World’s First Brewery Incubator Opens in Houston

The Business of Beer by | Mar 2013 | Issue #74

Photo by Darla Guillen

Lucrece Borrego has loved craft beer for a while now. A teenaged summer in France first stoked her interests, and college in Boston—including a 21st birthday road trip to Portsmouth Brewing Co. in New Hampshire—egged them on into her professional life.

It makes sense, then, that, following an uninspiring stint in the investment-banking world and a pastry internship in New York City, Borrego found herself in Houston, Texas, starting up The Kitchen Incubator, a “building commissary and rental kitchen” intended to help aspiring foodmakers find the missing pieces required to start businesses.

To date, KI has launched 18 food startups, from kombucha brewers to fudge makers. Borrego also opened Café Luz, a coffee shop. Then she and her boyfriend/business partner, Jesus Acosta, got into homebrewing, and the Brewery Incubator seemed like a natural next step.

“As I met more and more brewers and aspiring brewers, I realized the incredible need for an incubator to help them out as the complexities of permitting and regulations on top of the intense capital investment required were far more prohibitive than anything in food,” Borrego says, alluding to Texas’ restrictive laws on alcohol. In recent years, the Texan beer community has joined together to amend those laws, another aspect of craft beer that Borrego appreciated: “Most of all, I just really fell in love with the people in the craft beer community and their dedication to craftsmanship and willingness to truly work hard.”

Before long, Borrego and Acosta had launched a Kickstarter project asking for $25,000 to finalize the Brewery Incubator’s build-out. They ended up raising more than $36,000, and not just from local donors, either. “Wherever and whenever craft beer can expand into or increase a presence, we feel it’s good for everybody,” says Edward Pogson, founder and head brewer of Chicago’s Knight & Gunner Brewing Co., and a Brewery Incubator Kickstarter backer. “We liked the project so much we considered taking part in it by flying down to Houston monthly and doing some brewing. In the end, we couldn’t justify the cost, though we hope to do some collaboration in the future.”

While Borrego comes from a business background, Acosta puts his engineering experience to use; he’s the in-house brewmaster, and also designed the brewery space—a 3,800-square-foot, 2-barrel operation that up to 10 brewers will eventually share. To start, though, the Brewery Incubator will roll out with five local “founding member” brewers, folks who proved passionate enough that Borrego and Acosta felt they were serious about running a business. (Careful vetting is essential to the Brewery Incubator’s model for obvious reasons.)

One such future establishment is Warlocks: Games and Beer, “a place where craft beer and nerd culture collide” through gaming and brewing. Warlocks founder Jonathan Niess says the Brewery Incubator is a true catalyst for his nascent venture. “Our original estimates for opening were four to five years,” he says. “After teaming up with Brewery Incubator, we are projecting it’ll take half that time. We personally feel a lot less alone in this endeavor with them helping us along.”

The Brewery Incubator will also offer their members business workshops, networking events and co-marketing.

Borrego and Acosta are currently using the Kickstarter funds they raised to build out the Brewery Incubator, and they’re already getting requests from people in other cities about opening additional incubators. For now, though, they’re staying local. “This has all helped to create solidarity amongst craft brewers in Texas, [who are] an amazingly supportive community,” Borrego says. “Regardless of where the laws stood, we would never have been able to open even five years ago without the craft beer community they built.”