Some people wonder how the Houston area with a population ten times that of Austin has only one brewpub and one microbrewery. Although that is about to change, many assume that the craft beer deficit is due to market dynamics, however a quick look at the historical record paints a different picture. While some of the areas brewpubs failed due to mismanagement (not to be named), others folded due to a change in location demographics (as Richmond lost its traffic impacting both Rock Bottom and Houston Brewery and Willowbrook was too slow to sustain The Hofbrau Brewpub), rising rent and declining profits (The Village Brewery), changing ownership (Hueys, Hops House) and family issues (The Bank Draught/Mercantile and Boondoggles). What follows is the complete unedited transcript of an interview with one of the best brewers in Houston’s history, Tim Case of the Houston Brewery, who produced numerous award winning beers but tragically left brewing altogether once the HB closed its doors. The interview is reproduced with permission of Buck Wyckoff who initially compiled it for inclusion into the Foamranger Homebrew Club newsletter in 1996 (it was just published in edited form last week…).
B: What was that you brought anyways? You brought the a…IPA was it? [In reference to a FR meeting at my house in March, 1996]
T: Yeah. It was IPA
B: Does that go quicker than any of the others?
T: Oh yeah, it’s the most popular beer.
B: Do you have the same range you opened with or do you change that around some?
T: Naw, it’s basically the same as what we started with.
B: It’s a white beer and…..is the white beer and wheat beer…is there both or is that….?
T: No, It’s the same.
B: Same thing?
B: And a brown ale and an IPA and….
T: The brown ale’s a seasonal. So we’ve got a light ale, best bitter, IPA, stout and white ale. Our five regulars. I’ll do a brown occasionally as a seasonal. It’s real popular. And I also have a cask conditioned which is on semi-regularly. I try to keep it on all the time but I can’t always do that.
B: I notice a lot of people are doing that, like that Saint Arnold cask
T: Yeah, they’re all following me. Rock Bottom started doing it but it wasn’t really cask. They were just hand pumping some stuff out of a keg. It was filtered beer.
B: I had it one time. They had this cask conditioned brown ale and the waitress is going, “Oh you should try it!” And I did and I remember it just sucking horribly.
T: Yeah, it wasn’t anything special.
B: So that wasn’t proper. Is it a special tap and everything though?
T: Oh yeah. It’s done individually in modified kegs. I mean I am doing it in stainless and not wood. Hey Buck, let me change phones a second okay……..I’m having to watch my runoff while I talk.
B: Oh, oh. Got something going?
T: Yeah. I’m brewing IPA as we speak.
B: Hey, well that’s topical. Talking about brewing and you’re doing it while we’re talking.
T: Oh, yeah!
B: So they talk about pulling a beer, that’s what they’re talking about right? The English style or something?
T: Yeah. Basically the original term “pulling” was when all the English pubs….basically what you had was cask conditioned ale. You know, that was how all the beer was done. There’s no gas pressure on the keg, you’re literally pulling the beer up from the cellar or up from the keg. You know, it’s a hand pump and the cask vents to the air.
B: I noticed in the case of the Saint Arnold’s they’re doing at the G-Man, both ways, I tried them side by side for the hell of it, and there’s a huge difference in taste.
T: Yeah, it’s really remarkable how much flavor even the residual yeast that’s left in the beer, when you fine it, you can get it pretty darn clear, not as clear as filtration….and that residual yeast, it’s really remarkable how much flavor it holds.
B: So your cask conditioned is more yeasty I guess?
T: Yeah, I mean it’s unfiltered. You do it just as if you were doing a bottle of homebrew or a keg of homebrew. You just prime it and seal it up and let the yeast do it.
B: You started doing that a long time ago?
T: Yeah! Hell, we started doing it about….well, I’d say it was about last January.
B: And you do the IPA that way?
T: IPA and Bitter. And actually, this time I’ve got a Special Bitter going. I did a seasonal right now, it’s a Special Bitter. It’s kind of a variation on the IPA. And I casked up a couple kegs of that too.
B: So you don’t have a helper anymore, you’re doing it on your own?
T: I’m doing it all by myself right now.
B: Is that pretty manageable though?
T: Yeah. It’s a…..it will keep you busy I’ll tell you that.
B: What’s your schedule like these days?
T: Oh, any time and all the time. [Laughs.] I’m probably in 65 to 70 hours a week over here now.
B: You’re getting quit a lot of hours logged as a brewer now though, aren’t you?
T: Yeah. You know, I do all my own maintenance, you know, cleaning and stuff like that. A brew day usually winds up being a ten hour day from the time I get fired up, you know, walk in the door until the time I walk out.
