Brewery featuring artisan ales opens near Lockhart
Many small, first-time brewers who are ready to go commercial follow a similar formula.
Find a spot on a small-town square or a space in an industrial park, buy some metal tanks and brew beer with ingredients sourced from trusty suppliers.
That formula didn’t appeal to Phillip Davis, owner of Hawkins Farmhouse Ales, which is located in a barn just outside Lockhart at 80 County Lane off FM 2720 amid a sea of wheat, cotton and corn.
Davis spent years exploring areas in the Texas Hill Country, the California Central Coast and southern Oregon before finding the future home for his brewery — named for his grandfather — just northwest of Lockhart.
“I wanted to have a farm somewhere,” said Davis, whose appreciation of beer began in the early nineties when he began enjoying Sierra Nevada while living in the Pacific Northwest. “I’m originally from Dallas but lived most of my life in coastal California, going to wineries and seeing a farmer use the whole land. Why can’t beer be agriculture? That’s what kind of got me.”
The former hog farm on 33 acres was the right place for the former emergency room nurse to produce an eclectic portfolio of brews that range from hop-forward beers to barnyardy, unique farmhouse ales.
The crops growing on the land are used to make the beer served to customers — a key piece of the equation for Davis, who wanted to bring high-level artisanal craftsmanship to Central Texas in an area other than Austin or San Antonio.
Farm to table, meet grain to glass.
“Not all people are going to like what we’re saying with our beer, but if we keep doing it right, the people who know what really good beer is will,” Davis said. “We just want to grow ourselves and link agriculture with beer.”
Hawkins Farmhouse Ales opened in June after several years of hard, manual labor needed to get the former hog farm in shape. The breezy, open barn layout has a laid-back, fun vibe. Gazing out at the wheat fields, guests sit at long tables and bench seating or at pub-style tables. There’s a bar outfitted with rotating taps. For entertainment, there are Jenga blocks and a basketball hoop that resides in a corner, suggesting a beer-aided game of horse could break out at any moment.
“It was six years of completely redoing everything,” Davis said.
Improvements to the barn included reframing and finishing the walls, adding spray foam to provide some insulation from the brutal Texas heat, and converting a portion of the barn into barrel rooms and tap rooms.
If you’ve toured a lot of breweries, the room where the magic is made will more closely resemble a wine cellar than your traditional production facility. The beers are largely produced in wine barrels sourced from the Central Coast of California.
It’s in those oak barrels that interesting experiments with spontaneous fermentation occur, which is exactly what it sounds like.
“It’s a romantic idea, it’s a loose science, and it’s art,” Davis said. “Fermentation is the process that turns the wheat out there that we harvest into ethanol. With winemaking, the grape and skin gives it some of its character, as do the trials and tribulations that grape goes through.
“My a-ha moment was to create that same thing with beer.”
Much of what gives Hawkins Farmhouse Ales their character is secondary fermentation — a period of aging that occurs after siphoning or transferring your fermented beer to a secondary vessel after primary fermentation is complete.
The process is used by brewers who produce higher gravity or highly hopped beers that need time to age before reaching their peak flavor and aroma.
“In ancient Egypt, people just thought you left grape juice out and it turned to wine,” Davis said. “With secondary fermentation, you don’t always know what you’re going to get.
“With primary fermentation you get a little bit of residual sugar and gravity that can express itself in secondary fermentation. There’s little bit of fermentables in it, but only a certain amount of microbes.
“With time and age, some of these beers just get better. They go from liquid bread into apricot, cigar, barnyard and all of these different characters that you get. The truth for me was trying to find that culture that could make not just beer, but something beautiful.”
For Davis, the goal is not to make Hawkins Farmhouse Ales a widely distributed brand. Just the opposite, actually.
“We’re mostly interested in on-site sales without a distribution model,” he said. “We’re more focused on rotating and evolving without any outside interference. If we can build a few close relationships with tap rooms who understand our plight then we might (sell there), but (the beers) will be hand-selected and few.”
The portfolio ranges from hop-inspired beers to barrel-aged spontaneous-inspired beers:
Feril: A 100% spontaneous fermented beer aged in oak barrels using Belgian Lambic techniques that includes the use of local raw hard red wheat and pilsner malt.
Relevance: A Belgian-style Saison aged in oak barrels with a secondary fermentation exposed to an assortment of Brettanomyces cultures.
Roja: An American farmhouse version of a Flanders Red aged in oak with an assortment of complex malts intertwined with spontaneous fermentation and carefully selected house cultures.
Temperance: A table farmhouse style Saison aged in oak barrels leaving a slight acidity and complexity regardless of the low ABV.
Major Progression: A bold Belgian Saison aged in secondary on an assortment of house cultures that adds to the complexity of a beer that’s well over 10% ABV.
80 CL: Hop-forward ale with the majority of the hop expression coming from aromatics. A simple malt bill & neutral yeast strain, along with the water chemistry & seasonally available hops, showcases the assortment of layering of hops.
SP 79: A hop-forward ale that focuses on the expression of seasonable hops and the complexity of malts. Finding a balance between malt and hops would be the best way to describe this beer.
Blanco: A forward pale ale that utilizes fresh hops with a simple pale malt canvas.
Hawkins Farmhouse Ales is open from noon-8 p.m. on weekends. For more information, visit them on the web at www.hawkinsfarmhouseales.com.