People of Austin Profile Series
Originally from League City, south of Houston, Amos Lowe made his way to Austin as most people do, to earn a degree at the University of Texas. In Lowe’s case, it was one in mechanical engineering, something he put straight to work with a career in commercial construction and design.
On the job, Scott Simmons, a colleague of Lowe’s, noticed his affinity for beer and challenged him to make his own at home. “That was the suggestion that changed everything,” says Lowe. “I went over to his place to make a batch with him and I was hooked.” Lowe began brewing beer every week at home, a hobby that ran strong for about ten years.
“My engineer friends and I would get out on our driveway and make a batch and drink a batch from the previous week. It got to a point where we were drinking more than we were making, so I had to keep getting bigger systems.”
But transitioning from a secure, solid career in engineering to one in brewing took a big leap of faith. He started slowly, by brewing once a week with Brian “Swifty” Peters at Uncle Billy’s Brew and Que, just for a little more experience. When the brewery decided to expand, Lowe was offered a job to run the brewing at the Barton Springs location, but he still wasn’t ready.
All along, the Austin Beer Garden Brewing Company (the ABGB) had been a concept brewing—pardon the pun—in his mind. Lowe and Swifty slowly began crafting the business plan, for a few years, in fact, while Lowe continued to toy with the idea of becoming a full-time brewer. It wasn’t until 2010, following a bad day at work, that he finally took the plunge. It just happened to be at the same time he was traveling to Chicago for the Craft Brewers Conference.
“I called my wife and said, ‘I’ve got to go brew beer,’ and she said, ‘Go do whatever you have to do.’ It was the best thing I could have ever heard her say,” says Lowe. “I tell people I traded money for happiness and I don’t miss the money one bit.”
Once Lowe’s plans were finalized, he gained the added bonus of having Swifty come on board with him as co-brewer. The ABGB opened in August 2013 on West Oltorf in the old Austin World of Rentals space, offering a lineup of ten lagers and ales—five mainstays and five specials that rotate seasonally. In addition to its craft brews, the beer garden offers a small menu of pizzas and sandwiches and hosts a regular calendar of live music.
WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT THE TEXAS CRAFT BEER SCENE RIGHT NOW?
It is honestly kind of nuts right now. People across the country in general are really into craft beer, and it feels like the overall demographic is just more educated on what good beer is. With the 2013 legislative session, there were laws put in place that allowed for more growth in Texas, and now it seems like everyone’s opening breweries. And not just in Austin. Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio have been booming as well.
THE NUMBER OF BREWERIES MAY BE INCREASING, BUT HOW IS THE QUALITY?
Well, some brewers are doing better than others. But I’d say, in general, we’re doing very well. Over time, we’ll see who ends up sticking around. The competition is getting so much better that if you’re not making good beer, you’re going to get weeded out pretty quick. You have to make high-quality beer to sell any.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES IN THE INDUSTRY?
Aside from making good beer, you have to figure out how to sell it, which translates to distribution and shelf space. You can make beer all day long, but if you can’t sell it, that’s a problem. We have a brew pub and we can sell our beer on the premises which means we have a built-in customer base with our brewery, with ten faucets, and as long as people enjoy it, we can be successful. But that’s not the case for everyone.
WHAT BEER OR BREWERY INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME A BREWER?
The brewer that inspired me was my friend Scott Simmons, who convinced me to start brewing at home. But the brewery I credit for my loving beer so much is Live Oak Brewing Company. I have always loved their Live Oak Pilz.
WHO ARE BIGGER GEEKS: BEER, SPIRITS, OR WINE GUYS?
I do think some people can be a little too into things. I say just enjoy the beverage. Don’t analyze it and dissect it. I admit, we definitely do that a lot in the beer world. But I just don’t think that’s important. I love beer. But I love what happens when people share wine, or beer, or spirits together. That’s what matters. If you treat it like it’s an exam, you miss the best part—the socializing. That’s honestly why we’re a brew pub instead of a production brewery. I love seeing people enjoy themselves.
WHAT ARE YOU DRINKING WHEN IT’S NOT BEER?
I drink a lot of red wine. In fact, I drink it every day. It’s my preferred beverage. Right now I like Malbec and Spanish and Italian wines. It may sound strange, but it helps keep my palate adjusted. If you’re a brewer and you drink a lot of hoppy beers, I think your palate becomes skewed a little bit. But when I drink red wine at night, it gives me a perfect reset.
WHAT STYLES OF BEER DO YOU PREFER?
I love pilsner. It’s a lager-style beer that’s perfect for the hot Texas climate. I love that pilsners are simple, dry and elegant. When they’re good, they’re full of flavor. Before I started ABGB, I’d always order the Live Oak Brewery Pilz. In fact, the guys at the Ginger Man always made fun of me for being in a rut because it’s all I ordered. Ironically, Swifty learned to brew with Chip McElroy at Live Oak. And he’s since taught me how to make good pilsner. I think a lot of breweries have stayed away from lager-style beers like pilsner because they are so mass-produced. For the longest time, everyone just did ales. But lagers are delicious if they’re done well.
WHAT TYPES OF FOOD DO YOU LIKE BEST WITH THE BEERS YOU MAKE?
I don’t get too uppity about food pairings. Especially when it comes to beer. To be honest, I love sandwiches. It’s mainly what we serve at the ABGB. That and pizza. Right now my favorite is a good muffaletta with a cold pilsner. The sandwich is heavy and rich, but the crispness of the beer just cuts right through it. I also love seafood. A lot of people like champagne and oysters, but I like my oysters with—you guessed it—pilsner.
WHAT DAYS OF THE WEEK ARE YOU BREWING AND HOW LONG DOES THAT PROCESS TAKE? WHAT ARE YOU DOING WHEN YOU’RE NOT BREWING?
We usually brew on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, which is a six- to eight-hour process in the brewhouse. When I’m not doing that, I like to play the pedal steel guitar. I’ve been playing with a band, Little Mikey and the Soda Jerks, for about seven years, and we always play the Friday happy hour at the ABGB.