B: To do like a whole batch start to finish?
T: Yeah. It’s not every second in the brewhouse. It takes me a couple of hours to get rolling in the morning. And you know, towards the end of the day, finish it up. Fill out the log and stuff like that. You know you intermingle it with other tasks.
B: Always something to do I’m sure.
T: Oh yeah!
B: How’s the business going? Is it doing alright and everything?
T: Yeah, yeah. We’re doing a real good spring right now. We’re pretty happy.
B: Well, that’s good.
T: Come this summertime we’ll be doing good.
B: I sure would hate to see things slow down for anybody in this business, you know. I’d rather see it keep growing and keep booming.
T: I don’t think anybody’s having those kind of problems. I think basically what’s happening is we all have to grow the market, you know, as well as your own job. Keeping your product up and waiting for the market to come around….making it come around.
B: You guys do a heck of a lot of promotional stuff don’t ya?
T: Yeah, we try to do that rather than just straight up print advertising, taking the shotgun approach. You know, we cultivate different restaurant reviews, suck up any free publicity, articles and stuff like that, we can get…and of course we’re down at the beer festival and we sponsored, or partly sponsored the Baker Hughes Fun Run the weekend before the beer festival, so we donated a bunch of beer to them. We do the Taste of Houston in the fall. Yeah, we get out and try to do the festivals and that sort of thing as much as we can.
B: Hey, did you get everything from my house? Did anything get left behind? Is there any hardware or anything?
T: I got everything.
B: Cause I got a couple of kegs that got left behind. I finally got them cleaned out last night and I’m going to try to drop them off at the G-Man so people can pick ‘em up….er…..DeFalco’s.
T: I don’t think…..I had a coaster tied to mine. I think that one’s back in my garage.
B: Yeah, I think you probably got your stuff. J.D. left a keg for Dave Powers behind at my house and some other stuff. Have you been to the new DeFalco’s?
T: You know, I still haven’t. I want to get over there for a couple of reasons. I haven’t been over in The Village for some time, but a…there’s a new brewpub going in over there.
B: There is?
T: Yeah, a, you know, if you’re looking out from in front of the old DeFalco’s, you know where that Eddie Bauers is? Right across the street in that shopping center.
B: In the new shopping center?
T: Yeah. They’re going in on the second floor which is like a little food court.
B: Aw, your kidding, cause they’re being such pricks about not letting people park there when they’re tryin’ to go to the G-Man. So now they’re going to have a pub there?
T: Oh exactly. They got like 10,000 square feet upstairs.
B: Is this anybody I know? Who’s doing this?
T: No. Well, you may know them. It’s Two Rows out of Dallas.
B: Okay, so it’s some people coming in and setting up shop.
T: We were aware it was going to happen. I wasn’t exactly sure where. Neither was the person I heard it from. But I heard that they had a confirmed order for equipment like, two months ago.
T: And I went scouting around the Village. Turns out I was looking at the right place. Nothing was going on. But yeah, I want to get over there and scout those guys as well as see DeFalco’s.
B: Yeah, I’m going to be over there. I’m going to be meeting Bruce at the Gingerman at 7:30 tonight. I don’t know what your schedule’s like, but you know, if you’re free….
T: Look around. Go in….if you park there, you know where University is?
T: Coming down that way. If you come into that strip center from University on the south side…you get down almost to University and Morningside….look up on the second floor to your left. There’s like a little staircase that goes up.
B: Uh huh.
T: And there’s kind of like a semi-circular court up on the second floor and that’s where they’re going in. And they’re literally going to be facing, er….backed up against the old DeFalco’s on the second floor.
B: That’s weird. I’ll have to take a good look when I get there tonight
T: Fully under construction right now. I don’t know if the equipment is on the site or not.
B: I know they’re doing a bunch of shit to the old DeFalco’s. Have you seen that?
T: Yeah. I heard a story about how they were, that the landlord wanted to do a nightclub there.
B: I cannot believe they didn’t just bulldoze that building to the ground.
T: Oh man, that things a piece of shit!
B: It is.
T: And apparently they built some sort of patio on the roof.
B: I’ve been up there. They did. They re-sheathed the whole roof in this silver stuff. It’s completely done. Then they put a beam inside of DeFalco’s. They knocked out two squares in the concrete floor about six foot in diameter and down about ten inches deep, to get to like some sublevel concrete to put a foundation in or something.
