Receiving a tremendous amount of energetic encouragement from those closest to you is always a positive (unless they're cheering on your plans to commit suicide, maybe, or invade Poland, or your friend's name is Giuliani, but broadly speaking, yeah). For a budding brewery owner hoping to turn a longtime hobby into a fully functional business, the votes of confidence that come in the form of dollars is the kick-start needed even more than a bit of heartfelt reassurance.
For Art Harvey, the founder of Westlake Brewing, the newest brewery to open its taproom doors in Dallas, the hoppy road from his previous jobs in the tech realm to now was paved with good vibes, teamwork and, of course, investor dollars. Most skilled homebrewers have a spouse or neighbor who nudges them with “Hey, why don’t you open your own brewery,” but it takes more than the talent and a simple desire, of course.
“Other people’s input fueled the dream,” Harvey says. “I’d give away my beer to friends and neighbors, and every now and then someone would rave on about how much they liked the beer. Usually, I’d just dismiss them as being nice, but every little bit added up over time and helped me build confidence.”
That bolstered sense of assurance, coupled with a fateful morning run through Harvey’s Lakewood neighborhood with a couple who would become the brewery’s first investors, sent him into action for real. Working up a business plan for Westlake, Harvey had traveled a great distance between fermenting his homebrewed beer on top of his refrigerator while attending college at Louisiana State University and joining the increasingly crowded space that is craft beer in North Texas.
The result of the encouragement and backing going back four years became a concrete reality on Sept. 18, when Westlake Brewing opened its doors on Commerce Street in Deep Ellum. In the midst of putting the final touches on the taproom big enough to hold almost 400 people and unlocking the doors, Harvey told us this reality is something he had envisioned many times in various forms as he made his way around to the breweries of the area.
“On just about every brewery tour I went on, there was a moment when my own brewery dream was roused,” he says. “Of course, there were many opposite moments while actually working on the brewery, when I questioned the sanity of all those inspirational moments. Luckily, positivity and patience prevailed.”
To start, Westlake’s head brewer Peter Hemmingsen, formerly of Bitter Sisters Brewing in Addison, will oversee a selection of 10 beers on tap, with plans to gradually increase that number over time. Harvey emphasizes the variety he and his team are shooting for in these early days.
The Blonder Ale Belgian wit, Leg Day Scottish wee heavy, the Rainout citrus IPA and a 10% ABV barleywine are highlights of the taproom’s initial offerings. Early Yelp reviews have given props to the brewery’s oatmeal stout and Finish Line grisette, further hinting at a very well-rounded slate of beers available in the early going.
In the last eight years, North Texas has become a bubbling cauldron of craft brewing, with over 50 production breweries and brewpubs seeking their own shares of hearts, minds and mouths. And just as Westlake was until the past few days, there are many more brewing outfits, in various stages of planning, on their way to joining them sooner than later.
Dallas has seen breweries enter the market in myriad ways, especially in the past couple of years. Some newbies opt to start quietly, offering a few drafts in an unassuming taproom while others begin with cavernous, gleaming pubs and dozens of malty, hoppy options from day one.
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For now, Westlake Brewing looks to keep its goals direct and simple. You won’t quite yet see its beers in many grocer’s coolers or all that many growler bars, though all that could change soon enough. It’s not that Harvey and his team lack ambition, mind you. Opening a brewery in this competitive climate displays a grand amount of ambition. As was the case for him to go from hobby homebrewer to brewery business owner was a gradual, calculated process, so too will be Westlake’s expansion.
After all, putting first things first, people have to want your beer.
“I never want us to think we’re better than anyone else,” Harvey says. “But in essence, the goal is to have others feel that way. All we need to do is focus on making the best beer we can.”
Westlake Brewing is located at 2816 Commerce St. (Deep Ellum)