fbpx
Beer-Chronicle-Houston-brewery-in-spring-tx-fortress-beerworks-glass

Fortress Beerworks – The First Brewery in Spring

Beer-Chronicle-Houston-Inline-Ad-go-hop-drop-beer-delivery

Fortress Beerworks

Spring, TX… it’s where Brent lives. What began as a sugar cane and cotton cash crop area following the Civil War has grown into a city of nearly 60,000 people.

2606 Spring Cypress Rd, Spring, TX 77388
Facebook
Instagram

Beer-Chronicle-Houston-brewery-in-spring-tx-fortress-beerworks-rob-fleming-dion-billard

What You Need to Know Before Visiting Fortress Beerworks

Price: $5-$7
Growlers, Crowlers: Growlers, coming back. Crowlers, not yet.
Food: Food trucks or on-site vendors most days
Most Popular Beer: Blonde Ale
Kids/Pets: Yes and yes
AC: Not yet but in the works – the beerworks!
Bathrooms: Clean bathrooms with AC
Parking: Plentyyy
Hours: Thurs 4-9pm
Fri 4-10pm
Sat noon-10pm
Sun noon-6pm

Beer-Chronicle-Houston-brewery-in-spring-tx-fortress-beerworks-paper

Fortress Beerworks: Introduction

Spring, TX… it’s where Brent lives. What began as a sugar cane and cotton cash crop area following the Civil War has grown into a city of nearly 60,000 people.

We have Splashtown, Old Town Spring, ExxonMobil, and Jim Parsons even went to high school here.

But what didn’t we have? A brewery in Spring. That is, until Spring of 2018 (clearly the best time of the year to open a brewery in Spring).

Situated in a huge wooded area off of I-45 between FM 2920 and Spring Cypress Rd. lies Fortress Beerworks. Boasting a variety of taps, plenty of parking and seating, a kid-friendly vibe, and live music sometimes featuring our very own Brent and the Brandon McDermott Band.

Clearly Fortress went all in.

The four owners opened Fortress Beerworks for the first time to the public last March, and we had a chance to sit down with two of them, Rob Fleming and Dion Billard, to talk Fortress and all things brewery in Spring.

Beer-Chronicle-Houston-brewery-in-spring-tx-fortress-beerworks-rob-chris

Fortress Beerworks: The Origin Story

How does the concept for a new brewery get formed? First, you need owners. Fortress is owned by 4 guys who met at their day jobs: Dion Billard, Shawn Stasiuk, Rob Fleming, and John O’Hara, with the first 3 coming from Canada and John being a local from Tomball.

Second, you need someone with some brewing experience, which both Dion and Rob have. Both were involved with homebrewing before opening Fortress, so they knew what all would be needed.

Third, you need a name and a brand. This is where things got spicy, as the kids like to say.

Coordinating a group of leaders is always a challenge.

The group at Fortress is no exception. “We’re all really passionate. At the end of the day, we have to be; otherwise, we shouldn’t be here! We’ve learned to play to one another’s strengths and try and stay in our lanes,” Rob explained.

The good news is that their disputes center around being a top-notch brewery. “At the end of the day, we all want what’s best for the brewery and the people that drink our beer.”

So, about that whole name and logo thing…

The guys came up with several names originally and finally settled on one… until a group of homebrewers in East Texas claimed it at the last minute.

Beer-Chronicle-Houston-brewery-in-spring-tx-fortress-beerworks-dion-ballard

Back to the drawing board they went…

There are four trees outside their building, so the name Four Trees became an idea. But it didn’t stop there. Being that 3/4 of the guys are from Canada, they also looked to their country for inspiration.

In Alberta, there is a mountain called Fortress Mountain, which has seen ski time from one of the owners.

Four Trees + Canadian geography = Fortress Beerworks was born.

That’s not where the story ends, though.

The logo design was headed up by Shawn, and he sweated it the entire time.

He pushed for a professional designer, which was agreed upon by the entire team. When the designer came back with the logo, though, Shawn thought he was a dead man.