B: Then they put in these two steel posts and then they put in this large steel beam all the way across the middle of the length of DeFalco’s. And then they put a dual staircase. When you go into what was the front door of DeFalco’s….they took the wall away from the entire front. You can just walk right into it now from the entire front. And everything else on the inside is all gutted out. And they took away that huge overhang they had over the sidewalk.
B: They took it all out but about ten feet right in the middle. And then they got a dual, treated lumber, two-level staircase that goes up half way to the left and to the right off the sidewalk and then turns and goes back up and goes up onto this landing and then there’s this deck that’s on the whole roof of the old DeFalco’s. Really weird.
T: Hold on a sec…….sorry to blast you out with the radio there.
B: Hey, no problem.
T: I’ve got the volume so I can here it over the pub. I’m getting my Limbaugh fix.
T: Yeah, that just amazes me cause number one, I don’t see how they got an occupancy permit for a club there cause they don’t have any damn parking.
B: That’s what I thought was stupid. When I first saw it, I thought maybe the Gingerman was expanding and I thought, “Well, maybe that’s not too bad.”
T: I know the Gingerman wanted to. That’s going to piss the G-Man off.
B: But to even put that effort into that piece of crap building amazes me. But anyways, is there any things that are going to happen in the future with the Houston Brewery that are in the works?
T: Well, you know, we’re still kind of looking for a new site. We want to get this place stabilized where we want it first.
B: A new site? You’re going to get a second location?
T: Yeah. That was our plan from the first, but we got off to a slower start than we anticipated.
B: I didn’t realize that.
T: Oh hell yeah. We wanted one inside the loop and one out.
B: Are you going to run the brewing in both places?
T: Uh huh.
B: You’re going to clone yourself and….
T: Well, yeah, obviously if we get to that point I’ll need an assistant. You know, that was the reason I hired Jeff. We figured we were going to hit the ground running. I figured that way you get one skilled person in here….and then if we open the next one, and I go over and open the next store.
B: So you’re going to have to hire somebody and get them up to speed on your operation I guess?
T: Yeah, exactly. Somebody I wouldn’t have to train from the start. They’d be good enough that I could leave them by themselves over here, go over and get the new place going. Do the executive brewmaster routine.
B: Well. I’m sure you’ll get lots of response. Whether or not you’ll get somebody qualified, I don’t know.
T: Yeah, so we’ll see. Don’t put it in there that I’m, you know, expansion eminent and I’m looking an assistant right now all the time from people. Oh, you’re by yourself? You must need an assistant. No, no I’m doing it by myself right now.
B: Naw, I won’t saw anything about that. But, so now you guys are at the point where you’re gonna go ahead and do that pretty soon?
T: Well, we’re hopin’. Like I say, it’s very tentative at this point, but a….if we have the summertime that we’re thinking. Yeah, we’re going to go ahead and do it.
B: So with a good summer, you guys will go ahead and go for it, huh?
T: Uh, huh.
B: Well, that’s pretty cool. So there’s be…..where do you think you’re going to go?
T: Oh, I have no idea at this point. We had some places scoped out before. Now everything has changed inside the loop so we’ll be back at square one again.
B: You probably wanted this first one to be inside the loop didn’t you, but you just couldn’t find a good place?
T: Oh, yeah. I mean our master plan was always to have one inside and one out. And a, this deal came through first. So we went with this one.
B: Yeah, I know you guys were looking for a place inside, just….
T: Oh, it’s hard as hell to find any place inside the loop that’s really workable. It’s mostly parking. It’s like any place that’s a good location, rents and real estate are just sky high. And then on the other hand you get a little off the beaten path, you got no parking. You couldn’t do an Ale House type routine if you wanted to…..inside the loop. What with the liquor license regulations they got now and trying to get some decent parking lined up. You got to have ten parking spaces per 1000 square feet.
B: Yeah? Geez.
T: If you’re talking about a 10,000 square foot place, you know, the size of ours out here. You got to have a hundred parking spaces.
B: I’ve had trouble parking at your place in the past.
T: We’ve got barely enough. Really when you’ve got a place this size, it’s be nice if we owned that car wash next door. I mean, that’s about the kind of parking you need.
B: I’m surprised they won’t let you like, pay them a little money and they’ll let you use it during the…
T: Oh, you can park there at night after they close. Yeah. We’ve got a deal with them. The guy that owns the car wash actually sold us this property.
B: Oh did he? It was his?
T: Hold on….. I just had to watch the last of my runoff here.
B: Hey. No problem, just take care of your beer. Where you one of the original Foam Rangers from the beginning?
T: Naw, I wasn’t an original. No. The first thing I did in conjunction with the Foam Rangers….I judged at the second Dixie Cup I guess it was.
