What's Up In Beerland?

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What's Up In Beerland?

There was a fascinating post in The Atlantic this week, about how the Internet has been quietly evolving over the past 10 years. The gist runs something like this - on the surface, everything looks the same: same infrastructure, same opportunities, nothing's really changed. Because the web is a platform. YOU could be the next Mark Zuckerberg. Freedom to the people!

But dig a little deeper, (this is the point of the article), and you suddenly realize everything has changed - there has been a profound shift; the "platform" is now dominated by the 5 largest companies on the planet (Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook). With user bases in the billions, they are the platforms. You'll NEVER be the next Mark Zuckerberg, because he's got a lock on all the users. (Good luck with your cute little startup...)

Like I said, it's a fascinating post. You really ought to read it. The point of this post, however, is just this: What if the same thing is happening in the craft beer world?

Just today I read about Wicked Weed selling out to AB-Inbev. And just yesterday, I read Chris' Herron's insightful piece on big beer's strategy behind all these acquisitions. Both are well worth reading - especially if you're interested in how we got here and where things are headed in Beerland. I think Herron nails what's going on:

The billion-dollar question AB InBev must answer is: how do they stop their most prized brands’ volumes and values from eroding due to a significant price gap at retail vs craft, when they cannot take the brands’ prices up without risk of losing even more significant volume to their competition given their consumer and competitive set for those brands? Answer: they bring the price of craft down.

He continues:

Did you catch that last point? That is the sleight of hand we’re not watching with the rest of the show going on. By buying craft brands and lowering the price, they can reduce the price-to-consumers, and force the hand of other craft brewers (particularly large regionals) to lower their price-to-consumer to compete. These price reductions on craft beer shrink the gap between AB InBev’s premium legacy brands and craft brands.

In other words, by purchasing well known, highly desirable craft beer brands (like Wicked Weed, 10 Barrel, etc), InBev can both ramp up distribution (squeezing shelf space), and lower prices (remember gas wars back in 70s?). That ultimately will force their smaller breweries to price themselves downward to try and compete. Which actually devalues their own brands.

It's pretty brilliant from a corporate strategy perspective.

But I suspect it has the potential to silently change the face of Beerland in much the same way that corporate "megafauna" have changed the landscape of the web?

And what drives a lot of it is dollars - corporations that always want to make a little bit more; consumers that always want to pay a little bit less.

Right now, there are more breweries in America than ever before (the vast majority are small and local, much like Lazarus). We also have access to the best beer in the history of the planet.

This is truly a "golden age" of beer.

But it's important to remember that what got us here was not the fact that your favorite IPA cost the same as Budweiser, or that you could get both in the same aisle at your local store.

On the contrary, I think what made craft beer so special in the first place - for me it KettleHouse's Cold Smoke and Double Haul - had a lot to do with the fact that I experienced it first hand, in a small, divey taproom that was packed full of locals.

(Aside: anyone visiting Missoula, Montana needs to check out the original Kettlehouse location on Myrtle Street; I know a huge new facility is in the works outside of town - I hope to God they don't shut that original location down!).

Yes it was expensive. But it was made by locals. You could talk to the brewers. You had to go there to get it. And it was consumed by locals.

I can't tell you how many people I met at that place. 

Which is a big part of why I'm in this place, now - starting Lazarus.

This isn't really meant to be a rant. Rather, it's just some random Thursday afternoon thoughts on what makes craft beer great (and what will keep it that way). And I think that finding your favorite local watering hole - and then supporting them by going there regularly! - is a big part of what will keep this industry healthy.

And now it's time to get back to work!

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A Super Secret Party

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A Super Secret Party

The hardest thing about the yearslong process of planning and building a new neighborhood brewery isn’t quite what you would expect.

It definitely wasn’t what we imagined.

It isn’t finding the perfect location in the heart of one of the hottest real estate markets in the country.

It’s not the rigmarole and bureaucracy of a complex permitting process.

Nor is it finding a talented brewer who jives with your vision while having the experience and skills to build a world class brewing program from scratch.

The most surprising thing about chasing this crazy dream, and taking steps everyday to close in on making it a reality, is just how easy it is to forget why we are doing this.

With an ever-growing list of important tasks eager to consume every last second of every single day,  it’s become too easy to lose sight of our mission.

So, for us and our sanity (and the future success of the brewery), as things ratchet up to yet another level of intense around here, we are taking time to stop, step back and share life with you, our family, friends, fans and neighbors.

Please come share life with us next Wednesday, June 15th at 7:30 p.m. at the future, nay current, home of Lazarus Brewing Co. (1902 E. 6th St.) and taste a little bit of what is coming very, very soon.

Please RSVP now to this private event as the capacity will be very limited and we want to ensure we are able to meet you and better share the vision and next steps for what we are doing.  

This event is going to be a unique opportunity to learn more about the amazing space we are building in the very place it will be built out. To meet our team, learn more about how we are different and welcome new brewmaster Matt Couch to Austin.

Plus, we will be sharing a unique opportunity for you to partner with us on the final stretch of this journey and help open Austin’s newest neighborhood brewery.

