It was March of 2015 when they first laid eyes on the space. The building was one of many tucked away in an obscure industrial park in South Austin’s St. Elmo neighborhood. It was also a total wreck. Junk covered every square foot of the warehouse. Towers of discarded plastic housings from old desktop computers were bound in cellophane and nearly touching the ceiling. You could barely walk through the side yard it was so crowded, and any blades of grass had long been murdered, starved of sunlight or suffocated by the ever-growing piles of refuse. At the back, two tractor-trailers filled with cathode tubes from ancient televisions had begun to sink into the mud, evidence that they hadn’t been and weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. It was enough to make any potential business owner turn heel and run for the hills, but where other potential business owners may have seen a cemetery for bygone electronics from generations past, Tim Bullock and Bryan Winslow saw only the future.
For decades, and for better or worse, the craft beer industry in the U.S. has been expanding deliriously. As a result, some have begun to prophesize the industry’s eventual decline. In 2013, TIME Magazine called out the craft beer industry as oversaturated. While Fortune Magazine warned of a craft beer “bubble” as recently as May of 2015. So when I set out to profile Tim and Bryan, founders of the latest addition to the Austin, Texas craft beer scene, St. Elmo Brewing Company, my first question seemed obvious. “Are we worried about an oversaturated beer market?” Bullock pondered the question for only a moment before answering simply: “No.”
Years earlier, Bullock and Winslow met while working at Austin Beerworks, another recent entry into Austin’s craft beer scene (they were founded in 2011). They had a similar history with beer: both were avid homebrewers before making the migration to Austin to get on the ground floor of the burgeoning beer scene. For three years, Winslow was ABW’s lead brewer, while Bullock was the house manager, and together they saw the once-obscure brewery explode in popularity. During the boom, both Winslow and Bullock dreamed of opening their own shop, but neither was prepared to make the leap until they found each other. In June of 2014, shortly after Bullock welcomed his first child into the world, the first official meeting of minds took place — fittingly — over a couple of beers, and they were quick to discover their visions for starting a brewery were nearly identical. “We talked about it all: what kind of company we wanted to create, what kind of beer we wanted to brew, how we wanted to treat our employees and our customers,” and after that very first sit down, Bullock and Winslow decided to partner up. It was a long road to travel together, but just over a year after that meeting, St. Elmo Brewing Company was officially underway.
These days, the average beer drinker is getting savvier with each sip, “so we took our time crafting our beer,” Bullock explains. “We knew that just branding our beer with the word ‘craft’ wasn’t enough, and using fancy sounding ingredients, like cacao nibs or chipotle peppers, wouldn’t guarantee a good beer.” So, to set themselves apart, Bullock and Winslow are embracing a fresh approach to the craft beer scene, one that focuses on quality products and the surrounding community. They don’t have plans for world domination; they want to be a neighborhood establishment first. They don’t want to brew wild and experimental beer styles for the sake of headlines; they just want to brew great beer and, simply put, succeed within the walls of their 4800 square-foot warehouse in South Austin.
When the doors open later this year, the passion behind St. Elmo Brewing Company will be on full display. To start, Bullock and Winslow will focus on three classic beer styles: an American pale ale (named Chico), a Kolsch-style ale (Carl), and a dry stout (Angus), as well as non-alcoholic options like local cold-brewed coffee and house-made Kombucha. And beyond hosting beer drinkers, they plan to make St. Elmo Brewing Company a venue for the advancement of ideas, art, and the community, by hosting local musicians, artists, and intellectuals alike.
As we’re wrapping up the interview, Bullock asks to revisit the first question. He adds, “Of course we have doubts along the way. Anything worth doing should come with doubt. But what helps silence doubt is confidence, and at the end of the day we make some really damn good beer.”
Joshua Shaffer is a writer and producer for television and film (as well as an avid beer drinker), based out of Los Angeles, California. Originally from New Jersey, Joshua graduated from Emerson College in Boston before migrating West.