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Houston-made Karbach beers set to make Austin debut

Arianna Auber
aauber@statesman.com

A Houston brewery that in December announced plans to triple the amount of beer it made last year, and then plenty more than that in years to come, keeps expanding – now to Austin.

The mainstay beers of Karbach Brewing Co., founded in 2011 by longtime veterans in the beer industry, will be on draft in bars and restaurants around Austin starting next week, as will a couple of seasonals.

But in the midst of so much transition – brewmaster Eric Warner said a new canning line is being installed in the spring because the current one is “screaming in pain” from overwork – Karbach is probably not going to be found on local store shelves in its usual colorful cans and bottles right away. That might come later, in the summertime, once Warner and the other co-founders figure out what they can handle.

As it is, they can handle quite a lot. Karbach will eventually start brewing in a 19,000-square-foot, two-story building on 1.2 acres of land near the current spot on Karbach Street, as the Houston Chronicle reported last month. The $15 million project will allow Karbach the ability to instantly begin producing 60,000 barrels annually once the new brewery is up and running – quite a jump from the 19,000 or so barrels in 2013.

Some of the beer is going to Austin, in addition to San Antonio and College Station, where Karbach is already also available. Next week, find the Hopadillo IPA (the brewery’s bestseller), the Weisse Versa Wheat, the Weekend Warrior Pale Ale, Sympathy for the Lager and the Rodeo Clown Double IPA on draft in bars such as Craft Pride, the Flying Saucer, the Dig Pub and the Draught House. Also keep an eye out for Karbach seasonal Mother-in-Lager, a dark German-style lager, and specialty seasonal Hellfighter Imperial Porter.

Many places are doing Karbach tap takeovers in honor of its Austin debut, where in addition to all of those beers, we’ll have the chance to try special archived beers from Karbach like a bourbon barrel-aged porter. Warner said he and the other brewers have bottled it a few different times, so they have some quasi-vintage versions of it that might not all taste the same depending on the barrels they used.

Warner, who’s been in craft brewing for more than 20 years, including an 11-year stint with Flying Dog as brewmaster and then chief executive, will also be in Austin starting Tuesday at Craft Pride so that beer enthusiasts can meet him and learn more about Karbach.

He was originally only a consultant for the guys wanting to open Karbach, but liked their vision so much that he helped to found the brewery as brewmaster.

Since September 2011, when Karbach first started selling its beers in Houston (at first just the Hopadillo IPA and the Weisse Versa Wheat), the brewery has seen massive success. What’s the secret?

Warner attributes a lot of factors to Karbach’s explosive growth, including the long history of craft beer among all the founders. The others, Warner said, established and came from CR Goodman, a statewide beer distributor in Texas.

“A lot of times you find craft breweries get started by homebrewers in their late 20s, but it was different for us because we’ve been in the business for 20 plus years,” Warner said. “It helped to know the ins and outs of brewing, where the pitfalls are, how best to distribute. We’re also working very hard and firing on all cylinders and getting good feedback from people about our beer.”

The location of the brewery certainly doesn’t hurt, either. The biggest city in Texas, home to more than 2 million people, boasts only five craft breweries: St. Arnold, No Label, 8th Wonder and Buffalo Bayou in addition to Karbach. Needless to say, Houston is hungry for beer.

Make that the whole state.

“I think (Texas breweries) are largely in the same boat, balancing so much in their own backyard that they don’t have much to spread elsewhere,” Warner said. “But the whole Texas beer community is very supportive when it does happen.”