In this current era of the craft beer boom in North Texas, breweries seem to pop-up nearly every week. It seems each day someone else wants to turn their hobby into the reality of a business. And why not? Craft beer is catching the attention of the entire country and growing quickly. And if it’s here to stay, then we need more breweries focusing on continuing to make great beer because it’s what got this revolution in first place.
Three years into their own craft beer journey, Rhett Keisler, his father Ronnie and head brewer Grant Wood have built a wonderful brewery focused on brewing great beer for the beer lover inside us all. Forty-five minutes south of Fort Worth in Granbury, Rhett and Grant were kind enough to take some time out of their busy lives to speak with me about what Revolver Brewing is, what their goals are as Revolver continues to grow, and what they hope their fans take away each time they order a Revolver beer.
Starting from the beginning, Revolver have been around a little longer than the majority of the breweries in the area, though not nearly as long as Rahr & Sons or Franconia.
Grant Wood: Correct. For Revolver, all of this started around 2010. Ronnie (Keisler) was retiring from a long career in the oil industry and (his son and co-owner) Rhett (Keisler) was looking to move from Toronto. Rhett was working at a hedge fund at the time, actively looking to start something new. They were investigating several different types of businesses, including chocolate actually, and they looked at DFW realized because there was only two breweries here at the time, Rahr and Franconia, there might be some opportunity in the local beer industry. North Texas new beer resurgence was still pretty small by comparison to first craft beer boom in North Texas during the late ’90’s, and like anyone in the last several years, Rhett saw this opportunity and decided to go for it.
Rhett Keisler: When I was working for the hedge fund, I can tell you that if all I wanted out of my job was money, the work I was doing could have provided that. At some point, I looked around at the guys around me and I just saw a bunch of miserable people who, sure, their financial needs were being met, but they weren’t happy people. I didn’t want to be that guy.
GW:While I was still living in Boston, Rhett put up a notice on a Brewer’s Association message board about looking for a head brewer for a brewery he was starting in North Texas. At that point you could say the rest is history. After seeing that post I emailed him and we met up in New York (I was still in Boston at the time). A little bit later, mixed with the fact he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and the ability to be close to family and where I grew up, I left Sam Adams after 16 years and here I am.
Personally, I’ve never dogged Sam Adams, though I can’t say their beers are ones I naturally gravitate towards, but was it an easy decision to leave them?
GW: Yes and no. They make great beer, and I do think they aren’t credited (enough) with helping start the craft beer revolution in America. You can thank Fritz Maytag for actually starting it when he bought Anchor Brewing in San Francisco, but they (Sam Adams) can be credited with making good beer production scalable across the country. It’s a great company. And after being there 16 years, the winds of change and growth brought me to a point where I was ready to look for something else. I wouldn’t say it was a negative thing, change comes when you grow, but I think I was just ready for something new. Plus, I grew up in Irving and I still have family around here, so family was a big part of the decision, too.
That brings me to my next question, why Granbury? There are wineries in this area, but perhaps obviously, there is still no other brewery down here other than y’all. Especially with some of Texas’ small towns being more conservative, alcohol wise, I think if I’m looking to build a brewery in the North Texas area, this is not the first place I would be looking. Was that part of the idea?
GW: Well, we looked at a lot of places. One being near the West 7th area in Fort Worth, though it’s proximity to a school made that not work out. Ronnie already lived down here, so we were looking between here and Fort Worth, out west to Weatherford, really all over the place. Eventually, before we found this location we had bought the property next to us. Quickly, we realized that this one (next door) was flatter and prime land for building large / multiple buildings on. So we bought this one and right away started construction on the current brewery and this is the same one we’ve added on to since we opened.
RK: Yeah, and Granbury has really opened up to us. I think smaller towns can be hesitant to change or new things, but I think the community has really embraced us. We have a lot of folks who show up for tours from all over the Metroplex, but I would say these days the majority are from the surrounding county.
