Eola Schoolhouse Brewery Enters Local Wholesale Market
“This Farm Ale beer, it’s not filtered,” says Mark Cannon in deep Texas drawl. Foam cups partially filled with samples of his latest brews have been set out on the table for taste testing. “Production beer—typically, those craft beers—kind of look like small production beers, but they’re filtered,” he continues. “Anybody that wants a Twinkie shelf life is going to filter it, but somebody wanting a fresh product—milking the cow and selling the milk, they don’t have to worry about pasturization…they put it in the fridge and drink it.”
Or they pour fresh beer from the tap, as is the case at the old Eola Schoolhouse Brewery. For the past 10 years, Mark Cannon has been offering a diverse clientele the opportunity to do what most of them wished they could have done growing up: drink quality local ales and pales in a converted old classroom.
Now, after a decade spent finding his rhythm and creating his brand, Cannon has branched out into the local wholesale market, carting kegs of Eola’s finest to eight San Angelo bars and pubs.
When the laws changed in June 2013 allowing brewpubs to market and sell their products to other establishments, Cannon got onboard. “That’s what spurred this interest in kegging the beer and taking it to town,” he said. “I started the licensing process, got through that after 60 days, then started on label approval for Farm Ale, the light beer, and that took another 30 days…it was probably the end of September before I took the first beer to town…a lot of little steps [were necessary] to get there.”
Currently, taps across town are pouring four of Cannon’s beers, including Farm Ale, Eola Eagle, Eola Extra and Eola School Scissortail Saison, named after a bird common to the school grounds. A fifth beer is also in the tanks—the hoppy, Windmill Pale Ale—and is awaiting label approval so that it may be sold and distributed to other outlets.
With the addition of local retailers to his growing clientele, Cannon has had to expand his brewing capacity by adding larger tanks.
“Normally, I’ve been making 124 gallons, which is eight half-barrel kegs, bigger kegs,” he said. “With the new production in town, I have ramped it up a couple of times to 186 gallons. So I can make bigger batches…”
While the business doesn’t leave much time for experimentation, Cannon does occasionally try using different ingredients to create new crafts. Oftentimes, these test runs are made from locally-sourced ingredients, such as grapes grown on the school property or herbs from local farmers.
“Michael (Looney) is starting a lavender farm, and that is interesting,” Cannon says. “I hear a lot of interest in ingredients and that’s something I’d like to try.” Looney, a tenured customer that moved to the area five years ago from Austin, has come into the brewery to pick up a couple of growlers—one gallon glass jugs—and sits at a nearby table sipping a cup of stout.
“I think that’s what really attracted us to the area; these little pockets of culture,” Looney says. “You could replicate something like this in Austin, and it would be very commercialized, it wouldn’t have that kind of purity of heart. Whereas, an operation like Mark’s really inspired us to think about this area so that we can stake a claim and really enjoy the beauty that’s out here, but also participate in that localized, focused, niche economy.”
When and whether the lavender beer will make it to market lies with the growth cycle and the taste, but Cannon says the ultimate decider is whether or not the beer sells.
As for other wild flavors, he says, “That stuff’s interesting, but I don’t put that on the public and I have very limited time to do hobby stuff. It’s very labor-intensive. I’m open 10 hours a day with people, so that locks me down…it’s hard to really be real experimental out here. I try to keep it pretty mainstream and traditional out here and make stuff that I know people are going to enjoy.”
On average, Cannon makes about eight different beers a year, each taking approximately two weeks to brew and ferment. Initially, he was serving the beer almost as fast as he could make it, he says, adding, “There was a ramping up curve to be able to get caught up and keep up, but now I think I’ve found some balance and equilibrium in that.”
At the same time, Cannon runs a restaurant out of the brewery seven days a week and does renovations on the building as time allows. When he purchased the building in ’03, there were no doors, electricity or running water in the building and barn tin had been used to cover the pane-less windows. Parts of the roof were in decay, the main pub room was missing the ceiling and a fire had devastated the auditorium and stage.
Cannon set to work immediately, replacing doors and windows, and has gradually renovated other parts of the building in the years since. “I just found I enjoyed doing the renovation-type stuff, kind of out of the blue, I didn’t really expect that in life,” he said. “I was actually working in sales and bought a starter house and starting renovating it and realized I enjoyed doing that, then decided to get a bigger project with a little more depth to [it].
“This building—I did the National Registry search and got a document on the building, started a business in it, did a little more to it…I’ve just put a new roof on the building, so that was a big accomplishment, just over the last couple of years,” he said.
Cannon has also restored the gym floor to its old, mirrored gleam and laid concrete for a new stage in the auditorium. He says as interest grows and the projects develop, he may begin utilizing the space as a venue for more events.
As a registered historical building of some significance in Eola, the schoolhouse has seen its share of celebrations, not excluding the opening of the brewery itself.
“I’d done a mailer in the past to a lot of students that had been here and we had over 100 people show up for that,” Cannon says, pointing out pictures framing a chalkboard. One of the former students even returned to have her wedding at the old school years later.
The nostalgia of old, dusty rooms filled with desks and faded chairs adds to the historic ambience of the converted schoolhouse, weathered window frames and long, echoing halls cementing the school’s authenticity. While things have changed here, a look around every corner is a look in the past.
The Eola Schoolhouse Brewery is open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The brewery is located at 12119 School Road FM 381, Eola, TX 76937 and the telephone number is 325-469-3314.