Downtown Denton was always where Armadillo Ale Works co-founders Yianni Arestis and Bobby Mullins wanted to be. The brewers and their brand have taken quite a circuitous route, but they look to be on their way to their dream location after securing a lease for the old Sanford Muffler & Automotive building at 215 South Bell Ave., just three blocks east of The Square, where all the cool kids in Denton play these days.
The Armadillo Ale Works lineup of beers has been off the market since early 2015 because of a large-scale transition made larger by difficulties in securing their own brewing space. A large Armadillo Ale Works sign off Interstate 35W disappeared almost as quickly as it went up outside what they intended to be the brewery's first proper home after a two-year licensing agreement with Deep Ellum Brewing Co. ran its course earlier this year. Arestis and Mullins aren't talking about what exactly went wrong with the location, other than saying "we didn't put that sign up," but that didn't stop Dentonite redditors from offering their two cents on the subject three months back.
Whatever the conflict, the brewery that looked in 2011 to be on track as Denton's first micro following a successful Kickstarter campaign (371 donors, $34,002) is now working its way out from a setback that will keep its beer out of the hands of the thirsty masses for more than a year. The duo plan to be sifting through suds by summer 2016 at the 18,000-square-foot space they say they've been eyeing for over three years. In the meantime, the race to open Denton's first microbrewery was won by Audacity Brew House, which opened in October 2014. Arestis and Mullins are now playing the slow and steady role, confident that both Denton and DFW are still fertile ground for new microbrews, despite the malty flood of breweries that have opened in the last five years.
"I think there's still room for quite a few more breweries in the area," said Arestis, the CEO of the company who earned both an entrepreneurship degree and a master's in strategic management at UNT. Mullins, the beer brains behind the operation, and also a UNT grad, agrees. "If you look at other markets that have even bigger craft brew presences, like some places in California and the Northwest, there are seemingly craft brew spots in one form or another on every corner. I think there's plenty of room for more. Eventually there's a tipping point, but I think we're a ways away," Mullins said.
The Kickstarter showed the co-founders just how much support there was in Denton for local brew, and the craft brew community embraced them early on as well. Arestis and Mullins met Deep Ellum owner John Reardon and then-master brewer Drew Huerter (who now holds a similar position at Braindead Brewing) at one beer fest or another early on after the campaign and talks of a partnership of sorts began soon after. Rather than sink their money into a nano-brewery and hope for it to catch on, the Armadillos all of a sudden had a chance to get their product into bottles and cans and out via a much wider distribution list than they could have managed on their own at the time.
So Arestis and Mullins temporarily licensed the Armadillo Ale Works brand to Deep Ellum in order to get out four brews, including Quakerstown Stout, which won a gold medal at the 2014 Great American Beer Fest in the Imperial Stout category. The arrangement worked well from early 2013 until early 2015, but there was always this itch to get out of the shadow of what was becoming one of the hottest craft brew houses in North Texas.
"We have so many ideas and so many beers Bobby's been working on perfecting. While we were there we did four beers in two years, and we're very proud of all four of them, but we are going to be launching with more than that on day one from the new location," Arestis said. Mullins was predictably mum on the specifics of the planned Armadillo brews, but said he's planning a substantial (more than four) year-round lineup paired with quite a few seasonals. "There will be some aspects of the seasonal schedule that the craft beer consumer in DFW will be familiar with, but we're also going to be doing some things that nobody's ever seen before."
Mullins didn't know you could even brew your own beer until his younger brother bought him a home brewing kit while he was at UNT. At the same time, in the mid-2000s, he had been working at Metzler's Barbecue, which doubles as a convenience store. Before the mildly famous Midway Mart came to town, Metzler's was one of the only places in Denton to pick up a six-pack of craft beer. "At that time, I'm not sure I had even heard the term 'craft beer,'" Mullins said. "At that time it was just 'those weird beers.'" After making a few utterly terrible batches and finishing his degree, he got a job washing kegs at Houston's Saint Arnold Brewing Co. and worked his way up to shift brewer before coming back to Denton and teaming up with Arestis.
"That's where I learned to brew beer commercially and consistently, and I did a little more brewing when we were doing stuff with Deep Ellum, but even before that, science fair time was my favorite time as a kid. I grew up around pottery wheels and weird crafty stuff so it was ingrained in me to be a maker of sorts," Mullins said.
The new space, whose closest neighbors will be Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios and the Denton County Transit Authority's A-Train stop, will feature 10,000 square feet of production and cold/dry storage space, plus an approximately 6,000-square-foot taproom, leaving maybe 2,000 square feet for office space and retail operations. Arestis and Mullins are looking at a 15-barrel brewhouse that could churn out 5,000-6,000 barrels of beer in the first year.
Even after their craft brewing journey has taken them to Denton and Dallas and back again, the Armadillos know who malts their grain. Though they plan a thorough renovation that includes knocking down several of the old muffler shop's original brick walls, at least one will be kept. "One of the reasons we want to keep some of the brick walls is to do one up with thank yous and shout-outs to the 371 people who have been a part of this thing since day one," Arestis said.