- By Arianna Auber American-Statesman Staff
Even when he worked at Austin Beerworks, Bryan Winslow would take the time to homebrew — working long days at the North Austin brewery, then coming home late to tinker with his own recipes.
His endless curiosity made it a no-brainer for Tim Bullock, his coworker at Austin Beerworks, to team up with him and open St. Elmo Brewing at the end of last year. In South Austin at a burgeoning mixed-use complex known as the Yard, the brewery offers a comfortable space for visitors to sip beers made in-house and relish Southeast Asian flavors from Soursop, the on-site food truck. At St. Elmo, there is both indoor seating and an outdoor beer garden.
The ease of service, quality of the brews and a growing group of regulars suggest that St. Elmo has been up and running far longer than it has been, a testament to the founders’ hard work and passion for what they do.
While Winslow heads up the beer program (with his old homebrew system as the new pilot system), Bullock is the affable face behind the bar, leading the team of bartenders and taking charge of other day-to-day operations at the brewery. He keeps up with a small coffee program, and St. Elmo also offers house-made Wholly Water (a mineral water) and soda.
The guys discovered they work well together at Austin Beerworks a few years ago. Although they both ended up taking on various roles there, they started by packaging the beers together, along with one other employee — canning and kegging the likes of the Fire Eagle IPA and the Pearl-Snap Pilsner for nearly a year. Winslow and Bullock split off from there, taking all of the possible positions they could get.
“Tim and I wanted to learn every job there was at Beerworks,” Winslow, who eventually became the head brewer, said. “We’re both curious dudes and took every chance we got. We figured out how everything worked in that whole building.”
But replicating the business strategies of that brewery, which is nearing the end of a large expansion, isn’t exactly the goal for the founders of St. Elmo Brewing.
“The primary focus is to make the beer, sell the beer and drink the beer here. We’d like to do that as much as possible,” Bullock said.
That means canning beers, or making them available on draft at local bars, isn’t a high priority at the moment, although neither of them are ruling out the possibility later this year of having beer on tap at spots like the Brew & Brew and the Draught House. For now, they just want to make sure they can make a variety of beers at the best possible quality.
Those beers include the light but flavorful Carl Kolsch; the sly, surprisingly low-on-alcohol Angus Stout; and the juicily tropical Slater IPA.
There’s also the Evangeline Saison and the Jan German IPA, among others. Notice a theme? At St. Elmo, expect most of the brews to have people’s names, a very intentional decision that doesn’t just help St. Elmo avoid the naming wars currently troubling many of the nation’s breweries. The names also reveal just how personal of a job brewing and slinging beer is for both Winslow and Bullock.
“Beer has a lot of personality,” Winslow said. Giving the beers those names “is a really fun way to talk about the beer, about the beer being sassy or stubborn or aggressive or German. It just seemed to fit with the space.”
At heart, St. Elmo Brewing — with its concrete floors, spare walls and old-school menu board — is “simple, clean and straightforward. Very approachable, like the names,” Bullock added.
That’s the case with the branding as well — one of the biggest lessons they learned from their time at Austin Beerworks, whose striking logo stands out on shelves filled with brands clamoring for attention. St. Elmo’s logo is similarly simple but eye-catching — a white, navy blue and strawberry red rectangle that looks like a flag.
The brewery’s logo had already been established when Winslow visited the Austin History Center to research the street from which St. Elmo Brewing takes its name. That part of Austin actually used to be a small town called St. Elmo about 130 years ago, and once it was annexed, the street took its name. Although Winslow isn’t quite sure how it came to be named after a saint, he knows one thing.
“St. Elmo is the patron saint of sailors,” he said. “When we found that out, I was looking at our logo, and what is it that sailors never go to sea without? A flag. And our logo is very much a flag. So that kind of brought it all together.”
He and Bullock decided to name their brewery after the surrounding neighborhood because they want St. Elmo to become an integral part of the South Austin community. Soon, St. Elmo Brewing will be joined by other boozy businesses at the Yard — including the Austin Winery and Still Austin Whiskey Co. — making it a destination in an otherwise industrial area. (The upcoming St. Elmo Public Market will be a draw, too.)
But with or without other attractions in the neighborhood, St. Elmo stands out for what it offers to Austin beer lovers, as a production brewery with minimal distribution plans.
“If you look at other cities around the country that have had a longer-standing beer scene, they have so many different kinds of breweries,” Bullock said. “Nationally distributing breweries, small breweries that are literally just homebrew systems in the back of a restaurant. Only wood-aging breweries. They’ve got so many different varieties, and we’re just trying to add a little more variety to the experience you have when you visit a brewery here in Austin.”