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As Temps Rise, so Does the Pressure: Several Houston Breweries Closing, Selling, and Changing Ownership in 2022

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As Temps Rise, so Does the Pressure: Several Houston Breweries Closing, Selling, and Changing Ownership in 2022

In the last 4 months, nearly 10 breweries have made some sort of huge announcement that’s left Houston beer drinkers wondering who’ll be left brewing their favorite beer.

 

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Why are All These Houston Breweries Closing, Selling, and Changing Ownership?

Supply chain issues, increased competition, waning passion are all to blame. Floundering distributors going under and leaving breweries holding the bag didn’t help. Let’s not forget the start/stop/start/stop/start/stop/start/stop/start again cycle that pummeled breweries in 2020… Many out of town breweries entering the retail and draft aspects of the market, and many more are entering through delivery services like Tavour and TapRm.

It’d be irresponsible to blame any one thing, but one thing is for certain. So many Houston breweries closing or changing hands in the last couple of months made it feel worthwhile to share some backstories.

In no particular order, here are a few of the wildest changes in the Houston beer scene.

 

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A blur of Local Group’s ownership changing hands – Captured by Eric Rodriguez, AKA @eric_iso1.8

Local Group Sells Quietly

Back in March, Houston beer industry icon James “Huggy Bear” Wolfe made an announcement on IG that created some subtle waves.

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“Hello friends, I will soon be leaving Local Group Brewing. I am grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had, and for the relationships and the experiences with everyone I’ve met along the way. It’s been a fun time, and I’ve learned a lot, but it’s time for me to move on. I wish everyone at Local Group continued success.

I’m seeking a new role in the brewing industry to utilize my 10 years of experience and continue to create awesome things in the local beer scene. Cheers and be excellent to each other!”

Shortly after, an announcement was made from Holler that James would be mashing in at 2206 Edwards St. When this happened, there were of course some rumors spreading, so we reached out to see if we could cut through the noise. James mentioned not wanting to share anything yet, and we left it at that.

Local Group started off with so much promise, and it’s not clear what went wrong. They’re still open, still making good beer, and their kitchen is on the road to reopening after an announcement was made late May that the transition of ownership was complete.

Their IG post read, “Houston, we have an announcement! 💫 Starting this week, we’re under new ownership, and Michael, Todd, Huggy and Brandon are no longer owners of Local Group Brewing. We want to thank y’all for everything over the last two years. ⁠Stay tuned for some exciting new things from the new owners soon!”

We’re staying tuned.

 

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Tank Fresh beer at Holler – Captured by Eric Rodriguez, AKA @eric_iso1.8

Holler Sells Silently

Meanwhile, almost simultaneously, Holler makes an announcement that they’re looking for a head brewer in late March.

Several people texted me asking what happened, so I reached out to get the scoop. No reply.

Follow up.

No reply. Repeat.

I thought it was odd because I had a decent relationship with John after doing some label artwork for their collab with Juan at Misfit.

The craziest thing about the rumor mill is that half the time the stuff makes ZERO sense. It’s the kind of stuff that makes you wanna slap somebody.

I was disappointed that we couldn’t get the facts, but a few weeks later, bam! Holler announces that the smiling face of the Holler taproom, Jorge, will be pouring tank fresh beer at Holler for the last time. Soon after, mid-May, an announcement is made that James “Huggy Bear” is at Holler. Then at the end of April, they’ve got some new labels that clearly are being handled by different folks.

No big announcement has been made, and their site still lists the Hollers, but it’s obvious from the labels to the tone of the social media captions, that something is different. This is a new iteration of Holler. I just hope Dollar Dollar Pils stays.

 

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Bearded Fox Nearly Dies and is Resuscitated While on Life Support

This one was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for those that call Tomball home. This little tucked away spot is loved by many in the community, so when posts about closing made their rounds, ideas about how to keep it alive made their rounds too.

An early April post read, ”On April 10th, when we close the brewery tap room, it will be for the final time.

