Need a reason to stop in Marathon? Think beer and barbecue

Brick Vault Brewery & Barbeque will brew its own beer, smoke its own meat


Owner of Gage Hotel set to open nanobrewery and smokehouse in March.

The restaurant and brewery stand on the grounds of what once was the town’s mercantile, which dates to 1886.

The venue will brew beer by the barrel to serve on the premises. It won’t can or bottle beer.

Add beer and barbecue to the list of reasons to stop in the dusty little town of Marathon on your next visit to Big Bend.

Come late April, house-made beer will pour from the taps and smoke will curl from the smokehouse at the new Brick Vault Brewery & Barbeque, just a few steps down from the historic Gage Hotel.

“We felt like the marriage of beer and barbecue was just like bride and a groom,” says Carol Peterson, general manager of the Gage, which owns the new venue.

She says the Brick Vault will bring Hill Country-quality barbecue to a cactus-studded patch of far West Texas, where not a stoplight shines within 40 miles, stars pop like a candlelight behind a pin-pricked velvet blanket and tourists from Austin come to unwind. The Persimmon Gap entrance to Big Bend National Park lies just an hour’s drive to the south, and owners hope the business will give visitors incentive to detour off Interstate 10 and stay a night.

“I think people will drive out of their way for good beer and barbecue,” Peterson says. “We know the pressure is great to make barbecue that people from around Central Texas will like.”

RELATED: Matthew Odam’s best barbecue in Austin

The restaurant and brewery stand on the grounds of what once was the town’s mercantile, which dates to 1886. The store originally housed the local bank, and when the mercantile burned to the ground more than a century ago, the brick vault survived. A gas station later opened on the site, and more recently a bar called the Famous Burro operated there. The property stood empty for nearly four years, until J.P. Bryan decided to buy it.

The Brick Vault becomes the latest of Bryan’s acquisitions, which began with the purchase in 1978 of the original historic Gage Hotel. Today he also operates the 12 Gage Restaurant, White Buffalo Bar, Captain Shepard House and several restored homes in Marathon.

Bryan, a history buff and descendant of one of Stephen F. Austin’s siblings, restored the hotel, built by a successful rancher named Alfred Gage. Not much in rugged Brewster County attracted visitors at the time, but when the railroad came through, development arose and ranchers needed land to raise cattle. Acclaimed architect Henry Trost, who later built hotels in Fort Davis, Marfa, Van Horn and El Paso, designed the hotel. It was built at the pinnacle of Gage’s success, but he died within a year of its opening.

Bryan wanted to continue his pattern of reflecting on the area’s historic roots with his latest project. The 3,500-square-foot Brick Vault will include a front and back patio seating area, indoor seating and a full bar. He’s working to restore the brick vault so it can be used as a smoke room. The menu will include cabrito (goat), a South Texas favorite, and pulled pork, along with items long featured on Hill Country barbecue joint menus, like beef brisket, chicken, turkey, house-made sausage, coleslaw, German potato salad and macaroni and cheese.

“We felt Marathon needed more casual dining,” Peterson says. “We want everything to be just out of the smoker.”

Barbecue will be smoked daily, sold by the pound and sold until it runs out. The secret, says pitmaster Adam Molina, 32, who comes from Texas Meat Company in Boerne, is time and love. “You’ve got to put in time and care about what you’re doing,” he says.

The nanobrewery, under the direction of head brewer Brodie Pierce, will make beer to serve on the premises; none will be canned, bottled or sold off-site. Customers will sip Captain Shepard’s Pecan Porter, named for an early Marathon resident, and Altuda Pale Ale, after a small community between Alpine and Marathon.

The brewery will make one barrel of beer at a time, focusing on styles, including some made with molasses, that died out because of German beer purity laws. Customers can watch the brewers in action through a glass wall on one side of a room filled with vats, pipes and tanks.

“We want to get people into styles they’ve never heard of,” says Pierce, 33, who started home brewing after watching the documentary “Beerfest” and went on to enter a journeyman brewer program. He steps into the role after leaving Big Bend Brewing Company in nearby Alpine.

“We want to get people interested in drinking beer that they know where it comes from. We want to do a lot of traditional German- and English-style beers, session beers that are lower in alcohol and not as hoppy,” he says. “We’re more interested in having easy drinking beer you can drink while sitting outside eating barbecue.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Travel

What’s brewing at hotels?

Today’s trendiest hotel amenity is an operational brewery or distillery on site, and it means that guests won’t have to worry about a designated driver after a flight of craft beers or carefully distilled whiskey.  Following the path blazed by winery inns and microbrewery hotels like McMenamins, a chain of hotels in Oregon, a new crop...
Travel deals: Sale fare to Dublin and $649 Northern Lights package to Iceland

This week's best travel bargains around the globe.  - Diamond Lodge, a high-end property in Belize's Ambergris Caye, is offering 50 percent off all rooms. Rates start at $100 a night, plus 9 percent tax. Book by Sept. 31; stay by Dec. 21. Use code SummerSpecial. Info: 501-226-4377,   - The newly renovated Hotel...
Give children a seat at the planning table

Traveling with tweens and teens can be both special and challenging, according to Colin Farndon, director of leisure at Gleneagles, a property in the Scottish Highlands, and a father. “Kids in this age group are a lot of fun to engage with,” he said. “On the other hand, they don’t necessarily want to be with their parents all...
Orlando International Airport to scan faces of US citizens

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Florida's busiest airport is becoming the first in the nation to require a face scan of passengers on all arriving and departing international flights, including U.S. citizens, according to officials there.  The expected announcement Thursday at Orlando International Airport alarms some privacy advocates who say there...
Father, sons finish canoe trip 43 years later

OCEAN BEACH, Calif. — It’s fitting that Nate Dappen turned 35 on Father’s Day. Not only did the San Diego nature filmmaker become a first-time dad in January, he’s also just finished a documentary love letter to his father.  For all of his life, Nate said his dad, Alan Dappen, has been his idol. In Nate’s eyes, the...
More Stories