Because without you, the dream of a neighborhood brewery where we can all come together to share life is just a that, a dream.

And while we know most breweries don’t open their doors for a party before construction starts, we are not most breweries.

And the poor old building has been dead and empty for too long. So before we get in there and resurrect it over the next few months to make it the amazing space you deserve, we need you to help us breathe a life back into the bones.

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The Problem with Bottles AND Cans

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The Problem with Bottles AND Cans

There's a great article in The Atlantic today on The Rise of the Beer Can. If you're curious about this history of beer-in-cans (and you should be), it would be worth your while to check it out.

Personally, I've always preferred a six pack of glass bottles. Currently, of course, Aluminum is all the rage (and in some ways rightly so - it's lighter, easier to recycle, easier to take outdoors, etc). But that's actually where this article caught my attention.

You see, Aluminum comes from bauxite, the primary raw material used to make our beer cans. And most of that ore comes from countries near the equator. Then there's this...

Since bauxite is found so close to the surface of the earth, it is most often strip-mined. For every two tons of bauxite, there is one ton of extremely alkaline residue (often referred to as “red mud”) produced by the refining process, hostile to growth and life. According to the January 1972 Environmental Protection Research Catalog (published by the EPA), over 65,000 acres of land in Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, and Oklahoma have been contaminated by pits of waste water from bauxite mining; these man-made lakes are highly sulfuric, severely limiting animal life and vegetation for around 50 years. Arkansas, whose state rock is bauxite, provided about 90 percent of the U.S.’s production of bauxite during the 20th century, until largely tapping out in the early ’80s.
According to the United States Geological Survey, the U.S. consumed 9 million tons of bauxite in 2015, “nearly all of which was imported” which means we’re passing on the environmental burden onto other countries. 

Stop and think about that for a moment. Regardless of what you think about the Beer vs. Glass debate, there's something a little insidious about both. 

I've always pictured aluminum as relatively "clean" - you buy these shiny new cans at the store, enjoy the contents, then (hopefully) you drop them in a recycling bin when you're done. What could possibly be wrong with that?

But what this article reminds us is that there is still a tremendous environmental cost behind even our most recyclable technology. Americans consume a tremendous amount of beer (although the Chinese drink more!). And because we get most of our beer - whether in bottles or cans - at a local grocery store, that means there's a tremendous amount of raw material involved, whether silica or bauxite. I don't know if there are byproducts to making glass. But the idea that every 2 tons of bauxite yields 1 ton of alkaline "red mud" is staggering.

I grew up in Montana, where 100 years after the fact we're still cleaning rivers and flood plains contaminated by mining. I've seen the Butte Pit (once the worlds largest open pit copper mine; now a large lake whose waters are so toxic they've been know to kill migrating ducks and geese that land there). The point is, anything that's too alkaline (or too basic) makes it impossible for anything to live or grow. And the American love affair with craft beer currently generates a whole lot of that stuff in countries that are much poorer than we are. 

Don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying "boycott cans" (or "boycott bottles" either). And I certainly don't want folks to start drinking less beer. 

On the contrary, this article just reminds me why I'm such a fan of a third approach - brewing for pints-on-premise consumption, rather than distribution. In other words, what if we could skip bottling -AND- canning altogether (or at least a lot more often), in favor of local beer poured in local glasses for local neighbors? 

(When it comes to recycling, the bright-tank and the pint-glass are my favorites by far; you can reuse both of them THOUSANDS of times, simply by washing and sanitizing between uses!). 

To make this model work, we need a lot more small breweries that are more interested in selling their beer to local patrons than trying to distribute to bars and grocery stores all over their states or regions. But as someone who's from "out West" I've been seeing that model embraced for years now, and I believe that it works. 

Create great space and make great beer, and it's possible to make a living without ever needing to distribute. Again, this is nothing against the bigger approaches to brewing (I'm still happy to drink their beer, and I still pick up six packs from my local HEB). I'm just pointing out that there IS a model of brewing / distributing craft beer that actually has WAY less environmental impact than either glass or cans or kegs.

And in this day and age, I'm happy to drink to that.

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Meet Our Brewer

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Meet Our Brewer

We love getting to know people. We figured you might too. So our man Austin sat down with our new brewmaster and asked him for an interview...

Interview with Matt Couch, Lazarus' new Brewmaster...

What are you up to right now?

Just getting ready to head down to Austin and get started putting together the brewhouse and starting the brew.

Today I was out in the mud planting our hopyard all day here at Victory, and it took a little bit longer than expected, but it is nice too.

Just got the planting done today, turned into a longer day than expected. Had rain every day for the past two weeks, slow going. A little dirty

So you literally got your hands dirty?

Yeah, there was a lot of that. I wore my best farm work clothes today, and that was the extent of it.

How is the process going for you?

A move like this you get involved with the stress and trying to plan everything. First week I am starting to relax a bit, things are getting checked off the list, getting done. It’s go time now, it’s everything I wanted it to be so far.

I keep getting emails from people here, but I am going to have a lot of visitors in Austin.

