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Live Oak Brewing begins major expansion in Southeast Austin

Arianna Auber

Across the highway from the Austin airport, a large plot of dried-out grass and tall oaks is sitting unused, but not for long.

Live Oak Brewing founder Chip McElroy has purchased that 22-acre property to turn into the brewery’s new home, a move that will allow Live Oak to begin canning their beers and to double production capacity within a year of moving into a 22,000 sq. ft. brewing facility. The sprawling space will also help the brewery become a bit of a destination location one day with a disc golf course, nature trails and even a boathouse overlooking the Colorado River.

It’s all got to be built first, of course.

Yesterday, a ceremonial groundbreaking marked the beginning of the end of “realizing a dream of Chip’s 17 years in the making,” Live Oak office manager Teresa Ueltschey said. “(Yesterday) was about realizing we’re very close to achieving that dream.”

The Live Oak team hopes to transition into the new brewing space in September next year, she said, and once all the kinks of working on a brand-new custom-built 30-barrel brewing system are smoothed out, they’ll start canning. She said she isn’t sure yet whether the first canned brew will be the Pils, Live Oak’s first brewed beer and the flagship, or the Hefeweizen, easily the most popular and well-known in Live Oak’s lineup, but she anticipates Live Oak’s sales will double very quickly regardless.

“We’ve had double-digit growth just being draft-only all these years,” she said, adding that the brewery is approaching producing 10,000 barrels a year. “By canning, we’ll have a lot more demand, but it’s demand that we can meet.”

Putting the beer into cans has been a longtime goal of McElroy’s because he feels “it’s a better vehicle for craft beer and more user-friendly,” she said.

He’s also been wanting a lot of land for Live Oak to sit on, and since the acreage he purchased is right across from the airport, “we’d like to be the first place for people to come to when they get into Austin,” Ueltschey said. “And as Chip says, for them to see Austinites in their native habitat drinking beer and sitting under live oak trees.”

Although the elements that will make Live Oak a destination spot, such as the disc golf course, won’t be in place as quickly as the new brewhouse, a much larger taproom will be up and running from the start, Live Oak’s Colin Ferguson said. It will sell beer by the pint, versus by the glass as many breweries are still doing, and the bar will be made out of wood from a live oak tree.

Even without the large-scale expansion, the brewery has come a long way in the 17 years since McElroy and his fellow homebrewer Brian Peters (now one of the founders of the ABGB in South Austin) fashioned together Live Oak out of dairy equipment and opened it in the same building on East Fifth Street near Springdale Road that it’s still located at.

At the groundbreaking, McElroy thanked all the people involved in the project. “I guess the live oak metaphor is particularly apropos,” he said at the beginning of the speech. “Hopefully we’re past the acorn stage. I would say we’re at the shrub stage right now, and we’ve got a long way to go before we’re a full-blown live oak, but with this, I think we’re getting there.”