by Layne Victoria Lynch
Photography by Knoxy
While it takes some people years of kicking back frosty mugs of adequate, mass-produced beer to develop an appreciation for high-quality craft brew, Will Golden—cofounder and head brewer at Austin Beerworks—discovered his affection for malty, artisanal beverages at just twenty-one years old.
While an aspiring art history student, Golden took a European trip through Shepherd University with the hopes of learning more about art restoration. But shortly after indulging in a debauchery of Belgian-made beverages while there, he became inspired to shelve his artistic pursuits and begin a lasting love affair with all things hops and grain. “It sounds cliché,” Golden admits, “but I really didn’t know beer could taste that good. We drank in the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic…and in Belgium, I tried this unbelievable Belgian strong golden ale. By the end of the trip, I knew my plans. I was going into brewing.”
At the time, it may have seemed Golden was simply chasing one of those relatable-but-flighty 20-something dreams that everyone considers at one point but later dismisses once they come to their better senses. But it was, in fact, the opposite for Golden, who returned home and immediately accepted a job at Maryland’s Frederick Brewing Company—climbing his way from the ground up, literally. “I was scrubbing floors and cleaning tanks,” he says. “It wasn’t glamorous work, but I took such pride and respect in what we were creating. At the end of the day, we knew we were making an awesome product that people loved.”
Through the years, Golden worked his way up the brewing ladder, eventually becoming the head brewer at the Maryland brewery, which, by then, had been purchased by Flying Dog, a more prominent, nationally recognized brand. The mega brewery purchased the small beverage factory, growing it by leaps and bounds to eventually produce more than 80 different beers at any given time. But that significant success created a difficult choice for Golden, who was torn between continuing to work for a contending brand or bowing out to maintain the quality and integrity of the hands-on brewing he strongly believed in.
In the end, Golden left to become the head brewer of a small brewery pub in Maryland—returning to the roots of small-batch brewing for the next four years. While the decision was unconventional, Golden never regretted making the switch. “In my eyes, I saw it as an opportunity to have true grain-to-glass control,” he says. “I took a lot of pride in what I was doing. I was writing my own recipes, testing my own batches, and it turned out to be one of the most creative periods in my life.”
It was a fateful conversation with Golden’s former Flying Dog coworker Adam DeBower in 2010 that roused the idea behind Austin Beerworks. Ready to break out on his own after working for Real Ale Brewery, DeBower proposed that he, Golden and two business partners—Mike McGovern and Michael Graham—strike while the iron was hot and open a craft brewery right in the thick of North Austin where the local beer scene was quickly evolving. “The funny thing was that Austin was already drinking great beer, but the options were limited since it was only being made by a handful of places, such as Real Ale and Live Oak,” says Golden. “We saw this as an opportunity to do beer in our own style.” In May 2011, Austin Beerworks launched its business in a 30-barrel warehouse, and over a three-year span, has turned its bold brand into one of the fastest-growing craft breweries in the country according to the Brewers Association.
The company has cultivated a team of 24 full-time employees, which produces a small-but-stellar family of beers that have won both national awards and local fanfare—including Black Thunder, a German-style Schwarzbier with strong malty, roasted undertones; Peacemaker, a light English pale ale that Golden describes as the perfect anytime beer; Fire Eagle, a bold, West Coast-style IPA made with aggressive, U.S.-grown hops; and best-selling Pearl Snap, a refreshing, German-style, cold-fermented bitter beer that embodies the spirit of Austin. “Honestly, we thought the Peacemaker would outsell them all, but our local customers have really taken to the Pearl Snap; that beer comprises about forty percent of our overall sales.”
At least once a month, Austin Beerworks also features limited releases in a special IPA series; Golden believes hosting this affair encourages creativity and innovation within the brewery team. What’s more, the Austin Beerworks beers are housed in sleek, well-designed aluminum cans as opposed to longneck glass bottles, which Golden says allows oxygen and light to transform craft brew to “skunky.”
The brewery’s exquisite attention to detail from draft to design has paid off: Austin Beerworks grew sales by 400 percent in its first year of business, 100 percent in its second, and is on track to grow 50 percent by year’s end. As Golden and his business partners look forward, it’s clear they’ll soon have to discuss making some colossal decisions, such as adding new flavors and tracking down extra brewing space. Yet, one thing is certain when it comes to gazing toward the horizon: Austin Beerworks will not be reducing its continuing commitment to craft quality. “We’re allowing the company to grow organically,” Golden says. “We definitely have some big plans for the future, but they’ll happen when they’re supposed to.”