The Fielders’ love of brew hopping began with their first family visit to the Princess Louise pub in London in 2010.
The Fielder family likes to learn and explore on their vacations. So when Tim, the youngest of two sons, approached parents Lisa and Guy about his desire to leave corporate America and become a professional brewer, he had their full support. So much so, that family vacations began to look more like scouting expeditions, as they visited brewpubs in England, taprooms on the west coast, and all their favorite breweries in the state of Texas. They were paying close attention to what they loved about the industry so they could develop their own dream brewery.
Lisa and Guy both grew up in Pecos, but it’s the mountains of Big Bend that capture their hearts. “The Davis Mountains are home,” Lisa says.
Lisa, the PR arm of the business and chief of fun designs, went to college at Sul Ross State University for part of her academic career. She later transferred in pursuit of her master’s in architecture. But she was lucky to come of age during a golden era in the Big Bend. Her sister married and moved to a ranch near Balmorhea, creating another permanent link. Lisa recalls exploring the area when it was sparsely populated and hardly visited, even less so than now. The Davis Mountains’ most recognizable destinations, the springs at what is now Balmorhea State Park, and the facilities at what is now Davis Mountains State Park, were at that time still private property. Lisa fondly recalls coming and going to those places with a sense of ease. “We felt as if at all belonged to us,” she says.
Her bond with the Big Bend is largely through nature. She grew up taking a microscopic view of the world around her, looking at bugs and plants. When she was a child, and her father was recovering from a heart attack, part of his therapy was to walk. The two would walk together at night looking at stars and the grandeur of West Texas night skies was programmed into her soul. Later, she joined the Tierra Grande Master Naturalist class of 2018, sopping up the science lessons about this region with relish. She continues to be active with the Dark Skies Team, a group of night sky aficionados seeking to elevate night sky love in Alpine.
Lisa is keenly observant. “People want to be outside,” she says. “If nature is beautiful, then it’s even better. And if you can learn something, that’s an even bigger bonus.”
That observation is driving her approach to the taproom build. She gets carried away dreaming up design ideas that reflect her love of the region in all its naturalist wonder. She brought in a team of creatives to help bring the vision to life.
Native landscaping by local botanist Michael Eason will dominate the property. As a master naturalist, Lisa is looking forward to showcasing the plants that define the Chihuahuan Desert and has been inspired by visits to botanic gardens that make the landscape an educational experience.
Big Bend sculptor Harry Weekly’s found object figurines feature wildly creative critter caricatures from the deserts of Big Bend. Not one to sell his work or do commissions anymore, Harry has instead built his own outdoor gallery on his property outside of Alpine and allows limited visitation. When Lisa discovered him, she knew he had to be a part of the taproom. Now his somewhat elusive sculptures will be featured in the Harry Weekly children’s garden, a part of the taproom’s outdoor design dedicated to whimsy in the Big Bend. It will allow more accessibility to the works of one of this region’s unique and most entertaining sculptors.
These are just a few of many details that reinforce a sense of place, a concept dear to the Fielders. And even though they have lived in several cities across the state, they keep coming back to the Big Bend.
After the two Fielder sons fledged off to college, Lisa looked for ways to combat the empty nest syndrome. She was drawn to the nonprofit sector and founded College Forward, a program to champion low-income kids through college. The nonprofit grew from its initial 26 participants to helping over 450,000 young people across 17 states when Lisa retired in 2016.
She was not expecting to go into the brewing business post-retirement, but when son Tim brought up the idea, she and Guy wanted to do everything they could to support it.
Tim, a 35-year-old with a PhD in computer science and an analytical mind, is currently an adjunct professor at Sul Ross State University. He had been working in the corporate world but longed for something different. His parents’ willingness to partner with him on the taproom brought Tim to live in Alpine permanently, because, in addition to his family roots in the area, Alpine seemed ripe for its own microbrewery.
In 2007, while Tim was living in Austin, he discovered the world of craft brewing. His older friends loved the local brew pubs, and Tim discovered that, while he was still too young to buy alcohol, there was no age limit to buy the supplies to make homebrew. He circumvented the age barrier to partaking in adult beverages and got an early start learning the craft. “I couldn’t legally buy it or possess it, but I could make it,” he says. He became a student of the recipe books at the local homebrew store, and over the years perfected an Irish red ale that became a favorite among friends. He continued to brew using recipe books until branching out in 2019, when he began experimenting more.
Construction on the taproom starts this fall. That means Tim has plenty of time on his hands to prepare. He stays busy making small batches of homebrew to serve at local events.
