When Josh Hare first came up with the idea of opening up Hops & Grain brewery, his main concept was about enhancing the human experience. At Hops & Grain brewing the consumer is drinking beer that has infinite inspiration with a unique name and a story behind each beer. Currently located on the East Side of Austin, Hops & Grain brewery has big plans to expand in the near future.
Hare, a native Texan from Abilene, moved to Boulder Colorado as a young adult to get a different sense of life and culture compared to the conservative lifestyle he grew up around. He began racing in triathlons and would come to Austin in the winter to continue training since the weather was less harsh than it was in Colorado. “At the time I was in Boulder there were around 20 beer breweries. Austin had one brewery. I was blown away that Austin had such a similar culture in terms of demographics, disposable income, and all of those components as Boulder did. The food scene was growing, wine was already pretty big here, music obviously is huge, but the beer scene was absent. So I decided to stick around here and explore why there wasn’t more beer in Austin. That’s what led me down the path of opening the brewery, but getting here was definitely not an intentional move. It was just temporary and then I fell in love with Austin. Now here I am 12 years later.”
What makes Hops & Grain stand out from other breweries is their unique approach to be more about the beer and less about their name. “Our goal as a brewery is to create brands underneath what our umbrella is, which is the Hops & Grain name. All of our beers have been branded to not really broadcast Hops & Grain, it’s more about the beer. We want that to be so impactful and all of the beers are driven from a story. Everything about our company is about story telling. We feel like brands are successful and well received when the consumer feels a part of the story of how it came together. Otherwise you’re just drinking something without any inspiration behind it or that you’re not connected to it.”
Hops & Grain has six beers that they sell year around: Zoe, Mosiac, Porter Culture, Greenhouse IPA, River Beer, and 78702. “Each of our beers have always come from a concept for flavor, so we back our way into it and visualize what kind of new flavor experience we’re going for in the glass. Then we test it on our customers and just call it the style that it is; then through that evolution it’ll gain a personality of it’s own. We start to see characteristics in the beer that reflect human or dog characteristics and that’s kind of what leads us down the naming process. Our staff has gotten good at selling our beers by the stories behind them that you can tell in 30 words [or less].”
Out of the six Hops & Grain beers, Josh Hare explains what makes each one different. The Porter Culture beer “is a Baltic style porter. It’s a rich robust porter that’s fermented with lager yeast so it finishes like a pilsner, but starts off like a big robust dark beer. The Greenhouse IPA is our evolving hop exploration, so it’s the same base beer every time, but the variable that changes with each release is the hop varieties we use to dry hop. It’s not impacting ABV, color or any of those components, but flavor and aroma get impacted by varying hop varieties. We print the hop names underneath the bottom of the cans so it’s a fun way for people to have the same brand and same beer, but they get a new experience every time they drink it. River Beer is our premium lager. Just like the name suggests, it’s meant to be enjoyed on the river or outside. It’s definitely our most approachable and easiest drinking beer for anyone from a Miller Lite drinker all the way to a IPA drinker that’s floating the river and doesn’t want to drink 10 IPA’s. 78702 is our zip code here. We felt it might be disingenuous to mix it in a totally different zip code so that one will stay here. It’s of a smaller volume for us, but a German style blonde ale. Zoe’s a pale lager. It’s also dry hop so it’s a lightly hoppy lager. A Pale Mosiac is the happiest beer that we produce. Utilizing a fairly new hop variety called Mosiac as the main hop and blending in few other varieties. It’s full of huge tropical fruit flavors, hints of blueberry and grapefruit pith. At 5.9% ABV it’s incredibly drinkable. Most of the hop additions are done after fermentation, keeping the bitterness low, but the hop flavor, aroma and texture incredibly high.”
If you want to find a new favorite beer, Josh Hare is the guy to talk to. “It’s funny, I always get myself in trouble for saying this, but almost always in my fridge is Coors Banquet beer. That’s what I grew up on. I definitely have a lot of our beer at home, not for an enjoyment standpoint, but buying six packs at the market doing quality tests from different stores and things like that. Of Hops & Grain, the pale Mosiac is my favorite.”
Hops & Grain has always had a close connection with dogs. Josh Hare consistently had dogs growing up and the very fist product that he ever launched was dog treats. He still makes those dog treats today; they’re called “Brew Biscuits” and are made from Hops & Grain spent brewing grains, which have a ton of nutrients. In fact, Hops & Grain top selling beer, Zoe, is named after Hare’s own dog. Hops & Grain also participates in the annual “Barks for Beers” which benefits the Divine Canines Foundation and is going on the entire month of May.
Hops & Grain likes to give back to organizations that are fighting for the environment, community, and “anything bike related, getting people outside, and dog organizations. We give about 3% annually of our gross revenue to non-profits and other organizations that are trying to promote those causes. We work closely with Austin Parks Foundation, they’re a neighbor in our current building and a huge partner of ours. Also, we do a lot with Livestrong and provide beer at a lot of their races. We’re very active and have been for the last year with the San Marcos River Foundation. We actually give 2% of the River Beer sales to the San Marcos River Foundation and that’s where the name was inspired. We have a huge event every year called ‘The Bike Affair’ where we bring out a bunch of non-profits that function for bike advocacy and safer streets for bike commuting. It’s a big celebration of bike culture and we give a percentage of sales that day to a different bike focused charity every year.”
Josh Hare has big plans for Hops & Grain Brewery’s future. They’re currently building a second brewery in San Marcos that will serve as their main source of production. “The second brewery will be our core production spot for our year round beers and all of our packaging. We’re going to scale back production at our current East Side location and open up more event and tap room space. We’ll have both locations running, but we won’t be producing a maximum amount of additional beer from where we’re at right now. The San Marcos location is much bigger and has longer growth potential there than we currently have here. As far as this current location, I think it’s awesome, but we’re very contained in the building and have nowhere else to expand. It’s a multi tenant space and all the tenants are in long-term leases. Open 7 days a week from 10AM to 10PM, The Hops & Grain East Side location receives a lot of requests for private events ranging from weddings to corporate events. “We’re trying to find a way to add a private space so that we wouldn’t have to shut our tasting room down for private events. By taking away some of the capacity from here we can do that; which we make a lot more money per square foot by renting it out for private events than we do manufacturing. So that’s a big piece of what we’re wanting to do here to expand the experience.”
The thing Hare is the most proud of is his staff. “It’s enabled me over the course of 5 years going from one employee to now 20 that I’m able to step back and focus on brand development and executing that development and know that this brewery is in incredibly capable hands. I don’t have to be overseeing everything. My goal to open my business was not to be the boss, but to be my own boss. I’ve been able to find really great people to become the boss this year and execute the vision with much better management skills than I’ve ever cared to have. That’s what I’m most proudest of, above all our beers, that structure and system has enabled us to grow to where we are and to keep producing kick-ass beers and keep all of our staff happy.”
Photography by Marisa Valente