- By Arianna Auber American-Statesman Staff
Jensen Ackles is standing on a ladder. When I walk into the red barn-like building housing Family Business Beer Co., the Dripping Springs brewery he’s opened with his wife and other family members, he’s changing out light bulbs in preparation for the first stream of visitors to the taproom.
During much of the past year, the actor has been filming the CW show “Supernatural” alongside co-star and fellow Austinite Jared Padalecki. But when he’s not in Vancouver, he’s been helping to design and taste-test the beers, handle construction and do other odd jobs around the brewery just outside of Austin, on 15 scenic, tree-lined acres on Hamilton Pool Road.
Family Business, which he owns with his wife, Danneel, brother-in-law Gino Graul and in-laws Ed and Debby Graul, opens Jan. 10 with a handful of beers on tap, a playground, a sno-cone stand, a covered porch, a stage for live music and a Southern-style food truck owned by “Duck Dynasty” stars Jep and Jessica Robertson. Having beers for the adults and a fenced-in play area for the kids was essential to both Ackles, who have three young children.
The expansive outdoor area — featuring lights that Ackles helped to hang in the bitter cold — and the wood-accented taproom, however, are just the “lipstick” that accentuates the main attraction, he said: the beer.
Head brewer Nate Seale’s beers “are the real heart and soul of what we’re doing here,” he said, and Seale “the true celebrity.”
The brewery has been a few years in the making for Ackles and Gino, who had been homebrewing together and — like so many other hobbyists who become professional brewers and brewery owners — decided they wanted to open a homey taproom for beer lovers. The vision for Family Business Beer Co. as a picturesque Texas Hill Country destination developed when they secured the property five miles from Hamilton Pool Preserve, an otherwordly watering hole.
Ackles still has several episodes of the current season of his long-running show to film. But Gino Graul, a graduate of the brewing science-focused Siebel Institute, is a fixture behind the scenes, managing day-to-day operations and working alongside his sister and Seale.
Formerly the head brewer at beloved local beer maker (512) Brewing, Seale joined the project early on and crafted many of Family Business’ brewing recipes. He and his wife had moved to Portland, Oregon, for a year and a half but found the beer industry there simply wasn’t the same as Austin’s — which is still young, collaborative and “hungry to do great things,” he said. So he jumped at the chance to return, answering Graul’s ad on ProBrewer.com.
Seale was the creator of (512) Pecan Porter, now one of the most recognizable local beers on any draft wall, and he hopes the Family Business beers will be similarly sought out. They’ll be available only at the taproom at first, to draw people there, though eventually a few area bars will get them in kegs.
After months of experimenting, he has introduced a range of styles to the opening taps, including the Hamilton Pale Ale named for the iconic watering hole nearby and the Grackle Hill Country Imperial Stout, aged in Garrison Brothers bourbon barrels. The Grackle is “an homage to the unofficial mascot of Austin. But it’s also a combination of Graul and Ackles. And of course we went with the biggest, baddest beer we have,” Ackles said.
Because he and Seale both love hoppy beers, two IPAs are also on the initial menu: the Ghost White IPA made with Belgian yeast and the American-style Cosmic Cowboy IPA. These will likely be year-round, and a rotating IPA series will continue to introduce others, including a hazy East Coast-inspired IPA that we tried straight from a fermentation tank.
“We want to have a variety of beers on taps. A little bit of everything,” Seale said. “Being big beer fans, I think our philosophy is that we’re going to make things we like to drink. As long as we stay true to that, people are going to like what we have.”
Like Seale, Jensen and Danneel Ackles, also an actor, had been living on the West Coast when the idea for Family Business began taking shape. They decided to move to Austin from Los Angeles a few years ago because they wanted to be closer to family — the Graul parents have property here, and Ackles’ family is nearby in Dallas — and found the area was ideal for a brewery in a way that California would not have been.
From the start, the brewery has been a family affair. That’s where the name came from, though it originally was a placeholder for something else, Ackles said.
“We racked our brains for close to two years because everyone emphasizes how important the name is to the success of the brewery,” he said. “And we just kept calling it the family business because family was pretty much all that was involved with it. But at one point, we said, ‘What if we just call it that?’ … It’s a tip of the hat to ‘Supernatural’ as well.”
In the early years of the show, he said, the slogan was “Saving people, hunting things: the family business.” The horror-fantasy series, in which he and Padalecki play the Winchester brothers fighting against evil supernatural beings, is now in its 13th season and returns with new episodes on Jan. 18.
Ackles knows that many Family Business Beer customers might be there primarily because they’re fans of the show. At the same time, he’s wagering that the bulk of visitors will be locals who simply like having a place close by to spend an afternoon.
“You’ll get the odd fans making that road trip or taking a flight or making a trip to Austin and wanting to come out here to the brewery who got turned onto it through who I am and the show that I’m on,” he said. “But do I see an onslaught of ‘Supernatural’ fans coming to the door every day? No. Not to mention, nowadays most of the ones I meet aren’t even of drinking age.”
Family Business Beer Co. also wasn’t founded with the intention of having it promote the show or vice versa. Mainly, the owners want the brewery to stand on the strength of its beers and the welcoming atmosphere that the Ackles and Graul families — as well as Seale — have created, Ackles said.
“I hope the people who get interested in our brewery because of ‘Supernatural’ are pleasantly surprised and see that it’s so much more than that,” he said. “I’m running into people now who are like, ‘You’re doing a brewery, right? Man, I’m super excited that Nate Seale is back.’ And I’m like, ‘Yes, he’s the real star of the show!’ If there’s anybody who’s No. 1 on the call sheet, it’s him.”