FORT WORTH Martin House Brewing Co., found just across the Trinity River from downtown Fort Worth, was humming Friday as it cranked up its tiny Canadian-made canning line for the first time to fill and seal three 16-ounce cans at a time, hand-stacked by two of the operation’s partners and two volunteers.
On Thursday, the micro-brewery’s first canned beers — Imperial Texan red double ale and Daybreak honey-and-milk sugar ale — will be sold at Central Market in Fort Worth, then other regional stores in the chain. A number of restaurants and liquor stores including Kings in Fort Worth have already asked for a share of production.
To mark the first day of sales, Central Market is planning a bash with live music starting at 5:30 p.m. to officially launch the Martin House canned beer, which it will have exclusively for about a week.
Since March, the startup has been shipping beer only in 15.5-gallon kegs, nearly all to bars and restaurants. The deal with Central Market marks its first sale to a large retailer. The gourmet and natural foods supermarket has a large craft beer selection but has faced new competition from new liquor warehouse stores such as Total Wine, Spec’s and Goody Goody, which have walls of suds. Martin House is in talks with those chains.
The micro-brewery is the brainchild of Cody Martin, 31, an environmental engineer who joined forces with his wife, Anna, and two college friends, civil engineer Adam Myers, 35, and MBA-holding David Wedemeier, 35, after moving back from Florida. Only Anna Martin has kept her day job, as a regional sales manager for a consumer products company.
And things have gone well. It took the partners just six weeks to raise the needed capital, “under $1 million,” far quicker than the six months they had budgeted. Many investors, including a group of Dallas attorneys, met while the partners held beer-tasting events at the Deep Ellum Brewing Co. in Dallas. The partners retained majority ownership.
They never considered a commercial loan. “I don’t like debt,” explained Cody Martin.
“We are already cash-flow positive,” he went on. “We don’t pay a bank.” Martin paused, then remembered, “Oh, and we’re not paying ourselves.”
Or a recent college graduate, Asa Yoakum, who is interning, or the two friends on the canning line, Ryan Deyo and Mike Goldfuss.
Martin said he’d like to have everyone take a draw soon, or at least before they add employees. In the meantime, the three partners have working wives bringing home the bacon while their men follow their collective brewing dream.
At the current rate of sales, Martin says, the brewery is approaching capacity with its four 30-barrel tanks, which translates to an annual production of 3,000 barrels. In a few weeks, the operation will decide whether to ramp up capacity with several new 60-barrel tanks. A barrel equals 31 gallons.
Wedemeier is in charge of sales — and deliveries, but not to everyone. The owner of Waco’s Dancing Beer Pub in Waco likes the Martin House brews so much he drives up Interstate 35 to pick up his kegs. The same is true of Denton’s Oak Street Drafthouse.
Martin says the micro-brewery is not eager to pay a distributor upward of 30 percent to take over shipments, and will likely self-distribute in Tarrant, Dallas and eventually Denton and Collin counties. But the partners may turn to wholesalers to handle other Texas markets, he said.
Like other craft brewers, it offers Saturday afternoon tours, which cost $10. Guests get three beers and a glass sketched with the Martin House bird logo. The brewery is at 220 S. Sylvania Ave. at East Fourth, with its back parking lot just above the Trinity levee, across from the old Purina plant.
The beer culture in North Texas is gaining ground after the collapse of some craft pioneers, while Rahr & Sons overcame early struggles and is experiencing strong growth. But it’s still risky business. Beer-related legislation passed in Austin this year still doesn’t allow craft brewers to sell cases directly to the public, unlike the more than 100 boutique wineries in the state.
What micro-brewing newcomers have is a nurturing industry. Just as Deep Ellum helped out Martin House’s partners, Martin House is showing the ropes to Deyo and Goldfuss, who plan to open their own company, the Collective Brewing Project.
Barry Shlachter, 817-390-7718