What do suppose it means to be the most remote brewery in America? I had to scratch my head at least twice when someone told me I ought to visit the most remote brewery in the country. It kind of seemed like one of those story problems that gets asked on the SAT or some other standardized test. I know I had visions going through my brain of some rustic old place perched at the end of a winding trail on a foggy mountain top. It had to be worth the trip. Well, it wasn’t up a mountain anywhere but I have to say that the trip was well worth it.
I have written before about the place in the world with the highest concentration of breweries, so I figured that this would make a fun contrasting story. When I looked into it, I found the source of the claim in a blog post from 2014 at “Brew York.” The way they figured it, the most remote brewery is the one that is the farthest distance from any other brewery. In their entertaining post they checked out the far reaches of Alaska, Montana, and Utah, before finally zeroing in on the Big Bend Brewing Company in Alpine, Texas. By their measurement, the nearest brewery is 227 miles away in Artesia, New Mexico.
This is definitely a long way from anywhere. No interstate highway — the closest city of any size is Midland-Odessa, TX (165 miles) — El Paso is more than 200 miles away. Yet when you get into this region you start noticing Big Bend’s brews at stores and pubs. Alpine is one of a number of small towns dotted along Highway 90 and I had picked it out as a couchsurfing base for explorations in the area. The brewery was the first thing I saw when approaching from the west so naturally I slammed on the brakes and pulled in. I learned that they accept visitors and offer a brewery tour at 3pm Wednesdays through Fridays and at 1 and 3 on Saturdays. The $10 price of the tour includes samples of all of their beer varieties as well as a pint of whatever you liked at the conclusion.
There were about five of us when the tour started with a tasting of each of the brews. Big Bend has five “regular” brews including Tejas Lager, Terlingua Gold Ale, Frontera IPA, Big Bend Hefeweizen, and 22 Porter. In addition, they had a nice Oktoberfest Marzen on tap as a seasonal when I visited. I found them all to be enjoyable, but the marzen was my fave. Our guide took us through the ingredients and the brewing process while we tasted.
The history and philosophy of the brewery was most interesting. The brewmaster was a fellow by the name of Steve Anderson who moved to Alpine and co-founded the brewery in 2012. He was a brewer of note in the Austin scene at Waterloo Brewing and Live Oak Brewing. He and his wife reportedly wanted to escape the city and live the small town life. We were told that the philosophy of the brewery has been to master a solid set of classic beer recipes and establish them in the market. They keep their offering steady and have avoided the temptation to be changing their offering and experiment all the time. They have a separate low volume system for experimenting and for seasonals and small batches that do not interrupt their mainstay offerings. I really like that philosophy compared to the breweries that seem to want to try out every thing they can and never get to a steady, consistent offering.
In writing this story I have learned that Steve has since passed away after a battle with cancer. I am sure he will be missed but judging from the expansion work that was underway when I visited his legacy will be carried on and expanded. I read that the brewery has said that it will never have another person titled “brewmaster” although they plan to continue to have great “brewers”.
Following are some images from my visit to Big Bend Brewery.
It is an impressive set-up for a place that is only a few years in existence. Big Bend has already had a significant expansion during their short life and was in the process of another one at the time I visited.
The bar is on the brewery floor making for a great back-drop …
The brewery’s output is more than 5000 barrels annually. That is about a barrel for every man, woman, and child in Alpine. So obviously they are exporting alot. their “beer finder” on their website shows sellers all over western Texas and into New Mexico. I was surprised to find sellers in my native Northern New Mexico.
There is washer tossing and a place to take in the great wide open just out of the back door …
An expansive canning operation would seem to be critical to their expansion out of the local market …