Courtesy Photo / Gather Brewing
Rachel (left) and Mike Voeller of Gather Brewing Co.
Coast Guard veteran Mike Voeller loves beer.
So much so that while working as a cook on a polar icebreaker, the thing he missed most — other than spending time with his wife Rachel — was checking on his fermenting homebrews and sharing his homemade suds with other Coasties.
Now, with his military retirement four years behind him, Voeller is working to open Gather Brewing Co. in Universal City in October. The family-friendly, indoor/outdoor brewpub will marry his decades of culinary experience as a Coast Guard chef with his love of brewing.
Located just outside the main gate of Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, the new spot will offer craft beer, chef-prepared menu items and space to gather with friends. We talked with Voeller about his journey from Coastie life to entrepreneur — which kicked off with a humble homebrew kit.
How did the journey to Gather Brewing start?
[My wife Rachel and I] discovered beer gardens and brewpubs in the Northeast, and eventually, we weren’t spending our entire paychecks on trying new beers, but it was pretty close. In 2014, my mother-in-law gave me a homebrew kit for Christmas, and I started brewing beer on my stove. I was on a polar icebreaker at the time, so I would go underway for weeks, sometimes months, but when I got back, I’d check on my beer and hook up the guys on the boat. A few years later, we needed to decide whether I was going to get out [of the military] or stay in. So, in September of 2018, I retired, and we moved back to San Antonio and started planning the brewpub. I started experimenting with small-batch beers and would invite friends and family over for tasting parties at the house. We would have one every six to eight weeks for the year of 2019, and we got up to around 50 people in our 1,600-square-foot home. What we loved about it was that people were off their phones and meeting people they wouldn’t have otherwise known if not for that gathering. Of course, the cramped quarters may have had something to do with that! So, that’s where Gather started. We started shopping for a building in November of 2019 and went under contract for what was da Bunker Bar in December.
Tell me about this building, the former da Bunker Bar space. I remember camouflage-painted walls.
Let me tell you, it needed all of the TLC. My wife downloaded a free trial of a 3D walkthrough software, and we took our plans to the Universal City Economic Development Council, where we were told the property lies in an Economic Development Zone. In these zones, the city works to make improvements to storefronts in the area, so they gave us a big chunk of money that made all of this construction possible. We spend a certain amount, and they refund us some of it, because they want businesses to thrive in the community. Of course, the timing was brutal. We closed on the building in February of 2020, and in early March, we realized we couldn’t really do anything with people quarantining. So, I started getting 40-foot dumpsters delivered to the space and tearing everything out. It gave my brother-in-law and I something to do other than be frustrated, sitting at home. It was a great use of that time. We really put in some sweat equity … and now we’re just a few weeks away from being ready to open.
I’ve noticed that there are multiple seating options for future guests. What were your intentions in creating so many different spaces to hang out?
Our main focus was to recreate the community seating you would see at a beer garden, with the long table right in the middle of the taproom. It’s meant for people to pull up with a pint and meet someone new, you know, but there’s room for friends to come together and “gather.”
We’ll have about 85 to 90 seats inside, but outside on the main patio, we should have another 150 seats. So, there will be plenty of space for people to spread out. We have two kids, and as parents, we always look for somewhere where we can sit and have a beer without being on edge, waiting for someone to fall off a swing. We also have a side patio, which we intend to use to section off space for folks to hold events, like military retirements. There are a lot of people on base here in town who are in their twilight tour, and we want to be able to provide a special place for them to celebrate their careers.
So, when you guys do open, what can folks expect to see on tap?
The first style we fell in love with was Belgian-style beer. We love saisons, IPAs, tripels. So, that’s something that’s probably going to take up half of our menu at any given time. We’ll definitely do a Belgian tripel, and the Mango Milkshake IPA we’ve poured at our pop-ups has been received really well. The IPA does have lactose in it, so it has a little sweetness. The heavily hopped [IPAs] are more of a niche market, but we definitely want to have one that’s a middle-of-the-road IPA, around 6-7% ABV range, and heavy on the tropical hops — something that’s bright, refreshing. I also love a quadruple ale, at the other end of the tapline, to provide those coffee, chocolate notes. We’re collaborating with [Selma-based] Steel Toe Coffee Co. and Ranger Creek Brewing to source bourbon barrels for future projects, which we’ll have more of once it cools down. I did a crash course with a brewer that has experience with big brands like Sierra Nevada, and he told me, “Brew what you love, and let it evolve from there.” So, that’s what we’re starting with: what we love.
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