NEW YEAR, NEW BREW

Cover Story
2014
January

When three Tyler men joined forces to create a first-of-its-kind business in Smith County, they knew they couldn’t do it without adding a fourth partner: God. In fact, they named their venture with their silent partner first and foremost in their minds. 

"The name ‘True Vine’ comes from one of my biggest heroes," said True Vine Brewing Company co-founder Ryan Dixon. "Jesus said 'I am the true vine, apart from me, you can do nothing' and we really believe that. We believe that in our lives as human beings, as fathers, as husbands and in our business."

Ryan, along with Dan Griffith and Stephen Lee, melded their priorities: faith, family, community and Christianity, into a business plan that would also satisfy their passion for brewing and enjoying beer. The partners realize having their Christian values represented in the company name comes with great responsibility.

"We bear that name very cautiously because that's a heavy weight, but it also keeps us in line with our values. We don't want to do anything to compromise that," Ryan said. "We want to inspire people to be a hero." They acknowledge that there may be some controversy within the community for three men of faith to open up a brewery. 

"We are keenly aware of the difficulty some in our community may have with a brewery, especially some with whom we share a common faith," Stephen said. "We are Christians first. We did not come up with the name True Vine by accident and we aim to conduct ourselves and our business with this characteristic in mind."

"Our  values  of integrity,   love and community   are meant  to hold  us in contrast  with  the crudeness   and drunkenness    often  associated   with  beer,"  Stephen  said. "The history of beer shares a rich heritage  and relationship   with  the history  of the church  and  we aim to honor that."  

Beginning At Bible Study

Ryan,  Dan,  and  Stephen  met  during  a small  group  Bible  study  at Grace  Community Church  about  two-and-a-half years  ago  and  became  quick  friends.  After  realizing  their common   interests  included  their  faith,  their  family  values,  and beer,  Ryan shared  with  them  that  he'd  read,  "The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World,” a book that chronicled the lives, values and generosity of the Guinness family of Ireland who built the international beer empire.

Several  months  later,  Ryan shared  with  Dan and Stephen  that  he had  embarked   on a home  brewery, and asked  them  to come  by. He told the two separately, neither of them knew the other was  going to sample Ryan’s initial efforts. Stephen and Dan both, at separate instances, told Ryan that what he had created was amazing and he should really think about trying to sell it. So they decided to do just that. 

At first, the three considered opening a brew pub to serve their local concoctions alongside a small menu. However, they nixed the idea as they believed it would take valuable time away from their families. 

Ryan is married to Traci and has two children.  Dan and Robyn have four children and Stephen and Jennifer have three."We're very tied with our church; we're very tied with our family; so we didn't want something that was going to take us away from that," Ryan said. Instead, the trio decided to open as a production brewery, selling their beers to local establishments."We have a huge love for local [business] and I think it really fits in with the culture today," Ryan said. "Everybody  is into 'what's  locally owned'  and that's  exactly where our heart is."

It has been a long, fruitful journey, Ryan said, with a few bumps in the road and three barrels of beer declared substandard and thrown away. The three log True Vine hours late at night, early in the morning and on weekends, as brewmaster Ryan works in direct network marketing with his wife. Stephen spends his days as the regional director of a popular restaurant chain and Dan as a chief financial officer of an oil and gas company. But the three finally have a product they are thrilled with. 

"We feel really positive and we are just really antsy to get that first pint sold," Stephen said. While that day is imminent, Ryan declared their business is about the passion for beer, not profits. "We'd  love to be able to make some money in the end, but really it's all about the passion for us," he said. "It's  all about the desire to create something beautiful that inspires other people."

In April 2013, they established their brewery in an urban oasis off of Glenwood Drive near downtown Tyler. "It was little, it was dirty, it was grungy and it was something that we could make beautiful from the inside out," Ryan said. "Industrial look."

In November, they received the final approval from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to be able to produce and sell beer. "We're  open, ready and legal, but we're  still in the process of discreetly doing everything," Ryan said. "We've been trying to do that the whole time, because one of our goals is to be Tyler's first brewery. That's  a huge thing for us."

The Beer

Once the dust settled on the logistical end of things, the partners started buying new brewing equipment and experimenting with their own recipes. Ryan and Stephen primarily concentrate on the brewing while Dan keeps a laser-sharp focus on the numbers. Part of the thrill of brewing, Stephen said, is continually improving their methods and increasing the operational efficiency. Dan said he’s blessed with the opportunity to work with a business from the ground up, something he’s always aspired to do.

From crushing the grains, to fermentation, to the carbonation process, brewing is not only a craft, but also an exact science. The whole process can take anywhere from 10 days to a few months, depending on the style of beer.

There are three steps to brewing the beer: the primary fermentation process when the alcohol is formed, the secondary fermentation when the second round of sugars are formed and the unwanted flavors sink to the bottom of the barrel and, lastly, the carbonation process. “There’s so many ways to change the artistry and the craft of it, the actual process of making the beer is so steep in God’s creation  that the actual process is amazing to me,” Dan said. “God has clearly provided a miraculous way for it to be made – for everything to be made, really – but that also includes beer.”

