In between the low-slung building housing Better Half Coffee & Cocktails and the Quonset hut next to it that is about to become Hold Out Brewing is a massive, hollowed-out live oak tree at least 400 years old.
A co-founder of both projects, Grady Wright can see it from the desk he wedged into a corner on the mezzanine level of Hold Out where he works now to stay distanced during the coronavirus pandemic. Both Better Half and Hold Out have a wall of windows that overlook this tree, which three arborists have cared for in the few years since Wright, his brother Matt, and other business partner Matthew Bolick began leasing the large property just west of downtown Austin.
The indefatigable live oak was the first sign for them that this place was special — an ideal expansion into something new once their first project, the beer- and coffee-loving Wright Bros. Brew & Brew, had proven a success in East Austin.
But Better Half turned out to be much easier to open than Hold Out, which was delayed by almost two years, Grady Wright said, because of extensive utilities updates the growing team of co-founders had been told to do by the city.
At this point, they’re just grateful to be able to open at all, even if it’s not in the way they had originally envisioned. Amid the pandemic, Hold Out Brewing opens for curbside pick-up of beer and burgers, among other pub grub, at noon on May 7.
After the trio’s initial viewing of the property, "we had a series of meetings asking if we could take on a concept of this size, and if so, what would the two be?" Wright said. "We decided the Quonset hut felt like it needed to be a brewery. At that point, I started calling a bunch of people I knew who started their own breweries or worked at breweries and asked for a feasibility check. I was basically asking my friends if they thought it was possible for me to pull off. ’Can I do this, or am I an idiot?’"
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Quickly, it became clear the Wrights and Bolick could not only pull it off, but they could attract top talent to each concept, too. Executive chef Rich Reimbolt, general manager Mark Stowe and head brewer Brent "Schmitty" Sapstead are also co-founders of Hold Out who have had a say in the creation of the business. (Reimbolt and Stowe have an equal amount of duties at Better Half as well, in their respective roles.)
Sapstead, for instance, was able to put together the 8 1/2 barrel brewhouse to his liking. Formerly of Real Ale Brewing, he knew it would be important to maximize the tight space but decided not to stack tanks like Pinthouse Pizza does, as had been the original plan. With the brewing system — which is located at the front of the building, with a cozy taproom in the back and a large patio on one side — he makes lagers and hop-forward ales.
Or, at least, that’s what Hold Out is launching with: the Ol’ Gil Pilsner, the Nice ’n’ Clean American Lager, the Thumb Puncher Pale Ale and the Koala Takedown IPA (the latter named in part for its use of Australian and New Zealand hops).
"Our menu was going to be very pale ale and lager-driven with the idea that people would sit out here on the patio drinking beers in the heat," Sapstead said. "So (with the pandemic) we had to pivot 100% the other way, and now we have to figure out how to come back to the middle a little bit."
By that, he means there are plans already in the works for Hold Out to also offer the styles that motivate people to keep buying beer to go while taprooms are closed — juicy IPAs, fruited beers, "anything hyped and limited-release that looks good on Instagram and isn’t available in stores," he said. Wright cited Austin Beerworks and St. Elmo Brewing’s recent virtual collaboration, a pair of hazy pale ales, as an example. Sapstead wants to find a balance between both worlds.
At least the extensive delays on the Hold Out project have given him plenty of time to hone the recipes, which he crafts with Hold Out’s other brewer, Hayden Winkler. Winkler is previously of North by Northwest’s shuttered south location.
The Wrights and Bolick — who have also launched other businesses in the years in between Better Half and Hold Out, including Little Brother on Rainey Street and the Lark & Owl Bistro inside a bookshop in Georgetown — took over a former Enterprise Rent-A-Car location with Better Half and an events venue with Hold Out. Only one needed major updates done.
Wright said he thought Hold Out would open by the 2018 World Cup. Then, city officials declared he and the other co-founders would need to update the electrical system, the water supply line going into the building and the sewer main coming out of it. The work would prove to be extensive and time-consuming.
But Hold Out didn’t gets its name because of how long it has taken the brewery to open. Instead, it’s a nod to the property as an outlier amid a rapidly changing city. Hold Out’s Quonset hut — possibly from Camp Mabry — was moved to its current spot on West Fourth Street in the 1970s and conjoined with a 1950s house that is now the Hold Out kitchen.
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"I had the idea that because of our proximity to downtown and all the skyscrapers you can see from our patio and the charmingly shitty nature of our buildings, it just feels like this place shouldn’t exist, and we’re thankful that it does," Wright said. "Our goal was to preserve this property and the sort of Old Austin feel that we’ve been clinging to. We wanted to hold onto the character of weird, funky spaces and our city’s habit of doing things in a casual manner."
Recently, the Wright and Bolick businesses received funding for Paycheck Protection Program loans funded by Frost Bank. It’s a relief for the group of entrepreneurs, who are now more sure that they can weather the coronavirus shutdown.
Located at 1208 W. Fourth St. (and with its own parking lot separate from Better Half’s), Hold Out Brewing will be open for curbside pick-up only 12 to 8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday starting May 7. The beers will be in 12 oz. cans; the food includes burgers, hot dogs, chicken wings and salads.
For more information, visit holdoutbrewing.com.