Co-founder and President Amy Cartwright shares how she grew Independence Brewing Co. from a daydream to a successful passion—and one of Austin’s most cherished brewhouses.
By Amy Cartwright, Photo by Rudy Arocha
Brewing is built on tradition and relationships, but the drive to experiment and innovate is what has catapulted American craft beer for the last 20 years. For me, Austin has changed in similar ways.
I moved to Austin in 1996 to go to the University of Texas. Between taking way too many classes and working at a brewpub called Bitter End, I explored Austin’s greenbelt, music joints and dive bars. Playing shuffleboard at the Horseshoe Lounge and shooting pool at Crown & Anchor over beers had a way of soothing the soul.
By the time they demolished Liberty Lunch in 1999, I was fully immersed in the dot-com boom. Building community-driven commerce, developing interactive content and finding new ways to connect with people was exciting and all-consuming. Austin was awash in venture-capital money. While I desperately tried to find my own “great tech idea” on our little garage couch next to our kegerator, the beer in my hand became the real inspiration. It was not vaporware; it was tangible, delicious and could be enjoyed with my friends.
The road from pipe dream to starting a brewery was not easy. The process of working on a plan, talking with lenders, raising capital, sourcing equipment, filing permits and learning bookkeeping and how to lift kegs without pulling my back, it all started with the decision to really go for it, to give it a shot.
We started brewing our beers at Independence in October 2004, and we delivered our beer for many years. I recall telling our first employees, “If we are not changing how we do things every month, we’re not doing it right.” Growth required constant updating of delivery routes and fine-tuning routines at the brewery. With very limited resources, you constantly ask yourself, “How can this be improved?” to fine-tune your senses and drive you to try new things.
It’s that drive the led us to create cult favorites like Cucumber Redbud, a Berliner Weisse-style sour ale with cucumber, as well as harken to our Hill Country roots with our own take on a German-style lager, the Native Texan Pilsner.
Old-timers in the beer business like to say beer is built on relationships. I think back to the Crown & Anchor. I loved it when I was in college. It was at the very top of my list of Austin bars we had to be in when we started the brewery, and it took me almost a year to get our beer on tap there. The folks at Crown & Anchor have watched me deliver kegs out of my Honda, transition to working with a distributor, raise my two daughters and grow to what we are today: one of the largest breweries in Texas.
While Austin and Texas have changed, our brewery has changed and the beers people enjoy drinking have changed, our relationships with our friends, neighbors, fellow business owners, the service industry, retailers and distributors have only grown stronger. These relationships sustain us; they are what make running a business worthwhile for me.