There is a good chance that at some point - if you've been to Northgate - you've walked past the building on the Northwest corner of Church Ave and Boyett St. It's the one with the big patio out front and the half white brick pillars, and if you've walked past it recently you've probably seen some construction going on. If you haven't noticed it before, let me suggest that you make sure you become familiar with it soon. Opening this week (hopefully) in that building will be Blackwater Draw, a brewpub that will add to the rapidly evolving craft beer scene in College Station.
Chris Steele, who owns and runs O'bannons, and Chris Weingart, who previously worked at O'bannons as well as for a beer distributor, are the brains behind Blackwater Draw (or, as you may see me abbreviate it, BWD). I had the chance to sit down with the two of them and talk about a little bit of everything, from how the idea came about and what beers they will serve to what their favorite beer to drink is right now. Let's start with some of the important details, and then we'll get into more of what Chris and Chris had to say.
What's a brewpub, anyways?
Is that just a fancy way of saying it's a brewery? Not quite. Merriam-Webster defines a brewpub as "a restaurant that sells beverages brewed on the premises," which is exactly what Blackwater Draw is. They will serve fresh food with local and house-made ingredients, and their beer will be brewed right there behind the bar. Believe it or not, Blackwater Draw opening this week means that College Station will have a brewpub while Houston - the 4th largest city in the US - does not. That is pretty awesome stuff for Bryan/College Station, and I certainly hope folks appreciate that fact.
What are the hours at BWD?
Blackwater Draw will open daily at 11:00am and stay open until 2:00am at night. So, basically, Blackwater Draw has you covered for lunch, happy hour, dinner, or even some late night beers. Additionally, they are hoping to be able to offer brunch on Saturdays and Sundays starting sometime in the Spring of 2014.
What beers will BWD offer?
There will be 4 house brewed beers on tap at Blackwater Draw, as well as 8 guest taps and 15-20 different guest bottles and cans. Every beer offered will be from Texas, and they will all be craft beers (in other words, you won't find Bud Light on tap).
Blackwater Draw Beers:
Contract Killer - A coffee porter brewed with local coffee from What's the Buzz Coffee.
College Station Kolsch - A lighter beer that can be a nice "crossover beer" option that domestic beer drinkers can feel comfortable transitioning to.
SMaSH IPA - SMaSH stands for Single Malt and Single Hop, meaning that - as opposed to most beer recipes which have multiple types of grain and hops - this beer only uses one type of malt and one type of hop. The initial batch of this beer will use Apollo hops and Maris Otter 2-row barley, but it will also serve as a sort of "built-in test batch" to be able to experiment with different types of hops to really see exactly what sort of flavors each hop and malt can offer.
Seasonal Offerings - Blackwater Draw will rotate various seasonal beers, the first of which will be a Peppermint Stout. They plan to rotate their seasonal beer on a bi-monthly basis, but that frequency may vary depending on demand.
One-Off/Small Batch Beers - In addition to the beers that are brewed on the big system, Blackwater Draw also has a pilot system that allows them to experiment with small batch beers. This lets them test out recipes and get feedback from customers before moving into brewing that beer on the big system. For example, they recently brewed an Oatmeal Pale Ale and an American Stout on the pilot system and have other recipes that they are considering trying as well.
What about the food?
First of all, Blackwater Draw plans to use as many fresh, local ingredients as possible. Their produce will come from Howdy Farm on A&M's campus, which will allow them to feature menu items such as a Market Salad and a Market Burger (although those items will obviously be based on availability). There are a number of set items - including various appetizers and a Bleu Cheese Burger with high quality beef - but their chef also plans to rotate some seasonal offerings into the menu as well. The kitchen at BWD does include a wood-fire grill as well, which should make for a number of delicious food offerings.
"Pretty much everything that can be made in-house is made in-house," said Weingart, "including mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, and even bacon. So a lot of stuff goes into it, and it's a little more effort than just buying some Heinz and using that for ketchup."
Where did the idea for a brewpub come from?
As previously mentioned, Chris Steele is the owner of O'bannons and Chris Weingart previously worked there at O'bannons as well as for a beer distributor.
"The craft beer business, especially in Texas, is booming. It seems like there's another brewery opening up each day," Steele said. "About a year and a half ago, Chris [Weingart] and I were just talking about it, and we were actually at a Flogging Molly concert in Houston, and Chris off-hand mentioned about one day wanting to do a brewpub. And that was the spark, so we drove around Texas and took a little brewpub tour and saw what we liked and what we wanted to do."
As far as which particular brewpubs they found to provide the best inspiration for opening Blackwater Draw, Weingart provided some background on the oldest brewpub in Texas.
