Brotherwell Brewing

By Kevin Tankersley

Owners open doors to the community, hosting concerts, markets and the arts.

Jacob Martinka was working at a bread bakery in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and was just getting into brewing beer at home before he moved to Waco. He made the move, he said, “to marry a Baylor girl … a specific Baylor girl, not just any Baylor girl.” He married his Baylor sweetheart, Emily Ross — a teacher at Hillcrest PDS in Waco ISD — and became part of the homebrewing community in Waco. Through mutual friends, he met David Stoneking, a recent Baylor graduate who was just becoming interested in the homebrewing movement. They became friends and now own Brotherwell Brewing, a brewery at 400 East Bridge Street, a block off of Elm Avenue and near the site where work on new hotels has recently begun. The Brotherwell taproom is open to the public on weekends, and it has hosted a whole slew of public events, from stand-up comedy on Father’s Day to live music and the monthly Eastside Market.

Martinka earned a degree in English at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas; and Stoneking graduated from Baylor with a degree in film and digital media.

Wacoan writer Kevin Tankersley talked with Martinka and Stoneking on a recent Monday afternoon in mid-September. The high temperature that day was 96 F, and big industrial fans pushed the warm air around the brewery. That will soon be a thing of the past, however, as a new air conditioning system is in the works for the Brotherwell building, which was formerly home to a junk company and a tire retailer.

WACOAN: Can you give me a short history of Brotherwell?

Martinka: We got started as homebrewers. I had been doing it for a number of years before I moved to Waco. Then I fell in with a couple of other guys who were homebrewing, and we sort of formed a monthly brewing group. And David soon came on.

We had mutual friends that were a part of it, and we were brewing together. As we got better at it, our beers started making appearances at weddings and house shows and art openings, that sort of thing. And people just gave us very good feedback. We wanted to see how we could cast a broader net and share our beer with more people. We found the best way to do that would be to go into business for ourselves. We moved toward that, and it took a couple of years to get off the ground, but it finally did in February of 2018.

Stoneking: Like Jacob said, we had friends come to us and ask if we could provide beer for whatever special occasion they had. And of course we couldn’t sell it to them legally, so Brotherwell kind of started when we first asked the question how do we provide beer to our friends and also recoup the costs of what it takes to make the beer?

That started us looking at Texas licenses, looking at equipment. By the time the dust settled — after we looked through how much beer should we make to break even, how much should we invest in equipment in order to be efficiently brewing — once we’ve asked all those questions, really the only answer left ahead of us was we’re either fully committing to a brewery or we’re abandoning the idea entirely. And luckily, we fell into the former.

WACOAN: What pushed you in that direction?

Martinka: Passion. It had been a hobby that we had gotten pretty good at. To me, it’s a form of expression to say, ‘I can make this beer do what I want it to do.’ If most of the beers like this on the market are this direction and I want to go this direction, I can do that. I think also the fact that there was no other brewery in Waco at the time when we were generating this idea. There was a big hole in the market.

WACOAN: You said that you can see something on the market and take it a different direction. How much time is it from an idea to something you can drink?

Martinka: If you want to try something new, then a test batch would take a couple of weeks from grain to glass and then, depending on the style, another couple of weeks to do it on a large scale. We also know a couple of other homebrewers, so we can kind of get their input, get them to test batch alongside us.

WACOAN: Brotherwell was at another location downtown first, wasn’t it?

Stoneking: Kind of. It took us several years to officially launch. About four or five years ago is when we actually filed with the state for a legal entity, and then from there began the long, slow job learning how to build a business, starting with fundraising.

This is such a manufacturing-heavy job that when we were looking at it, originally, we just saw beer and it’s fun and it’s cool and we’d like to make it. But when we got down to it, it requires a lot of equipment, a lot of space, and that, in turn, means a lot of upfront costs. So it took us several years to find a space that fit us, as well as find investors that could help us get up and running.

At one point we were hobby brewing in what is now The Findery. It was the Percy Medicine Building to us and always will be. Then we did have a lease at a different location downtown, but before we were able to do any real development on it, we ended up coming over to this spot where we’re at now in East Waco. And the spot fit really well, and that’s right about the time that we had finally closed up our initial fundraising goals in order to allow us to get up and running.

WACOAN: Neither of your degrees was in business or entrepreneurship. Did that present a challenge?

Martinka: We both came from a liberal arts school where it’s not just focused on one area and go down that path. It exposes you to a lot of different subjects. I think that was helpful for me.

Stoneking: I think some of it was probably my fault. Coming out of college, I started doing video work for a guy here in town who had his own video production company. He went off to med school, and I took over the company from him. I think having been in that position, even briefly, demystified a lot of the ideas of business ownership. There’s a lot of scary things when you’re on one side of it, but having been on the other side of it at least gave me the confidence that I needed to say, ‘We can do this.’ Or, ‘If we give it our all and it still fails, we’re probably still young enough to recover financially. We won’t be ruined forever.’

