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Houston experienced record rainfall and catastrophic flooding due to Hurricane Harvey, and experts are estimating that it could cost $180 billion to repair the damage. But as part of a tightly knit brewery scene, Magnolia City beer-makers are stepping up, banding together, and chipping in to rebuild the city.
Among them is Karbach Brewing, a Houston-area brewery since 2011 (and as of 2016, a member of The High End, owned by Anheuser-Busch), which counts roughly three-quarters of their employees as natives. We spoke to Houston-born David Graham, Karbach’s Brand Manager, to learn more about how the brewery and its employees are dealing with the aftermath of the hurricane.
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TBN: So, how are you guys doing?
David Graham: Everything’s going well. Operations are back to normal completely, everybody’s kinda gettin’ back in the groove.
To what extent was the brewery and its employees affected by the storm?
We were very fortunate. Very little damage to the brewery -- just a couple of roof leaks. Nothing severe. Never lost power, so all the beer was nice and protected. We had about 18 out of a little over 200 employees that suffered property damage, with seven employees that had extensive damage. One employee had about nine-and-a-half feet of water in his place, and lost both of his cars. We’ve set up an internal fund to try to help offset some of those costs that aren’t going to be covered through insurance or FEMA relief.
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How is that funded?
This was actually all just employees giving back to their co-workers. But we’ve also partnered with four Gulf Coast charities helping with recovery: 100 Club of Houston (specifically on behalf of Sergeant Steve Perez, who lost his life during the hurricane); the K9 Angels Rescue Fund (which takes in animals and finds homes for them -- they were out there a lot during the hurricane, rescuing animals that had been abandoned when people needed to flee); the Diaper Foundation (which provides diapers, baby formula, and services for newborns and mothers); and finally, Habitat for Humanity (helping with rebuilding efforts).
After the storm, we donated $10,000 to each of those charities, and we’re going to be giving 25 cents per case of specific brands for the rest of the year. Love Street, our Kolsch-style blonde, will contribute to the 100 Club; Hopadillo IPA goes to the K9 Angels; our seasonal brands are donated to the Diaper Foundation; and Weekend Warrior proceeds are donated to Habitat for Humanity. We’re hoping to at least double our contributions to all four charities, and hopefully do quite a bit more than that.
How soon did you reopen after the storm?
The storm blew through on Saturday and Sunday, and we did a voluntary shift on Wednesday after the storm. But if any employees felt like they were unable to get to work safely, or had too much on their plate, they weren’t required to work. We reopened Thursday, but for the rest of the week anybody who felt like they [couldn’t work] -- specifically those who had suffered a lot of property damage -- were not required to come in at all.
Did other businesses in the area follow similar policies for their employees?
Yeah, I think so. The level of devastation throughout Houston was just so severe that I don’t think any employer in their right mind would even question that somebody was being authentic in their need for more time. You saw a lot of businesses that took on significant damage themselves, too.
What’s the vibe in Houston and in your neighborhood like now?
It’s absolutely a hopeful time. This is such a diverse city, and it’s always been a friendly city, but more than anything in this time of need, it’s really come together. And not even just after the hurricane -- during the hurricane, it was amazing to see how many people were getting out there in their own personal boats and rescuing others in dangerous situations. The first responders and professionals who do this obviously did a fantastic job, but the average citizen really went above and beyond, and I think it’s something that the whole city is very proud of.
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How about the local brewing community, specifically? Has it come together as a whole and united in responding the hurricane?
It’s been fantastic to see. We’ve certainly pitched in in our way, but the brewery community and in Texas in general has done a whole lot to make sure that people are taken care of and that we provide a jumpstart to these recovery efforts. Throughout the storm, we saw breweries offering water from their cold liquor tanks to anybody who needed it. There was a relief beer event where on one day last week, breweries throughout the state -- and actually, throughout the U.S. -- could join this #reliefbeer cause and donate $1 per beer from their taproom to the Houston Food Bank. It’s been one of the biggest players in terms of making sure people are fed and nourished during these hard times.
That’s great to hear -- especially when Houston’s beer scene is so young.
Houston has lagged behind the rest of the country in terms of craft beer production over the last decade or so. When we opened our doors in 2011, we were only the second brewery within the Houston city limits. Which is pretty amazing if you think about how we’re the fourth largest population in the U.S. But since then there’s been an explosion of craft beer.
How is Houston beer different from what you might find in other areas of the country?
One thing that makes Houston and Texas beer unique: we’re in a climate where it’s brutally hot a lot of the year, so there’s more of an emphasis on sessionability and lighter styles than you might find nationally. It shows that even over a short period of time, Texas breweries have done a fantastic job in terms of quality, because any brewer will tell you that a lighter beer is one of the hardest styles to brew -- there’s no way to hide any flaws or inconsistencies in the product.
That’s what we like to drink anyway, and we’re in New York and Denver!
Don’t get me wrong: I love an imperial stout, but when it’s 105 degrees outside, I think I’ll stick to a Kolsch.
Obviously drinking water is paramount, but are people in Houston appreciative of also having beer to drink in these tough times? We’d assume it’d be nice for people to commiserate over a brew right now.
Definitely. We’ve been doing a decent amount of outreach in the community; a lot of these places have been devastated, and if we can even just do something as simple as get [people] some beers after they’ve had an exhausting day of gutting houses and cleaning up -- we’ve increased our donations to make sure that we can satisfy people, and at least give them a time to relax after these gut-wrenching experiences.
Have you seen an uptick in the taproom, too?
For sure. After the storm finally subsided, we definitely had a good rush out here, just because people were so tired of being cooped up in their houses, and really wanted to get out and talk to other people. There’s no better way to air your frustrations than over a nice, cold beer.
Editor's Note: If you'd like to help Houston and contribute to relief efforts, we suggest you to donate here to the Houston Food Bank!