no magic bullet. It’s just being cognizant of the feeling of the city and making something the city can be proud of. It’s also being unrelenting in quality. The only thing we take seriously is our beer.