Grant Wood, Co-Founder and Master Brewer, Revolver Brewing

Last Call by | Dec 2013 | Issue #83
Photo by Cory Ryan

Grant Wood started out making picante sauce. It was San Antonio in the early ’80s, and he didn’t know what to do with his food science degree. Brewing didn’t occur to him until he saw a job posting; it didn’t take long for him to land at Sam Adams, where he stayed for 16 years. The unassuming, easygoing brewer behind Sam Adams’ Black Lager, Angry Orchard and Utopias kept an eye on the beer scene in his home state, though, and in early 2012, after “months of sleepless nights” deliberating, he broke the news to Jim Koch that he was leaving to help launch Revolver Brewing near Dallas, with Ron and Rhett Keisler. Now in its second year, Revolver is about to more than double production, and beers like the best-selling Blood & Honey Ale are waking up palates across North Texas.

What made you decide to switch gears?
There’s a lot of different reasons. The primaries would be, I’m from Texas, I grew up here. … So part of it was, “Let’s go home.” … There was a desire to have my own brands and to have my own beers, and to be creative without being in a committee, really. So that was a part of it. The challenge of building a brewery and building a brand from the ground up began to appeal to me. If I was going to do it, this was the time to do it. The third piece is Texas is really finally embracing craft beer.

Was it hard to leave Sam Adams?
It was a very difficult decision. … I think it’s sort of a classic quandary, classic decision-making point, which is, do you stay in the safe place—you know the company, you’re comfortable there, you have great benefits, you’re a valued person, you’ve got a lot of tenure and you’ve got years invested in this—not only in the company but in the place. You have your friends, you’re in the community, you’re integrated. Then there’s the other side, which is an unknown. You’re actually stepping out on your own—with some support, but in a sense by yourself, with a couple people, to try to create something. So there’s a lot of uncertainty there. Do you have the confidence to do this? Do you have the skills to do this? What does this mean to your family to kind of uproot them from a comfort zone and take them, even though it is back to where we’re from, there’s a lot of truth in the adage that you can’t go home. … Time has a way of changing things. … It was overcoming that fear to jump out of that comfortable place to a place that has a lot of unknowns.

What’s it been like to go from a large brewery to a small one?
I get a lot less email. [laughs] … It’s a very small group of people you can kick it around [with]. Oftentimes, there is nobody, and you gotta figure it out yourself. I’m not on the brewdeck all the time, but I was. And I was more of a manager at Sam Adams, I wasn’t a direct worker right on the floor, dumping bags and doing that sort of thing, but here I am. … When you’re in a small group and you’re starting a small business, you wear a lot of hats. So that’s the real difference, is that it’s you and it’s 24/7, it’s a lot of 12-hour days, six or seven days a week, and you have to devote your life to it for a while. … For me, I think it’s been a real positive. It’s gotten me back very, very close to the beer, definitely stretched my creative wings. … I want to give full credit to Ron and Rhett Keisler, who decided to take this chance and allowed me to be a part of this. …

I lost 15 pounds. It’s like a “start up a new brewery” diet. [laughs] I’m in better shape than I ever have been, and I’m about to turn 51, so it’s good. I recommend it to everybody.