It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon at the new Texas Beer Refinery, and throngs of craft beer fans are packed into the small parking lot and even smaller tap room at Dickinson’s only brewery, housed in a tiny metal warehouse in an industrial part of town, just down the road from Kemah. Co-owners Ryan Rhodes and John Hearn—the businessman and the brewer, respectively, behind Texas Beer Refinery—are wearing matching white shirts and pouring beers as quickly as they can. By 3 p.m., three kegs have blown, and they’re still pouring Texas Blonde and Redneck Red one after another as the crowd waits patiently for refills.
This could be the scene at any number of the weekly tastings at any number of the craft breweries that have sprung up around Houstonia lately, but Texas Beer Refinery is different. For starters, there’s that name, and that logo: a clever repurposing of fermenting tanks and brew kettles to look like refinery towers from a distance. “We noticed that all the breweries have names ending in ‘Brewery’ or ‘Brewing Co.,’” says Rhodes, who met Hearn by chance while watching a football game at a nearby BJ’s Brewhouse in Clear Lake, where the two bonded over a mutual love of craft beer. “We thought, ‘Let’s try to do something different.’”
Since getting together in 2013, they’ve created a solid lineup of four core brews: Texas Blonde, American Dream, Mexican IPA, and Bayou City Brown, with more inventive creations coming every day, including a Belgian dubbel aged with raisins soaked in local Railean Rum and a brown ale infused with toasted pecans, coffee, and cocoa.
We’re the first brewery in Texas to distribute the 64-ounce growlers.
Another difference: Texas Beer Refinery isn’t just bottling its beers. “We’re the first brewery in Texas to distribute the 64-ounce growlers,” Rhodes says of the four-serving glass jugs, which retail for $17.50 at local H-E-B and other stores and can be redeemed at the brewery for a $2 credit.
Rhodes is determined that the Refinery remain self-distributed. “There’s a lot of knowledge to be had by doing your own distribution,” he says, which includes hearing direct feedback from bar owners and customers. What’s selling best so far? The Mexican IPA, which pairs especially well with Tex-Mex, and special one-offs like the Catalyst Imperial IPA. “The keg blew in 53 minutes at Nobi once,” laughs Rhodes.
For now, Texas Beer Refinery’s distribution area is mostly limited to Clear Lake–area stores, bars, and restaurants—among them Boondoggles, Nobi Pub, Skallywags, 1661 Craft House, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Jimmy Changas—although expect expansion into spots like the Sugar Land Flying Saucer and Texas Beer Garden in Magnolia. More than anything, though, the partners want to continue brewing excellent beers and stay small. “It’s almost like you get too big and you’re not cool anymore,” says Rhodes. “I want to make that not happen.”
Meanwhile, what he wants to make happen, again and again: the picnic-like atmosphere at that Saturday tasting, where people kicked back in the sunshine relaxing in lawn chairs to acoustic guitar—pints of beer in hand, of course. “Even if we become big,” he says, “I still want it to have that feel.”