Even though friends Ben Sabin and Devon Ponds held different jobs in the brewing industry, at one point not even living in the same state, they knew eventually they’d pursue a goal they both wanted: founding their very own brewery together.
Ponds knew that, at least. “I had to sell him on it,” he said, noting that Sabin was leery of stepping into what he worried was an overcrowded market.
But after they had met in their old apartment complex in South Austin, bonding over a shared hobby of homebrewing, opening the place that would later become Friends & Allies Brewing seemed almost inevitable. Since their first meeting, they’ve worked various positions in breweries here and in California, and they’re now ready to take their expertise to the next level with Friends & Allies, which they plan to open in an East Austin space next year.
In the meantime, they aren’t wasting any time getting the brewing started. By the end of the year, they and Friends & Allies’ head brewer, Nathan Crane, will have produced a session IPA using 4th Tap Brewing Co-op’s brewhouse, an arrangement they’ve been able to make thanks to a handy law passed by the 2013 Texas legislature. Getting one or two Friends & Allies beers out ahead of time, before the brewery and tasting room is ready, is important to both Sabin and Ponds.
“It’s helping us get our story out earlier, using one beer to introduce our brand and our brewer and what he can do,” Sabin said.
That story is tied to the duo’s past working at other breweries: Sabin as the sales guru at Thirsty Planet, Ponds as the financial manager at San Diego’s Port Brewing and the Lost Abbey in San Marcos, Calif. (Before that, he got into the industry at South Austin Brewery.) Their head brewer, Crane, has also come from Port Brewing and the Lost Abbey — which means that Friends & Allies beers will lean toward hoppy styles. The mainstays include a West Coast-style IPA, a Belgian table beer and the session IPA that will be first brewed at 4th Tap.
4th Tap, a worker-owned brewing cooperative, is on the cusp of opening in the North Austin area where Austin Beerworks, Adelbert’s and Circle Brewing have already been coaxing you into a Saturday brewery crawl. Although 4th Tap’s making a lot of beer for an initial foray into the local market, co-founders Chris Hamje and John Stecker, an old middle school friend of Ponds’, don’t anticipate reaching full capacity and have agreed to let the Friends & Allies team use the space when they aren’t there.
“It’s not a contract deal,” Sabin said, although he knows that’s what it might be perceived as. “We are leasing their brewery temporarily, so we’re making the beer ourselves, kegging it ourselves. They have to leave the production floor completely.”
The deal is called an alternate proprietorship, and Texas law designed it as a temporary solution. “It’s for people who want to open their own facility eventually,” Sabin said.
Opening Friends & Allies Brewing at Springdale Road and Airport Boulevard is the next step. Both Ponds and Sabin were excited to find the old food distribution facility on the east side because it’s surrounded by Austin’s creative, health-minded community. Next door is an upcoming rock climbing gym called the Austin Bouldering Project; Austin Eastciders, Springdale Farm and Daily Greens are nearby.
“That’s why we call ourselves Friends & Allies,” Ponds said. “We’re going to be in a big community of makers on the east side. Coffee roasters, other breweries, farmers, artists, metal workers. We want to incorporate them like a family around our business.”
He’s even hoping Crane can use some of the fresh ingredients from the nearby farms like Springdale in some of the brewery’s seasonal beers. Additional collaborations with other breweries or businesses won’t be a problem, either, thanks to Sabin, whose time peddling Thirsty Planet brews around town means he knows everyone. And when it comes time to start distributing Friends & Allies’ canned brews, he can put those contacts to good use.
“In a crowded marketplace, that’s how you stand out: by having those relationships with people,” Sabin said. “If they need a last minute tap handle, a keg of something, you deliver it. You get to know the bartenders and the people putting your beer on tap.”
Just like a real friend and ally would.