Although the founders of 4th Tap Brewing Co-op didn’t make any big announcements that they’d open the taproom doors Friday for a soft launch, the news spread anyway, and within no time, the large space was packed with people who work and live in that area of North Austin. Some of them had even walked over from their jobs for a wind-down of local beer and good company.
That sort of warm community space is exactly what John Stecker, Chris Hamje and Mike Olfers had envisioned when they decided to found a brewery four years ago, sitting around a table at Uncle Billy’s and plotting their vision. 4th Tap is now Austin’s first worker-owned brewing cooperative and the fourth brewery to open in the part of town where Austin Beerworks, Circle Brewing and Adelbert’s Brewery already are (making that part of Austin one of the best places to go to for beer right from the source).
The brewery co-op is set to be open daily at 8 a.m., serving Cuvee Coffee by morning and craft beer — starting with the three 4th Tap mainstays — by night. It’ll be in soft opening until Nov. 7, when the three founders will throw a grand opening party there complete with live music and food trucks. Already, the taproom, a softly lit mix of wood, tile and metal fronted by large windows, feels like a cozy hangout spot for people in the neighborhood.
Stecker, who handles the business side, and Hamje, who’s in charge of the brewing team, got their start as many professional brewers do. They homebrewed together, to the point that friends, family and, eventually, complete strangers would request their beers for parties, weddings and other events. And the two friends would happily oblige.
“We would always say ‘of course’ because we love serving beer; that’s the biggest high for us,” Hamje said.
After seeing such a high demand for their beers, they decided to make it a full-blown business with a very particular plan in mind for it: a cooperative that allowed each of its workers to have a stake in it. That’s a little different than the business model of Black Star Co-op, the other brewery cooperative in town that centers around a consumer-based ownership structure.
The 4th Tap founders chose to focus on the worker-owned brewing cooperative model, Stecker said, because they’d come from corporate backgrounds and didn’t like how employees were treated. At 4th Tap, new employees come on as apprentices for a year, with the option of becoming worker-owners after that.
“We believe the packaging guy is just as important as the head brewer for the quality of the beer,” he said. “We want employees to feel invested in where they work, to feel like they have a career and not just a job, which will hopefully make the beer better.”
But getting this type of business up and running wasn’t easy, he said. Because 4th Tap is the first of its kind in the state, the three co-founders had difficulty explaining “what we’re doing, what we’re about,” he said, something that’s important to raise needed capital.
Along the way, however, they gained the support of Cooperation Texas, a nonprofit that helps cooperative businesses in the state develop and flourish, offering them guidance on business plans and — most importantly to Stecker, Hamje and Olfers — providing them “a network of cooperative support that we didn’t know existed,” Hamje said. “Lawyers, CPAs, people that were going to help us open as a 100 percent employee-owned company. We learned how to create this business and do it right.”
Now, 4th Tap has five full-time employees — something that Hamje is relieved about so that he doesn’t have to pull 16 hour days anymore. A Black Star alum, he’s overseen getting the three 4th Tap flagships into cans, which are in stores now. The brewery co-op is starting with Renewal, a tart tamarind wheat ale; Long Walk, a grapefruit IPA featuring Texas-grown Ruby Reds; and Sun Eater, a sorghum-based gruit made with rosemary, lemon peel and dark brown sugar and no hops or malts. All of its ingredients come from Texas.
The Sun Eater, a gluten-free recipe, hadn’t been one that Hamje or Stecker imagined they would regularly brew on 4th Tap’s 30 bbl system, but “it kept coming up during our market testing,” Stecker said.
In the taproom, look for a blonde in the coming weeks, as well as additional limited releases for the cooler weather, including a traditional Irish red and a Neapolitan porter with cherries, chocolate and vanilla. The brewery co-op also plans to eventually have a yeast culture lab where Stecker, who has a biology background, can grow in-house strains that will be able “to amplify certain traits in beers, maybe downplay other traits. But that’s a good five-year project.”
If you can’t wait until Nov. 7 for a party celebrating 4th Tap, check out Black Star Co-op on Saturday for 4th Tap’s official launch into Austin, the cleverly named “Co-op Two-step: a 4th Tap Launch at Black Star.” Opal Divine’s Penn Field will also have a 4th Tap tap takeover on Oct. 27; in.gredients will have one the day after.
4th Tap Brewing Co-op
Where: 10615 Metric Blvd.
When: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 8 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday
Information: 512-904-9817, 4thtap.coop