craft beer

The Place of Breweries at a "Turning Point"

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During the last week of March, I took on the ambitious task of going to over 50 breweries in just over a week, living in an RV. I invited local Austin beer blogger, Caitlin Johnson of Big World Small Girl. She took on the task of sizing up the beers while my eye of course wandered to the layout, setup, look and feel, etc. As former Chair of the City of Austin Planning Commission I was of course interested in the zoning and overall development hurdles many of the breweries faced in their site selection and build out. While I’ll be writing several stories from all the great experiences we had with so many great breweries, the story of Turning Point Beer Company in Bedford, TX (a DFW suburb) resonated with planning commission and urban planning background.

We dropped in on Thursday morning as we headed back from Ft. Worth to Dallas on Day 7 of the trip. It was our first stop and the location immediately caught my attention. This wasn’t an industrial park, an old metal building standing alone that had been re-purposed. As I would learn later in my conversations with Alex and James, the name Turning Point was picked because that’s exactly how they view themselves with respect to how a brewery’s place in the community fabric can be envisioned and utilized. Turning Point is located in a 2nd or possibly even 3rd generation retail center in the heart of the bedroom community’s commercial area. Think typical old American strip mall. They just opened in 2018 but not without a fight.

One of the two adjacent tenants is a church. Churches located in strip malls aren’t exactly a good sign of positive health of the commercial property. The strip center before Turning Point’s arrival was in need of renewal whether that was through the landlord investing heavily in the buildings to attract a wider range of services and tenants to better serve the local neighborhood or risk the center continue its long slide into maintenance issues and neglect as the good paying tenants become harder to find. Turning Point choosing this center was leap of faith. They knew a strip mall wasn’t the typical location for a brewery. They were fighting conventional wisdom but I truly believe they intuitively got on to something that breweries, local leaders, and brewery advocates should take strong notice.

The initial risk was the presence of the church. As mandated by state and local law, their proximity to each other was going to trigger a conditional use case or waiver which in the Bedford scenario was going to be heard at City Council. I’ll jump quickly to the finish line as they reached a positive vote of 5-2. However the hearing and road to that decision wasn’t without some drama. Turning Point has another neighbor between themselves and the church. The church wasn’t opposed to the possible new brewery neighbor, even though the church’s use of the building was triggering the case. (Keep in mind that as a leased tenant, the church could move out any time and there would be no case…the unpredictable nature of all this). However, their next door neighbor, a kids’ gymnastics center had owners who apparently weren’t exactly enthusiastic about what Turning Point was proposing in setting up shop. The owners and some parents voiced strong displeasure and opposition to the approval of this use, even though it was the church that was the trigger. Their grounds, as you would expect, were for safety and to protect the kids.

I have kids. They are grown now. I’m sure most of your experiences at breweries involve the presence of kids at many of them. Breweries, while being a place that does serve alcohol, are typically not “bars” by the common definition and perception. There are many things depending on how they are setup, often like a community gathering point, a coffee shop, and playgrounds for adults and kids with board games or corn-hole, a needed connecting point in the community around a local brand. They aren’t open past midnight, certainly not on weeknights. They have employees who want to get home early to get up early and brew the next day. Most are extremely family friendly. Yet for many people, and especially as defined in city zoning codes, their dynamic, usefulness, and purpose in a community is largely misrepresented at hearings like this and misunderstood. Working to update codes to reflect the positivity of breweries in our communities is going to be huge challenge. It needs to be taken on.

I wasn’t at the hearing, so I don’t know specifically what was said. However, I do know that the parents of kids who attend the gym next door are now frequent patrons of Turning Point. It provides a great place to be after watching your kids practice. The owners have heard from many that they didn’t understand exactly what the brewery was, but knowing what they know now, they would never have opposed Turning Point’s successful approval. A common turn of events. Even city leaders echoed similar sentiments.

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Turning Point highlights an increasingly important opportunity for smaller local brewpubs who are looking to find those gaps in our communities that are undeserved or overlooked. There are so many sites like this where a brewery can be a new connecting point for neighbors. Since large scale production isn’t their aim at this property, the lower ceiling heights, while not ideal, don’t present problems that can’t be solved. The storefront along the parking lot provide plenty of visibility of the production area. Their layout totally works. Lots of community tables are placed on one side in front of the walk up bar. The cooler and thru wall taps are placed directly behind for the short beer lines. The cellar area of 20BBL fermentors off of their 10BBL system becomes an easy point of interest to patrons. Their loading scenario works better than many retail centers assisting with the overall work flow.

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I know in Austin we are increasingly running out of buildings and developments suitable for smaller brewpubs. We relegated them to areas where if they want to make beer and sell for on site consumption by right, they are pushed away into locations most breweries are not overly enthusiastic about. Smaller brewpubs while having a light industrial process, are more like a restaurant without food. Some choose to provide it out of necessity for compliance with code, increasing their construction and overhead cost, development risk, and their own hurdles to the initial business concept. Turning Point should be an example to many looking for the benefits that a local brewpub can offer as they play a instrumental role in revitalizing strip malls that have seen a better day and could use a little brewery love.

Oh and it would be shame to not mention that the beer is extremely good. Try the Dinglebop DIPA.

Austin, Texas: Craft Beer Boomtown

* Image provided by  OPA Design Studio , a local Austin-based architecture firm specializing in brewery design.

* Image provided by OPA Design Studio, a local Austin-based architecture firm specializing in brewery design.

* Image provided by  OPA Design Studio , a local Austin-based architecture firm specializing in brewery design.

* Image provided by OPA Design Studio, a local Austin-based architecture firm specializing in brewery design.

It's only been a little over a year since Austin's iconic South by Southwest festival drew Fortune Magazine's attention to the city's burgeoning craft beer scene. In their March 2015 article, they acknowledged the presence of 18 production/destination brewery locations in the greater ATX area at the time. Speculation into national and local growth in the craft beer industry has since run the gamut from suggestions that the market was already over-saturated to optimistic assertions that it had not even begun to hit the peak of its growth spurt. One thing is certain; a lot of the big corporate beer manufacturers have to be looking more closely at these little start-ups as they continue to significantly gain market share, winning over more and more customers who look for the unique beers craft brewers are putting together to differentiate themselves.

Fast forward a mere year and a half, and the growth naysayers are eating their hats. But if they're in the Bat City, at least they can wash them down with any one among a plethora of delicious local brews from the 54 micro breweries or brewpubs now in operation or being planned in and around Texas' capital city, 31 of which operate inside the city limits. That's a 200% increase in less than two years!

Time will tell how much and how quickly the craft beer market will expand in coming years, but it would appear that local, regional, and national consumers and enthusiasts are still thirsty for more -- signalling many home and hobby brewers to consider starting their own micro breweries and many established craft brewers to eye expansion plans. Those aspiring Austin garage brewers looking to realize their "hoppy" dreams would be well-informed to have a close look at the charts above (provided by Austin-based brewery architecture firm OPA Design Studio) before taking their leap, showing how the numbers of Austin breweries are dispersed in and around the greater ATX geographic region and in which zoning areas they're running operations -- because as competition increases, strategic planning, particularly as to location selection and facility design, will work in the favor of brewers who know how to best reach a growing throng of thirsty craft beer customers.