Friends since childhood, Jacob Trimm and Bryan Cantu knew there would be challenges to opening and running a brewery — but they never expected a viral pandemic would close the doors to Georgetown’s Barking Armadillo Brewing just two weeks in.
Barking Armadillo opened its taproom the first weekend in March, shortly after Austin officials had canceled South by Southwest because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. People weren’t as fearful of going out as they would come to be, Trimm said, and flocked to the new brewery, tasting the four house beers, playing arcade games and ordering tacos from the on-site food truck, Takavron.
Since then, however, the three co-founders, who include Trimm’s wife Amanda, have had to face something most owners of new breweries do not — how to get their fledgling business to take flight even as its only source of income, the taproom, is shut down because of a globally spreading virus.
During weekend two, the grand opening on March 14 and 15, there was already less of a crowd because "people could see the horizon and were staying home," Trimm said. The following week, the three co-founders could see it, too, and decided they needed to close the brewery and offer beer to go only, a week before Williamson County’s shelter-in-place mandate had been announced.
And it hadn’t been the only obstacle for the new brewery owners, either.
"The first setback for us was a massive gas leak in Georgetown (last February) that delayed construction for 3 months. The brewery fell within the evacuation zone," Trimm said. "We finally finished with construction, opened up the brewery to everyone and had to close it after two weeks. A historic pandemic wasn’t really in the business plan."
But he’s quick to add that Barking Armadillo is going to figure it out and adjust to the current reality, as everyone else is.
Trimm and Cantu have been fans of craft beer for about 15 years, developing a taste for it at a time before there were breweries in practically every neighborhood and taps at bars and restaurants that weren’t taken up by macro options. They started homebrewing seven years ago when Amanda’s dad gave Trimm an old homebrew kit that he wasn’t going to use. At first, homebrewing was just a hobby for the nurse by trade.
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"We both had full-time jobs and weren't thinking of quitting," he said. "But then early last year, we got a little more serious and decided we were ready to do something else, and the opportunity arose in Georgetown. We stumbled upon a good location that was large enough for our vision of a little brewpub."
At 507 River Bend Drive, Georgetown, the 5,500 sq. ft. space is divided in half, with one section serving as the production brewery and the other the taproom. Sitting at the bar, patrons can see the 10-barrel system through interior windows. The tasting area, he said, is technically, two main rooms: one with the bar top, multiple tables and TVs, the other with a few arcade games. It’s the kind of place where people, one day, can come and stay awhile.
For now, the Barking Armadillo team is selling beer to go in growlers during designated hours: 2 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, 12 to 6 p.m. Saturdays and 12 to 4 p.m. Sundays. Those hours are also when on-site food truck Takavron serves up tacos. (Cans and crowlers are hard to come by for the fledgling brewery, though that’s ideally another option Trimm and Cantu would like to offer, too.)
Since the first weekend, Cantu, as head brewer, has produced additional beers. Available for curbside pick-up currently are a coffee milk stout, double dry-hopped IPA, saison, Irish red ale and a hefeweizen. The red ale has proven particularly popular. A strawberry witbier is forthcoming. Barking Armadillo — playfully named as a nod to Texas pride — intends to produce a range of styles.
"We like to brew what we like to drink, which is pretty much across the spectrum," Trimm said, noting that he and Cantu like to visit bars or breweries to try beers they’ve never had before.
Formerly of Houston, the two friends and coworkers now live four doors down from each other in Georgetown and have carpooled to their brewery five minutes away. Spending so much time together hasn’t resulted in arguments or conflicts, Trimm said; "he’s like family."
He’s not sure at this point when it’ll be safe again for the Barking Armadillo to host visitors in the taproom. But he’s been encouraged by the support from Georgetown residents.
"It’s a matter of finding the safest path forward for our patrons but also figuring out how to keep the lights on," he said. "So far, the Georgetown community has been amazing during all this. People have been coming by who aren't big beer drinkers just to support us. Our neighbors, other businesses. The community is the only reason we are afloat right now. We're very fortunate in that sense, I think."
For more information, visit barkingarmadillo.com.