The family behind new Leander brewery Humble Pint never expected their move to Austin from the Pacific Northwest in 1999 would be permanent. A software engineer by trade, Jared Wennstrom planned to work a couple years at Dell’s corporate offices and then take his family — wife, Alicia, and daughter and son Hailey and Nate — back to Oregon.
But as many do, the Wennstroms fell in love with the Austin area, and now that Jared and Alicia’s grandchildren are here, there’s no chance they’ll move back to their original home. Instead, they decided to create a brewpub inspired by the Pacific Northwest’s thriving craft beer scene in Leander. After numerous construction delays, Humble Pint was recently completed and began selling beer and pizza to go last week to a steady stream of customers.
Austin has become a hub of craft breweries in only the past couple of decades. The Pacific Northwest as a whole, however, has been an epicenter of the industry since the 1980s, when Jared Wennstrom was in college. He has loved craft beer since those early days.
"We want to bring a Pacific Northwest sensibility to making American ales here because that’s what we love," he said.
By that, he means both well-balanced and low-in-alcohol beers such as the Hillsdale Pale Ale on Humble Pint’s opening menu. The 5.4% ABV brew is named in tribute to a pale ale by a Pacific Northwest chain, McMenamins, that has been operating since 1983. Its Hillsdale Brewery & Public House location, founded in October 1985, created the now-classic Hammerhead Pale Ale, which remains one of the best beers Wennstrom’s ever had.
His Hillsdale beer isn’t the same recipe, but he emulated the Hammerhead’s "remarkable balance between the hops and malts."
All four of Humble Pint’s opening beers, including a blonde and brown ale, are also no higher in alcohol than 5.7%. Though upcoming beers — including a Belgian dubbel being brewed this week — will be more boozy than these initial offerings, it’s important to Wennstrom to make sure his brewpub has the kinds of beers people can have more than one of, so they’ll stay awhile when it’s safe again to be out and about.
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The Wennstroms hadn’t wanted to open Humble Pint for takeout only during the coronavirus pandemic. But it had taken them longer than expected to find a location in Williamson County, acquire the requisite permitting for the 4,000 sq. ft. space they leased in 2018, and get all the construction done in a timely manner. Once Humble Pint was ready for business this spring, there was no sense in delaying the opening any longer. They just took extra time to shift to the to-go only model, Wennstrom said.
He has been continually impressed by the generosity of the craft brewing industry. He noticed it in 2017 when he took the Colorado Boy Brewery Immersion Course, which helped to connect him with an active group of alumni who are always available to give advice on opening and running a brewery. And he’s seen it time and again in the Austin area, with nearby brewers from Whitestone, Red Horn and the also newly open Barking Armadillo ready to share tools and tips.
"We’ve been the beneficiary of people’s generosity many times. Their willingness to share with you," he said. "That’s why we chose the word ’humble’ for the name of our brewery — we don’t want to forget that. Also, beer and pizza are pretty humble foods to begin with, and it’s easy to allow your ego to get inflated by people saying your beer and pizza are very good. But we want to remain humble. We think it’s important."
At the moment, Humble Pint is a family affair: Wennstrom’s daughter, Hailey, 28, and son, Nate, 17, have been working behind the scenes with their parents.
For his part, Wennstrom enjoys having his children at the brewpub for several hours at a time. He can have precious one-on-one time with Hailey, who has her own family to take care of now. And he has fun making pizzas alongside Nate, who hadn’t done it before but has now made hundreds "and is very good at it," Wennstrom said.
"I’m loving" having this time together with the kids, he said. "I think the feeling is somewhat mutual, but you’d have to ask them to be sure."
Humble Pint’s next hire is going to be a prep cook: The pizza dough and sauces are whipped up from scratch in the kitchen there, a time-consuming job that Wennstrom would prefer to pass to someone else. Making pizza isn’t the same hassle, as it’s a relaxing task that allows his mind to drift amid the chaos of running a small business.
Another decision the family will have to make soon is when to open for on-site dining and drinking. After Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s announcement that restaurants and other businesses can open at 25% capacity starting Friday, Wennstrom had been mulling it over but thinks that constraining capacity at that level would be difficult to enforce. If phase two of Abbott’s reopening plan is carried out around May 18, Humble Pint may offer patio seating only at that time.
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There’s no doubt Wennstrom is ready for the point when Humble Pint can host visitors safely inside and out. He and his wife’s vision for the brewpub is as a welcoming gathering place with house beers that aren’t widely distributed beyond its walls. They gave Humble Pint a homey feel in part through a back wall on which Alicia Wennstrom painted a mural of gray-blue mountain ranges.
Customers can see the mountain mural when they walk up for their takeout pizza and beer orders. (You can also stay in your car and have your order brought directly to you, if preferred.) People don’t necessarily think of the Pacific Northwest when they see it, but Wennstrom likes that it brings to mind places they’ve been.
"We expected to have to explain why there are mountains on our wall, and more often than not people have volunteered that it looks like places they’ve seen, like Monterey (in California), and we find that very satisfying, that people enjoy seeing it even though you don’t really have mountains here" in Texas, he said.
Located at 11880 Hero Way West, Leander, Humble Pint is open for pick-up or curbside service noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, with food orders available at 4 p.m. on those days.
For more information, visit humblepint.com.