WACOAN: How did you come up with the name Brotherwell?

Martinka: A friend of ours, [Kate Sterchi,] is an artist and knew that we were trying to find our name, our identity. She knew us well. As an artist, she was seeing a lot of an artist named [Robert] Motherwell, and it kind of spun off of that. She said, ‘You know, it’s a made-up word. There are lots of good connotations to it though, which you all embody.’

WACOAN: Brotherwell has hosted quite a few live events lately. Why did you start doing that?

Stoneking: Events is something that has really grown organically since we have started opening up the taproom. Initially, we had several people come to us with ideas for things. We had done some ideas of our own for events, but once our space was open and our doors were open, we had several people come to us and say, ‘Hey, what if we started doing a market here on Sundays?’ or ‘Hey, we have this new music promotion group and we want to come in’ — as Keep Waco Loud did. They came in and said, ‘Would you be willing to host these events?’ And we just simply said yes, to give it a shot and see how it went.

We’ve done various fundraisers here, for Waco Diaper Bank, for the Doris Miller [Family] YMCA. It’s very easy on us. We spend most of our time brewing and dealing with beer, but we happen to have a lot of space to share. So when people come to us, typically we’re able to say yes. They have an idea. They have this thing that they want to do in Waco and all they need is a space for it.

Martinka: It goes back to that idea of community, right? We were just two guys who know a good deal about beer. If we were the only ones to create the culture of this place, it’d be kinda stale, I think. But bringing the community in, the arts community, the maker community, really elevates this place more than we can by ourselves.

WACOAN: You’ve hosted comedy, music, Shakespeare. Are you seeing your customers coming to events, or are those events bringing different people here?

Stoneking: [The event organizers] generally rally their individuals, whether it’s the local theater crowd or local music crowd or fundraiser crowd. They already have built circles, and then they’re just looking for space. So when they do come, we overlap our communities and then they commingle. We’ve found more people who are aware that we exist as a brewery and will give our beer a shot and will likely come back again. And likewise, some of our regulars at the brewery have been exposed to new local bands, new local vendors, new local charities that they often will follow up with on their own.

WACOAN: What’s the Sunday market?

Stoneking: The Eastside Market is something that we have just started lately. We’ve had two successful markets so far, and the next one is October 20. We’re scheduled for every third Sunday of the month.

It is created by several members of the community who came to us and asked if they could put together a market. They have anywhere from 20 to 30 different local vendors who pay a small booth fee; it’s about $15 for booth space. They set up in our yard area and on our street side. There’s food vendors, retail vendors, clothing vendors, arts, paintings, crafts. Really anybody locally who’s looking for a sales outlet, they can get a booth and set up. And then there’s been live music.

There’s been graffiti contests, as you see on the big wall. That’s round two. They painted over the first one. They’ll completely whitewash that before the third market, and they’ll have more artists come in and create new creations. It’s pretty cool to watch them do it.

Stoneking: And we’ve worked with Blek le Rat, who did a piece on our wall. He’s a famous Parisian street artist. We got connected with him through Creative Waco. With Creative Waco, they also just this summer completed our mural that was part of their ArtPrenticeship program.

WACOAN: What was this building before Brotherwell?

Martinka: It was the Rubel Junk Co. It was like a scrap yard.

Stoneking: It was Rubel Junk Co. for years and years. And when we walked in initially to take a look at it, it was being used as tire storage for a local tire shop. This space that we’re sitting in was wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling, stacked brand new tires, and they had carved little walkways that you could shoulder your way through and see the far wall or the near wall. We had to use our imagination first.

Martinka: It was a tire jungle.

WACOAN: How do you like this location?

Martinka: We love it. The space is really nice. We’ve got a lot of outdoor space. We can see the river from here and the Suspension Bridge. [McLane] Stadium is just a few blocks away across the interstate. But then there’s also what was when we arrived here, a blank canvas of property that is now started to fill in, and we’re sort of seeing the shift in the momentum of what this area is hopefully going to be. I think it’s going to be very art centric, very maker centric and that’s a great thing. It fits right in with what we’re doing.

WACOAN: How did you get involved with Keep Waco Loud?

Stoneking: They did a real media blitz when they first launched. They posted on Instagram just their logo. I had seen it, and I had seen that they had gone from zero to maybe a hundred followers in like four hours. And so I messaged them and said, ‘Hey, I don’t know who you are or what you are, but if it has anything to do with live music, we have a venue that is empty most of the time that we would like to fill with fun in town. Should we get together?’ They replied back and then we sat down and talked and planned the first show. And from there it’s just been a long string of fun and successful concerts, ranging everywhere from rap and hip-hop to jazz to singer-songwriter type of stuff.

