Q&A: How the Brewery LBK is Thriving

Written By Guest Blogger

September 21, 2020

When the City of Lubbock committed to revitalizing downtown in 2011, it was no surprise the former Pioneer Hotel was one of the first buildings to see a transformation. Now, the building serves as the cornerstone to downtown redevelopment with a destination dining spot, The West Table Kitchen and Bar, as well as a popular local pub called The Brewery LBK.  

In 2020, The Brewery LBK impressed with its recognition as one of the Top 15 Brewpubs in the Country by USA Today. For the past two years, the brewery pleased patrons with its craft brews; then, COVID-19 came about, and the local favorite adapted their new process.  We sat down with co-owner Mike Nghiem and head brewer Sally Taylor to talk about craft beer, adult lemonade, and their inventive craft brewpub.

Q: Tell me about yourselves: where are you from, how did you get into the brewery business, and how did you start working together?

MN: I grew up in Keller, Texas, and moved to Lubbock in 2002 to attend Texas Tech University. I’ve worked in and managed restaurants since I was 16 years old. I love this industry, from the relationships you make to the artistic and creative outlets that food and drinks represent.  Ever since this became my career path, I’ve tried to absorb as much as possible about the nuances of food, wine, spirits, and craft beer.

Four years ago, I joined the West Table Kitchen & Bar as general manager. It was a great fit for me professionally and personally as it is a Chef-driven, seasonal restaurant with a craft menu, an energetic and upbeat downtown vibe, and none of the pretension that most people expect from a fine dining restaurant. 

The West Table is owned by Chef Cameron West, and its located on the first floor of the historic Pioneer Building, the first of its kind in downtown Lubbock. When an additional space became available in the building, a brewery made perfect sense for us, providing great synergy between the craft cocktails and the restaurant’s seasonal dishes.

We met Sally at The West Table; she’s been a patron of ours for as long as we can remember. We knew her as a fun and eclectic personality with a unique talent for home brewing and distilling her own spirits, so it made sense for her to join the team.  She lives in downtown and embodies the support of downtown redevelopment so she couldn’t be a better fit.

ST: I’ve been fermenting wine, beer, and cider for 15 years. I lived across the street from The West Table. When it opened, I would walk over to eat. There weren’t very many places to go downtown, so I was super excited for the brewery to open. When they had a last-minute issue with their brewer, I volunteered to help thinking I’d just learn the equipment. It turned into this great opportunity.  

Q: Why did you choose downtown Lubbock and the historic Pioneer Building for your location?

MN: It made sense to continue to ride the momentum we’ve experienced with downtown growth and development, which was driven largely by what Chef Cameron started with The West Table.  The Brewery LBK provides us another added piece of the puzzle and complements our other concepts perfectly.  This location is at the heart of a lot of the growth downtown. It’s cool to be at the epicenter of all the things going on down here. From an aesthetic point of view, it looks great. The building has floor to ceiling glass windows that really showcase our fermenting tanks and brewery equipment. We’re excited to be downtown and to continue to support the growth and redevelopment. The city government and groups like Visit Lubbock have done a tremendous job providing support and incentivization for downtown businesses.  Downtown is flourishing due to everyone’s collective efforts and hard work.

ST: I found a loft I really liked downtown five years ago. The space was unique, I was safe down here, and I knew that eventually, something would happen even though there was nothing down here at that time. It was deserted during the weekends, but it was a beautiful downtown that just needed a little love. No one tried to develop anything until Cameron. The West Table was the only cool place to go downtown. The opening of the restaurant was the epicenter of development.

Q: What kind of clientele do you serve?

ST: Lubbock is a college town, but I wouldn’t call our brewery a college bar. You will find grad students and law students from Texas Tech here. Cameron West’s family has deep roots in the community, too. As a result, we get a lot of his family and friends in the taproom, and they bring their friends and so on.