“It’s a freaking F with a crown. Oh, man. They’re gonna kill me,” was what Dion and Rob told us he said.

But in the end, the guys began to see the value in the simplicity of their logo, and they were drawn to it being open to interpretation.

Dion told us, “Some folks saw the F and crown, but others saw a castle or a watchtower. That was pretty cool to us.” Tony, our resident graphic designer, was thrilled at their acceptance of the abstraction. So many people want everything right on the nose, but that’s boring, and it doesn’t create a lasting impact!

Beer-Chronicle-Houston-brewery-in-spring-tx-fortress-beerworks-logo

Fortress Beerworks: All About Location

When you first pull up to Fortress, their location is so big that…well…you could probably put a fortress on it. Almost 7,000 sq. ft. is a huge selling point for them, and we had to know more.

Before officially forming their partnership, another co-owner, John O’Hara, had owned a crossfit facility off of Hwy 249. Dion had been a homebrewer for over 20 years, and the team had toyed with the thought of opening a small brewery there.

An adjacent building to the crossfit business was for sale, but before he could grab it, Hurricane Harvey happened.

The flooding wiped out a local police station, which was relocated to that empty property. Initially, it was only supposed to be occupied for 6 months, but we all know how hurricane repairs go…

No matter how responsible of a drinker you may be, nobody wants to have a brewery RIGHT next to a police station, so that option was out. However, with the Fortress Beerworks bug planted, the team started seriously looking for a place to set up shop.

The ownership team looked at a LOT of locations, at least 25, before they settled on the spot that now houses their not-so-little brewery in Spring.

Many requirements had to be factored into the decision, including green areas, room for food trucks, and plenty of space for customers.

Most notably, they both agreed that Fortress Beerworks “should be a place they would go to themselves.” Something in between a bar and a restaurant, the only option was their brewery in Spring, and that’s what they set out to create.

And that they did. Their enormous, family-friendly location is the perfect place to drink beer and hang out.

They even based their business hours around this theme. “We don’t want to be dealing with kicking people out at 2 am,” said Dion. Most brewers and owners agree.

Beer-Chronicle-Houston-brewery-in-spring-tx-fortress-beerworks-dion-pouring

Fortress Beerworks: The Beer

Houston is a MASSIVE city, with an evergrowing list of breweries. So, the team at Fortress knew that they needed to make great beer to make themselves stand out. And they also knew that 4-5 anchor beers were a must.

Fortress boasts a wide range of beers, including their Watchtower Wit, a full-bodied and clean witbier, their Nitro Stout, a silky, chocolatey delight, and their #1 seller, their Blonde Ale, a clean and slightly sweet refresher of a beer.

More recently, this brewery in Spring has experimented with double dry-hopping through their Blonde Ale and hefeweizen, as well as adding a hazy IPA and a double IPA to the line-up.

Their head brewer, Dion, has been brewing for years, with quite a bit of time spent in all-grain brewing. An engineer by trade, he also has a wealth of knowledge around building all kinds of systems.

Rob also has home brewing experience, having taught himself how to turn non-alcoholic beer into alcoholic beer with just a little sugar and yeast. (Yep, that’s a thing that can happen.)

Despite that experience, the team still reached out to many breweries in their area for advice on getting started.

When we asked who they worked with the most, there was no hesitation: 11 Below Brewing.

“They told us to give them an open list of questions and have helped us so much. We are trying to return the favor as much as we can.”

Beer-Chronicle-Houston-brewery-in-spring-tx-fortress-beerworks-josh-olalde-brent-topa

For a few of the owners, 11 Below was like an introduction to craft beer for them. With how clean, efficient, and well-done their location is, “It’s like a scaled-down version of a big brewery,” said Dion.

They also love 11 Below’s arrangement having the production area right next to their large taproom. It was one of the concepts that Fortress wanted advice on how to mimic (and did so successfully).