I would say each time I’ve been here, you see many different types of folks, both city and country. Back to the brewery itself, I think every time I’m out here something is new or under construction
RK: We’re expanding all the time and growing like crazy. But we’re being careful about it. If we need something, we’re going to spend the money if it’s going to help us in the long run.
GW: One of our big projects is our water. We are on well water out here and while the water is great, we still have to take care of it. Moreover, we are also responsible for the run-off too, which is what the little pond is that you see near the entrance of the brewery. All of our waste water from brewing (not human waste, of course) goes there. Right now we are preparing to install a system that will allow us to not only clean our used water, but also make it reusable for both reuse in cleaning, or if we wanted to sell it, like to those in construction or in the oil and gas industry. The biggest focus of reusing the water is for cleaning. This is huge for us and would mean we’d use less water over time, especially with the amount of water that is used when we brew. We already use less (overall) than others due on average, so this will help us bring that number down even further. As you can imagine, we’re thinking about the savings both in water and money. Right now, we’re brewing 24 hours a day, 5 days a week, and although that will change soon with our second 30BBL brewhouse we have just received, this is going to continue to keep us efficient and cost-effective, while maintaining complete control over our water.
Speaking of brewing, Revolver has grown quickly in terms of numbers sold and the brewery itself, but when you talk about actual number of beers, I think you have about half the number of beers on rotation than other local breweries. Just this summer, I visited several brand new breweries here and in Austin who have over a dozen beers and even some packaged items already in the market and they’ve been open mere months. How do you see Revolver by comparison?
RK: This is more of a Grant question, but I would say we are definitely purposeful in what we do. I’m not saying others are rushing it, but I am saying we are taking each step to make sure we do it right the first time, more than just with releases of beers. First and foremost, I want people to look at Revolver, try our beers and think we make good beer. We’ve grown purposefully and we’ve also worked hard to be “by the book”, so to speak. We receive cash at the tours and we pay taxes on it. We pay our employees along with the free beer they might get and then look to see how we can do better by them. We try our best not to use over-use folks and hire on a needed basis. In turn, make sure they aren’t working for pennies or just free beer. Perhaps it’s because we’re a little older, but this is a business first. We know this business is built on good beer, but for us to be longstanding we have to be good business people, building a good business on that good beer foundation, which got us our start in the first place. It’s not to say that a hobbyist can’t make their hobby a job and survive, but you have to know what you are doing or at least know enough to figure it out. A person can create and build a business, just like a person can make great beer, but not everyone can do both well and survive.
GW: Regarding the beer, we started with Blood & Honey, High Brass, Sidewinder, and Mother’s Little Fracker. Quality and consistency is huge to me, and if you have a good recipe, you have to figure out how to scale up. All of my years at Sam Adams taught me a lot about consistency.
I can imagine. Sam Adams has a lot they can say about consistent and drinkable beers that are not only appealing, are what various people are looking for in beers.
GW: That’s another thing you have to consider here. Some brewers might say that they are brewing beers the way they want according to their tastes and wants. And if you like those flavors/styles you should drink their beer; if not, who cares? But then others, like myself, that will say that I’m making beers that people like to drink. Drinkability is more than just lower hops or ABV. So the goal is mostly the same, but the direction is slightly different. I may say I don’t want to make beers I don’t like, but I am not necessarily going to let that hold me back from a good idea or recipe. The first time I brought out Blood & Honey to a beer event, before the brewery itself even opened, I had folks coming to me and telling me “man, this is it. This is great…I’ve never tasted anything like this!” I didn’t make it because I wanted to specifically be different, I brewed up a drinkable recipe I’d been playing around with for a while and people loved it. So, we went with it. One thing I can say is that before taking a taste, no one can say to themselves “this will be it” with certainty, in the regard of popular beers.
Basically, it’s a guess, much like starting a brewery in the first place. But because of that, you just try to make the best you can. And to think, who knows if it could have been Sidewinder or High Brass that blew up and helped you gain popularity?
