By day, Rudy Mayer works in Reynosa as a maquila manager. At night and on weekends for the past 20 years, he has brewed his own beer. But two years ago, Mayer gave up brewing time to open RGV Brew, a homebrewing supply store.
“There was no place closer than San Antonio to buy homebrewing supplies,” Mayer said. Multiple attempts to buy supplies online were plagued by incomplete orders that made it impossible to brew the beers he wanted.
Once Mayer discovered Border Brewers, a homebrewing club founded in 2012, he realized he was not alone in his search for a good supplier. A card-carrying member of the American Homebrewers Association and a certified AHA beer judge, Mayer and his wife Deborah opened the part-time store to meet a need. The limited hours (6 p.m.- 9 p.m. Tues.-Thurs. and Sat. 12-5) suit most customers.
“Two-and-a-half years ago in the Valley, just buying a craft beer was a challenge. Roosevelt’s had craft beer on tap. Now Holiday Liquor, Feldman’s and H-E-B carry craft beers and more restaurants do, too,” Mayer said. In fact, a brew pub is under construction in Pharr. “The guy opening it came in and learned how to brew here, with equipment from here.” Local brewery Rabble Rouser, which distributes only to bars and restaurants such as Santa Fe Steakhouse and Roosevelt’s, initially got supplies from RGV Brew
Rather than cutting into the market for brewing supplies, Mayer sees local microbreweries boosting interest in making craft beers at home. RGV Brew draws customers from across the Valley and deep into Mexico. It stocks about 50 varieties of grain from Belgium and Germany along with 50 types of hops from France, England, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Slovenia. The yeasts required to start beer fermenting are available dried or liquid.
RGV Brew doesn’t sell beer, since that requires a TABC license. Mayer said individuals can make about 250 gallons of beer annually for personal consumption. “Or you can give it away.”
Mayer would like to hold more classes than they have to date: On National Homebrew Day in May, about 10 people were there, brewing. On Learn to Homebrew Day, a different crowd attended the demonstration. He also held Girls Pint Out, for women who want to learn home brewing.
The tidy store, brimming with stainless steel kettles, funnels, dark bottles and hydrometers, leaves no doubt that sanitation is critical during brewing. Swing top, corks and bottle caps of all colors help to differentiate the types of home-bottled beer. “You can order labels or print them yourself,” he said. The labels his artist wife made for him are prominently displayed.
Almost all homebrewers move away from bottling their beer to putting it in kegs, Mayer said. “It takes more expensive equipment, but bottling takes more work.” Homebrew recipes typically make 50 bottles with the beer ready to drink in three weeks to six months, depending on the recipe.
A phone call interrupted Mayer’s discussion of homebrewing. “A Russian Imperial Stout kit? I just sold the last one, but I have all the ingredients you’d get in a kit. I can put the ingredients together for you,” he said.
Kits are an all-in-one brewing system, Mayer explained, with the appropriate mashed grain depending on what you want to brew: Belgian season, English brown ale, or an IPA as a few of the dozens of choices. “Do you like big blondes?” Is the question on the Imperial blonde ale kit. With one of the kits and some basic brewing equipment such as a 24-quart stainless steel pot and bottles, you can make a five-gallon, 50-bottle batch for around $150.
If you’re more adventurous, Mayer is willing to guide you. “We’ll help you find a recipe, or bring your own in to get the ingredients. Most of the people who brew beer love to talk about it and are extremely helpful.”
Visitors receive a free introductory copy of AHA’s magazine, Zymurgy. The store gives discounts to members and offers deals on startup equipment.
One of Mayer’s homebrews — a horchata cream ale — was available to sample at Brew in the Woods held at Valley Nature Center in Weslaco. He is coordinating the battle of the brews at IMAS’s 2017 Brewseum.
RGV Brew sells kits and bottles for making wine and mead. “It’s easier than beer, but it takes longer.” Whatever you choose to brew, you can be sure of support and encouragement from RGV Brew and all of your friends.
For more information, see rgvbrew.com.
This story by Eileen Mattei appears in the January 2017 print edition of Valley Business Report. appears in the December 2016 print edition of Valley Business Report.