Marine Corps veteran Mark Phillippe just opened one of Austin’s newest breweries thanks in part to the advice of two close friends and mentors who have made careers through the local beverage industry.
He is the founder of Hi Sign Brewing, which quietly opened this month just north of the intersection of U.S. 183 and Texas 71 and plans to celebrate a grand opening in mid-March during South by Southwest. The brewery, in a 6,600-square-foot warehouse space that includes an airy taproom, an automated brewhouse and a private events room, is the result of seven years of Phillippe’s hard work.
After a deployment to Afghanistan and nearly four full years in the military, he needed to find a new career — and decided, after many talks with Tito’s Handmade Vodka founder Tito Beveridge and Sweet Leaf Tea and Deep Eddy Vodka founder Clayton Christopher, that owning a brewery in Austin would bring him the most satisfaction.
“It seemed like a career you were passionate about wasn’t about the money,” he said. “I’d see them and how much they were enjoying their lives, and it was because they’d found something they had a lot of passion for.”
Although Christopher and Beveridge both found their fortunes through vodka, Phillippe is banking on beer because of a love for the fermented beverage that he discovered at his family’s Montana cabin in the early 2000s. He’s enlisted Andrew Shelton, formerly of Revolver Brewing, to take on the head brewer position at Hi Sign Brewing — a job that has so far stretched Shelton’s creative brewing muscles.
Hi Sign opened with four beers: a blonde ale, a pale ale, a New England IPA and a blood-orange coffee stout made with Café Ubuntu beans roasted by Allegro Coffee.
The New England IPA — a quasi-style of beer marked by hazy, juicy and not-so-bitter characteristics from lots of hops — is relatively new to Austin, providing Hi Sign a niche. In town, IPA master Pinthouse Pizza is the most known for experimenting with them (most notably with the highly sought-after Electric Jellyfish), but Hi Sign is hoping to draw attention to the style as well.
Shelton, who arrived most recently from Big Storm Brewing in Florida, had never done one before but researched New England IPAs (also called Northeastern-style IPAs) before drafting a recipe for Hi Sign’s version. The result is a cloudy, tangerine-colored brew that “someone might drink and be like, ‘Is this orange juice?’ In my mind, that means we’ve got a brewer who knows what he’s doing,” Phillippe said.
Although the beer hasn’t proven easy to do because of the amount of hops required to make it, Shelton said he is excited to continue experimenting with the “unique project. How do you come up with new techniques that will keep it hoppy but not lose the flavor, the haziness? It’s going to be fun to work out.”
Introducing Austin to a true-to-style New England IPA was Phillippe’s idea. So was the blood-orange coffee stout made with lightly roasted Kenyan beans, a caffeinated collaboration with his friend Zane Wilemon, the founder of Café Ubuntu. Shelton, however, decided a pale ale in the lineup was a good idea “to have a safe beer. It’s kind of in between the blonde ale and the New England IPA in terms of hoppiness,” he said.
The blonde ale, the first Hi Sign brew, was the result of needing a simple, easy-to-produce beer that would calibrate the new 15-barrel brewhouse system, which has been automated through Siemens technology. Having a system that heavily automated — and able to more easily produce the same good-quality beers over and over again, a consistency that Phillippe has sought from the start — is unusual for such a young brewery, but he believes “keeping the beer consistent” is important.
That’s part of what he has learned is key from the counsel of Beveridge and Christopher, who pushed him to pursue Hi Sign Brewing from the conception of his vision. Both have taught him that it’s OK to fail but that it’s best to “learn enough to be dangerous and then go out and hire the best,” he said.
The brewery gets its name from a sign he would regularly see during visits to his family’s Montana cabin in college, in the small town of Lincoln. Those vacations, it turned out, would mark the start of a growing passion for craft beer. The sign just seemed to symbolize the turning point those days served for him, he said.
“Someone had taken a barrel top, a big white barrel top, and some red reflective tape and written the word ‘hi’ on it. And then nailed it to this post. So it acted as a sign marker. So what you’d say is, ‘Turn at the hi sign,’” he said.
Before you turned at the sign, however, you’d make sure you were armed with beer to last you the trip.
“The thing to do up there, 15 years ago and still to this day, is fly into the airport, find a brewery and pick up your five or six growlers of beer for the weekend and then go to your cabin,” he said. “You go fish and hang out. We would be sitting on these little handmade benches around a bonfire at night and drinking beer out of growlers. That was the first time I could remember drinking an IPA and thinking, ‘Wow, what is this? This is really good beer.’”
Hi Sign Brewing
What: A new brewery in East Austin with four beers currently available in the taproom and eventually in cans and kegs around town
Where: 1201 Old Bastrop Highway
Hours: 2 to 10 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, noon to midnight Friday-Sunda