GW: Right, who’s really to say? I do know if we’d flooded the market with too many beers, it’s possible we wouldn’t have had one stand out as much. When we realized that Blood & Honey is what people wanted and were continuing to ask for, we knew we had to spend time on it. We had to make sure as we continue to make more and more of it (and quickly), we were making sure it would stay consistent to what people wanted. You don’t want to start with a beer in the beginning and people decide they love it then change it. That doesn’t work. Or at least it won’t work to keep any sort of popularity. That’s partly why it took us a while to get it into bottles. Once we did though, we started making even more than we were before, to keep up with the demand. Eventually we brought along the rest of them along.
I’m curious why you went with bottles? Was that a decision based on your experience at Sam Adams, where they started in bottles then went to cans eventually.
GW: We spoke about both, but ultimately Rhett made the call to go with bottles and we went that route. Maybe eventually we’ll do cans, but I think it was the right decision and we’ve done well in them. We (Rhett and Grant) both agree that we wanted to coax over beer drinkers who perhaps weren’t used to craft beer and I think for some, a bottle is what they are used to. Using a glass bottle isn’t only way, but I think there are many non-craft drinkers who will be curious based on the marketing of that beer, most especially since they are used to that with their large brewery beer.
Personally, I don’t see cans or bottles as a sign of comfort but I can see it being something not out-of-the-ordinary for some. It’s certainly a truth that I can’t take bottles to a park or camping, though. Do you think Revolver eventually go the canned route in order to satisfy that want/need?
GW: I think the easy answer is if we decide to do cans, which we might, we’ll do it on our own terms and timing. If it suddenly looks like everyone wants Revolver beer specifically in cans, that’s when we’ll know to start being serious about looking at it. But I think at the moment, we are still going to be slow and steady on that.
What do you think about (what feels like) a trend of cans first?
GW: For storage, sure they are the best. They seal well, they let zero light in, they are infinitely more recyclable, but the real reason there is an assumption of a trend is because some folks have said cans are the only way. I think while I understand why you say that, sometimes they aren’t the economically correct decision or perhaps the preference for your clientele. I think when it boils down to it, the differences are what they are and the choice between the two is subjective.
For beer fans that started their love of beer perhaps with Belgian styles, where there is hardly any aluminium canned beer (by comparison to German-styles in America), what are your thoughts on putting more than the standards like Blondes, Pale Ales, Pilsners, and so forth in cans? (I’m thinking wild ales or stouts, etc.)
GW: I think you can put whatever beer you like in any container, whether it’s appropriate for the beer and for the consumption of the beer, that’s where the waters get murky with opinion and circumstance. You might say putting a Belgian Tripel or a Lambic in a can sounds insane, but I say I’d want to try that beer and find out. Who knows until you try? Just like I might say that a certain style is only good in a particular glass, whereas you might disagree and again we’d both have to try that beer and come to a conclusion based on those results. It’s all subjective, though each has good points. I think it all gets too nit-picky at that point.
I think the subjectivity of beer is the best part of beer, besides the beer of course. Speaking of things that are subjective, let’s talk barrel-aged beers. Revolver has done some barrel-aging, but not whole a lot by comparison to other Texas breweries your size. In fact, I think the amount of barrels I see here in the brewery might be the least amount of barrels I’ve seen in recent months at North Texas breweries.*
GW: It’s not the number of barrels that counts, it’s what you put in them!
RK: I think this where I go back to our purposeful growth. Barrel aging isn’t our main focus, but it’s a great thing to give some focus to and a good way to keep creative juices flowing.
GW: Absolutely! My biggest beef with barrel aged beers is how they can hide imperfections in beers and how often times the beer itself gets lost in the barrel. The approach is either too hasty or simply not well thought out. But, really, barrel aging is a ‘whole ‘nother’ beast, as compared to standard brewing.
Definitely agree with you there. And I will say that sometimes I feel like I’m drinking a non-peaty, but malty/hoppy/what-have-you, whiskey/beer-ish-spirit. Perhaps almost a liqueur.
