Terlingua Adventure Beer Company blends Big Bend, brew and dreams

12:00 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017 Travel
Tony Drewry, who is starting the Terlingua Adventure Beer Company, flips his hair in the water during an early May paddle trip on the Devils River. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

The way Tony Drewry sees it, a beer castle will rise in the desert.

It will house a modern history of Texas beer, via a collection of cans and memorabilia. And it will lure adventure seekers, especially those with a background in the beer industry, from all corners of the state. They will gather in the Big Bend region to paddle, hike and explore the back country via 4x4 vehicle, and, of course, to drink beer.

He calls it the Terlingua Adventure Beer Company. Or, for short, TABC.

Drewry, a former property manager from Fort Worth turned construction worker, plumber, musician and beer guru, fell in love with West Texas as a young man, when he visited Big Bend National Park with a church youth group. On a free day, he went down to the river, crossed over to the Mexican village of Boquillas and drank a little tequila. The cactus, the mountains, the sunsets and especially the Rio Grande cemented the relationship.

American-Statesman Staff
Tony Drewry, captain of the Terlingua Adventure Beer Company, portages Dolan Falls on a recent Devils River trip. Erich Schlegel for American-Statesman

“At that point in time, I didn’t realize the effect Big Bend had on me,” Drewry says. “There was one thing about it I never forgot, though, and I think about it every time the wind blows — the feeling of that wind on my skin. There was something about it, this amazing, incredible, unshakable feeling that’s been a big part of what keeps bringing me out here.”

Some people see a bristling enemy in West Texas, with plants that stab, rocks that scrape and sun that sucks moisture out of all living creatures. Drewry sees a land that holds stark beauty and nurtures creativity.

“It’s like the moon. I mean, really,” he says. “It’s so far away. It seems inaccessible. There’s dust and rocks and it’s just really harsh, but there are hidden gems. And it’s slow, and I love that. It’s wide-open space to open up your mind.”

Now he wants to share that with others.

First you have to understand a little more about Drewry, whose beard grows like a tangled thicket from his chin. His tattoo collection includes a picture of him and his granddaddy next to a tractor. He plays in a band called Shotgun Friday, and when he paddles, which is as often as possible, he straps an old guitar, held together with duct tape, to the top of his kayak and stops midriver to play for the pure joy of making music. A rattlesnake slithered out from beneath his truck outside Alpine recently, and when it did, he shouted “(expletive)-dang!” and shot it with a camera instead of a gun.

“A lot of this is about being wild and free and embracing the nature of what this is out here,” he says. “I really want to pimp Big Bend out in the best way. It changed my life, and I want to share that experience with people.”

Drewry spent years in the beer business. He got his start through plumbing, then segued into fixing leaks at breweries. Then he went to work for one in Fort Worth. He floated around the state, learning, meeting people, developing a presence on social media and doing what he called “mercenary beer work,” filling in the gaps whenever a brewery needed something. He has served as a beer consultant, a certified beer judge and a beer educator, and watched closely as the Texas beer scene bloomed from about a dozen independent breweries to more than 200. He landed in Austin briefly and for several years captained North by Northwest owner Davis Tucker’s remodeled 1974 school bus and rolling party house, called the Beerliner.

All along, West Texas tugged at him. He kept visiting, sometimes bringing along close friend Josh Flack. Every trip grew longer. Last October, he and a group of buddies known as the Canyoneros, who had hiked the Grand Canyon together, paddled the Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande. Pretty soon he didn’t want to return to Fort Worth very often.

“It burned a hole in me, and I had to do something about it,” Drewry says.

He moved to Alpine to get a better lay of the land and an understanding of what he wanted to do. And to become a local.

“West Texas was wide-open spaces, mostly untouched, with very interesting people who are in a lot of ways weird, but so am I,” he says. “I found Alpine, and it reminded me of the Colorado towns I’d drive through on the Beerliner, but it was in Texas, and that’s where my heart’s at. I felt comfortable here.”

Now he and Flack, an electrical contractor, plan to buy a chunk of land, probably somewhere between Alpine and Terlingua, put in a few amenities, create that beer museum and turn it into a home base for Terlingua Adventure Beer Company. They see it as evolving into a commercial venture, a sort of travel agency (“but less lame,” Drewry says) where adventure seekers and beer lovers could come to stage paddle trips or hiking excursions, and create art or music, all against that prickly West Texas backdrop.

American-Statesman Staff
Tony Drewry serenades Marcy Stellfox on a recent Devils River trip. Erich Schlegel for American-Statesman

“I really want to get us out in the middle of the desert and let the creative juices flow,” Drewry says.

The vision, Flack says, is evolving.

“It’s lies, you know, and jokes, and whatever comes off the tongue, because it can take whatever shape,” Flack says. “Tony coined the phrase, ‘We specialize in rare desert beers.’ Anything you take to the desert that you call beer is rare. Everything about it is open to interpretation. Is it just a beer castle in the desert? Maybe. Is it just a club like a Hair Club for Men kind of thing? The guy has amassed a hell of a beer museum, so we’ve got to have somewhere to put that, that at least has some shade.”

In the meantime, the Texas beer scene’s principal players are waiting. Among them are Corey Pond, owner of beer-centric bar and eatery in Dallas called the Common Table and co-founder of Untapped Fest, now called Index Fest, which took place in Austin in May.

“Tony has had a lot of ideas that don’t make sense to anybody but him,” Pond says. “He kind of does what he wants to do, and it seems to benefit a lot of other people.”

Pond envisions the Texas Adventure Beer Company as “somewhere you’d go and you could be yourself and not worry so much about what anybody else thinks, and truly take it easy and relax. That’s kind of what Tony’s about. I can tell you that I would be very excited to go to his beer castle. I can guarantee you it would be a hell of a lot of fun.”

Over the next few months, Drewry plans to accrue some of the education he’ll need to turn the mirage into reality — certifications in river guiding, wildlife and first aid.

“Now we have to figure out how to make it an actual castle, because that seems to be testing very well right now,” Drewry says.

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