We know and love the guys over at 11 Below, and knowing them, we knew there had to be some crazy stories that involved them. As with every interview, we wanted to know the craziest. In fact, we barely had the question out of our mouth before Rob chimed in. It didn’t involve 11 Below, though, surprisingly!

“Yeah, I have one. Dion tried to kill me!”

(Hey Tony, put that record scratch noise here.) Tony inserts record scratch noise while publishing the article to the site

Now, after all of the interviews we’ve had the pleasure and honor of conducting, we’ve heard some wild stories, but I think this might be the winner for craziest.

Late one night, Dion and Rob were reworking some electrical in the production area. Dion shut the power off and told Rob to go ahead and pull the cable out.

BUT, since they were working with higher voltages, they didn’t wait long enough for the residual electricity to dissipate.

Rob grabbed the cable, and his arm immediately locked up! He couldn’t even yell for help, the force was that strong. It took an incredible amount of strength to pull himself off.

He said that, when driving home that night, 2 taillights looked like 6. “This is it. I’m dying. My organs are failing, and I’m on Google looking at Web MD and life insurance stuff.”

Ever since that day, Rob is DONE with electrical work.

Dion’s story is much less lame but much more in line with working at a brewery.

On a full system brew of their hefe, the glycol system went out right before knockout (when the wort is done being cooked and it’s time to cool it down for fermentation). The spices had been added directly, so the chiller’s back flush didn’t work. Fermentation was fluctuating wildly, and things started escalating quickly.

Fortunately, due to this engineering background, he was able to rewire the system using parts from his home Johnson Controls system and get things back up and running. Only 2 bbls had to be dumped, another miracle.

Beer-Chronicle-Houston-brewery-in-spring-tx-fortress-beerworks-dion-billard

Fortress Beerworks: Now and Later

Fortress currently operates on a 15 bbl system, which is fully utilized for all of its anchor beers. Seasonals are usually done in 10 bbl batches.

Initially, the team had ordered a 10 bbl system from Alpha. Yet, those inevitable issues common with start up breweries reared their ugly heads, and there were delays. But then, they had a stroke of luck.

Another brewery had ordered a 15 bbl system out of Portland but canceled it during the manufacturing process. The company reached out to Fortress and offered them a deal on the bigger system. Obviously, Fortress jumped right on it.

With all of this brewing capability, what’s coming up for them?

Both guys answered with “more taps”. To be more specific, they want to double their tap wall. They recognize that customers look for variety along with new beers all the time.

Dion also wants to expand on their family-friendly atmosphere. Not everyone drinks beer, so he’s looking at creating more non-beer options. These ideas include mineral water on CO2, cold brew coffee, and root beer, which will add to their current third-party wine and canned cocktail offerings.

There was also talk of collaborations with local breweries. More on that coming soon…

As far as the location itself, they are continually improving on it as well. More seating and adding a stage for live music are already happening for this brewery in Spring.

Across from the brewing area, they have empty office space, which will soon be turned into a yeast and experiment lab. Yep, Dion can cultivate yeast too. (He’s basically Superman).

What about to-go beer? Growler fills and a crowler machine are in the works too.

Lastly, let’s not forget events. They’re about to hit that big 1 year anniversary. We’ll bet the farm that something awesome is lined up. They’re looking to host a Canada Day event this summer and other related events that celebrate the group’s heritage.

It’s clear that Fortress has big goals and has already made a few of them happen in their first year. “We want to be one of the best locations in Houston,” said Dion.

Spring, TX, may have a population size that could fit in the average NFL stadium, but there’s nothing average about the first brewery in Spring.

Location, atmosphere, food, and most importantly, solid beer, are all critical for a brewery to succeed long-term.

Fortress has all of them, and they’re all growing.

If you haven’t made it out yet, make a point to do so. You’ll probably run into Brent… He’s there all the time.

Other Posts You Might Like

Beer-Chronicle-Houston-houstonbeer-af-inline-ad
Beer Chronicle Team
beerchronicle@gmail.com
No Comments

Post A Comment