Bright Lights, Little City: Guerilla Brewing

Little City's Eric Wolf owned and operated Lovejoys, a bar and brewery in downtown Austin from 2006-2012 where he first cut his teeth in the brewing and the craft beer industry.

No one ever said making beer was supposed to be easy, and at Lovejoys, I assure you that it was not.

  Eric Roach and Daron White brewing an early batch on the new system, circa 1997

Eric Roach and Daron White brewing an early batch on the new system, circa 1997

In the mid-90’s, with his newly opened beer and coffee bar already thriving and recent changes to Texas’ brewing laws, Lovejoys founder Chip Tait and some of his Austin Homebrew Supply pals (Eric Roach, Daron White, et al) devised a plan to start brewing their own beer on-site. The franken-brewhouse that they built was unique to say the least - a leaky, square mash tun surely held together by the punk band stickers that covered its exterior, a plastic cold liquor tank that might be cold if the walk-in was working well that day and the brewer remembered to fill it the night before, and an indestructible beast of a custom-welded brew kettle with a clearly hazardous and likely out of code direct-flame burner. The conical fermentation tanks were probably the only pieces of the system intended for use in a brewery though they were oddly sized and crammed into a too-small closet with a cheap window a/c unit providing their only temperature control.

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Equipment limitations aside, brew days brought a host of other challenges. Extreme conditions and limited space made the head brewer role at Lovejoys one of the toughest gigs in town. In what was essentially a hallway behind the bar, the space was tight with very little ventilation and poor drainage. It was always hot as hell and the floors were always wet and slippery. If you could avoid slipping and falling on your ass during a brew day then you were likely tripping over the mess of transfer hoses, pumps and extension cords covering every inch of walkable floor. Burns, cuts, shocks, and head bumps were inevitable and anyone who ever brewed a batch at 604 Neches surely has the battle scars to prove it.

Because we were only brewing for our direct customers and because we had neither the intention nor the capacity to distribute beyond our walls (it was illegal for brewpubs to distribute then anyway) we had a ton of freedom to experiment. The taps rotated constantly and we had no style requirements so we weren’t afraid to take chances. If something didn’t turn out as intended we just changed the name. A blonde ale got too warm during fermentation and went a little funky? Call it a sour ale! Miscalculated the amount of hops needed for that one? I guess it’s an IPA now. The brewery’s  limitations necessitated creativity and risk-taking and many of our greatest hits were the result of our misses.

The beer names ranged from clever to vulgar but were mostly bad puns (Dennis Hopper IPA) or named after a brewer’s dog (Samson’s Best, Sparky’s Special Ale among others). Energizer IPA was born when a brewer dropped his flashlight in the kettle during the boil and was resurrected years later when someone forgot to pay the electric bill (hint: it was me) and the power was shut off toward the end of a brew day. We ran every extension cord we had down the alley to plug the pump in on Jackalope’s patio a block down and finished the final transfer in the dark. For the sake of the story, I like to believe that it was the best damn beer we ever made, but I honestly don’t remember. Imagine that...

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During the time Lovejoys was open, and primarily still, most brewpubs had a very specific atmosphere - big glass windows with shiny tanks on display under bright lights, long picnic tables, wooden flight boards, pizza and chicken wings, and typically the same 4-5 beer styles. We were nothing like that. We took pride in being the anti-brewpub. In fact we didn’t really think of ourselves as a brewpub at all. We were a bar that also made a little beer in the back room and hoped enough people dug it to justify making more. We showed total disregard for trends and had zero flash. The beer was always cheap and was usually good and we worked our asses off to make it happen. It was guerrilla brewing at its finest.

  Brewer Todd Henry filling a growler of AJ Porter

Brewer Todd Henry filling a growler of AJ Porter