Craft beers are created specifically to entice the senses, to play to taste, sight and smell, the men believe. "There's something about beer… it's one of those rare things,” Stephen said. “It can bring people together whether through sports or organizations. It brings people from all backgrounds, creeds, races and/or religion. They are united by beer because it breaks down those barriers that would otherwise be there."

Their flagship beer will be the Rose City Pale Ale, a homage to the city of Tyler and its heritage. It is a nice, mellow American ale, with unique citrus and earthy notes  and infused with rose fruits. This aromatic ale pairs well with spicy foods. Dan likes the rose beer because it crosses gender barriers and has a universally broad appeal .“Men and woman all love it and ask for another glass,” he said. “I’m excited about that.” There’s also not another rose  hip beer in production that the men know about."There's  so much variety in the beer world, we don't  want to repeat," Ryan said. "We want to do something different and unique."

They are also working with neighbors, Porch Culture Coffee Roasters, another locally-owned business, to create a coffee-infused  porter.  Ryan’s vision includes crafting a summer beer using local honey. "That's  our goal, to bring Tyler into all of our beers as much as possible," Ryan said. "It brings us back to that local community that we believe
in so strongly."

Also in the works is a Breakfast Porter Ale, which will be a bold multi-porter brewed with oatmeal. This dark beer will have a great "mouth feel" and contrast with its rich foam. It features flavors of roasted malt, coffee and chocolate. This beer pairs equally well with steaks and burgers or a big giant piece of chocolate cake. They also have a brown ale, pumpkin ale and an IPA in the works.

The partners don't  expect to be the only brewery in Tyler for very long. "It's  not that we'll  be the only brewery, we know that and we don't  want to be," Ryan said. "We want Tyler to thrive in the beer world, we just want to be the first." Ryan said their focus is on building strong relationships with the venues who serve their beers. "When we establish a new account, we're going to be there," Ryan said. "We're going to hang out. We're  not about the quantity at all." 

Their overall goal is to build a brand with a limited supply that’s in high demand. "It's literally hand crafted,” Ryan said. “Every bit of it is plagued with human error and human creativity and that's the beauty of it." Besides just creating a demand, they want the community to love the fruit of their labors. "We want to win people's  hearts," Ryan said. "We want to win taps instead of just taking up tap space."

Their Inspiration

It's not only their passion for the craft of beer that has inspired the men, but their personal heroes who have influenced them as well. For Ryan, some of those personal heroes include the Guinness family of the aforementioned biography. 

“We know of them as the Guinness Draught and that's  great because it's a very good product, but the family themselves are unbelievable,"  Ryan said. "Their story is of how they literally changed Ireland for the better. "The Guinness family saw a disease-stricken country and wanted to help instead of ignoring the problems. They employed a doctor to go from house to house doing general health checkups. "No one hears that side of the story," Ryan said. "They're inspirational." 

Focus on the Family

Among Ryan’s inspirations are the trips he’s taken to family-owned wineries. He said he loves how you can see the whole family working together. "We love that feel. We want that in the beer world," he said. "We want it to unashamedly be a family environment." Dan readily agreed. "We all take our roles as father and husband seriously," he said. "Our families come first." In fact, during a late night interview for this article, Dan had to excuse himself when his oven timer sounded. He was baking brownies for his children to take to school for their teacher
appreciation week. 

The combined nine children of the three men visit the brewery often. Ryan spoke about how the men always have little eyes watching and little ears listening and they keep that in mind for how they conduct themselves. "The words we choose and the way we present our business are all a reflection of our greater roles and responsibilities," Ryan said. "The environment we want to create is a reflection of our faith and a desire to have a positive impact on our community." Stephen added that they keep the environment at the brewery wholesome, in the same way they keep the environment in their homes positive and focused on faith.

Fast Forward

Looking toward the future, the triumvirate of True Vine Brewing Company plans to build a bar area and an outside beer garden. Ryan said they plan to operate as a tap room in the future. Customers will be able to come to the brewery to purchase and consume beer on site. However, they won't  be able to purchase and take any off the premises. They won't  have set daily operating hours, but they plan to host special events such as tours, tastings and parties.

Stephen said their next step is to slowly increase production to meet the demands of local restaurants and diversify their offerings. "We want to continue to evolve and improve our craft," he said. "Beyond that, we plan to reinvest in our business so that we can dramatically  increase production and grow our distributionthroughout Texas."

It’s a goal of all three men to bring more business to downtown Tyler. No matter what the partners are working on, there's three main values they want to keep in mind: integrity, community and love. "We hope that people see that clearly in our brewery."

To learn more about the True Vine Brewery Company, like the guys on Facebook, follow them on Twitter or visit them online at www.truevinebrewing.com.

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