On behalf of staff and owners at Bearded Fox Brewing, we want to thank everyone who supported our brewery. Over the past five years we made beers we are proud of and celebrated with the greater Houston community as our town established itself as a craft beer destination. This was a difficult decision, but one that was necessary. When we shut off the taps for the final time we will raise a pint in gratitude to the amazing beer community and industry, and the memories we made.”

But wait!

There’s more!

People in the community gathered up their savings to try and save Bearded Fox. A friend of Beer Chronicle was ready to sign on the dotted line. Then, like a serendipitous silver screen finish, an investor swooped in at the final hour. Thank you for your contribution to Houston Beer, Arif Manji.

They’re back on track, getting back into distribution, and it seems to have been a great story arc for the Tomball staple.

 

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Six Wards Slips Away Quickly

After a super short run, opening in May 2020, they shifted from opened to closed to back open again a handful of times just in their first few months. What a rough way to enter the market.

Despite all the turmoil, this Dickinson taproom was able to create a pretty big following, but it just wasn’t enough. This is confirmed as one of the Houston breweries closing for real, but there have been some rumors about who will be filling the space at 1825 Dickinson.

 

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City Acre is One of the Houston Breweries Closing, Starting First with the Kitchen

Best known for their deliciously handcrafted flavors – both beer and food – called it quits in late May. These guys are still technically open, but only for a little while longer. Their signature Hitchcock Blonde with it’s citrusy herbaceous-ness will be missed.

They penned a heartfelt goodbye, “Despite the hardest-working staff in the biz, fiercely loyal customers and the endless support of friends and family, the time has come to close our doors. The kitchen will close on June 5th and the bar will continue to operate until Sunday July 3rd—our sixth birthday.

We’ll be the first to admit that opening a brewpub like ours in our part of town was ambitious. As with many small businesses, we had to adapt to constantly changing conditions and we were left swimming upstream.”

We don’t want to see anybody fail, but something about this place… it stings to see them being one of the Houston breweries closing. Maybe it was their tiny spot. Possibly the way the food tasted like it was genuinely made for you, right then, with a heaping helping of love. Or perhaps it was just the unusual nuanced beers. But dang. Here’s to hoping we see a Bearded Fox sequel buzzer beater save from somebody in the community.

UPDATE 6/22/2022:

City Acre had a last minute investor swoop in similar to Bearded Fox. Jimmy Garrett, a local solar energy business owner couldn’t let City Acre call it quits. “The heart and soul of City Acre isn’t going anywhere.”

 

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Copperhead’s Facility has Been for Sale for a While

This was one of the first to get the Facebook groups abuzz, but nothing has happened. Last we checked, they’re not closing. They’re just planning to sell the location. However, it’s been on sale for a while and there’s a price drop. The listing page also mentions a handover of ownership, but the link is now broken – assuming the sale was completed.

A long string of mishaps, relationships soured with distributors, and outside factors left Copperhead looking a bit snake-bitten. The wildest part about this is they make some super kick ass beer. Something tells me that they’ll figure out the sale and be just fine – here’s to hope.

 

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B52 is Now for Sale

Rumors about this drummed up as far back as 2019. I had a brief convo with one of the founders, Jessica Blackburn, but it didn’t feel right to post an article at the time. This one’s a bit deep. Death, grief, and a lot of emotions are involved, so we just let the rumors fly.

Jessica explained the situation at the time. “Ever since Chad passed in 2017 selling has been on the table. He was our President and it is hard for the family to continue with the passion we started with, without also dealing with an extreme amount of grief. Since then, we continue to entertain the idea because no matter how much we love this industry and this brewery it just doesn’t feel the same.

At the same time, it would not be fair to our employees to sell without their best interest in mind. If we ever get to the point of a sale they would be a priority. Not only for them to keep their jobs but also to enjoy them.”

Over 2 years later, it seems pretty clear that she meant every word of it.

B52’s destination and atmosphere is one that’ll make it a winner even if they were brewing nothing but hard seltzers. The listing mentions that offers are due June 24, so we may have some news coming soon. We don’t do rumors, right?

