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Three Men and a Little Brewery
by Paul Gonzales
Feb 26, 2014 | 243 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
From left, Mark Nichols, Stefan Zurakowski and John Wilkerson started the Goliad Brewing Company and are gearing up to begin brewing and taking their unique blend of craft beer across Texas. Zurakowski is the brewmaster and was transplanted from Tennessee to Texas with his family after 10 years of brewing craft beer.
From left, Mark Nichols, Stefan Zurakowski and John Wilkerson started the Goliad Brewing Company and are gearing up to begin brewing and taking their unique blend of craft beer across Texas. Zurakowski is the brewmaster and was transplanted from Tennessee to Texas with his family after 10 years of brewing craft beer.
slideshow
Four large fermenters sit out in the Texas sun waiting to be filled. Production should begin in the coming week and soon these shiny tanks will be filled with Goliad’s very own craft beer.
Four large fermenters sit out in the Texas sun waiting to be filled. Production should begin in the coming week and soon these shiny tanks will be filled with Goliad’s very own craft beer.
slideshow
Kegs emblazoned with the Goliad Brewing Company logo are stacked in the cooler awaiting the batches of brew to fill them for distribution. Inside the packaging plant they will also fill bottles to head out to the local bars and restaurants.
Kegs emblazoned with the Goliad Brewing Company logo are stacked in the cooler awaiting the batches of brew to fill them for distribution. Inside the packaging plant they will also fill bottles to head out to the local bars and restaurants.
slideshow
About a mile off Highway 59, down a small country road, there’s a very unassuming stretch of land with a mobile home and what looks like a barn sitting amongst newly planted pecan trees.

If you weren’t looking for it, you’d pass right by the Goliad Brewing Company without thinking twice. But sometime in the near future, it may be a sought-after attraction that’s not so easy to miss.

John Wilkerson and Mark Nichols, two of the three men bringing the brew to South Texas, were looking over a huge cleared piece of land behind the beer factory when we caught up with them.

“This right here is the actual brew grounds,” Wilkerson said, admiring the land. “Eventually, we’re going to have a little pavilion in the middle area. As you can see, this is a great place to sit under a tree and have a beer.”

Nearby, a few men were completing the bathroom facilities while others worked on insulating some pipes jetting out of the actual brewing facility.

Once the plant is fully functional, the company plans on having tours and tastings as well as live music and fun, family events.

Why open up a craft beer brewery in Goliad?

“Water is good,” Nichols said with a laugh. “Water’s the largest ingredient in beer. And most often the most overlooked one.

“So when we started looking at sites, Goliad was important, but we had to find the right water for brewing.

“The water tests came back here, and it was like the Goldilocks zone for brewing. It was almost absolutely perfect. In fact, we’re ‘RO’ing it down (using reverse osmoses) only 40%, and mixing the rest straight out of the ground. That puts magnesium and calcium at the dead center of optimal production of yeast cells.

“All a brewmaster does is make sweet wart. He makes sugar water. The yeast does all the work.”

All the water that the Goliad Brewing Company doesn’t use for the manufacturing of the beer gets sent back out and is utilized on the land. Huge sprinklers rise out of the grounds around the new pecan trees and dirt covered ground which will be lush grass soon enough.

“I’m not by far—and Mark isn’t either—a tree hugger,” Wilkerson added.

“But we are conservationists. We do believe in giving back. Taking it out and giving it back. That’s one thing you find with a lot of breweries around here, especially here in Texas. We take a lot of pride in that.

“Goliad’s a ranching community, if you think about it.

“We came out here, and there’s not a lot of industry, and one of the reasons we picked Goliad was the people. Another one was the water, and it also has great history. That leads to great stories, and those stories are really what we’re after too. It’s one of the things we wanted to do—was have a good beer and a good story to go with it.”

Wikipedia describes craft breweries as “much smaller than large-scale corporate breweries... independently owned... such breweries are generally characterized by their emphasis on flavor and brewing technique.”

Craft breweries are growing in popularity and are popping up all over the world.

“It’s the only segment growing in the U.S. In fact, Bud, Miller and Coors are declining,” Nichols said. “While their percentage points don’t look like much, if you’re making 500 million barrels, and you go down 1%, that’s 1% of 500 million barrels. That’s a lot of beer.

“Then they look at the craft breweries and say, ‘Look, they’re growing 10%;’ well, that’s eating up not just that 1%, but with craft consumers, they tend to consume less liquid volume than an 18-pack or a 24-pack because it’s manly to drink 18 beers.”

One of the unique traits of craft beer is it’s all about the taste and the actual brewing and not so much about the alcohol content.

Nichols continued, “Literally, the way it’s been up until prohibition, people drank heartier beers. Since prohibition, we’ve come up with what is known as an adjunct beer, which means they’re using sugar extracts and other elements to knock as much flavor out of them and make them as light as possible for as much consumption as possible.

“They’ve basically taken the last generation and watered down our taste buds. And that’s where the craft is growing.

“We’re revolting against all that. We love flavor.”

And that job lays directly on Stefan Zurakowski’s shoulders.

The 30-year-old brewmaster at the company hails from Knoxville, Tennessee, and has only been brewing for about 10 years. But his skills far surpass his age and time as a master craftsman.

Zurakowski left his post as brewmaster at Smokey Mountain Brewery to open his own brewery with two other guys, but it didn’t quite pan out.

“I was getting a little frustrated with the pace of things. I saw an ad on the internet for this job here, and I put it out and I got a good response.

“The first interview I talked with John; then the second one I talked to John and Mark, and after a while Mark asked me, ‘Well let’s see what you can do. Brew a batch of beer and get it down here.’”

Nichols then got a panel together with a few other brewmasters to try the beer, saying that he had brewed the batch himself.

“Well, I did that for a purpose. I brew with these guys, so I asked them to critique my beer and tell me all the little mistakes I made.

“You know how it is; your friends are going to lie to you. These people are people that won’t lie to me. Especially me. They’re going to take every chance they get to tell me what I did wrong.

“They unanimously came back and said, ‘Man, you hit the nail on the head. We couldn’t find anything wrong with it.’”

So Nichols broke the news to them and said it was somebody’s job application.

“They said, ‘Hire him.’ And that really solidified what we were doing and why we wanted to bring Stefan here.

“This kid has serious talent. I can’t wait for you to try some of his beers. It’s going to blow your mind.”

“They flew me down, and that was it,” Zurakowski recalled. “That’s the end of the story. And now I’m here.

“It’s been a bit of a move, but I’m liking the weather here. Well, not last week, but for the most part,” he laughed.

“It’s been pretty good to learn this side because I’ve ran a brewery before, but I’ve never had to build one. So I’m learning a lot on that end. But it’s kind of nice that I get to set things up the way I think they should be set up, so it’s been very beneficial.”

At the time of the interview, the men were just a week away from firing up the boiler and brewing their first batch, and the excitement can hardly be contained in the men as they the date draws closer.

Being the southern most brewery in Texas gives them free reign to take their product to a vast majority of thirsty South Texans.

Although the brewery is relatively small in the larger scale of things as far as corporate beer sellers go, they have huge plans to expand and produce more uniquely flavored beers using their location as inspiration in the near future.

Until then, we can enjoy all their hard work, one glass at a time.

You can check out their progress from start to present by searching for them on Facebook.
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