"Fredericksburg [Brewing Company] was always the one that – when I was in college – once I was old enough to buy beer I would stop there when I’d drive home and pick up a growler and then pick up another growler on the way back to College Station to share with my friends. So a lot of our inspiration for the brewpub came kind of from the way they set theirs up – everything is out in the open, the brewhouse is directly behind the bar – and we want to have a similar feel. People can feel like they are sitting within an operating brewery, they can see us transferring from tank to tank and brewing the beers and smell the aromas that come from it."
What's a growler? And how do they work?
A growler is essentially a container that you can fill with beer from a brewery, brewpub, or growler shop and take home with you. The only place that I know of in College Station that fills growlers as of right now is Harvey Washbangers, but you can soon add Blackwater Draw to that list!
Blackwater Draw will sell their own growlers (see right) that you can purchase and get filled with beer and reuse over and over. You also can bring a growler that you have from any other brewery or bar and they will happily fill it with one of their beers on tap. They will offer both 32oz and 64oz pours (the 2 most traditional growler sizes), and prices are still being determined. Additionally, BWD will set up the side of the building to be free 15 minute parking so that you can swing by, grab a growler, and head out and be on your way quickly.
A word of advice (from me) as far as growlers are concerned - they are best if consumed within 7-10 days, and that reduces to maybe 2-3 at the very most once you open the growler.
Where did the name come from?
As you've probably picked up on by now, Blackwater Draw tries to source as many things locally as possible, which is an important part of their overall philosophy. From the produce from Howdy Farm to the What's the Buzz coffee in the Contract Killer to even the tap handles which were made by Curtis Klingle - a local knife maker and retired police officer - with CM Forge, BWD supports other local businesses as much as possible.
"When we started looking at names we got to the point where we came across the name Blackwater Draw because it is the source of the Brazos River," Weingart said. "And so we thought it fit our personality here well since our whole concept is trying to find things as close to the source as possible, so we felt it translated over really well."
Odds and Ends - Q&A
Good Bull Hunting: What made you pick a spot on Northgate?
Chris Steele: Well, we actually at first looked off of Northgate - we looked at a few buildings in Bryan, a couple of buildings around College Station. But the thing with this location was really the charm of it - the way the inside looks, the big wrap-around porch, so we really went with this one based on that. It's going to be a challenge to get some of the locals to come to Northgate because they don't always want to come to Northgate, but one good thing is that the city made the parking lot here on Northgate free from 11am until 2pm. So if people want to come to lunch here, they don't have to pay to park. So I think what we see is getting a good lunch crowd, a good Happy Hour crowd, and then we'll still be able to get the night crowd that does come to Northgate. I think we'll really get the best of both worlds.
GBH: If you had 20 seconds to sell someone on why they should come to Blackwater Draw, what would you say?
CS: I would say great, fresh food, beer brewed in house, doesn't get any fresher than that. We use as many local ingredients as possible, even in our beer we use local coffee. Great atmosphere, big porch - everybody likes patios.
Chris Weingart: And from the beer side, I tell people you can come in and try the beer and if you don't like it there's not many places where you can talk to the people making it who literally have the capacity to make you a beer that you like. So if you don't like coffee porters, you can tell us what you do like and we can brew it on the pilot system and see how it turns out.
GBH: What are you most excited about in terms of opening Blackwater Draw?
CW: I'm excited to have people try the beer and give us feedback on it; it's nice to have a built-in tasting panel. There's only so much homebrewed beer you can share with people, and once you go on a city level it's only going to help you improve upon your beer. I mean, if you've brewed your perfect beer already by now then you'd stop brewing, so you're always trying to make it better. So having that built in tasting panel is probably what I'm most excited about.
CS: I think I'm most excited about Blackwater Draw becoming a household name. I want it to be where everybody in this town has heard of it, everybody knows it, and I'm just excited about it growing. As people come into town they can buy a growler to take home, so I'm excited about people in Houston, Austin, and Dallas hearing about it as well.
GBH: What is your favorite beer that's brewed at BWD? What about favorite non-BWD beer right now?
CW: My favorite that we brew is the Contract Killer, our coffee porter. My favorite other beer right now is probably the Temptress from Lakewood Brewing on Nitro. I would purposely go to a bar that serves that beer.
CS: I'd agree that the Contract Killer is my favorite, but I also think the Milk Stout and the American Stout are both very good as well. As far as other beers, for me it's probably anything bourbon barrel aged. That would probably be my 1st choice right now.
Follow Blackwater Draw!
If you aren't already following Blackwater Draw on social media, that's something you should do ASAP. Their Twitter handle is @BlackwaterBrew, and you can also like their Facebook page by clicking here. Their website is still being finalized right now, but once that is complete you can find them at www.blackwaterbrew.com. Steele and Weingart are hoping to have the doors at Blackwater Draw open this week. Keep up with them on social media for the latest updates, and I strongly recommend going by and checking them out once they are open. Their beer is great and the brewpub setup itself is awesome; Blackwater Draw is going to be a great addition to College Station!