MN: Our clientele is a broad mix of a wide range of demographics. We get a lot of young professionals who live in Lubbock, and like Sally said, a mix of college students. Texas Tech University attracts students from across the state from cities with thriving craft beer scenes such as DFW, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. When those students come here, they’re excited to discover our brewery.  There’s also a local contingent of craft beer enthusiasts who are very educated and are passionate about craft beer. It’s been a treat to provide an option for them and to talk beer with them.

Our permit is unique because it’s a full mixed-beverage permit, so we can serve wine and liquor.  This allows us to provide an option for the friends of craft beer enthusiasts who may be unfamiliar and reluctant to try craft beer. They’ll still come in the door because they can opt for a cocktail or a glass of wine. Eventually, they will try our beers.

ST: In the beginning, the mixed-use license came in handy. Lubbock was behind other places in the craft beer scene. A lot of people here never had anything but a domestic beer, and they didn’t know what to expect. This license gave us the chance to offer more familiar drinks first, and over time they found a taste for real craft beer.

Q: Can you describe the environment and what it’s like to have a drink here?

MN: Our taproom is small and features a modern industrial vibe. Often, when we open the doors, we’re still brewing beer. This creates an interactive experience. Our patrons come in and smell the grains, the wort, and the hops, and see us back there doing our thing. They enjoy being a few feet away from where the magic happens. We also have a wraparound patio on Broadway that faces downtown. It’s a lively, interactive, and fun environment. Before COVID-19 and the need for restricted occupancy, we would get packed on the weekends and overflow into the lobby.

ST: With COVID-19, we’ve set up tables to properly social distance our guests. These tables rolled out into the lobby of the Pioneer Building so we could seat more people. They let us do that, which was great for business.  

Q: You’ve helped out your fellow brewers during the pandemic, can you tell us about that?

MN: There are a few other breweries in Lubbock. One of those is an exciting up-and-comer downtown, Two Docs Brewing Co. COVID-19 has really changed the rules for everyone, including restaurants, breweries, and bars. The industry has had to bob and weave to react to constantly changing regulations.  We are fortunate that our permit allowed patrons to enter our building and taproom, and for a time, Two Docs Brewing Co. could not. We devoted one of our taps to feature their beers in a show of solidary and support. The important thing is that we all come out of this intact so that we can all continue to put Lubbock on the map as a viable craft beer destination. I’m happy to say, Two Docs is welcoming guests again.

Q: Describe the profiles of the ‘regulars’ on tap.

ST: Our most popular beer on tap is our New England IPA. It’s a hazy style, non-bitter IPA. We try to carry a version of that all year long. The West Coast IPA is a classic with a decent amount of bitterness in the hops. It’s a clear beer but smooth and easy to drink. The rest are seasonal. Rotating options include Hurricane Gose, a tart beer with passion fruit and lime, and the EPV IPA, a wheat IPA made with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and ginger, and fermented with Belgian yeast.

MN: We rotate our craft beers with three or four always on tap, and the other 10-12 taps change seasonally. We try to strike a balance of light and approachable with bolder flavors. The German-style Kolsch is not hoppy but still has flavor, similar to what you’d find in a domestic beer just with more flavor. The stout is our dark beer, that’s a big chewy bold beer. Right now, we are focused on fall and seasonal ingredients. As we go toward cold weather, we fluctuate darker, bolder beers that are more appropriate with the season.

Q: How do you come up with ideas to make beers?

MN: The West Table has always been driven by seasonality and utilizing unique ingredients and flavor profiles. Taking a culinary approach and really trying to extend and push our palates is part of our DNA, and it easily translates to brewing beer. Ideas come to us organically. We look at the calendar and take the season into account and consider what we haven’t tried yet to create inventive flavors.

Q: What is your favorite beer on tap?

ST: I love IPAs. The traditional West Coast IPA is my favorite daily drinker.

MN: The Belgium-Style Tripel is my current favorite. We’re working on a new spiced IPA that we’re excited about. It will be a traditional IPA brewed with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, coriander, and ginger, hopped and dry-hopped with some funky aromatic hops, and fermented with Belgian yeast.

Q: How did you come to create the adult lemonades?

ST: The lemonades are actually brewed like beer. We use cane sugar with yeast, pasteurize it, and add flavors. It is fermented to high gravity and alcohol content then we bring it down to a good level.