So, now that the list is getting more checks, what are you looking forward to?

I am really looking forward to exploring Austin, in a lot of ways.

What’s your story, how did you get into brewing beer?

That’s a diverted story in a sense.

Well, tell it.

Being raised on a dairy farm, I wasn’t any stranger to work by any means. Worked with raw materials a lot as a kid. A lot of cows, lot of land, got started with field work right off the bat.

I was really more of a dreamer. I enjoyed the work, but I didn’t really want to do it the rest of my life.

So you knew it wouldn’t be dairy farming, so what was your dream job?

As a kid I read a lot of books about archaeology and convinced myself that is what I was going to do for a living. That and I watched a lot of Indiana Jones.

Decided to go to college for classical studies, archaeology as a part of that, and minored in philosophy. Definitely one of those things that when you get out of school you realized you chose a life path that isn’t everything you thought it would be in a lot of ways.

Treasure hunters are a very few-and-far-between breed.

So they didn’t give you a leather satchel and whip with your diploma?

No, not quite.

I realized I didn’t want to end up working in a museum, so I went back home and helped my family open up a restaurant and grocery store back on the farm. And part of the odd hours and jobs I had at the time, I started making wine of all things. Made wine, and did some stuff with what was growing out at the farm, raspberries among other things.

So wine first, and then into beer?

So I moved into brewing from there, I said to myself, “I like beer, I think I can make my own beer.” So I started homebrewing on an extract kit only.

So, like a Mr. Beer?

Yep, exactly, a Mr. Beer.

The brown plastic keg?

Yep, the two gallon batch.

I immediately knew there was more to it and immediately also knew it was something I wanted to do. I fell in love with it right off the bat. So while I was working I did some digging into schools first, because after looking at jobs I knew I would need to learn a bit more about brewing before I could get into it.

So how did you get to brewing school?

On the farm, I deconstructed an old stainless steel silo and sold it for scrap to raise money to pay my way to go to England. Got there, just fell in love with the atmosphere, the knowledge, the science and immediately knew it was a good decision. Popped around England and a few breweries in working during school to get the experience as part of my degree and walked away with a diploma in brewing.

Not quite an archaeology degree?

Nope, kind of an add-on.

Where to from there?

Looked at staying in England, but nothing available felt like a good fit, so came back home and took a job at a small brewery in Williamsburg, Virginia, using a very English system that I was very comfortable with, a classic direct-fire, old, old English brewing system.

Learned a lot from the head brewer, who was a huge influence on my brewing career, a phenomenally smart guy. And then the paychecks stopped, because they were struggling a bit, so I decided to look for another job to make sure I was safe.

Saw Victory was looking for brewers, so I applied, after talking to them felt like it was a good choice, a bigger brewery where I could learn a lot more. They hired me on.

What was it like at Victory?

I started off when they were expanding massively, growing faster than they could plan for.  so I started out as a shift brewer when they were doing 3 days on, four days off, four days on, three days off, shifts, running 24/7 basically, and I couldn’t get enough of it.

I spent all my time at the brewery, any free time I had I would be there just to learn more, trying to get as much as I could out of the experience.

Pretty soon, a senior brewer from the brewhouse was moving on to another position at the company and asked me to take on his role, so within a couple months I am a senior brewer unexpectedly.

Now, I'm teaching other guys how to run the brewhouse, how to hone in on efficiency, time, consistency the whole works. Trained a lot of good guys, lot of good brewers who are still there, some that have moved on, had a great experience developing talent there.

So you got comfortable doing that for a while?

Well, now Victory was still growing at a crazy rate.

Victory was expanding again to the new facility in Parkesburg and asked me to start that facility up, working with the director of brewery operations, and did that 4 months nothing but that, day in and day out, 18 hours a days getting things rolling.

Although I was exhausted and probably lost a few years off my life, I absolutely loved the experience, it was fantastic.

After  a year of doing that and getting things up to bar and honed in, they told me, “You work too much. You need to take a break. Why don’t you go back to the Downingtown facility, which you know so well and run that.”

About that same time I started doing all the hop contracting for Victory in the United States, New Zealand, Australia and England, covering a lot of basis there and doing planning and forecasting. Gathering raw materials as well as coming out with new recipes and new releases just working out they would work in the market.

Been doing that for the past year, working on a lot of different projects like the hop yard and fleshing out the much broader reach Victory wants to establish.

So how did you find Lazarus?

Met Christian, and we talked about the plans and how they wanted approach to brewing, and it fit extremely well personality wise and the concept was perfect. Absolutely perfect, well laid out. Went down to Austin for three days and fell in love with the city immediately.

So how did you realize it, what was it that made Austin stand out?

Got to Austin, it is nice and sunny, really warm, get right off the airplane and meeting Christian and get in his truck and head over to a taco truck, right off the plane.  Grabbing some street tacos, sitting outside and chatting on a beautiful day, it was very comfortable. Thought, this is a really nice city.  

Any other moments of your visit particular stand out?