GW: Barrel aging is an art form or perhaps a dance. You want to take the barrel and have it compliment the beer, not take the beer and pour the barrel into it, so to speak. I’m speaking metaphorically here, but barrel aging is not just combining two unlikely flavors, it’s also about creating a new flavor. To your example, I’ve tasted beers that have more alcohol/booze-y taste than anything else. While sometimes that is the idea, I don’t think it always should be. Sure it’s a thick stout, IPA, Belgian-style, etc. but now the beer has this rich alcohol taste that not only takes over the flavor, it hides the original beer. Again, sometimes that is the idea but it isn’t or perhaps shouldn’t be all the time. I feel we have to work harder than that. Barrel aging is not cheap for any brewery, so if you are going to do it, you’ve got to work hard to get it right. Sometimes that means not letting “almost-there’s” and “close-enough’s” leave the building, even though you dropped a bunch of time and money on that beer.
There for a while it seemed like that was something everyone would do if they had a stout or a porter on their roster. Throw it into a whiskey barrel and release it during the dead of winter. With wild and soured ales, plus with the popularity of IPAs, we’ve started putting anything into any barrel and seeing if we can create magic.** It’s experimental, but some of it seems unintended other than to say you have a barrel program.
RK: For me I’d rather just drink whiskey or the wine at that point.
90% of the time, I think I’d agree.
GW: That’s exactly my point. Is it even a beer anymore? During one of the early batches of Blood & Honey, it started to turn almost sour-like. Now, while we did the Sangre Y Miel, a wild version of Blood & Honey, this accident isn’t something I would let out because I don’t want to send out accidents. I want to be driving the beer decisions we make with as much accuracy and purpose as I can control. These things do happen on accident, but I don’t want to put something in a barrel and leave it to chance. I’d rather throw it out if it didn’t go the way I wanted.
Out of these barrels I see here, if one of these experiments didn’t work, you’d toss it?
GW: Yep. I really want to take the same approach to the barrel process as I do to regularly brewed beer.
A little bit later after Rhett and Grant graciously allow me to sample from two of their barrels.
So specifically, barrel 1 is a tequila barrel. Each part of the beer in it seems to match up exactly. The amount of alcohol I’m tasting is about what I did in the normal beer. There is new flavors, some enhancements…I want more of this. Same goes for barrel 2, the bourbon barrel. It’s richer and I find it even more full-bodied than before. Besides lacking carbonation, both are fantastic!
GW: You can see what I’m referring to. The agave in the beer and the agave in the tequila come together and enhance each other, for example. The malts in the second are complimented by the bourbon. It’s a marriage of ingredients and flavors, not a concoction. I want to make sure that I am marrying each part to the other in a way that produces a drinkable and tasteful beer.
Truly, I’m excited about these two. Can’t wait to try more. As our time comes to a close, what do you hope to see in the next couple of years with Revolver?
RK: I hope to see us continue to brew great beers, continue to grow, both for ourselves and the local area. I hope to see some changes involved with Texas’ beer laws that help us continue to grow and I hope we are able to continue have folks who try our beers for the first time and ask for another, next time ’round.
GW: I agree with all of those. Most especially, I want people to know us by the fact we make great beers for all and that is our number 1 goal.
Cheers to that!
*I’m not short changing Revolver here, they had probably around 40 or so barrels. But by comparison to some of the other local breweries or if you’ve been to Rahr & Sons recently, it’s a small number by comparison.
**While I say this tongue-in-cheek, I wanted to point out that not all breweries do this. I would say with a lot of certainty the majority of breweries don’t. However, we wouldn’t be talking about it if there wasn’t a few. I’ve spoken at length with both Grant Wood in this interview and Erik Ogershok (formerly of Real Ale Brewing) and they both will tell you that barrel aging is a complicated process and it truly is an art form. I left this comment in because I feel it’s good for us to be critical and work hard at what we do, but it’s also good for us to be honest that some folks aren’t taking the same care as others are. Saying things that perhaps are slightly negative aren’t bad if they are done in a way that edifies or helps encourage growth in the community as a whole. I don’t want to ever cut anyone down for any reason.