Dan Kernek and Matt Bigler have been friends since the fifth grade — and after having lived in the same city for so long, even going to the same college and sharing the same office in another industry for a time, they decided a few years ago to join forces and open a brewery where Kernek could produce his homebrew recipes on a bigger scale.
They might love beer, but they’ve launched the small Bindlestick Brewing operation in Leander in large part because they love each other’s company, too.
“We always knew we were going to do something together, whether it was a brewery or not,” Bigler said. “We picked a brewery because of Dan’s experience with brewing and how good his beers were, but we went through a litany of business ideas before settling on this one.”
Their decision has been a wise one, according to the positive response of locals who have been stopping by the warehouse brewery since the end of February, when Bindlestick officially opened. Austin’s northwestern suburb of Leander has grown a lot in the 16 or so years since the two men first moved into the area, even adding Blacklands Malt, Texas’ only producer of locally grown malted barley, but the town had lacked a brewery until Bindlestick.
Ultimately, Kernek and Bigler want to turn it into a destination location like Jester King where people can hang out with a pint, listen to live music and have a couple of restaurant options in the same spot, but that’s “phase two,” Kernek said. Right now, they’re just trying to get their beers out on the market — they self-distribute kegs of each of the four main beers while also holding down additional day jobs, two part-time gigs for Kernek and a full-time position for Bigler.
So far, they’ve gotten their beers, available on draft only, into the Brass Tap in Round Rock and the Leander Beer Market, with plans to also tap at Red Horn Coffee House and Brewing Co. in Cedar Park, currently the closest brewing operation to Bindlestick. Plus, Bindlestick’s taproom, located at 1309 Leander Dr., Ste. 504, is open every Friday from 5 to 8 p.m.
There, you’ll get to try each of the four core beers: the Monkey Wagon Amber, the lightest beer; Chimney Stack Pale Ale, made with smoked malt; Candy Mountain IPA, which Kernek likes to call a “GPA” because of all the ginger he adds to it; and the Pullman Porter, a dark beer featuring 10 percent rye for a spicy, earthy flavor. They’re all his homebrewing recipes — he’s been part of local homebrewing group the Austin Zealots since about 2001 — but their names are all new and in keeping with Bindlestick’s pre-Prohibition theme.
A bindlestick is the stick that hobos from early 20th-century America used to carry their belongings on, Bigler said. “The idea behind (our name) was, before Prohibition, there were a lot of local breweries,” he said, adding that the men having to take their stuff with them wherever they went “were actually migrant workers. They would follow the crops around the U.S. or wherever there was work. They often visited local taverns, which at that time were often breweries.”
Although neither Kernek nor Bigler got their degrees in history from Texas State University’s Round Rock campus, they know a lot about the old trains those migrant workers would take to get from job to job. Each of the four beer names are related to locomotive lore; the monkey wagon, for instance, is a slang term for the caboose where the hobos would sleep with their bindles.
But as much as the overall branding of Bindlestick focuses on the alcohol-soaked days before Prohibition, Kernek’s 18 years of homebrewing experience is actually thanks in part to another time period: Prohibition, when there was a little bootlegging chapter in his family’s history.
He remembers stopping by his grandfather’s house in Missouri in 1995, when he was still in the U.S. Navy, and hearing an unexpected story about his grandfather’s past. “We were sitting on the porch having a beer,” Kernek said. “He started telling me, ‘Back during Prohibition, I used to help my grandfather make beer in the shed out here.’ And I was like, ‘You can make your own beer?! What?’ So that kind of sparked it. As soon as I got out of the Navy, I found a homebrew store.”
Some of his other recipes that locals can try in coming months include a summer wheat ale, Three Tracks, as well as two for the winter months: a Russian imperial stout and a Christmas ale made with ginger.
Bindlestick Brewing Co., 1309 Leander Dr., Ste. 504. 5 to 8 p.m. Fridays. http://www.bindlestickbeer.com.