Martinka: And Jacob and Katie [Selman] are wonderful people. It’s the music, and they brought the comedy. They’re movers and shakers. They know how to organize, and it’s great to see. Waco needs that. [Editor’s note: You can read more about Katie Selman and Keep Waco Loud in our “Making Waves” article on page 105.]

WACOAN: So Brotherwell hosted the event where a representative from the Texas Music Office was here. How was that?

Stoneking: It’s intended purpose from the point of view of the Texas Music Office was they were sending a representative to explain the process of qualifying for this new program that would generate support and interest in musical arts and designate certain cities as music friendly.

For them, a normal meeting was where you sit down in a boardroom with five interested nonprofits. They walked into something that I don’t think they knew what to expect. They were on stage in front of a crowd of at least I’d say 80 people, listening to him provide these very bureaucratic nuts-and-bolts steps to this accreditation. And people were interested, and they were engaged.

Then once the presentation finished, there were seven or eight live bands scheduled to play right after. Everybody was here for the music but also got exposed to some of the business side and governmental side and the tourism side of the industry of music and local music specifically.

WACOAN: And Katie said that there was pretty much every music genre in town was represented.

Stoneking: Yeah. We had hard rock. We had hip-hop. We had rap. We had jazz. We had country.

WACOAN: What do you like about the local entertainment scene?

Martinka: What’s not to like about it? There’s a lot of energy about it. I remember the first show that we had here. I turned to David and said, ‘This is sort of an unexpected feeling that I’m experiencing, but it takes me back to when I went to shows every weekend.’ And there’s just so much energy and so much liveliness, and this is what this place needs is to have that, that electricity about it.

Stoneking: I think that’s the most succinct way to put it. Our experience with live art and live music has really breathed life into this space. We are here producing and distributing beer, which is really fun, but having all of the art, especially the live performances in, has really breathed a lot of personality and life into this business, into this property, into this part of town.

WACOAN: What does Waco need in the entertainment scene?

Stoneking: I think what we’ve heard from the artists is whenever they come in, they are first and foremost thankful just for any place to be. It sounds like they have a real hard time getting people to allow them to even play at all. So if they can’t get any exposure, they can’t find a new fan base. If they can’t find a new fan base, they’re not going to survive as artists. So I think the biggest need right now is for more and more diverse venues.

WACOAN: I saw on your website that you sell ‘beer to stay’ and ‘beer to go,’ and I believe that’s a new thing, right?

Stoneking: We [are licensed to] sell to retailers, so we’re in about 30 or more bars and restaurants in the greater Waco area, on their draft systems. Or we could serve here to be consumed on site, which is why we’ve been opening our taproom to the public on the weekends. We could not, however, sell packaged beer from the brewery to have someone take.

So with the change of law [on September 1], what that opened up is to-go sales. Right now it’s just growlers, but we’re soon going to be getting into canning. And we’ve seen a huge response. There’s a lot of people who just want to come by, pick up good beer that they like and take it to either a BYOB restaurant, take them home for the weekend, take them to dinner parties, wherever they want, which they couldn’t do before.

WACOAN: What’s a growler?

Stoneking: Traditionally a growler is a vessel designed to hold beer, and they range from 16 ounces to a gallon. They’re typically made of either glass or steel or some other durable material.

Martinka: We’ve got 32-ounce growlers and 64-ounce growlers.

WACOAN: And how long does the beer stay fresh in a growler?

Martinka: It’s most optimal range is to drink it in two days. If you wait for a week, it’s not a big deal. I wouldn’t go much past a week. But once you open it, you’ve got about 24 hours. It starts to lose a little bit of carbonation.

Stoneking: It’s like opening a soda. You want to finish it before the next day.

WACOAN: Is there anything else I need to know?

Stoneking: The taproom has been a real exciting growth for us over the last year. Not just with events but having a space where people can come and be. In our original plan, we did not think that that many people would be interested in spending time in a brewery, especially one that’s not air conditioned, that’s outside of their normal work route. We’ve been blown away by the fact that people see this as a destination and as a community space and that has itself grown into arts on the wall, musical arts, marketplaces. And that’s been very exciting to see and very fun for us.

Martinka: We look forward to repaying our faithful customers by making this space a bit more comfortable. We’re working on that as a next step, maybe having air conditioning.

Stoneking: On the physical space side, we just finished the TIF work around the perimeter of the property. We were able to upgrade all the sidewalks, fencing, wheelchair ramps, store facade, trees, street lights. Our next phases are to build out the beer garden in the yard area and make it event-ready. And then of course, build out the taproom to include air conditioning, finish spaces, plumbing, a fully-built bar. We’ve been slowly growing as we can afford to, as any small business can afford to grow incrementally. But that’s our 12-month plan, to have those spaces much further developed.