The guys took me to the Skylark Lounge of all places, for a night out, and the music was just unbelievable. Amazing talent, fantastic atmosphere, just great people.. Everyone wanted to talk and tell their stories, and listen to yours, culture of feeling accepted without actually being a part of it, it was immensely different than the east coast.

The beer though, what did they have at the Skylark Lounge?

Wasn’t a whole lot of choice in that one, Sierra Nevada, a Founders, a Live Oak—I had one of those while I was there.

You had a Live Oak Hefe?

Yeah actually. Kind of a different atmosphere.

Was it in a can?

Yeah, it was in a can.

Now that it is in a can, you can get it at some random dives, which is awesome.

Yeah, it is a fantastic, fantastic beer. It is a world class hefe, honestly it really does nail it.

For dichotomy, the next day we went to Jester King. Whole different end of the spectrum, but to see a place like that in Austin, they have a little bit of everything going on. Very easy to find diversity.

So you are sitting there, listening to music and you decide I want to come help open this place?

Pretty much. Seeing a music atmosphere where somebody who is extremely talented and playing as the headliner is calling up guys from the crowd. Who just so happened to be there that night, to play and sing, just see the immense amount of talent and diversity that was involved in that show was definitely one of those experiences you will remember forever.

There is so much potential in Austin. It’s a huge opportunity of a city in general. Really is primed for people who are passionate and people who want to share what they are good at.

So you are thinking this is my kind of place, where I should share my passion?

Yeah, and is much as learn from the talents of other people as well. The opportunity to see so much diversity and creativity, to not be a part of it you are doing an injustice to yourself.

In the short little time, I got a picture of a city that is on the rise, even for a city that has grown as much as it has the past years, still has a lot of potential to be untapped and honed in on.

What was that first beer you brewed on that Mr. Beer?

It was actually an export lager, that they did, they had a kit for. A higher alcohol lager. I remember it came out pretty tasty. Which for the time it was about as simple as you can do, it was easy. Looking back it was very, very easy.

It was a pretty interesting thing to see, and I definitely didn’t do it right on fermentation temperatures or anything.

So you threw it in a closet?

I put it in the basement, said it would stay relatively cool down there, and it probably got a little warm.

Did you drink it all yourself?

I did create it for myself, but I had some friends over who had never tried homebrew before and not really stood out from your standard Yuengling that we got up there.

Which you just call a lager?

Yep, that’s a lager. That’s what you order. And that’s what you get. You get a Yuengling if you order a lager anywhere.

I told them it was a lager, and they tried it, and went well, wow, this is different, this is really good. Having the reception from sharing it with other people was huge.

I had a friend who was a pretty serious homebrewer, did all grain, was in a club, really got in it. Every time we talked about beers, shared beers back and forth, which he did a pale ale that was really, really good, and I had a brown ale for him to try, and we would just sat there for a couple hours and talk about brewing, how to do this, how to do that, that was the point I realized it was more than this than meets the eye.  

So how many batches did you brew on the Mr. Beer?

I probably did six before I decided I was going to school. And I never touched it again after that.

Is it in a closet? Or did you give it away?

I gave it to my brother, actually. I told him to go ahead and get started, make his own beer. That I would love to try some of the things he worked up, and it’s still sitting in the closet, he never picked it up. It is still waiting for its next user.

Maybe he will pick it up and soon enough you’ll be the new rival brother brewers.

Oh gosh, I know who you are talking about.

First beer you ever had?

Probably, the first one I had was Lion’s Head, that's a local PA.

You willing to share where and when that might have been?

It was a high school party, I will say that much. Definitely was not of age at that time. It was a field party, and I was 15 at the time, but we definitely had some easy access to beer in the rural part of Pennsylvania.

So what was your initial thought about beer?

My initial thought was, “I am an adult, and I am doing adult things out in a field with other high school students.”

That was the first concept of beer for me, and then a few years later I actually had Franziskaner, and realized there was a lot more to beer than Lion’s Head in a field.

So you started to develop a taste for other beers?

Realized there were other things out there I wanted to try and check out. One of the things that helped that a long, was my brother, the one I gave my Mr. Beer too, for a Christmas present when I was 22 signed me up for a beer of the month club, of course you get a lot of different craft beers, had an Abita, actually had a Victory at that time, just realized there is a much better breadth and spread of beer than what you are used to. More than your Budweiser, your Coors Light, your Keystone.

So you were already in to craft beer from college, or just dabbling?

In college it was more the most cheap and effective form, for a long time. A lot of Keystone Premium, and a lot of Old German, which I would not recommend ever picking up a case of. Right around 21 is when I started drinking a lot of Franziskaner and liked that a lot, and at 22 really got into the American side, of IPAs, and had a Golden Monkey, a Hop Devil, a Hopback Amber that Tröegs did, started to see that hops where the way to go.

And from there, there was no going back?

Nope, once your changed you know there is no going back from there.

Then you saw you were spending so much on beer, you might as well do this for a living?

Whenever they give you those PET bottles, you realize that is a lot of beer, I could make a lot of this pretty quickly, have a nice stock rotating for a while. It has been worth the investment for sure.

