Crisp and refreshing, the Dále Shine Mexican lager goes down easy on a hot summer afternoon at this neighborhood taproom, nearly belying the effort of the men behind the bar braving the elements and complexity of the brewing business.
Owner Mike Holt opened one of the city’s newest local brewhouses, Weathered Souls Brewing Company, last October. With capacity to brew 4,000 barrels a year – about 124,000 gallons – he and his team can satisfy the demand for the tap room plus the 70 area restaurants and bars they supply, including Dough Pizzeria, Alamo Drafthouse theaters, Burleson Yard Beer Garden, Drink Texas bars, Rosella Coffee, The Luxury, The Cove, and more, and another 10 spots in Austin.
Using an old Divco milk truck, a couple of Weathered Souls salespeople also deliver locally to Santikos theaters and the national BJ’s Restaurants and Brewhouse chain, where you’ll soon find a collaboration beer with Weathered Souls’ name on it. Santikos is also the landlord for the brewery, located in a Northside strip center near the Embassy 14 movie theater.
Weathered Souls’ wholesale business brings in about $9,000 a week, and business has been growing 20% a month, Holt said. Weathered Souls has the space to increase its brew capacity to 17,000 barrels a year.
Holt, 54, a former investor and part-owner at another local craft brewer, Busted Sandal, had the idea to open his own place, relying on “the best brewer he knew,” Marcus Baskerville, to create the suds.
“I grew up preferring whiskey over beer because it has more flavor,” Holt said. “Until I tried Killian’s Irish Red. Still, I don’t always know what I’m tasting, but I know when I love it.”
His first plan was to open in Charlotte, N.C. – “a great beer town,” he said. “But we couldn’t pull off the move, and this is better for us anyway since our roots are here.”
Once he decided San Antonio would be the place for his brewery, it was another seven months before the former homebuilder and owner of Sterling Pressure Systems found a location, and many more months and dollars until he could create the welcoming space he envisioned for his taproom.
Holt sold his home to put $500,000 into purchasing fermenters and other equipment. He and his wife now reside in an RV. Holt hired Seth Parker to work as production manager, Steven Moss as the business manager, Jai Roots as the “resident weathered soul,” and Mary Garcia as the pub’s office manager.
A father and grandfather inspired the business name.
“They are the kind of people I try to be,” Holt said. “Although they had challenges the same as everybody else, they weathered them well. But it’s subjective, too. Your [impression of a] weathered soul would be different than my weathered soul. It’s a name that makes people feel good, I don’t know why.”
But Holt feels good that, almost nine months in, the taproom is providing the business with a base income of $4,000 a week, and there’s a diverse mix of customers who start arriving at 4 p.m. every afternoon, from Baby Boomers to working women, young families to drinking buddies.
“My thing is we follow the beer,” Holt said. “Our business gave us the opportunity to be in restaurants, which is what we did. If we get an opportunity at some point to distribute to other cities, we have the equipment and brewing system to handle that sort of capacity. If we get into H-E-B, then we have the space and equipment to do it.
“So we’re in a safe place. That being said, it’s still a very expensive business to get into.”
Weathered Souls is modeled after the microbreweries you might see on the East or West coasts – a hybrid brewery featuring a sleek indoor space with brewing and fermenting equipment visible from the bar. There is seating at the bar, plus table seating indoors and out.
Although the menu is currently a selection of craft beer, ales, and IPAs, in a few weeks, a chef will join the team so that the taproom can offer light dinnertime meals, lunch on Fridays, and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.
“Figuring out how to create a successful business with all of these barriers is probably the more enjoyable, but more challenging part of it,” Holt said. “You don’t want to get it wrong. You could spend a lot of money trying to do one thing and find out you can’t or it’s not a good idea.”
In 2016, there were 5,234 craft breweries nationwide, and craft brewers accounted for more than 12% of volume share of the overall beer market, up 6% since 2011, according to the Brewers Association, a trade association of craft brewers. Texas had 1.1 craft breweries per capita in 2016, making it No. 46 in the nation.
“When we started San Antonio Beer Week seven years ago, there were a total of five breweries in San Antonio, New Braunfels, and Boerne,” said Travis Poling, author of two books on beer, including the 2015 San Antonio Beer: Alamo City History by the Pint from Arcadia Publishing/History Press. “Four were brewpubs with restaurants and pretty small production. One, Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling, was the only production brewery and new to the market.”
Save for astute beer enthusiasts, few people in San Antonio were even aware of local beer, he added. Real Ale in Blanco and a couple of Austin breweries that ventured south were the closest thing to “local.” Today, Bexar County has 11 craft breweries – including Freetail Brewing Company and Alamo Beer Company – and at least six more in various stages of opening within the next year.
“I expect Bexar [County] and contiguous counties to have about 40 to 50 breweries in the next decade,” Poling said. “About half will be small operations, drawing customers from nearby neighborhoods. A quarter will be city- or region-wide, while another quarter will be statewide players.”
While San Antonio catches up on the craft brew scene, local brewers like Holt see it as a friendly competition.
“It’s different in the craft beer world,” he said. “It’s hard to see the others as competition. We all have the same goal, to expose people to craft beer, one taste bud at a time.”
Holt has owned and sold other businesses but has no plans to leave this one behind.
“I like building things, and I love the creativity of this business,” he said, “and this is a company I think I would enjoy until I’m no longer here.”