Real Ale Brewing Co. | A Texas Craft Brewery Profile
Located at 231 San Saba Ct, Blanco, TX 78606
25 years. That’s how long it’s been since Real Ale Brewing first opened its doors in the summer of 1996 in the basement of a Blanco, Texas, antique shop. yet time has certainly flown by for Real Ale Brewing Co.
Situated in the small, Hill Country town of Blanco, Texas, Real Ale is located halfway between San Antonio and Austin. Blanco personifies small-town Texas: friendly people, lots of hiking at nearby Blanco State Park, antique shops, history, and a sunset that is near impossible to beat.
A Chance Encounter at a Laundromat Gives New Owner a Confidence Boost
A mere two years after it opened, current owner Brad Farbstein purchased Real Ale from the original owners. Farbstein was an avid homebrewer who had been volunteering at the small fledgling brewery. By 2000 he was turning out around 5,500 barrels a year, with three year-round beers. By 2006, Real Ale need more space and moved just north of downtown to its current location, adding a 60-barrel brewhouse to complete the change.
25 years is a hell of a turning point for any brewery, and Real Ale has gone through quite a few changes during this time, from a rebranding of their beers and logo to a new, much larger taproom that overlooks an expanded brewhouse and the Texas Hill Country, as well as a new 120-barrel brewhouse around 4 years ago.
“I remember when it all finally hit me,” says Farbstein. “It was around 2000, and my wife and I were living in a house in Austin with no washer.” says Farbstein “After heading into a laundromat, I noticed on a nearby table a bottle of our Full Moon Rye. Up to that point, I always thought it was mostly our friends buying the beer.”
A Push for Changes
2010 saw the introduction of the brewery’s soon-to-be mythical German Style Pilsner, Hans Pils. This 2012 silver medal winner at the Great American Beer Festival has become one of Real Ale’s biggest sellers, whether on draft or in bottles and cans. This ode to the German brewing tradition even has its own Facebook page where fans post pictures of their can or bottle of Hans and wax poetic to its beauty.
Another Real Ale staple is Fireman’s 4, a blonde ale named in honor of a local bike shop, Firemans Texas Cruzer, and constituted their fourth year-round offering at the time.
“A funny thing happened when applying for federal label approval on Fireman’s,” says Farbstein. “When we submitted the label to the then ATF — the department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms — we were denied. Annoyed, I called the ATF and spoke to an agent who only wanted to know what the ‘4’ in the name meant, so I sarcastically said it was the number between three and five. We got our label approval two weeks later.”
Innovation at Real Ale is still seen throughout the brewery with many new brews in the last few years, and few originals retired. Director of Brewing Tim Schwartz and his team spent a year developing Axis IPA (released in 2016); they experimented with different hops and malts until they ended up with a recipe that wowed them. Though it has elements of Northeast and West Coast styles, they consider it a Texas IPA jammed with flavor and aroma.
Keeping up with consumer tastes, Real Ale has also added a few hazy, or juicy, IPA beers like their Squirt Gun, and Skullberry, a Milkshake IPA.
Real Ale’s barrel program started small with only four barrels, but it’s now grown into the Mysterium Verum series, something far bigger than they ever imagined. The series includes American Wild Ales, barrel-aged versions of their seasonal releases, and even a sour Scotch Ale. Mysterium Verum beers are typically aged in new oak barrels, wine, and even several of their spirits barrels.
Continuing to push the edge, Real Ale got into the spirits game in the Spring of 2017. With state licensing obtained, this was a program two years in the making when it debuted. Aptly named “Real Spirits” the distillery end of Real Ale produces a gin and several whiskeys with the base spirit made from the distillation of their beers.
Real Ale Brewing is Growing, But They’re Still Focused on Home
Today Real Ale produces upwards of 60,000 barrels per year with distribution all over Texas and has become a destination brewery. Farbstein and Director of Brewing Tim Schwartz, apprised that another expansion is on the horizon: March 2017 saw Real Ale break ground on that new 120-barrel brewhouse.
Despite the ability of the new brewhouse to catapult them into national distribution – Real Ale is sticking to its original plan. “We are focused on Texas right,” says Schwartz. “That’s been our focus from the beginning and will remain so for the foreseeable future.”
By keeping their focus on Texas only, the new system allowed Real Ale to move from a 24 hour, five to six days a week overnight schedule, back to a Monda through Friday two-shift operation.
That old 60-barrel brewhouse was sold and replaced with a 10-hectoliter pilot system that allows Real Ale to focus on small projects, one-off brews, and taproom-only releases.
“This will allow for a better work/life balance for our employees,” says Farbstein. “The goal was not to increase our production, thus our distribution reach, but to brew the same volume we do now, easier and with more efficiency.”
Since its installation, the new system’s innovative technology has allowed Real Ale to more than triple production.
What Farbstein, Schwartz, and their team want beer drinkers to take away is that Real Ale is built on four extremely basic pillars: Quality, consistency, innovation, and value. Their efforts toward these goals allow for a consistent quality that both Real Ale and their consumers expect.
“It’s not in our DNA to do things any different,” said both. “We want folks to walk away from Real Ale not being able to wait to get back.”