B: Yeah, that was ….at T.V Rover’s?
T: No. The one before that. The first one I understand was at DeFalco’s. Then the second one was at the Orange Show. That’s the one I judged at. That must have been like ’82 I think.
B: A, ’84 I think was the first one.
T: Was it ’84?
B: Well, I did that one graphic were every bottle was a different year and it had the t-shirt on it and had the year on the cap. I think it started in ’84.
T: Well, I must have judged it…ask Scott which one that was. The first one I judged at was at the Orange Show. That was the second one I understood.
B: Yeah. I went….there were two at T.V Rovers and I wound up…..Bruce and Valerie and I were just riding around…..didn’t even know anything about homebrewing, the Foam Ranger’s or nothing….and we happened to show up at the Dixie Cup at T.V.Rovers. So you were judging at the Orange Show one?
B: How many was that? That was probably about forty entries or something?
T: You know I don’t even remember.
B: Well it wasn’t a lot though, I’m sure. Not too many meads, I’m sure.
T: Sure, it wasn’t nearly the size it is now.
B: I know just before you started doing the brewery business you were getting pretty serious with your setup and winning a whole….
T: I got pretty hot and heavy about ’86.
B: That’s when you were winning some massive ribbons at the Dixie Cup with a….light ales and a IPA’s and APA’s.
T: Yeah. One contest….I can’t remember what year that was….that one that I cleaned up was a…APA, east coast porter and light ale….yeah.
B: You got like first in all those?
T: Yeah. I think I got three firsts and Best of Show All Grain. That was pretty fun. Nothing like Todd Kellenbenz or Steve Daniels, but I had my 30 minutes of fame, you know.
B: Better than I ever will achieve, that for sure. [Ranting in the background.] What the heck are you listening to?
T: Oh, that’s might Richards on now. Local guy.
B: I was going to say….sounds like somebody’s getting pretty….pretty, ranting there. Is he a….
T: He’s a fire brand.
B: Is he a minister or what? [Silence] So a…I’ll let you go here in a second.
T: Yeah. Getting pretty close. I got to watch what I’m doing here. I’m about done running off. Almost at 19 ½ barrels.
B: I know all the folks at the meeting definitely appreciated you bringing all that beer. I think it was gone immediately.
T: Well that’s….you know…that’s the highest compliment I can be paid is to see people drink the beer. I have to admit. That really floats my boat.
B: Yeah. I’d think so. When people are drinking it and have a big grin on their face and you had something to do with that.
T: Yeah, I mean, you know, like I say, it’s one thing for your friends say “Yeah. It’s great. It’s great. It’s great.” But when strangers are drinking it and don’t know you and you see them enjoying it, that’s really more of an objective test.
B: You kind of watch from the shadows and view peoples reactions and things.
B: Every now and then I guess you get someone who isn’t really into quality beer and the wrinkle their nose and go, “I don’t like it.” [In my best nasaly whinny voice.]
T: Oh yeah. You catch a little flack. It’s inevitable. Hang on just one second….
B: Well, you’re doing something you love, that’s for sure.
T: Yeah, it’s a blast, I have to admit. There are days when you got to kind of pinch yourself and say, “Goddamn, I actually got there after all that time.”
B: Yeah. And you don’t plan on leaving right?
B: You found your niche for life here?
T: Well, we’ll see.
B: It’d be a lot of fun
T: We’ll see how this company rides. If somebody offered me $50K a year to go open a micro for them, I might be amenable.
B: But you’re going to be brewin’ though from here on out?
T: Yeah. I hope so. That’s the way I’m looking at it now. I found something I can do and I’m getting better at it.
B: You’re not going to become an accountant or anything?
T: Nope. Naw, I’m dying to do another operation. You know, just seeing the things I’d do differently here. And now knowing what I know about the equipment. Just peripheral stuff.. I wouldn’t mind doing another one. Subcontract myself basically. Putting the pieces together.
B: Now that you’ve learned so much from this one I suppose.
T: Oh, yeah. I mean….now, you buy a package from somebody like Newlands and over time you start learning about a whole other level of…..where the component parts come from and stuff. Yeah, it’d be a blast. I think I could do another one for less money than we put this one together. Do a little bit more work myself and pull more stuff together from different sources and see if I couldn’t beat the cost a little bit.
B: And you’d have something even better, huh?
B: Is that what you’re going to do on the next one, er?
T: Yeah, probably so. Like I say, I’m keen to do another project. I love brewing beer. But it gets to be pretty routine. But like I say, I see the little shortfalls that I had on this system…..things I’d do differently and I’m working on them.