What was your experience like at Victory, a well-recognized force in the American craft brewing revival?

The first time I got to feel it [the importance of Victory’s brand], was when I got to spend some time with our sales rep in Ohio. He was taking me around to his accounts and introducing me to the people who we sold beer to, that were really interested in what we are doing. And talking people at an event that night, who were saying, ‘I love Victory. I love everything you guys do. Prima Pils is killer, your Hop Devil is killer, coming out with DirtWolf now is huge, Hop Wallop is amazing.’ Just hearing the feedback of people genuinely enjoying what you were working on to maintain that consistency and the freshness of product was a huge boost to helping me understand where I was in my career and who I was working for.

This was everything I wanted brewing to be, and the fact that they wanted to talk to you, as the brewer, and wanted to know how you did it, or what you were thinking when you did it, or how you get it this hoppy or this consistent. Wanted to know how you work, and it was an awesome experience to get the feedback from people who just adore what you do, was a lot of validation.

So, what moment stands at the most from your time at Victory?

The best experience was definitely the first year I went to the hop harvest, which is every September in Yakima, and a lot of brewers go out. And there is two bars in Yakima that you can go to, and brewers all go to these bars and they’re there. So you are talking to the guys from Founders and New Belgium and Bell’s, finding the head brewer here and the director here of this brewery, it was amazing to see that there is not just a huge cult following of consumers, but a great community of brewers who are willing to talk, share and just want to hang out and talk about life and share experiences.

What are the bars there in Yakima called?

The best one is the Sports Center.

What does the tap list look like there, what is everyone drinking there?

Bale Breaker.  You’re drinking a lot of Elysian. A little bit of O’Dell’s once in awhile, Founders makes it way up there and then a couple of local guys right down the road, Deschutes and Yakima Brewing Company are always on tap.

I remember having a Bale Breaker, which is owned by the Smith family that owns the Loftus ranch as well, and thinking, ‘Wow, these guys have it figured it out, you go to the place right where the hops come and have this fresh, hoppy beer.”

That’s in September, we are going to have to go?

Absolutely, that's a whole n'other interview in and of itself. Amazing stories, amazing people, old hats from the hop industry, it’s a fascinating amazing place. Fantastic people out there and they love beer.

How would you describe your brewing philosophy?

Discovering the new exciting brew—one of the favorite things I like to do is listen to people who drink and interpret their feelings, what their experiences are with different beers. Trying to find a beer that fits a time and place for them that they’ll remember forever. The connection you make with people from a product, is what I drive my creativity in brewing towards...finding a beer for everybody.

Where are some of your most favorite places in your beer life so far?

One of the memories that will definitely stick with me forever...I was over in England, and it was a beautiful spring. It was sunny in England, which is extremely rare, obviously. It was really beautiful weather and a couple guys from brewing school and I went to a local pub, a little chain over there called Fitzgerald’s. Beautiful day, we were sitting out on the patio, and I had a Timothy Keller’s Landlord, which is an English pale ale. The sun was shining, the beer tasted phenomenal, and it was one of those beers that you walk away thinking, ‘This is one of the best beers I have ever had in my life.’

And it was as much the time and the place and the feeling as it was the beer. And the beer was great.

Atmosphere, friends, sharing life together just does something to make beer taste better?

When you are in an atmosphere of comfort and you are having a beer that helps you relax and enjoy the moment, it really does make a difference.

Any other places have a particular special place, you were only in England a little bit?

In Downingtown just down from the brewery, there’s a little craft beer bar called “The Station Tap Room.” It has an immense variety of fantastic beer. The place is tiny, it is always packed, elbow to elbow, but the variety that you get, the ability to try beers from all over the country in this little spot in a town that is not very big. Great food and really good beer selection, and a nice culture of people, it’s one of my favorite spots to go when not at Victory.

A fantastic little joint right by the railroad station.

So who’s there at the Station Tap Room?

Usually just friends from around town, that I’ve met over the years. It’s a nonwork crowd, just people who are there to enjoy the food and the beer and catch up on what is going on in everybody’s life.

What are you eating and drinking?

My choice there is either a Racer Five if it's on, because they do rotate pretty quick, and their Tired Hands Anniversary beer that they have there is always a good choice, they have one made specifically for them from Tired Hands locally. And I love anything that Founder’s does, and if Bell’s is on I’ll have a Two Hearted, for sure.

Yeah, it’s hard to beat a Two Hearted.

They have nailed it with that one. It’s a fantastic beer. Whenever you have a beer that is full on grapefruit without all the bitterness, it’s a delight. That much flavor and that much aroma, it is hard to resist.

Have you ever visited Austin before you came for the interview a few months back?

No, that was the first time I had ever come to the city. I had tried to get down there a couple years ago for South By Southwest, just wanted to see the madness, but it didn’t work out.

What had you heard about Austin, what was your impression of the place?

The first time I had heard about it was, I used to listen to a lot of outlaw country. Willie Nelson at the time, and hearing about him spending a lot of time there in Austin, and where he congregated with the guys like Haggard and Waylon, hearing the stories about them roaming through Texas and Austin was always a place that would stop by and spend a lot of time in. And so I knew there was history there, and it was a place to think about.

