Künstler Brewing’s story began six years ago during the holidays, in something that sounds to me like a version of an O’Henry Story, a modern-day “Gift of the Magi.”
Brent Deckard, pilot in the Air Force Reserves, beer enthusiast and occasional home-brewer, found himself deployed to Afghanistan for six months. Vera Deckard, food and wine-enthusiast, sought a Christmas gift to send her husband, to help him pass the time while he was serving overseas.
She purchased a guidebook to home brewing for him called Beer Craft: A Simple Guide to Making Great Beer and she recalls cracking it open to write a nice note for Brent. As Vera told me, “I opened up to inscribe the book, but I started reading it instead. I read it throughout the night. The next morning, on no sleep, I made a big old shopping list. I bought everything I needed, and called my son Ethan, and told him: ‘we’re going to brew.’”
She says her first 5-gallon batch was terrible. The second batch was ok. Her third batch, a brown ale, was delicious. And she became totally hooked.
And the holiday book gift for Brent? It never made it to Afghanistan.
By the time Brent returned from his deployment, Vera was well on her way to becoming a master brewer obsessive. She absorbed podcasts, books, and magazines in her quest to learn the craft. In the months and years that followed, the equipment to accompany her obsession began to take over the rooms of their house in downtown San Antonio. Not just brewing books and magazines but kegerators, chest-freezers and a conicle fermenter crowded the kitchen, living room, and guest bedroom.
As Vera tells it, Brent finally reached a breaking point.
“Vera, either you tone this down…”
“Or what?” she asked, defiantly.
“Or you go pro.”
Apparently, that was an easy choice for Vera.
Two years after buying the Christmas gift that she never sent, the Deckards formed the San Antonio Brewing Company. It took nearly three more years after that until their opening in October 2017 as Künstler Brewing, a German-themed brew pub that’s thankfully just a short bike ride away from my house.
In typical startup fashion, the entrepreneurial journey to opening day was way harder than it seems from a distance.
There was the problem of settling on a location. The problem of not knowing enough. The problem of no days off. The problem of not enough money. Over delicious beers with Vera and Brent, I learned about a few of their struggles along the way.
About location, the Deckards worked for nearly two years planning on opening their brew pub at a different location in downtown San Antonio. Many thousands of dollars and multiple expensive design alternations later, they realized their intended landlord’s demands couldn’t be met. The set-back in time and money was significant.
Vera’s self-taught journey to become the master brewer of Künstler involved learning many things she hadn’t known before.
“Chemistry is my weakness, it used to make me cry,” she said. “I would always try to do everything to avoid chemistry.” Vera fears didn’t stop her. She found the free online videos of Khan Academy (Motto: “You Can Learn Anything!”) on Introduction to Chemistry sufficient for her purposes.
She mentioned a few other local brewers who have been generous with their time and ideas, but Vera is a largely self-taught brewer.
Then there was the issue of money. They tapped friends and family as investors, but it’s been a struggle, especially with the amount of time it took to open. Vera’s new motto for a start-up operation: “You need to budget twice as much money, and know that it will take three times as long as you think it will.” Wise words for entrepreneurs.
As opening day approached and they needed more money to realize their vision, Vera and Brent came up with an innovative financing tool, the “mug club.” For $200 – or $375 for a pair – frequent-flier customers can purchase a one-year membership that entitles drinkers to larger pours, discounts on everything, and the rights to quaff from a fancy hand-made mug. I’ll admit I was personally peer-pressured into joining when I saw the other neighborhood dads become mug club members. The FOMO is strong, people.
The financing trick worked because with the nearly $30,000 raised by the mug club they were able to outfit a game room with darts and big screen televisions. That’s where I was watching when I first heard about the Christmas gift that never arrived.
Like pretty much all start-ups, there’s been no days off and barely any time to breathe. Watching a game with Brent recently, he told me he’d insisted Vera go home for a half-day. Brent himself juggles two other jobs, with the Air Force and flying for Fedex. That leaves Vera in charge of everything much of the time.
On that day, she had just worked 30 days straight at the brewery without rest. Too many, Brent said. She nearly ran herself into the ground doing 19 hour days before they opened.
As Vera says, “I would like to get a nice comfortable spot where I can leave before 2am. Like, leaving at 9pm would be great.”
Anyway, cheers to a holiday gift gone awry, and a tough entrepreneurial journey making my life and neighborhood better.
I hope all of your holidays were full of cheer and, if appropriate, beer.
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