Q: Why do you think the lemonades are so popular?

MN: I think seasonality played a big part. During the summer, people naturally gravitate toward refreshing things that they can take to the pool or golf course, or have on hand after they mow the lawn. I think COVID-19 helped this flourish. When everything started shutting down, we had to pivot operations. We began selling lemonades to-go on a small scale. Since we had a limited supply, they would sell out in seconds a soon as we put it online. I think we got such a huge response because of the exclusivity. People waited for us to post it to get their hands on some lemonade before it was gone. During quarantine, it gave people something to look forward to, a goal to work toward, and it really added to the mystique of the lemonades.  

ST: We keep one regular flavor on tap with a second flavor that is always different from what we sell online. We plan to keep rotating the flavors, and we will offer the lemonades year-round. Our most popular flavors are Watermelon Lemonade and Rose Water Lemonade. A close third happened by chance. When we first made it, Chef Cameron and I wrinkled our noses when we tasted it, agreeing it tasted like Tang, that powdered orange drink from the 70s. He suggested we give it a fun name and
see if we could sell it. Turns out the Unemployed Astronaut is now our third most popular, and it’s
9% alcohol.

Q: Where did the idea come from to make boozy popsicles?

ST: Chef Cameron suggested that. It was hot, and I was making lemonade. He asked me why don’t we freeze it and turn it into a Popsicle. It’s the same process, we just put the lemonade in the plastic icy bags and put them in the freezer. Two days before they were available for sale on social media, we posted them online. On the day of, there was a huge line. It was a really amazing reception that gave us a little bit of a challenge as we made sure everyone was properly social distancing. These are labor-intensive, though, so we’ll only offer boozy popsicles during the summer.  

Q: How have you pivoted your offerings to be take-out friendly, and what is on the menu?

MN: All of our food comes from the restaurant. When we first opened up, we had some logistical concerns because our kitchen is only so big and can only handle so many tickets at once. The last thing we wanted was a full menu here that impacted our options there, slowing down the kitchen and our service. When The Brewery LBK first opened, we had a limited appetizer, small bites, and snacks menu. With COVID-19, we wanted to provide more options to go, since the pandemic allowed us to expand the menu with less seating available.

Q: Do you have popular dishes that are a must-try?

MN: People tend to prefer hand-held offerings in the brewery. We have a Nashville hot chicken sandwich, house-ground burgers, and chicken tenders that are extremely popular on the menu. We’ve been experimenting with homemade beef jerkies that have received a really positive response as well.

We’re actually opening a fried chicken restaurant. We had the opportunity to buy the building down the street, across from the old City Hall location. The new concept, called Dirk’s, is a modern diner offering Chef Cameron’s take on fried chicken. It’s a homage to Dirk West, Cameron’s grandfather, a renowned and celebrated figure in Lubbock. He was a cartoonist who became famous for his college mascot caricatures for the Southwest Conference, including Texas Tech’s mascot Raider Red, and the Big 12. In1978, he was elected Lubbock’s mayor. Dirk’s is slated to open in September.

Q: How has the community responded to your efforts to stay open during COVID-19?

ST: The community is very supportive. We are relatively new, and at the beginning, we had to shut down and rely on to-go orders. The community responded. What I love about Lubbock is the people here. They did what they could to support us throughout the whole thing. The release of the lemonades brought in new clientele. Between beer and lemonade, we got all kinds of new people who didn’t know we existed before who started buying our drinks.

MN: Lubbock as a city has come a long way — it’s certainly a different landscape than when I moved here in 2002. The momentum and growth that Lubbock has experienced, from food to culture to arts to craft beer to downtown development and everything in between, has been spectacular and exciting to experience. Our city has worked hard to get to this point. When the pandemic hit and forced everything to shut down, you could see the community rally together to support and fight for local businesses and fight to maintain what we’ve all worked so hard for. The community’s response and support have been humbling, and we are eternally grateful for it.

You can support The Brewery LBK and other local businesses when you visit Lubbock.

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