It’s 240 miles from the front door of the Dallas Observer to Real Ale Brewing’s unpaved driveway down in Central Texas, but we joined up with the other 2,000-odd guests who came from all over the state to celebrate the first 20 years of craft beer’s Davy Crockett. Pouring everything from pleasant summertime sippers to Viking-strength stouts, the Texas-proud, metal-loving brewery threw one killer party. And just as one of DFW’s own heavy-music legends put it, a new level of confidence and power is already on the horizon.
Real Ale began in the basement of an antique store in the Hill Country hamlet of Blanco, where original owners Philip and Diane Connor nursed their love for English-style pale and brown ales. The mom-and-pop operation received weekend help from a recent UT grad named Brad Farbstein, an avid homebrewer and Austin marketing rep for the young Houston microbrewery Saint Arnold. When the time came for the Connors to sell the brewery, they asked him to recommend potential buyers. As it turned out, Farbstein knew a guy.
“I was like, ‘I want to buy the brewery.’ Philip said, ‘Well, that’s great, but you don’t have any money,’” Farbstein recalled, laughing. “I said, ‘We’ll figure something out.’” Which, of course, they did: A management agreement allowed Farbstein to pay off his purchase with a small percentage of each year’s profits. After three years, the Connors were paid in full and the brewery cleared quadruple digits of production for the first time, producing 1,350 barrels in 2001. Real Ale can now be found across the entire state thanks to a distribution deal with Ben E. Keith, which means they're producing substantially more stock than 15 years ago.
Real Ale is sold only in Texas, usually at prices notably lower than the other craft beers on the shelf. For Real Ale, the decision is both patriotic and environmentally conscious.
“Making beer and shipping it all over the country has environmental impacts we don’t necessarily like and don’t want to contribute to,” Farbstein says. “There’s a statistic that came out of the Craft Brewer’s Conference a couple of years ago that said a 12-ounce beer produced on the West Coast and shipped to the East Coast has four ounces of diesel in every bottle. You start thinking about the impact that you are making on the environment and on the community and we don’t want to be part of that.”
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Community is a priority for Real Ale, particularly the successive generations of breweries that have cropped up in Texas' recent emergence as a beer powerhouse. Real Ale's current brewmaster Schmitty (his preferred handle) mentioned Dallas' own Community Brewing Company as a particularly outstanding example.
"I think they’re making some of the best beer in the state," he says. “That is a brewery that I would absolutely put in the class of brewers that, from the get-go, immediately were putting out badass beer and raised the bar for everybody —including us."
This generosity of spirit has served Real Ale (and Texas beer well) for the past two decades. It speaks to a combination of humility and assurance beyond its years, best summarized by Farbstein's assessment of where the next 20 years might take them.
“We don’t really have any aspirations of taking over the world," he says. "But we do want to own our own backyard.”