Ben Sabin didn’t grow up with aspirations of working in a brewery, but after years pulling shifts in the service industry and homebrewing on his apartment balcony led to a volunteer position, which eventually turned into a job at Thirsty Planet, a brewery was exactly where he found himself.
Now, those lessons are serving Sabin well as he starts a brewery of his own–Friends & Allies.
Taking its name from the Hasinais meaning for the word Tejas (aka Texas) which was a friend or ally, the brewery aims to be deeply rooted in the Austin, TX community. Beers in the works include an Austin spin on a very formidable West Coast IPA, a Session IPA, a Belgian Table Beer, and a host of rotating seasonals.
Sabin will head up the sales, marketing and distribution efforts for Friends & Allies. His co-founder in the project is Devon Ponds, a McCombs Business School graduate who got his start in the beer industry working at South Austin Brewing in 2011, before moving to California to put in two years as Financial Manager for Port Brewing Company/ The Lost Abbey.
“He’s not just a CPA,” Sabin said, explaining the know-how that Ponds brings to the table. “He’s a CPA who has worked in a really unique industry. And when you’re in this unique industry, you realize you need to raise a lot of money to purchase all the equipment, and even when you’re doing well and you’re at max capacity, you need even more money to buy more equipment to even get you to the next stage to be successful.”
Joining Sabin and Ponds is Head Brewer Nathan Crane, who is himself a Port Brewing/Lost Abbey alum. And while Crane won’t have a brewhouse of his own to work out of for a while–Friends & Allies brewery and taproom off Springdale and Airport blvd won’t be up and running until at least Spring of 2016–the team has made a unique arrangement with another upcoming Austin brewery that will allow them to brew their beer earlier, and have it in the market by as soon as December of this year.
“We’ve worked out a great agreement with a new co-op brewery called 4th Tap in which we’ve helped them purchase their future capacity, basically tanks that they will inherit, and [in exchange] we get to use those tanks and use their space,” Sabin explained. “Without that we’d just be waiting for construction [on Friends & Allies’ own facility] and waiting for the city to approve stuff…We didn’t want to wait another year. We’re all happy working [for other breweries], but we’d be a lot happier working for ourselves.”
Initially, the beer Friends & Allies brews at 4th Tap will be draught only and self-distributed. Once the Friends & Allies brewery (three vessel, 30 bbl Marks system–for anyone curious) is open, they plan to keg and can the beer, but they will continue self-distributing and keeping the beer within the Austin area in an effort to follow a very steady and intentional growth plan.
“We want to control our own destiny at the very early stages…” Sabin said. “Beer is something that’s fresh, the quicker and closer it can be consumed, the better it can be monitored and faster it can be delivered.”
There’s nowhere people will be able to try the beer closer or fresher than the Friends & Allies taproom, which is expected to open around the same time as the brewery next Spring. With neighbors like Austin Eastciders and the upcoming Austin Bouldering Project, folks will have plenty of reasons to stop by for a pint on the weekends while they’re in the area.
“There’s nothing like Austin, literally nothing like Austin,” Sabin said. “Austin has a unique character to it, and I think the East Side has even more of that.”
One thing the East Side is starting to have more of is breweries. Just five years ago, Live Oak Brewing Company was the only brewery you’d find in Central East Austin. Now, other great operations like Hops & Grain, Zilker Brewing Company and Blue Owl Brewing call it home as well. As the number of breweries throughout all of Austin grows, so does the education of consumers, and a collective feeling among members of the brewing industry that quality across the board counts.
“There’s a lot of people who really care about the flavor and the product and are really taking good care of it,” Sabin said. “The more we can help teach people about craft beer and how it’s made, the better we can do for the whole industry.”
And the industry in Austin is growing fast, leading some consumers and brewers alike to wonder what it takes for a new brewery to stand out from the growing crowd.
For Sabin, the recipe to success is twofold.
“It’s really just providing the best customer service and the best beer,” He said. “If you’ve got alright beer and the best customer service, you can still be alright, but I want to have the best beer and the best customer service.”
You call follow along with the Friends & Allies progress on their Facebook Page. Look out for their beer on draught around Austin this December.