Island Insider: Padre Island Brewing Company
You may know South Padre Island as Texas’ tropical paradise with miles of sandy beaches and endless outdoor activities, but did you know that the Island is also home to the second oldest brewpub in the state of Texas? In preparation for National Beer Day we sat down with owner and brewmaster of Padre Island Brewing Company, Mark Haggenmiller, to get the rundown on this Island institution.
Q: How did you end up becoming a brewer?
A: My dad was actually a brewer. He worked for Hamm’s Brewery in St. Paul Minnesota. I was enthralled by what he did from my visits to the brewery when I was a kid. We actually traced our heritage back another generation making beer when a bottle was excavated from the sewers of St. Paul — the bottle was from a great uncle of mine. The historical society cited him as having a saloon where he brewed porter and had oysters. It’s really neat that I’m carrying it on into the third generation.
Q: What is your production process like and where does it all take place?
A: It starts with four basic ingredients: malted barley, hops, water and yeast. It all takes place in house. Upstairs we have a grain room and I grind the full kernel malted barley to a grist paste. Then it’s gravity fed down into a copper kettle where it’s hydrated and the malt breaks down the starch into sugar. You drain the water to get a sticky, sweet liquid called wort, which you boil and then add your hops and other flavors to. From there it goes into the fermenting vessel where the yeast is added. Once the brew is ready it gets piped through a system under the floor directly to our taps at the bar.
Q: Do you bottle or can any of your beer?
A: We don’t really bottle or can anything here — we sell to-go growlers instead. We’re thinking about an expansion project here that would enable us to can and do draft kegs in the future.
Q: How is your beer connected to the Island? How does it fit the Island lifestlye?
A: I think all of the names reflect that we’re really connected with the Island. We do a couple of beers where we give back to organizations here on the Island, like the Kemp’s Ridley Bock with Sea Turtle Inc. As of today we’ve brewed 27 different varieties — all tied to the Island — and we always have 5 on tap. When we were planning the business we looked at several potential sites around the Valley, but I just thought the Island was a natural fit, especially since it’s so tourist driven. We get a lot of repeat tourists, especially the Winter Texans, but we’re a hangout for the locals as well.
Q: So you have four main beers that are generally always on draft and you rotate the fifth beer throughout the year, correct? How often do you change that fifth beer?
A: Yes. It depends on business. Right now we’re about midway through the second batch of the Kemp’s Ridley Bock (their current seasonal beer). And the next beer on will be the Cinco De Mayo Bock, which will hopefully be out in mid-April and we’ll finish it up around the time that Cinco De Mayo rolls through. I try to anticipate the seasons and brew smaller batches for the off-season.
Q: What’s your favorite beer that you brew?
A: I’m German, so I like any of the lager beers that we brew, so right now it’s the Kemp’s Ridley Bock. I particularly like pilsner style beers.
Q: What’s the weirdest ingredient you’ve ever used in one of your beer recipes?
A: I made a winter ale one of the first years that we were open that had clove, cinnamon and nutmeg. I’ve used blood orange, grapefruit, blackberries, raspberries…our fruit beers are really popular. We gear those towards the summer months.
Q: Which of your beers would you recommend to someone who doesn’t really drink beer? Do you have one that would make them “cross over to the dark side,” so to speak?
A: You can’t go wrong with the flight — that way you can sample a little bit of everything. We sell almost 3 to 1 our blonde ale, which is our lightest beer, over everything else. So I would say that’s a safe bet for someone like that.
Q: You said you’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry…can you elaborate on that?
A: There was kind of a lull up until 2007 or 2008, and then things started ramping up. As laws changed by state, allowing breweries to sell on premise as well as distribute their beer, that was kind of the impetus for a lot of these breweries to start. The growth of the market has just been insane — they’re even starting to pop up in the Valley. We actually feature guest beers from a brewery in McAllen.
Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring brewer?
A: The smaller you start the better, because there’s always room for expansion. Quality over quantity is key.