For Amy Cartwright, the challenge as a co-founder of Independence Brewery Co. has never really been that she’s a woman making a day job out of brewing beer.
The biggest struggle, she says, was not having regular extra income when she and her husband, Rob, first launched Independence in a small South Austin warehouse space in 2004.
“With a brewery business, the wife typically has another job, at least at first to pay the bills. But we both went all in,” she says, a choice that, in retrospect, she would’ve given more thought to doing.
However difficult it was, the pair’s hard work paid off. Independence celebrated eight years on Oct. 27, and the brewery, now a 14-person operation, is expanding to a bigger space that will allow them to make more beer more often.
Cartwright reflects that even though Independence is now well-established, its year-round brews available on tap and in bottles at more than 400 bars and restaurants and found in stores like Whole Foods and HEB, “there’s never a point when you’re like, ‘OK, I’ve made it! I’m done.’ There are always challenges.”
One of the initial obstacles the couple faced was getting locals to crave their beers. When Independence set up shop back in 2004, Real Ale and Live Oak were already wetting the whistles of Central Texas beer lovers.
And even though there were less local craft beer options than there are today, not having social media to turn brewing into a big party was a problem, Cartwright says. Independence wasn’t welcomed with an opening bash complete with live music, trailer food and a special pint glass to mark the occasion, as the brewery would be now.
Instead, she notes, the attitude around town was, “Why do we need another Austin beer?”
Independence quickly changed minds as it introduced its wares to thirsty gullets. The Bootlegger Brown Ale, brewed with barley and Belgian chocolate malt, was the first Independence beer to gain a following.
In those early days, the brewery had a simple mission. While Rob – who had gained homebrewing experience working for now-defunct Copper Tank, a Sixth Street bar that made its own beers – stuck to brewing their original creations, like the Bootlegger and the Independence Pale Ale, Cartwright handled selling and delivering the beers to local bars. Only a handful of people worked with them in the warehouse back then, less than half of the amount there now.
“We were on a shoe-string budget,” Cartwright says. It took about three years before the brewery started seeing a return, but she and Rob were persistent.
Fast-forward a few years, and the brewery had grown, its bottles now found on shelves at Twin Liquors and HEB. The decision that sparked a major growth spurt came in September 2010, when Independence signed on with the Brown Distributing Company, a contract that “fundamentally changed our business,” Cartwright says, noting that she no longer had to visit bars, take orders and deliver beer.
Having Brown, a locally owned beverage distributor, take over delivery also meant their beer could spread farther than downtown and South Austin. Their beer could now travel to La Grange and beyond.
Of course, more demand requires more supply, and that’s where the expanded brewing space comes in. When a 10,000 square foot warehouse behind the one housing Independence became vacant, the Cartwrights made sure to snatch it up, hatching plans to update to a 60-barrel system – quite a jump from their current 15-barrel system.
It’ll be some months before they make the switch. The new equipment isn’t even being shipped until December, and Cartwright says they’ll have some kinks and adjustments to work out afterward.
But given how far they’ve come already, they are up for the challenge.