Austin Brewery Tours Turns Six Years Old!
“Behind every good beer is a good story” – Austin Brewery Tours
Photo credit to Austin Brewery Tours
Fall is here and the world of beer events has looked more familiar once again. Great American Beer Festival and Texas Craft Brewers Festival re-emerged, Oktoberfests commenced, several breweries are celebrating milestone anniversaries, and overall, the Texas beer community is hanging tough!
Austin tourism is back in full swing as well and with it, our local Austin Brewery Tours, which celebrates its illustrious six-year anniversary this month. Who is Austin Brewery Tours? According to their website, they are, “Austin’s craft beer ambassadors. Beer tours by beer lovers for beer lovers.” Owner, founder, and tour guide extraordinaire, Shane Orr sat down with me to discuss the wins as well as the hardships of running a tourism business over the years.
Orr, a self-proclaimed free spirit; musician, traveler, odd-job taker, and entrepreneur, has some pretty fascinating stories. If you get him talking, he won’t disappoint! The idea for Austin Brewery Tours began on a hot July day throwing back some Austin beer with friends in 2015. Around that time, the ATX beer scene had about 30 breweries; very young and small in comparison to the nearly 100 that exist in the surrounding areas today. Orr and his buddies wondered aloud how many there were and with that initial research, combined with a curious spirit, and a love for craft beer the Austin Brewery Tours became a true undertaking. To Orr’s surprise, the name was available on social media but the domain was owned by someone in Asia. A thousand dollars out of unproven-business dollars later to buy it, it was officially official. He drove to Dallas within three weeks to buy a van, danced the dreaded city permits dance, built the website, and voila! (If only starting a small business were truly that simple.)
He credits his web development knowledge to why he had such instant success. “Back then, you had to call a 1-800-number to book…nobody wants to get on the phone to book in this Amazon age.” He thought, ‘I’m gonna put an online reservation system there!’ That was really one of my strokes of genius because nobody else knew how to do that. Nobody else probably even knew I was around! I started getting bookings immediately,” he notes. Orr admits he was a bit intimidated by the whole scene when he first started. “I had to just go to breweries with my business card like, ‘Hey, I’m Shane!’ Rachel from Zilker was the very first person I contacted and she was amazingly supportive. She didn’t bat an eye. She didn’t give me an attitude or make me feel small. She gets it. She’s very business-minded and I have a very strong professional relationship with her to this day. We go there every Saturday,” he declares.
*Fun fact, yours truly, my in-laws, Kent and Jane, and husband, Alec were tour group numero dos with Austin Brewery Tours! November of 2015 we booked with Shane to celebrate Alec’s birthday and we still rave about the experience to this day!
Photo credit to Austin Brewery Tours; (L) St Elmo Brewing Owner, Bryan Winslow, (R) Austin Brewery Tours Owner, Shane Orr
Orr’s genuine love for giving great tours is clear when he talks about how much he misses his clients when he hands off a tour to another ABT Tour Guide. He jokes that he wasn’t always a great tour guide, though. “I was horrible when I started. I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t know how to be a tour guide. I was too worried… I didn’t want to be too overbearing, or I didn’t want to interrupt something. But all that was just really stupid stuff.” He wasn’t sure how much he should try and interact with his attendees. He quickly realized, however, “That’s not the way to do it. The way to do it is just to go sit down at the f*ing table and go, ‘Can I join you guys? Where you guys from? What brings you to Austin? My mantra is every last person on my entire tour should have a personal interaction. That’s the art me to of being a tour guide… building some common ground. Once you find that you have something in common with someday, you disarm them and you can win them over. Okay, I’m gonna have a good time with this guy!”
Today’s Austin Brewery Tours team consists of three beer-loving rockstars. Orr raves about his colleagues saying, “Brooke came back post-Covid and she’s been around for a long time whether it’s bartending downtown or working at Independence. She’s really solid. She’s one of the best things that ever happened in my company. And then I have a new guy named Kenneth, He’s one of the main online purveyors of Oktoberfest tours. He was just looking for something fun to do and hit me up and said he’d like to work for me.”
