Aaron Garcia hasn't always been a commercial beer brewer. Not long ago, he owned part of a company that handled web design, making his company's tools accessible to their users. The money was good, but Garcia didn't have much passion for CSS and HTML.
In his downtime, he'd tinker with home brewing systems, honing his skills in craft beer. He always planned to turn his love into a profession and an early retirement. He just had no idea how early it would happen.
Garcia eventually grew tired of his job and sold out, freeing up some time as well as money. After a ton of discussion on a camping trip with his future wife, the couple resolved that he should open up the brewpub immediately instead of waiting for his hair to gray. That was two years ago. Now, sometime this fall, if all goes according to Garcia's plan, he will open Oak Cliff's very own brewpub, on Jefferson Street a block from the Texas Theater. And that pub, which he's calling Small Brewpub, promises to be unlike any other brewpub you've ever encountered.
Restaurants that brew their own beer are hardly a novel concept. The term brewpub typically evokes heavy, sweet beers that leave your head pounding and a menu that includes pizzas made with frozen crusts and deep-fried mozzarella. What's new at Small Brewpub is an attempt to create an eclectic list of beers that are on par with an innovative menu.
To brew the beer, Garcia built an electronically controlled pilot brewing system, which helps automate some of the process. He leaned on his engineering friends to help him program an Arduino board: a generic computer platform you can use to build remote control lawn mowers, intelligent lighting systems or spaceships if you've got enough time, smarts and money. Garcia's system allowed him to automate dynamic temperature controls, brew stage durations and other variables so he could learn as much as possible from each of his test batches.
Garcia also reached out to build his team. He joined Primo King, who would head up beer brewing, while Benj Pocta and Joshua Dawn would apply the skills they learned in the service industry to enhance the customer experience. Dan Bowman had a band and was heavily involved in the music industry. He would handle bookings and events.
As the beer-testing phase continued, Garcia and Dawn made use of the storage facility in their shared backyard to house the brewing equipment. Their Oak Cliff duplex began serving as a space to hold casual tasting events, at first to solicit feedback about their fledgling beers and later, as friends invited more friends and Bowman started hosting bands, mostly because back yard beer parties were a lot of fun.
At the height of the events, Small Brewpub was operating like a backyard pop-up party. Eventually that came to an end, but not before they'd gotten a lot of useful feedback about their beers. A spiced beer was a total flop: too spicy and too sweet, according to most of the tasters. Others slowly garnered a reputation for their drinkability, like the black pepper pilsner that disappeared seconds after it was tapped.
To show that Small Brewpub intends to take its food seriously, Garcia hired Misty Norris, who most recently served as sous chef at the much-lauded FT-33. Norris insists there will not be any deep-fried cheese sticks -- not even if they're made with house-pulled buffalo mozzarella.
Instead, expect a comprehensive charcuterie program. Norris says she has hams, coppas and other cuts currently hanging at an offsite facility. There are also growlers of beer vinegar and fermented strawberry vinegar being readied. "The goal is to be as full circle as possible," Norris says. "Pigs will be fed spent grains from the brewing process, and hops will be used to brine pickles." She's aiming for a southern-inspired, regional menu with a focus on minimalism -- letting high-quality ingredients shine with little interference by her three-person team kitchen.
Expect boudin with a seasonal hot sauce, fried mushrooms with a sunflower puree, or, if you're feeling a little more hungry, pasta dishes including an innovative ricotta gnocchi that's baked in a bread loaf pan. I double-checked just to be certain: No cheese sticks, Norris confirms. No nachos, either. And the beer sounds just as impressive.
That black peppercorn pilsner will be available permanently at Small Brewpub, provided customers don't kick the kegs before King can brew another. Also expect a stout to be on the menu permanently, and an American IPA that Garcia says will be balanced and not too hoppy. Seasonal beers will also rotate through the menu.
The brewpub is expected to open by the end of the month, but Garcia admits the schedule could easily slip into October. The patio out back still requires a lot of work, and the bartop in the dining room, among other fixtures, has yet to be installed. For now, though, it appears that Garcia is living his dream. And as evidenced by Small's minimalist web page, he's staying far away from CSS.
Small Brewpub, 333 W Jefferson Blvd., smallbrewpub.com