By Johnny Griffith
Back in 2014, EGuide Magazine ran a story highlighting True Vine Brewing, Tyler’s first brewery, and the three friends that came together over common views of their faith, their family, and their love of a good brew. At the time of the article, True Vine was on the cusp of embarking on their “Phase II,” which included plans for a Tap Room and outdoor beer garden.
Fast forward to present time and the crew at True Vine have recently opened their Tap Room to the public, and by the time of this publication will have celebrated the 2nd anniversary of their OPEN TAPS events, continuing their journey towards uniting people over a good beer, with great friendships, and enlightening conversations. We recently caught up with True Vine co-founder Ryan Dixon for a conversation on how things have been going:
Johnny: First of all, I’m sure we’ll have people who are just finding out about True Vine. Could you give us a refresher on who you are and just a brief history of how you came to open True Vine in Tyler.
Ryan: As is with most breweries, the brewing inspiration for True Vine began in my days as a home brewer. I started in our kitchen, then moving to the garage where I had big dreams of brewing on a ‘big boy’ system, making logos, and marketing beers with cool labels. The vision and community inspiration of True Vine began after reading a biography on the Guinness family, “In Search of God and Guinness.” Two friends and I formed True Vine in 2011, and we started working on business plans and brewing up a storm. We began piecing a small brewery together and brewing 50 gallon batches of beer. In 2014, we sold our first keg of Rose City Pale Ale to a local restaurant, which is still one of our most supportive accounts.
Johnny: How has the beer drinking public responded to having a true craft brewery in their own backyard?
Ryan: The support of the local community has honestly been overwhelming. It has blown us away how positive and receptive East Texas has been to our business and our product. We feel blessed to have such loyal fans. To be honest, we thought we’d get much more negativity. Especially as we were the first brewery in Tyler, and beer and wine sales had just started in Smith County.
Johnny: Let’s face it, macro-brews are extremely popular in this area. Has there been an education process that you’ve had to go through in exposing people to the types of beer you’re brewing and getting them to branch out into trying new things?
Ryan: Absolutely! Bud/Miller/Coors has been a dominating factor for 100 years plus and rightfully so. A lot of the same technologies we use today were devised by the early American beer pioneers. With that, they’ve had a huge edge. From their factories to the distribution and the marketing, they have been the loudest voice in beer. Things are shifting slowly, mostly due to the ‘buy local’ and ‘handcrafted’ movement and education of unique local ales with bigger flavor.
Johnny: What inspires you guys when it comes to creating a new beer? Is it customer requests, or what you see the craft industry doing on a national scale, or is it simply ‘hey, this is something I’d like to drink?’
Ryan: We love brewing new beers. We enjoy all styles and enjoy sharing new styles with our customers. We do often ask people what they’d like to see from True Vine and get great feedback on experimental beers that we brew for our Tap Room events. It’s pretty amazing what people have really clung to. Pretty much every beer in our line-up started as an experimental beer.
Johnny: How many different beers are you currently offering?
Ryan: With the currently small, yet growing draft beer demand in East Texas, we have about four beers on draft throughout the Tyler area at any given time. We have our two most consistent beers and always have at least one or two seasonal or experimental brews that makes it to local lines as well. Some of our great accounts in Tyler carry four of our beers, and we are honored to have that many tap lines! Because of our popular OPEN TAPS events, and now our Tap Room that is open every Friday evening, we are able to have Tap Room exclusive beers available as well. Long story short, we have about eight beers at all times available for our local craft beer fans.
Johnny: What would you say your most popular brew has been so far?
Ryan: Tricky question! Our most popular beers in restaurants tend to be our Rose City Pale Ale and Mermaids & Unicorns Blonde because they are very good ‘food pairing beers.’ In the local draft bars, our Rose From The Dead IPA and Promised Land Belgian are the most popular. Favorites in our Tap Room tend to be big beers, like our Sanctimonium Belgian Quad or Giant Slayer Imperial Stout, both weighing in at over 8.5% alcohol.
Johnny: You guys do an OPEN TAPS night that has seemingly grown in popularity the last couple of years. What was the motivation for starting that event, and how has it benefited True Vine, and the neighborhood in general?
Ryan: Our OPEN TAPS events are huge for us. We do them typically the last Saturday of the month, and we try to spotlight local food vendors, local art, local music, and, of course, local beer. We love these because it allows us to connect with our community. It’s like a backyard event with 500 of our close friends – from tiny tots running around drinking root beer to the older generations and every age in-between. It’s our true culture. It’s amazing to hear stories of how people have become friends after meeting at an OPEN TAPS event, or how some of our patrons have never missed a single event. This is a very satisfying event for us. If all we did was make beer in a factory, we’d not be so fulfilled. Our goal is to inspire and build community.
Johnny: It’s been well over a year since “EGuide Magazine” highlighted True Vine in an article back in November of 2014. How has “Phase II” been going?
Ryan: Very well! 2015 was all about getting setup for 2016 and beyond. The new brewery equipment we brought online back in late summer 2015 is amazing. We now have great precision on brewing details and can produce 1200% more than the system we used prior. Honestly, we are just now getting this thing broken in. It’s beautiful!
Johnny: When did you guys first get the idea to open a Tap Room on site, and what was that process like to take it from an idea to reality?
Ryan: The Texas legislation changed in 2013 to allow breweries the opportunity to sell pints on-site. Many breweries have taken advantage of the opportunity since this change, but it really was outside of our budget and priorities until recently. We had some remodels to do, health department permits to gain, and of course, associated loops to jump though. We actually pushed the need out to our community in the form of a Kickstarter campaign to raise awareness and money for the requirements to have a Tap Room at True Vine. We were able to raise $10,000 that helped fund the Tap Room improvements and tuck some funds away for future packaging projects.
Johnny: How has the response been so far to the new Tap Room?
Ryan: The response has been very good. It’s so chill and intentionally not as busy as our OPEN TAPS events. We call it the best speakeasy in Tyler, because you park in the front and walk down the alley to the backyard, and there are currently no signs. Many downtowners love the opportunity to come on Fridays after work and grab a True Vine beer with a buddy. People can bring their own snacks and enjoy a good conversation over a beer. Many people have asked us what the difference between our Tap Room normal hours and OPEN TAPS events. Simply put, our Tap Room hours are a time to come have a draft beer, without the food trucks, and live music of our OPEN TAPS.
Johnny: What is the next milestone for True Vine?
Ryan: Packaging. Right now we are a draft-only brewery. Packaging is expensive and most startup breweries with limited floor space, such as True Vine, makes it tricky. With East Texas being a slow growing and very limited draft region, we are currently only in about 5% of our market. We have a few tricks up our sleeve though to make it happen this summer.
Johnny: If you could pick one impression for a customer to take away from True Vine after a visit, either to the Tap Room or to the OPEN TAPS night, what would that be?
Ryan: We have had many great feedback moments in the two years of our events. One of my all-time favorites was about a year ago when an older gentleman spoke to me after an OPEN TAPS and said, “This is church.” That might seem strange, or it might not resonate with others as it did with me that night, but I love the depth of that statement. True Vine events are where life happens. People are real. True conversations are had, and needs are shared. No one is playing ‘one up.’ It also mirrors our mission for a greater impact on our community and reinforces our slogan and core values: ‘Integrity. Community. Love.
Johnny: Thank for your time and consideration with answering these questions
Ryan: My pleasure!
True Vine Tap Room Hours are 5-9pm every Friday. True Vine OPEN TAP Events are the last Saturday of the Month. See their website for details and ticket information at www.truevinebrewing.com or www.facebook.com/truevinebrewing.