Wild ride at laid-back county brewery
By Kyle Mooty
As a youngster growing up in Norway, Jarle Lillemoen never imagined he’d be running a brewery in the countryside of central Texas. Even after his family moved to Houston and later found himself living in Austin, Caldwell County was as far from his mind as craft beer.
However, Lillemoen met his future wife, Callie, at the University of Texas and her family had land near Red Rock. Today, as owners of 20 acres in the area, Jarle operates Wild Bunch Brewery.
He has grown the business from a small brewery to what he calls a laid-back facility that now offers comfort food and occasionally live music at the venue, which includes indoor air conditioning as well as seating outdoors. Outdoors has had as many as 300 customers over the course of a day during last year’s Oktoberfest, but indoors only seats a couple of dozen.
Lillemoen is quick to note that he is an American citizen.
“My father moved us to Houston when I was about 14,” he said. “He was the captain of an oil tanker. We lived in Houston a long time. I studied biochemistry at Houston, then went to grad school at UT to get my Ph. D.”
Callie’s mother and stepfather owned land in Red Rock called the Garrett Ranch, site of today’s Wild Bunch Brewery. Jarle and Callie bought 20 acres and he built their home, which burned down in March after some lithium batteries spontaneously combusted. “We weren’t there, but they exploded,” Jarle said. “We’re living with my in-laws now, but I will build the house again.”
Wild Bunch Brewery began very small in 2016 with Jarle doing all of the work until he got big enough to get some help.
“My wife has been very patient because I wasn’t making very much money,” he said. “We were going to be just a production brewery. I was just gonna brew beer and sell it to the stores and bars. That was the only idea that I had. But I realized I had to have a tap room on site so we could make some more.
“The brewery itself is in and old barn on (1764) Taylorsville Road. There’s an old farmhouse that I used in the beginning as my office, but then I set up some chairs and some tables and some kegerators. I posted on Facebook that we were open for business. I spent my Saturdays and Sundays there by myself waiting for customers. After a year or two, people started coming by. Enough people decided it was good enough to come back.”
Lockhart is about 19 miles from Wild Bunch Brewery, Bastrop 30 miles, and McMahon about seven miles away.
Wild Bunch Brewery is now the only beer brewery in Caldwell County.
“We’re still here and we’re actually slowly growing,” Jarle said, “because, we don’t have any debt. We plan to keep it that way.”
Wild Bunch Brewery is open on Saturdays and Sunday from 3-9 p.m., but hopes to extend its hours in the fall, perhaps opening on Friday and maybe even Thursdays.
The brewery only brews ales — IPAs, Blondes, Porters, and Pale Ales.
“We’re mostly an outdoor venue, so in the summertime it’s hard with the heat. We have some shade, but when its 105 degrees…
“Usually, it’s kind of quiet, very laid back. Some people say I’ve created a monster because it’s not fancy. It makes people feel relaxed. The beer has been reported to me to be good. Some batches aren’t always perfect. We try to get those out of the way so we can replace them with something that is good.”
The food made on site includes smashburgers, Frito pies, and chili cheese fries.
Wild Bunch Brewery has secured funding to begin bottling its beer and selling it to stores.
“I just bought some real nice, state-of-the-art fermenters,” Jarle said. “We can start selling cases of beer, so that’s really exciting. I tried in the very beginning to hand-bottle it, but it was just too early.”
Jarle said the brewing process takes about 30 days. Ales are fermented in the 60-degree range, as opposed to other beers in the 40s and 50s.
The brewery will close in August for annual renovation. Jarle said the weather usually makes business extremely slow during August. There will be a re-opening party in September, and Oktoberfest again in October. The brewery will be open each weekend after August except for the week of Thanksgiving.
Tom Hardies helps run the brewery when Jarle is away. Ryter Baird is Jarle’s assistant brewer.
There are plans to get hats as merchandise, but for now there are T-shirts available.
“It’s very beautiful out there, like a big cow pasture,” said Jarle, who now has two kids with Callie. “There are nothing but pastures and trees around us.
“Half of the customers come from very local, and some from Austin. Some are driving from San Antonio to Houston looking for a brewery. We also have occasional beer travelers looking for a brewery.”