They own two vans now and will rent larger ones as needed. It’s not uncommon for them to host tours of 40-100 people. Orr is also incredibly aware that not everyone on his tours knows beer, and many are nervous or worried about embarrassing themselves when they approach that lengthy, sometimes intimidating tap wall menu. When he introduces himself at the beginning of the tour he points out that even if you have never had a beer, only drink ciders, or whiskey, or whatever, he will take the time to ask you questions. Together, you will collaboratively find something you like. He says, at that moment there’s almost always a collective sigh of relief that shows him people realize they’re in an inclusive, safe space. “I try to encourage them to drink something they normally wouldn’t want to drink. You would have never known you liked it or you even known you like beer before this day, he says. Adding excitedly, “So then, I become like this magic maker that can always find the right beer for people. And it just changed their perception of the whole thing and we get to do this every f*cking weekend. We love it. Everybody on my crew loves it!” Kudos to you, ABT team!
Ups and Downs
When it comes to hardships Orr says, “Without a doubt, the hardest part was Covid last year.” In general though, “At times, the hardest part for me is meeting demand.” Some other snafus involve having to find a new pickup/drop-off spot. For the history of the business, ABT has run from Craft Pride on Rainey Street. For those unfamiliar, Craft Pride has had to shut their doors at their original charming location and are relocating. There are perks to no longer dealing with Rainey Street, however. Orr candidly admits once he had his van door completely ripped off by an Uber driver carelessly passing by. In general, Austin traffic can make for business struggles. “You just have to be so mindful of everything,” he adds.
Photo credit to Austin Brewery Tours
When it comes to the pandemic-blamed struggles, Orr says, “I’m very tuned in to the struggle of service workers. Historically, but also due to COVID. Because they struggled just like me, it went down to zero. I’m just really appreciative that I’m in a position to help them make a living. That’s the most meaningful thing to me and people that know me, that’s what I’m all about. My thing’s always been ‘how do I change the world?’ You know, ever since I was 19 years old, like a bleeding heart liberal at that age, just passionate about the world.” Orr traveled internationally and throughout Europe for roughly ten years. “I just kept beating my brain against the wall trying to figure out what I was going to do or how I could find my place… And what I finally realized is you can’t change the world. All you can change is your community, your corner, your street, your block. And once I kind of had that realization, that seemed like something I could do.” Orr speaks in-depth about how his camaraderie with breweries like Nomadic Beerworks has cemented longtime mutual relationships. Supporting small breweries and brewpubs as they open is very important to him and his business thrives on positive connections.
How to book and what to expect?
To book a tour with Orr and Austin Brewery Tours, head over to his website here. Drinking isn’t allowed on his vans and he adds, “It’s not about taking shots and chugging beer. We talk and we share stories and we meet new friends over beers. The end game is not getting wasted in craft beer places.” He understands that sometimes he might lose customers over this, but to him, quality in the beers being consumed, safety, education, and contributing to the community are more important. “Say I’ve got a 14-passenger van. It could be six couples and all those people developed friendships over the tour. They’re trading Facebook accounts, having separation anxiety, hugs goodbye…or they’re going to Craft Pride or Bangers together. That’s the beauty and magic of what I get to do. Making connections and lasting good memories…it’s more than just the beer. It’s the people on the tour.”
On a tour, you will visit three breweries in a period of four hours. Breweries you can expect to hit on his tours include Zilker Brewing Co, Southern Heights Brewing, Independence Brewing Co, Pinthouse Brewing, Nomadic Beerworks, and St. Elmo Brewing, although many others have been frequented to in the past as well. He also offers Hill Country Distillery tours, if you send in a special inquiry. (Psst, these aren’t typically open to the public, yet.)
Photo credit to Austin Brewery Tours
Tours can be booked Friday through Sunday, although he’s happy to accommodate custom tours like corporate outings and team-building activities on weekdays. Orr has also generously offered a discount code to CraftBeerAustin.com readers as a thank you for reading this story. When you go to book, use promo code CRAFTBEERAUSTIN to receive 10% off your booking!
Tours pick up at 12 pm and start at $80 per person. You get tastings at each stop, a behind-the-scenes facility tour, a friendly driver, and bartender tips are even included. Orr has dreams of offering national and international destination experiences someday. He’s always thinking of how to grow and leaves us with this reminder, “I’m not just a man with a van. We’re six-year veterans!” Indeed, you are Austin Brewery Tours! Please continue to support small local breweries and small businesses, in general! Thank you Austin Brewery Tours for doing just that for these past six years!
Orr concludes, “I had no clue how big tourism into Austin was or know that my clients would be coming from all over the country and all over the world to come to Austin Brewery Tours. It’s turned out beyond my wildest dreams!” Congratulations Shane and Austin Brewery Tours! We raise a pint to you, your team, and all your future success!
[Feature photo credit to Austin Brewery Tours]