Then, years later I was listening to a lot of Gary Clark Jr., and discovered him and knowing he came out of that music scene and knowing that there was still a music scene happening down there. Something is going on down that way.

I talked to a lot of friends who had gone to ACL, and they said, ‘You gotta go to this city at some point. You’ve got to travel down there at some point, because there is so much music, so much culture, it’s a really fast-rising city.’ Which is why I was looking at South by Southwest, thinking now there is a good chance to go see a city and hang out there and get a feel for it.

And then I heard that they had barbecue that was unbelievable, and it gave me even more incentive in the back of mind that yeah, I’d like to check out Austin sometime.

So it was the barbecue?

There are a lot of cities where you are supposed to go for the barbecue, but my friends were like, Austin is still the best, hands down.

So, did you grab barbecue when you were in town?

No, we didn’t get a chance to. We were visiting other spots, so I haven’t got to check that out yet.

Well, when you get down here will have to do that, we’ll even do Franklin, five-hour line and all.

I have heard that Franklin is a long wait. [Laughs].

What was your impression of the craft beer market here in Austin?

That amazed me the most, the breweries are doing a solid job, but the city is still finding an identity, and it hasn’t really settled on anyone yet, there is a lot of diversity but it hasn’t quite found something to become unique to Austin yet. It is extremely inviting to be a part of that, and the potential that is still there for craft brewers.

So what does being a neighborhood brewery in Austin mean to you?

You can be a location where you see a lot of regulars from within a walking distance from where you are at. Those are the people that are going to drive your success as well as the appreciation of what you are doing. They will feel like they will have a unique spot for them to go to as well. It is really sharing that community.

Had you ever had any Austin beer before getting down here, heard anything?

The only thing I think I had, which wouldn’t necessarily be Austin, Real Ale I had something from them years ago. One of the brewers there was a former Victory employee and he came back up for a visit and brought some with him and we all tried it and shared it.

I had heard a lot about Live Oak, but had never tried anything up in PA. Their hefe was their legendary beer, honestly. Besides that it seems like a community trying to supply its own consumers and not getting out beyond the walls much. I had heard about Jester King too, but hadn’t had anything. Coming down and seeing the breweries there and what they were doing was cool to get immersed in the culture and what they have worked on.

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Brewmaster

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Brewmaster

Lazarus Scores with Victory Brewmaster!

PRESS RELEASE - May 19, 2016.

Lazarus Brewing Co. welcomes Matt Couch of Victory Brewing as it’s new brewmaster.

Over the past five years, Couch has helped Victory expand its reputation as one of the top craft breweries in America (ranked 26th last year in total sales volumes among all craft brewers). A significant part of his job has been managing growth without sacrificing quality.

Now Couch gets to tackle a new challenge: launching a small-batch, pints-on-premise brewery specifically designed for Austin’s increasingly savvy craft beer scene. It is a major change, but one he is looking forward to.

Lazarus Brewing is located on the corner of East Sixth and Chicon (across the street from Whisler's). It is currently under construction. When the brewery opens this fall, Couch will take the helm of a 10-barrel system that produces a mere 1500 barrels of beer annually. Yet with coffee, a kitchen, and 16 house taps at his disposal, he inherits an opportunity that would be the envy of many large production breweries: Couch gets to create the taproom of his dreams, with a wide range of eclectic beers designed exclusively for local patrons. 

“We feel like Matt is a rising star in the brewing world.” says Lazarus founder Christian Cryder.

“Matt’s experience at Victory is impressive, but as we talked to the people who have worked with him, for him, and over him, we kept hearing the same thing—Matt isn't just an amazing brewer, he is also a great person.

“We knew we needed someone like Matt on our team, and we got the guy we wanted.”

As brewing manager at Victory, Couch helped guide research and development, recipe formulation and special projects—like planting their own experimental hop yard (a messy project he tackled alongside his girlfriend Alexis Grieco, who also worked for Victory). He also helped design, install and achieve Victory’s signature consistency on a massive new 200-barrel brewhouse—valuable experience for a new company opening a startup brewery from scratch.

“It’s go time now. This is everything I wanted it to be,” Couch said. “A few months ago I met Christian, and as we talked about the plans and how they wanted approach brewing, it fit extremely well personality wise and the concept was perfect. Absolutely perfect and well laid out. Then I went down to Austin for three days and fell in love with the city immediately.”

Distributed to 35 states and nine countries, Couch and his colleagues have worked hard to create great beer that is enjoyed all over the world. Fan favorites like Hop Devil and Prima Pils have been satisfying thirsty Austinites for years, long before Couch ever set foot in the city himself.

“I love having a location where we'll get to see a lot of regulars who live within walking distance of our space. Those are the people that drive your success, because they can really appreciate what you are doing,” Couch said. “We get to create this incredible space with world class beer, for people we'll know on a first name basis. It is really about sharing that community."

