Houston's Karbach Brewing Co. Brewmaster on Recent SA Expansion

St. Arnold’s isn’t the only craft beer coming out of Houston these days. Karbach Brewing Co., which opened its doors off H-Town’s Karbach Street in September 2011, has made its way to San Antonio. After a week-long marketing blitz, which included tap takeovers and pint nights, craft brew aficionados can look for the brand at a handful of local bars.

The San Antonio launch was purposeful: Founders Ken Goodman and Chuck Robertson, along with brewmaster Eric Warner and Karbach’s marketing team, decided to test the waters in the Alamo City due to its small, but growing interest in craft brews. In other words, we beat out Austin and Dallas because the brewery can likely sustain production for both the SA and Houston markets with relative ease.

To familiarize ourselves with the brand, we talked with Warner, 49, about what the launch means for SA, and what local beer nerds can look forward to from Karbach.

When did you first get into beer?

I was a German major in college at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore. and I didn’t want to necessarily teach German, but there weren’t a lot of other options. I thought about going into law school or brewing school and brewing school sounded a heck of a lot more fun (he laughs). I went to Germany and got a degree in brewing science in 1990. I came back (to the States) and have been actively involved in the brewing industry every since, either consulting or helping put on the Great American Beer Festival, etc. I was part of Flying Dog from 1997 to 2008, eventually as CEO, then I did some more consulting. Eventually I came across a cask from the guys here. They knew a lot of the retail distribution side of the business, not so much about the beer manufacturing side of it. We did a feasibility study and developed a great working relationship so I joined to run the brewery.

How do you like Texas so far?

Everyone’s so friendly and they love their beer. There’s a great food and beverage scene here. There’s also an amazing upsurge in appreciation for craft beer, so it means there’s a lot of opportunity here.

Why was San Antonio chosen? Why now?

We started off in Houston and originally distributed our own beer. We partnered up with Silver Eagle as our wholesaler about a year ago. They said, ‘would you ever go to San Antonio? We’d love to work with you there.’ They’ve done such a great job in Houston we thought it would be a logical great step. The second reason was we spotted a bit more opportunity [in SA]. There aren’t a lot of local craft breweries compared to Dallas and Austin, so that factored into our brewing as well. We’ve been growing so fast in Houston, we were concerned that if we went to Austin or Dallas they’d max our capacity.

What was the response for the launch like?

They went through 1,000 pours of our beers at the Flying Saucer (last Tuesday). That was tremendous and blew away our expectations.
Let’s talk about your beers…

We have a wide range of beers we brew, from the Love Street German-style ale with an ABV of five percent all the way up to our Bourbon Barrel Aged Hellfighter at 11 percent. A month from now we have a Cherries of Fire brew coming out that’s delicious. We’ve got our flagship Hopadillo IPA, what we call a Texas-style because it’s not as strong as some of the other IPAs out there that sit at 7 or 7.5 percent (ABV); it’s about 6 or 6.5 percent. It’s a unique blend of hops from German to American hops and we also used East Kent Goldings hops in that one. We’ve got a good solid line up without doing anything crazy.

What do you think will stick in San Antonio?

It’s a new market, so it’ll be interesting to see what takes hold. With Flying Dog, we expanded that nationally and saw different trends in certain markets. I don’t think the product mix will be terribly different from the one in Houston, but I could be wrong. That’s the advantage of being with Silver Eagle. They have our full portfolio and it’s easy for them to fold in our products into the SA operation.

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