Well, here’s a fact. Brent Topa’s drumming up the deets for y’all, so keep your ears to the street while he keeps us all on the beat. IYKYK.

 

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Buff Can’t Pay Investors

The laundry list of Buff Brew’s offenses seemingly continue growing, and while this doesn’t mean they’re closing, it doesn’t mean they’re selling, and it doesn’t mean they’re changing ownership… It does mean that the little breweries aren’t the only ones struggling in one way or another.

Nobody’s immune.

I received a few DMs and texts of the screenshots of their NextSeed email reading, “Notice of Business Default – Buffbrew Taproom, LLC.” Investors are basically being told to eat it for now and hope they get something back. And some of them are replying that they’re not surprised. Such a shame. Back in January when this went down, we couldn’t get any real answers beyond the social media chatter, and we couldn’t find anybody else that could.

 

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New Braunfels Brewing Co Gets New Owners, New Beers, and a Facelift

While this one’s a bit outside of our normal coverage, it’s still a fitting addition to this list. Kelly Meyer, now author  and podcast host of How NOT To Start A Damn Brewery: Ten Business Lessons From The Front Lines of The Craft Beer Industry, shared with Pam Catoe of Craft Beer Austin shortly after the transition of ownership.

“When I found myself inspired to start a brewery in 2011, the industry was vastly different. While I’m well aware that change is a part of life, I’m just not inspired to produce the styles of beers people line up for in 2021. And I’m exhausted competing for shelf and tap space with products I’d never put in my face. Basically, I’m not the brewer that NBBCo needs today and it’s time to pass the torch to someone with the right mix of passion and business acumen.”

The new owners have grand plans to make New Braunfels Brewing Co into a destination brewery complete with food and a more diverse beer selection than just mixed culture sours. It’s bittersweet, but we’re looking forward to trying the new take on this hill country spot. We’re told that the classics that made this brewery are still available and will continue to be, however, these things change with time. If you’re a die hard PKL FKR fan, the OG pickle sour, go load up just in case!

 

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Brash is Not one of the Houston Breweries Closing – The Owners of Equal Parts and their Partners Bought Brash

Like all things Brash-related, there was a shroud of darkness and mystery that lingered with this one.

Several little blips popped up about Brash selling, but nothing seemed concrete for some time. A cryptic post on social confirmed the sale vaguely for those in the know.

My text messages from Matt Peterson, Equal Parts co-owner, read, “The message is that Equal Parts Brewing did not buy Brash. The owners of Equal Parts, and their partners, bought Brash and plan to work a joint venture with Vince [Mandeville]. It will remain Brash.” Thankfully, our guy Brent was able to share the info immediately in the beer groups. Even without us or Brent, though, the Equal Parts team would’ve stopped any rumors quickly.

Matt and his counterpart Nick Sorensen are really good people. This sort of contribution to Houston’s beer community is a landmark show of that genuine goodness. I haven’t met them personally, but the way Matt has described their partners – the heartfelt tone and sincerity – lead to believe they’re a couple of peas in a pod.

It’d be one thing to buy another location and expand. One text from one of our old writers said something about, “I heard Equal Parts can’t keep up with Loggerbier demand, so they’re buying Brash as a production brewery.” It’s funny how sometimes the rumors are positive. However, it’s something altogether different to buy a brewery, bring back the OG brewer, and give an iconic Houston spot a second chance.

Brash frontman Robbie Cummings also made a little announcement thanking friends and followers for reaching out to check on him amidst the swirl of rumors. “Happy to remain head brewer of Brash. Looking forward to exciting new things. Looking forward to learning from Vince, again. But most of all, I’m excited to be making beer, and sharing it with all of you. This has been the wildest 4 weeks of my life, and the last 30 hours have been just absolutely emotionally draining and I’m still processing all of this. Gonna write a book about the last 5 weeks. Shit is like a movie.”

Hopefully this article doesn’t get updated, but ya never know – ya know?

Stay tuned for other updates! Beers to you, Houston.

 

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Beer Chronicle Team
beerchronicle@gmail.com
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