Unlike many local breweries, Lazarus plans on selling all it's beer on premise, out of the taproom. That means if you want to taste Couch's brews, you'll have to visit them on site at 6th and Chicon.

"We call it a zero-distribution model," says Cryder. "If you want our beer, you'll have to come here. But we think that's part of what makes the Lazarus experience so special. And Matt will be a key part of that equation."

Born and raised on a Pennsylvania dairy farm, Couch learned the value of hard work at an early age. He also knows a thing or two about the importance of quality raw materials.

Given his experience at Victory—managing hop sourcing and contracts, working with malt suppliers, leading research and development—Couch knows that great beer begins with great ingredients, a foundation he will use to build his own brewing program.

Couch describes his personal brewing philosophy, which will help guide what's on tap at Lazarus: “One of my favorite things is listening to people talk about the beer they're drinking—to interpret their feelings, and learn about what they experience in different beers.”

“I love trying to find a beer that fits a time and place that someone will remember forever. The connection you make with people over what you've created, that is what drives my creativity in brewing. Finding a beer for everybody.”

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Q&A

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Q&A

Hats off to Arianna, over at Austin 360, for her excellent little article on Lazarus Brewing (check it out here!). She asked some great questions, and we thought you might enjoy reading our answers... 

Q: Who are the people involved in Lazarus, and why did you decide to open a brewery together?

That sounds like such a simple question, but it's actually quite a story. To answer it, I need to go back a bit. 

I spent 14 years in software back in the first internet boom and was very successful, but also very unsatisfied. Eventually I decided to make a career change and went into...ministry (yikes). I went to seminary, and then I became a pastor (mostly to people who had given up on church). But along the way I also started brewing beer (after the hops I had planted exploded and took over my garden). And then our little church partnered with Big Sky Brewing in Missoula, MT, to brew a beer called All Souls Ale (all the profits went to support a local non-profit we had helped start).

But in the process of all that, I became friends with Bjorn, the founder of Big Sky (who definitely wasn't into church). But Bjorn kept telling me I should start a brewery (pastors used to do this!). And eventually I decided he might be right. So two and a half years ago we moved to Austin to pursue this crazy dream (my third career, I guess). And now it's finally becoming a reality: the funds are raised, we have an incredible location, an even more incredible brewer, and all systems are go.

So who's involved? Well, my wife Marilyn has been roasting coffee for 10+ years (so coffee is definitely a component). And Marcus was the GM at Hopfields (we've known him since he was 10, so that was a natural connection too). I met our taco guy at a food truck here in Austin (he started teaching me how to make stuff the way they do back in Mexico, and somewhere along the way we just became friends). And our brewer is still under wraps (we need a couple more weeks before we can reveal - let's just say this it was a very fortuitous set of events that allowed us to connect). 

So that's the team, or the most visible parts of it anyway. And everyone is on their own unique journey. But somehow, all these crazy storylines converge around coffee, beer, tacos and friendship here  in east Austin. And so here we are...

Q: What kinds of beers are y'all seeking to make?

Again, this is a really good question. First of all, we're a pints on premise operation (what I'd call a West Coast style brewery). Our focus is not on distribution, or trying to get our beer into as many places as possible. Instead our focus is on creating a space where people really want to hang out, all through the day, multiple times a week (if you want our beer, you'll have to come here). This is the kind of brewery we fell in love with when we discovered craft beer, and we felt like it hadn't really caught on yet in a place like Austin. 

So we'll have a 10 barrel system (think 310 gallon batches), with 16 taps. Many of those will be "goto" beers that are familiar and accessible (IPAs, stouts, lagers, etc). In my mind, this is where you demonstrate that you know how to make classic beers well. So we'll have a wide range of beers that appeal to a wide range of people. But because we have a second building (the former Cool Store), we also  have a unique opportunity to create specialty beers that are much more challenging and interesting (think sours, wilds, and barrel fermented beers... almost like a mini-Jester King right in the heart of Austin). And some of these will be high gravity seasonals that we package in 750s and sell on premise for people to take home.  

We'll also make our own rootbeer, and we'll have topo chico and mexican cokes, as well as a selection of wines, for people that don't drink beer. And of course, great espresso. We're kind of saying "What kind of beverages play a big part of people's lives?" and lets create a space that brings all of those together under one roof. With street tacos. You can't go wrong with great tacos...

Q: How is progress coming on the brewery? When should people expect it to open, and where is it located? 

We've got a great location on the northeast corner of E 6th and Chicon (it's about 12 blocks E of I35, right across the street from Whisler's and just down from Zilker Brewing, which is a great place, btw!). We have two buildings (the old Bike Texas building, and the old Cool Store space). And right now, our main focus is on building out the Bike Texas building, which will be the main brewing / taproom space. We're currently in permitting (which never moves as fast as you'd like), but we hope to be doing construction in July and to be open by October. Knock on wood...

Q: Where did the name Lazarus Brewing come from? What's the origin of the name? 