Brewing small batches presents challenges in Alpine. The ingredients aren’t always available for his roster of recipes. Marrying his love of computer science to the craft brew world, Tim uses software to help fill in the gaps. He enters the ingredients he has into the software, and it suggests quantities to fill out the recipe according to desired outcomes in sweetness, alcohol content, color, and flavor. He says the process of brewing is much like the process of cooking a meal, but the taste test is delayed by several weeks with brewing, as the beer ferments. The software is one more tool to help guide the blind taste test.
Tim is very interested in community feedback, and any time he offers samples, he also requests it. He wants to make a product that people are happy to drink, and he takes all comments into consideration. But some recipes he makes just for the fun of it, like his recent batch of milk stout. He wanted to make something inspired by Mexican hot chocolate, so he added cocoa and cinnamon sticks to the post fermentation phase. The result was a unique and flavorful dessert beer.
The taproom promises to be well-designed, but above all, it’s a family business. Guy emphasizes that it will be a family-friendly place for the community to gather.
The Chisos Brewing Company taproom will have a variety of spaces, including a meeting room, a small event space, indoor and outdoor seating and a sunset viewing deck.
The Fielders are most inspired by the intimacy of brewpubs in London. London is a place where housing is in short supply and living quarters are often cramped apartments. The brewpubs offer a place outside of home where people can socialize, and their intimate scale means that people are often socializing with neighbors.
To help design the project, the family has hired multiple consultants, including a brewery wastewater expert, to insure the highest standards of functionality.
Another special connection is with the taproom’s design firm, Branch, owned by Alpine daughter Abbey Branch. Abbey brings a raw and humble exuberance to the table. She’s creative, eclectic, and loves the diversity of the Big Bend, from the barrios, to the distinct architectural and artistic draw of Marfa, to the cowboy cool of Fort Davis. On a recent outing with a different set of clients, Abbey played tourist guide, taking her friends to each village in the Big Bend. She was struck by what they had to say about Alpine. They said that each town had a distinct vibe and personality and that Alpine was by far the most beautiful of them all – BUT– Alpine didn’t seem to know who it was and was missing out on opportunities. That broke Abbey’s heart— she grew up in Alpine, but like many of her generation, she was encouraged to leave the area to build her career. Now she thinks it’s time to come back and focus on her hometown. She’s a cheerleader for Alpine’s unique position in the Big Bend.
She came across an old magazine clipping that dubbed Alpine “the rooftop garden of Texas.” With a little more self-awareness and confidence, Alpine could bring back the bustling businesses and active civics life of yesteryear. Abbey wants to see her beautiful hometown experience a renaissance of pride and self-realized activity—a type of success that reflects its unique place in the world, culturally, geologically, and historically. “There are so many ways Alpine can develop our identity by just being authentic,” she says. Thanks to the Fielders’ vision, Abbey has an opportunity to design an establishment that will reflect Alpine’s beauty and hopefully inspire its residents.
Abbey’s design features will include homages to Alpine’s railroad history, geologic context, cultural setting within the southside barrio, and its place within the International Dark Sky Reserve. She will incorporate as many natural materials as she can get her hands on, and is working with Marble Mountain, an ambiguous geologic feature which Abbey says was once a source of marble. She envisions an interior with geodes, agates, sparkling stars, railroad ties, handsome old-west style bars, seating as comfy as the clouds, and an exterior that matches the local adobe and desert aesthetic.
“Alpine deserves something nice,” she says.
For now, the site of the taproom sits on an empty field on Murphy Avenue, but soon, construction will begin, and the Fielder family dream will take root.
Will it bring people together? That’s the sincere hope of those working on the project, although the idea of a brewery on Alpine’s southside has been met with some hesitation.
There were concerns about the increase in traffic it may bring (the taproom will bring in less heavy traffic than most of the neighboring businesses bring in). There were concerns about the water usage (the Fielder hired consultants to streamline and manage water usage very carefully). There were concerns about what it would look like and the height of the building (it isn’t taller than any of the other buildings in the same area). But more frightening than any of that, is the sense that some have that this is going to be the beginning of the end for the southside barrio lifestyle.
The barrio neighborhoods of Alpine’s southside have a very special history, full of pride and perseverance through many generations. Residents do not want to lose their heritage and the idea that the southside could attract more attention and generate outside growth means for some that the very face of the southside is in danger of changing. That issue is much larger than one family owned and operated taproom, though. A critical look around Alpine—southside and beyond— reveals abandoned homes and businesses, dilapidated buildings, and few options, if any, for what to do on a Friday night. Murphy Avenue, dubbed Murphy Street some years ago, has long been the focus of business rejuvenation efforts. It currently boasts a wine bar, a restaurant, a plant and gift shop, a general store, an overnight rental, a coin-operated adult game room, a recently built law office and Saturday’s farmer’s market.
The taproom will be the first largescale new build the street has seen in a long time, though, and that is scary. But if the Fielders can pull off their dream, they will have built a place that nurtures local identities rather than destroys them.
By Shawna Graves