B: What would be a major thing you’d change in your current system?
T: Oh well, like right now, you know….we’re still having floor difficulties, but we’re getting ready to fix the floors.
B: Oh that floor is still causing problems?
T: Oh yeah. Basically I’ve learned a lot about composite floors like they use in chemical plants and stuff. Yeah. I know some materials now that, if I had the equipment out of the way, you could lay some gorgeous floors and you could sit and pour hydrochloric acid on it all day.
B: Yeah. Kind of hard to do it will all the equipment in place I guess.
T: Yeah. We’ve got a real bear of a job coming up here because it’s kind of like working on your car while your driving down the highway. We really can’t just stop production, so it complicates the job.
B: I’ll bet.
T: I got a guy who’s supposed to be showing up in the next couple of hours. A guy that’s gonna be… actually contracting the job for the material manufacturer, that we’re going to be plotting out the strategy…how we get this thing corrected.
B: You probably got to do it like upgrading a freeway, where you close it off in sections and work on this and that and….
T: Yeah, just about.
B: What a pain. That’s going to wind up coasting a lot more I guess too.
T: Well, we’ll see.
B: Well, that’s a live and learn process I guess. You won’t do that the next time around.
T: We took it out of the general contractors hide. We beat the shit out of him in court.
B: Oh really? Cause he did a lot of a… I remember you telling me they went without plans on a lot of the stuff. They just sort of snaked shit around and winged it.
T: Oh, I wouldn’t say that. I mean like the electrician who was on the job was a real nit wit. The GC went with every goddamn subcontractor that was the cheapest and like, hell the guy that he hired to do the floor up there….not only was the material not up to spec, the company didn’t even exist anymore.
B: Geez. Fly by night.
T: Goddamn fly by night operation
B: Took his money and ran. The general contractor, I guess…they subcontract everybody else and they’re responsible for their work?
T: Exactly. The architect specs it out. The GC put in his bid for the building. Okay, I see this. I see the specs. I can build this building for $750,000. Okay, you’re hired. Now alright, it’s up to you to hire subcontractors subject to our approval, blah, blah, blah. And you know, there’s some sort of a deal there with the subcontractor. But as long as he meets specs to the architects satisfaction then we disperse money to them. Basically, the architect is responsible for looking at what the general contractor got done. Say’s okay, this is up to spec, we’ll go ahead and disperse the next 20% of the money. So the architect is supposedly your advocate in dealing with the general contractor and deciding when a task is done and then when you hit certain completion points on the building….25% done, 50% done….the architect disperses your money from escrow and pays the general contractor.
B: That’s how it works in theory, huh?
T: Yeah. I mean, that’s general business practices there, you know, okay the bid goes in for 750 whatever, you put the money in escrow, you know, the contractor gets say 20% up front for materials or something like that. And then the money gets dispersed to the subs and they start working. And the architect is your guy who decides when you are hitting the checkpoints. Like, okay, we got the slab down, we got the plumbing under the slab…all that crap, the storm drains, plumbing, parking lot down, blah, blah, blah. Okay, the buildings now 25% complete. Therefore we’re going to disperse $125,000. You know, something like that.
B: But I guess it all didn’t go smooth, huh?
T: Well, like I say, w got burned on a couple of things. Basically about shoddy materials and shit like that. Goddamn work was way behind schedule.
B: Yeah, I remember it taking quite awhile there. It seems like it got held up for the wood or something, right? It seemed like it sat there for a long time.
T: That was one thing that happened, yeah. I mean, by the time they ordered the wood, the shop that they had speced it out from didn’t have it. Then they spent two weeks looking for another shop that could come up with it. And then it would up having to be custom milled and then shipped out of Oregon. So yeah, that fiasco cost us like four weeks.
B: Yeah, I remember driving by there checking it out and seemed like for awhile it didn’t seem like anything was happening.
T: That was terrible. That was the first of many fiascos.
B: Well, I guess to some degree that’s going to happen. And you’re a lot wiser about certain things now. I guess the next one ought to go a lot smoother, huh?
T: Yep. That’s the plan.
B: Well, good luck to you. Good luck on the expansion and to future success with both places.
T: Well, appreciate that.
B: I’m sure we’ll be crossing paths here in the near future.
T: Yeah, yeah. Need to get together. I mean I’ve basically been underground, you know, going back and forth to work, trying to keep my head above water and that’s all I’ve been able to do lately.
B: Yeah, I’ve been totally swamped myself here. It’s been crazy.
T: Well, we’ll give you a call.
B: Alright, well you take it easy. Say hi to Donna for me.
T: I’ll do that.