MFG2011 - Day Zero - Bright Brewing
Legend has it that Eola, Texas was named after Aeolas, the Greek god of the winds.
On a steamy hot Friday in August 2007, with much of the flat landscape still green from recent record rains, Eola’s namesake was blessing the small West Texas town (population 200) with a nice breeze, respite from the sweltering upper 90 degree temperatures. I turn into a a gravel drive, between two red brick columns that were the only break in a low fieldstone wall. A sign bears the legend, "Eola School Restaurant". I park in front of the front doors of what looked to be an abandoned building. A small blue car is the only sign of life at this little town at the crossing of two farm to market roads.
The school was built in the 1920s, when the population hovered around 400. At its height, five teachers taught the children of Eola from elementary to high school. It was abandoned in the 80s and sat vacant until 2004 when James “Mark” Cannon bought the property to open as a restaurant/lodge/brewery/warehouse.
The first grade classroom is the dining room, the chalkboard serving as the menu. Today’s special, the chalkboard reads, is a barbecue brisket sandwich with fries. The room next door is the kitchen. Across the long, central hall is another classroom decked out as a banquet room. He brews his Windmill Pale Ale and Warlock Wheat in the science lab, and ferments it in the old boiler room. He’s converted some classrooms at the other end of the building into a warehouse, where he stores items for local businesses. He’s made some rooms into lodging for folks to spend the night.
Mark is about 5′5″ dark haired with sleepy eyes and a slow way of talking that makes you feel instantly at ease. He poured me some of his Windmill Pale Ale in a white styrofoam cup. I take a sip and taste, well, I taste something wet. It’s a pretty mild beer, Mark explains, because most of his customers prefer Bud Light or Coors Light. “It doesn’t have much flavor,” he confides. Then he pours me a cup of Warlock Wheat. The wheat beer starts with a hint of pepper, then finishes slightly sour. “It’s Belgian wheat beer,” Mark says.
A couple of county workers come in and order burgers. I take advantage of the sole employee of Eola School, and order the day’s special. He brings out a sandwich overflowing with beef, onions and pickles, along with a side of wonderful handmade fries. Delicious. After the county workers leave, he invites me out to see the site of the upcoming Labor Day Weekend festival. He mentions that it was also the site of a homebrew contest on Easter weekend, but a cold front forced everyone inside. (There were 12 entries, and the winner was a Air Force sergeant stationed at Goodfellow AFB.)
We walk out the end of the building, under a huge, spreading oak where Aeolas continues to bless us with a breeze. It’s comfortable there in the shade and the last thing I wanted to do is get out in the sun. On the edge of what used to be the school’s tennis court, a large asphalt square, a flatbed trailer sits forlornly in the sun, goats grazing in the neighbor’s yard behind it. “That’s the stage,” Mark says. “And I have to finish mowing tonight, when it’s cooler.” We have another cup of Warlock Wheat and talk about beer, regional beer styles and history.
Mark hopes to expand the brewery soon, maybe over the winter. And he’s eager to move beyond pale ale and wheat ale, hopefully dragging along the palettes of the locals. First, he’s got to teach them that there’s more to beer than pale, fizzy, yellow stuff. He wants to make a porter or a stout. He also hopes that the folks in San Angelo won’t mind making the trip out to visit his brewery.
The Eola School Restaurant isn’t the fanciest place in the world. Parts of the building need work—parts of the men’s room ceiling had collapsed, exposing the structure; the flat bed trailer could use a roof; and the whole place could use a coat of paint. It is, however, a great small town Texas restaurant: a little, out of the way place with personality and good food.
The Bright Brewery doesn’t make the best beer in the world. But it’s fresh, crisp, and only $2 a glass--well, a styrofoam cup. And it’s the only craft beer between Fredericksburg, Texas and Artesia, New Mexico. And the world, especially small town Texas, needs more craft beer.
I hope Mark makes it. It’s a perfect place for me to stop on my frequent trips to Midland. And, more importantly, his success would prove that small, local breweries can still find a place in a world dominated by megabrewers. And we should all stop at these little breweries, and soak up the charm, make new friends, and drink new beers.
The Eola School Restaurant is at 12119 FM 381 in Eola, Texas and is open 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Give Mark a call at (325) 469-3314.
posted by Jeff Holt at 08:20