One left Boston, one left finance, and one put off retirement from the oil industry: Meet the men who made career 180s to shoot off Texas’ newest star, Revolver Brewing.
By Scott Jarrett
A mid-winter Texas sunset flashes off of Revolver Brewing’s fermenting vessels as master brewer Grant Wood checks in on his latest creations, including Blood and Honey, a wildly popular unfiltered wheat beer. After 16 successful years at Boston Brewing Co., Wood is back home, creating beers in an enormous building that resembles a chicken coop just outside Granbury, Texas, 35 miles southwest of Fort Worth.
“I missed seeing the horizon in the northeast,” Wood says. “It’s nice. Out here, you can stretch your legs.”
In 2011, Wood came across an ad posted by father and son Ron and Rhett Keisler, looking for someone to run their new brewery. Ron, a geologist, had retired after 30 years with Marathon Oil, while Rhett had had enough of corporate finance.
“My dad and I figured out early that we didn’t know what the hell we were doing,” says Rhett, adjusting his Open Road hat, akin to what famous lawmen of the early ’60s wore. “I tried brewing once; they called it Rhett’s Neglected Ale.” So, the father-son team was on the hunt for someone with a little experience.
Wood agreed to meet Rhett at The Ginger Man in Manhattan.
“I wore a suit and tie, and he was sort of dressed down,” Wood says. “It was a great meeting. We had a few beers and talked and talked about our vision of good beer. Then after some sleepless nights and long talks with my wife, I decided to take a leap of faith.”
Ron, 66, chuckles about Wood: “He probably still wonders how he got mixed up with two scoundrels like us.”
Rhett, 43, also shakes his head about convincing him to move to Texas. “I thought I had ruined his life.
After 18 years in corporate finance and long winters in Toronto, Rhett found himself wanting to get off the “business treadmill.” He moved back to Granbury in 2009. He and his father went to the altar with several gas and oil field projects, but none of them stuck. Finally, Rhett showed his father research on the Texas craft beer market.
“My dad’s the guy who loves to tell you that something is a bad idea,” Rhett says. “He’s the guy that when you’re growin’ up says that you need to learn a trade—be a doctor, a lawyer, a businessman—starting a brewery did not fall into any of those categories.”
Surprisingly, his father thought he was onto something. Plus, Ron recognized that he needed something to do with his retirement.
“I’m terrible at golf,” he says. “‘Hell,’ I thought, ‘I might as well!’ I could die sitting in a rocking chair or get up and do something. I got more sweat than money.”
Drawing country water from an aquifer 400 feet below the earth, the trio began brewing in 2011 and kegged their first beer in 2012.
“The water just had this smoothness to it; we knew that was a good start,” says Rhett.
While settling into their new digs, a friendly neighbor welcomed them with a five-gallon bucket of solidified honey. Wood was delighted.
“It had a reddish tint to it and a beautiful fruity, floral aroma that took me back to a blood orange sorbet I made in Boston once. People raved about it. I wondered how I could create a beer with this honey, something with layers of complexity,” he says.
Rhett calls Blood and Honey a variety of nicknames: “the beast,” “the freight train,” “number one.”
He wasn’t quite sure how the beer would be perceived in these parts: “You love your own children, but you don’t know how other people are going to feel about them.”
He quickly learned at the Texas Beer Fest in Irving, Texas, which just happened to be his hometown.
“It went from people not knowing who we were to having a line 50 deep,” says Rhett.
Scooter Hendon, who blogs at TexasBrews.org, was in that queue; he calls Blood and Honey a “sensation.”
“It’s easy to drink, but has a richness to it,” he says. “It’s that citrus balance between sweet and dry; it’s easy for a beer like that to become too sweet.”
Among other beers, Revolver also concocts Sidewinder, a Southwest pale ale; Mullet Cutter, an English-style double IPA; and Mother’s Little Fracker, a stout that employee Dan Good boisterously proclaims, “You don’t have to brush after.”
All three do a little bit of everything around Revolver. For Wood, a renewed physicality was one of the biggest changes: He suddenly found himself kegging and dragging hoses; combined with Texas’ sweltering heat, he lost 15 pounds. Ron animates the daily grind with old-school Texas wisdom; phrases like, “Don’t worry about the mule, just load the wagon.”
On a Saturday afternoon shortly before Christmas, Revolver opens the large doors to its brew house, where pallets of bottles stacked 25 feet high create a wind barrier while broken pallet shards fuel open-pit fires. A few hundred people enjoy music, food and beer—a modest turnout closing out an extraordinary first year.
Rick Chapman, a local pilot, marvels at what he proudly calls his local brewery. “They don’t hop the crap out of the beer. These guys have managed to capture a real flavor.”
Rhett says people often want to know what beers to expect next. “We make it a point not to unveil what we’re up to—not because we are competitive, just because we think it’s fun to keep that close to the chest,” he says.
Currently brewing 9,000 barrels annually, Revolver will expand, says Rhett, but he cautions that growth in and of itself is not always good. “I have no interest in becoming the next Budweiser.”
Like his father, he’ll lean on an aphorism or two every now and then.
“Stick to your knitting,” he says with a smile. “That’s what I believe. We just want to continue to push ourselves to make great-tasting liquid. If people say, ‘These guys really care about their beer and make a great product,’ that’s all I need.”