Big Bend Brewing founder Steve Anderson, who helped to feed Austin’s thirst for local beer in the 1990s with Waterloo Brewing and Live Oak Brewing, died Wednesday at his home in Alpine, Texas, of cancer. He was 53.
Although Anderson moved to the tiny West Texas town of Alpine to open Big Bend in 2012 — with a series of solid mainstay beers that started selling in Austin earlier this year — he had deep roots in Austin, too. He was integral in introducing the city to the idea of locally made beers more than 20 years ago, when the laws in Texas had only just started to change in favor of visionary brewers like him.
“All of Texas lost a true craft beer pioneer and a friend,” according to a press release Big Bend Brewing sent out following his death.
That’s not an overstatement: On social media throughout the weekend and today, brewers and others in the industry have talked about Anderson’s impact and how much he meant to them. Among them was Jester King Brewery, which released a brief statement titled “In Remembrance of Steve Anderson” on its website.
“We learned a great deal from Steve, especially during Jester King’s startup phase when we were struggling to make the transition from homebrewing to professional brewing,” according to the statement. “Steve was very generous with his time, and was happy to welcome and help newcomers to the scene like us… We will miss him.”
Anderson and his longtime friend Billy Forrester, who became inspired to open a brewpub together after a 1991 trip to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, came up with a plan to see that dream realized, according to Big Bend.
“Steve would attend the Siebel Institute Brewing Program to refine his brewing knowledge, and Billy would lobby the Texas Legislature to change the law,” according to the press release. “Two years after that trip, with the law successfully changed, they made their dream a reality and opened Waterloo Brewing Co. at 4th & Guadalupe, making Steve the first brewmaster of the first brewpub in Texas.”
Although Waterloo closed down in 2001 — “an early victim of escalating Austin rents” — Anderson wasn’t done molding beer lovers’ palates. He worked side-by-side with Live Oak Brewing founder Chip McElroy for 11 years, making sure as Live Oak’s head brewer that the East Austin brewery would become one of the most respected and beloved ones in town.
In 2012, he and his wife decided to move to Alpine “for a slower pace of life,” according to Big Bend. That’s where he helped open his final brewing project, Big Bend Brewing, which grew from “zero to over 5,000 barrels of annual production” over the past three years in an isolated part of the state. It wasn’t until earlier this year that Austinites finally got to try some of Big Bend’s mainstay brews, including Tejas Lager, La Frontera IPA and 22 Porter.
Anderson, however, hadn’t been planning to stop with them: He “turned his attention to developing our small batch brewing program, purchasing a small brewpub system to brew specialty series, collaborations with other breweries, and exclusive tap room beers,” according to Big Bend. He wasn’t able to finish.
“But we will carry on his legacy,” according to Big Bend. “To honor Steve, we will be naming the taproom at BBBC ‘Steve’s Cantina.’ We welcome current, future, and aspiring Texans to share great craft beer and memories from one of the originals. There will be only brewers in Steve’s Cantina, no brewmasters: it will only ever have one.”
Big Bend Brewing will celebrate Anderson’s life at 3 p.m. on Saturday at the brewery, at 3401 W. Highway 90, Alpine. Instead of flowers, the brewery suggests making a donation to Pints for Prostate, an organization that encourages men to get regular prostate screenings.