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Austin's New Brewing Heritage: Celis, Pedernales and Uncle Billy's

Austin, Texas has long been a haven for interesting people and fascinating places. Its famous slogan of “Keep Austin Weird” highlights the city’s history of attracting free thinkers and mavericks of all stripes. For the craft beer scene, that fresh approach can be attributed to three of its finest breweries as well: Uncle Billy’s BreweryPedernales Brewing Co. and the rejuvenated Celis Brewery. These three breweries each have their own captivating history, and together, they create a new heritage for their brands with terrific beers and a focus on quality and history.

The story of Uncle Billy’s Brewery begins in 2006 with the founding of a beer and barbecue brewpub that focused on providing smoky dishes paired with delicious beers made on-site. Founded by Rick Engel, Uncle Billy’s grew in popularity until a decision was made to start canning and distributing its core brands: Green Room IPA, Barton Springs Pale Ale and Lazy Day Lager.

While Uncle Billy’s gained brand recognition throughout the greater Austin area over the next decade, the brewpub was unable to meet the demand for its beers – and profits weren’t as great as investors had hoped. Engel was considering shuttering the business when Texas craft beer luminary Bob Leggett came into the picture.

Leggett is the founder and CEO of Artisanal Imports, known for its focus on importing excellent examples of interesting and varied beer styles from around the world to U.S. shores. Leggett saw an opportunity to expand into his hometown market with a local and genuine Texas craft brewery, and a deal was finalized in late 2017.

 “Acquiring Uncle Billy’s was a big first step in expanding our reach in Texas,” Leggett said. “The story is authentic and the beers are delicious, which is exactly what I was looking for.”

The story of Uncle Billy’s Brewery begins in 2006 with the founding of a beer and barbecue brewpub that focused on providing smoky dishes paired with delicious beers.

The popular brewery recently welcomed another member to its lineup: In March, Uncle Billy’s announced the acquisition of a fellow Texas-based craft brewery: Pedernales Brewing Co., located in Fredericksburg.

Founded in 2012, Pedernales may not be well-known outside of the state, but its beers have racked up dozens of medals at major beer competitions, such as the Great American Beer FestivalWorld Beer Cup and U.S. Open Beer Championship (the numbers are proudly tallied on the brewery’s website).

Pedernales (pronounced “per-duh-na-lez” by locals) is known for its German-style offerings, such as its Lobo line of German-style brews. The series demonstrates the brewery’s focus on Reinheitsgebot-approved creations such Lobo Negro, a 5.6 percent ABV Schwarzbier/Dark Lager; Lobo Texas Lager, an easy-drinking sessionable Pilsner; and Lobo Hefe, a Hefeweizen that showcases all the bubblegum and clove elements you would expect from this historic style. A seasonal Oktoberfest beer is also released during autumnal months.

Another important line from Pedernales is its Robert Earl Keen series. Named for the Americana/country musician, this line is responsible for 60-70 percent of Pedernales’ total sales. The Robert Earl Keen Honey Pils accounts for half of Pedernales’ total sales volume – and it’s not hard to see why. A flawless German Pils representation, its bountiful crackery malt backbone has a mild kiss of honey sweetness in the flavor and aftertaste.

Rounding out the Robert Earl Keen line is River Raft Beer, a more by-the-books German Pils, and Front Porch Amber Ale, a ruddy and malty but quaffable American Amber that’s named after one of Keen’s most popular tunes: “The Front Porch Song,” from his 1984 album No Kinda Dancer.

The Robert Earl Keen series from Pedernales, named for the Americana/country musician, is responsible for 60-70 percent of Pedernales’ total sales.

These beers are just as easy-drinking as Keen is easygoing. After meeting him, Leggett said he was struck by how relaxed but magnetic Keen was.

“Robert is an extremely down-to-earth and personable guy – he’s an everyman. When he enters a room, he commands the attention of everyone, whether he’s on stage performing in front of thousands of his fans or relaxing in a taproom and enjoying a beer with his name on it,” Leggett said.

Keen is keen about his line of Pedernales craft beers, promoting them at shows and participating in brewery events as his schedule allows. His name has provided a tremendous boost to Pedernales’ visibility throughout the Lone Star State.

With the intermingling of Uncle Billy’s brands as well as the two Pedernales brands (Lobo and Robert Earl Keen), Leggett noted that all brands now have equal market penetration and coverage – something that would not have been possible if the breweries had stayed separate entities.

The acquisition of Pedernales by Uncle Billy’s allows the two brands to merge their distribution footprints. Before the Pedernales acquisition, Uncle Billy’s had mostly limited its distribution to the “Big Four” Texas markets: Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. Pedernales, on the other hand, established distribution to all corners of the state, “from Amarillo to Brownsville and El Paso to Texarkana – and everywhere in between,” according to Leggett.

The contrast between the Pedernales and Uncle Billy’s signature styles – English and German – was another strategic consideration in their acquisition. “With the German-style beers that Pedernales specializes in combined with the English-style Uncle Billy’s lineup, we now have a perfectly rounded-out craft beer lineup – right in the heart of Texas,” said Leggett, who is aiming to blanket Texas markets with interesting and varied beers from both breweries.

According to Leggett, both Pedernales and Uncle Billy’s represent a space “where the craft brand is local and has a loyal following, and both brands have an opportunity for impressive growth in the coming years.”

According to Bob Leggett, Pedernales and Uncle Billy’s represent a space “where the craft brand is local and has a loyal following, and both brands have an opportunity for impressive growth in the coming years."

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