Well, the connection might be obvious given my background. It comes from the Bible – Lazarus was a guy that Jesus raised from the dead. I like the imagery (death to life). I like the irony (modern brewing has Christian roots; I'm a pastor starting a brewery); but mostly I just think it's a great, strong name that feels like it fits my own story. So we ran with it. 

Thank you so much, Christian. Appreciate your response.

Sure thing. I hope it helps. Holler if you'd like to know more... Or sign up to get updates!

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Story in these Bones

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Story in these Bones

I'm not sure if you can see it, but there's a Story in these bones. We found proof right up there in the rafters, where it had been hiding for 60+ years: "J. M. Saunders. Oct. 3, 1950."

Evidently, that's when the roof was replaced. We know the building was built in the mid-40s, but there are signs of a fire, electrical perhaps, places where steel trusses melted, and then were patched back together later on. The wood ceiling is newer, of course; and Mr. Saunders was likely one of the workmen who helped piece things back to normal all those years ago, just two short years after the end of WWII. 

Austin was barely 130,000 people back then. But our building was there for it. Imagine the change it has witnessed. If walls could talk, think of the stories they could tell. 

We know that it has served as various forms of office space throughout the years. Several people have told us it once housed a post office. Most recently, it was the home of Bike Texas (a stellar little non-profit that is making Texas a much friendlier place for bicyclists!).

And through it all, there was that roof: sturdy doug fir, tucked up above the rafters, hidden behind first one and then two drop-ceilings, just waiting to be exposed after all these years. It's stunning already. Soon it will be even better. 

In some ways, that ceiling makes a pretty good metaphor for Lazarus (dead things coming back to life in new and exciting ways).

But we think the Story angle is even more significant. Because the way we share life is by sharing stories: over coffee, beer, food, and especially in great old spaces that are storied themselves. 

We love a good Story. And that's why we'll be doing our best to share them on this site. Ours. Yours. Others. It should be fun.

Sign up if you'd like to follow along...

 

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Change is Coming

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Change is Coming

Hey folks, change is definitely in the air. After two and a half years, we're finally on the verge of getting to work opening the brewery. Plans are done, equipment has been ordered, we are in process with permitting. By early July we should be ready to start construction. Cool!

These are exciting times. But also a little bittersweet...

Some of you asked us if the Cool Store closing. Sadly, it is (Etelvina started letting folks know earlier this week). In some ways, we're just as bummed as you are to see it go. At the same time, we're thrilled that she was able to open a small food truck just down the street (Tacos y Mas, right behind Whisler's - go check it out!). We love it when locals find a way to keep being local.

We're also thrilled to have an opportunity to keep coolness flowing. After all: "Beer. Wine. Smokes. Peace." What could be cooler than that? Well, a brewery is not a bad option.

For right now, not much is going to change with the Cool Store. It'll stay pretty much as is, providing our grain handling / lab space, while we focus on turning the Bike Texas building into a killer brewhouse and taproom (wait till you see what we've got planned!). 

Down the road, though, we've got plans for the Cool Store space... Big plans. Cool plans. You see, if you want to do sours and wilds right (keeping your funky beers funky and your clean beers clean), it really helps to have a second building... and we've got one. So we see this space becoming headquarters for our spontaneous fermentations and barrel aging. Kind of a funky funk-works sort of space. 

It's not quite the same thing as the Cool Store, but it's pretty darn cool.

So here's to the Cool Store, and here's to what comes next! Sign up for updates if you'd like us to keep you in the loop...

Cheers!

Lazarus

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How Big is Craft Beer?

How big is craft beer in America? This image helps put it into perspective - it's the number of craft breweries by country (and it illustrates just how amazing the Golden Age of beer has been).

 

 

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Benedicta: Monks, Music, & Beer

So NPR's got a great interview that's well worth 8 minutes of your day. It's a group of Italian monks that eat, sleep, and pray together. They also sing. And make beer.

"The monastic life is very plain and ordinary," says Father Cassian Folsom, the founder and prior of the Monks of Norcia, ensconced in the St. Benedict Monastery in central Italy. "You get up, and you pray, and you do your work and go to bed and then the next day you do the same thing."

Go ahead and give it a listen...

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Who we are

Hey, we're new here, so allow us to introduce ourselves: we're a husband and wife team that's opening our own coffee shop and brewery (you don't have to be crazy, but it helps!).

But why? Good question. On the one hand, we've grown tired of a consumeristic lifestyle, and have gradually fallen in love with a slower, more sustainable approach to life - one full of coffee, beer, food and friends. Christian is the fly-fishing Presbyterian minister who's been brewing beer since he planted his own hops back in 2010. Marilyn is the master of home cooked hospitality who's been roasting her own coffee beans since 2002. 

And In 2013 we decided it was time for something new. 

So we packed up and moved to Austin, Texas to pursue a crazy dream - to open a small, neighborhood "west coast" style of brewery, emphasizing taproom, not distribution. We want to create the kind of "favorite place" that we'd love to hang out in - full of great coffee, beer, and tacos. And lots of interesting people. 

Lazarus Brewing Co. is the fruit of that vision, and we look forward to sharing it with you.

Christian & Marilyn