Graydon Hill and his brewmasters at Barrow Brewing Company in Salado are busy making sure the equipment is clean and ready for the next batch of craft beer.
“Be careful, it’s slippery,” Graydon warned, guiding a guest through the brewery side of the building.
Graydon and his wife, KD, are co-owners of the brewery that opened last year. His passion for making craft beer started at home on the kitchen stove after KD bought him a home brew kit one Christmas. It was a challenging hobby that required dedication to following instructions. He started out with a one-gallon fermenter and eventually moved his hobby to the garage.
Graydon said home brewers can start with a gallon batch to find something that works for them. However, he said to be aware and be sure to change the temperature for the hops variety chosen. “It’s different for every beer, even five degrees off can ruin a batch,” Also, pay attention to fermentation time.
“Sticking to recipes and cleanliness is so important,” said KD. “A lot of home brewers don’t take the cleanliness seriously.”
Graydon explained the craft of making artisan beer from when a bag of grain is poured into a mill before being sent through a labyrinth of pipes that carries the milled grain to the process tanks. Once in the tanks the liquid is converted into its next state before getting piped into one of the fermenters that holds the beer in various stages of brewing. The brewery has four 15-barrel fermenters in the brew area and will soon be sharing space with two 30-barrel fermenters. Beer ferments for 12 to 14 days before being transferred to a brite beer tank where the CO2 is added that gives it the signature carbonation. “The new brew sits for maybe a day, just long enough for us to put it in the final package, kegs or cans,” Graydon said.
The Brewery produces about 30 barrels, or about 900 gallons per week. Some of the brew is destined for kegs, the tap room, or canned for distribution to outlets around the region. About 300, 24-can cases are sent for sale to stores in Austin, San Antonio and Temple.
“Craft beers have a smaller capacity and are local or regional, and independently owned,” KD said. “It also has an element of creativity and artistry that you don’t always find in that big beer market.”
While commercially brewed beer is produced in a larger capacity, every batch of craft beer has the beermaster’s attention.
“Graydon is focused on detail,” said KD, an eight-year U.S. Air Force veteran. She worked as an Arabic linguist and now she teaches computer skills to soldiers on Fort Hood. “When you increase your capacity so far that other people do your work, it is not becoming what you want. It takes a lot more heart to brew craft beer.”
“We think Graydon makes wonderful beer,” Salado-area rancher Joe Lewis said. “He is great and has a lot of attention to detail. He follows the correct recipe that a lot of American breweries change. I like the way Graydon does it.”
Graydon, a former commercial airline pilot for Continental Express flew 50-seat regional jets in North America coast to coast, to Canada and Mexico, strives to make his business sustainable. Salado well water is used in the beer-making process and he partners with Lewis, providing spent grains for cattle.
“Every time we go to get the grains, Joe gets a glass of hefe weisen,” said Joe’s wife, Sarah.
“Graydon makes it the way they do in Germany,” added Joe.
KD said the spent grains meet required health standards and are a big hit with the Lewis’ cattle.
“They hear the tractor coming. It’s one particular tractor that has the front end load on it that picks up the grain, and they come running,” Sarah said.
“Not sure everyone thinks the same way, but we think it’s (the Barrow Brewing Company) a nice addition, nice meeting place for people to come,” said Joe, 72. “It’s a family friendly environment. Graydon and his wife and the people who work for him are friendly.”
“Having the room where you drink the beer and having the brewery right there gives it a lot of atmosphere,” said Sarah Lewis, 73. “It’s place for people of all ages.”
“We are very pleased with the brewery,” Joe said. “Once a week, twice a week we pick up the grain and have a beer.”
The science behind craft beer
There is a science to brewing craft beer. The hops and the grains selected determine the type of beer you make.
“Is the grain toasted or not? Are you using barley or wheat?” KD asked rhetorically. “If you add rye in a beer, it adds a lot of complexity.
Hops is a flower as well as a preservative and can come from as far away as Germany or Africa, or as close as the Northwest, Northeast or Midwest regions of the United States. “Different hops add different flavors,” KD said. “In the Pacific Northwest, there are plentiful varieties.”
Barrows craft brews include Tipsy Vicar Stout Dark Beer; The Creek Don’t Rise, a lighter lager; Sabbatical Stout, with a hint of coconut; Dopplebock Salado Stout, a dark bock; Belgian Style 784, a whipped Belgian light white ale, similar to wheat beer; and Coffee Creek Lager, a favorite of their customers that started out as an April Fool’s joke by staffers who added a hint of coffee to a beer. But their prank inspired one of the brewery’s more popular flavors. In addition to the homemade suds, the brewery also offers root beer, lemonade, and ginger or blueberry kombucha for folks preferring an alcohol-free beverage.
Barrows Brewery opened in May 2016. It took a little time to convince the town council and residents that a craft beer taproom had a place in Salado, but “people were overwhelmingly supportive,” said KD.
If you’ve never tasted craft beer and aren’t quite sure which one to choose, beertenders help you decide the best brew for you to try. They will ask you about your tastes. For example, the beertender may ask if you like sour, chocolate, whiskey or wine. By just asking a few questions, they will be able to pour a cold glass of brew with the fragrance and flavor.
“All our beers are approachable,” KD said. “They are not going to be intimidating and reel you back in your chair. They will be something that is easy to drink and not overwhelmingly hoppy.”
More than a brewery
In addition to selling their craft beer, Graydon and KD host a variety of events. It’s not unusual to see a group of people practicing yoga in the space where the tables usually stand.
“You finish the class and are so relaxed, you have a beverage of your choice which relaxes you more,” KD said, adding that the German engineered tables are easy to fold and stack when they need the open space. The tables are an inviting space that encourages people who may not have met yet, to sit at a common table and make a new friend.
“We utilize the space as much as possible, and in as many different ways possible,” she said.
Even when the brewery is closed, bicyclists and dog walkers have a place to refresh. At the back of the building bicyclists can ride their bikes up to the water tap to refill their bottles. In the front of the building is the dog tap, where dogs can get a fresh bowl of water. It is a dog- and family-friendly establishment.
Evening brings patrons ranging in age from two weeks to 96 years. Nighttime also means music. KD said they try to bring in a variety of performers, except country. One Sunday a month features a lecture with a professor who speaks about topics ranging from science to art.
“Craft beer is about the heart, the stories and the community that comes with it,” said KD. “There is a sense of community that organically happened there, it’s beautiful that it happened.”