“When you create something, and it survives under great hardship, you better believe it is due to the personality reflected in it.”
Nestled comfortably a few miles outside downtown Bandera, the Bandera Ale Project stands as a testament to innovation, dedication and perseverance. According to founder and co-owner Dr. James Baroffio, those traits are a direct result of the brewery’s commitment to the social experience.
Working in home brewing since the ‘80s, Baroffio bought a small brewing system and opened the brewery with his wife Carlie in 2017.
“We knew that if we were going to start a brewery, it needed to be a social experience,” said Baroffio. “We wanted to create a space where a social atmosphere would thrive.”
John Oliver was living in Mico when he heard the Bandera Ale Project had opened. He offered his services pro-bono and enjoyed the time spent at the location. Three months later, he was offered the title of co-owner, and he eagerly dove into the endeavor.
“We started with two to four beers, and we ran out quick,” said Oliver, who also holds the titles of head brewer and general manager. “At one point, we only had one beer on tap, but people still came.”
Over the years, John continued to hone his craft, learning from industry experts at the 2019 Great American Beer Festival and consulting breweries all over the world.
“John is a whirling dervish of innovation and creativity,” said Dr. Baroffio. “His ambition is to make things exceptional.”
John’s self-described “go big or go home” attitude led him to invest in a bigger brewing setup. Output increased, more taps were added and recipes were tweaked.
Even the lengthy brewing process was a source of inspiration. TVs in the brewery allowed for Oliver to watch movies starring his favorite actor, Chris Farley.
“At first we were just naming the beers after their style, but then I decided to call our honey brown ale ‘I Live in a Van Down by the River,’” said Oliver.
“It sparked conversation between people, and I got to see them quoting the movie to each other, laughing and enjoying the beer. I really liked that environment.”
The successful naming technique led to two more Chris Farley nods, the “Fat Guy in a Little Coat” stout and “Matt the Motivational Speaker” Kolsch.
Other names on the current menu:” Tell ‘Em Large Marge Sent Ya,” “Your Mother Was a Hamster,” “Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man,”“You Can Do It” and “Well La De Freakin’ Da.”
“I have been able to see first-hand that the names created an experience and camaraderie for people,” said Oliver. “It creates a memory, and I did what I set out to do,”
The rise of craft beer’s popularity draws imbibers from all over the state to the Bandera Ale Project. The Brewery has seen visitors from Austin, Kerrville and even from outside of the state.
Naturally, the place has its regulars, but not just those of drinking age. Families with children and pets also flock to the brewery to enjoy games in the upstairs loft or enjoy time in the brewery’s outdoor one-acre Bier Garten. Changing tables are available in the restrooms.
“We’ll see young families or people on dates here and even children who have grown up and come here to hang out.” said Baroffio. “People make us part of their routine. We love when people bring chips and salsa and spend hours here with the family.”
Committing itself to be a community-focused brewery, Bandera Ale Project hosted fundraisers for high schools, local businesses and individuals with medical expenses.
“We are proud to be a spot that people rely on,” Oliver said. “We never turn anyone away. However we can help, we’re there.”
The innovation and vision of The Bandera Ale Project was tested when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Undeterred, Oliver rose to the challenge.
In addition to offering togo beers, Bandera Ale Project hosted a Tap Takeover event, where they offered beers from the Guadalupe Brewing Company. When the event sold out, it was expanded to an entire month.
Since cans were a big expense, the brewery sold sealed cups that complied with TABC standards. Unable to host indoor events, they hosted music events streamed online to their Facebook. Eventually, they were able to host in-person socially distanced concerts in front of the brewery, with picnic tables put down in place of parking spots.
“Collaboration and supporting each other helped us get through those uncertain times,” said Oliver.
The brewery was able to open its doors again after shutdowns were lifted, and safety concerns are taken seriously.
Free masks are offered at the door and hand sanitizers are available throughout the brewery. The outside of the brewery has a large garage door that is kept open during service hours to allow continuous air flow that is tempered by space heaters.
“We care very deeply and want our customers to feel safe,” said Oliver, who was recently named one of the winners of the Hill Country 40 Under 40 Awards.
That sense of community was readily apparent during last Saturday’s third anniversary celebration. Many regulars flocked to the bar while live music entertained from the giant indoor stage.
For Oliver, the night brought him feelings of emotion and pride, but he often stresses he could not do this alone.
“We all have the same mindset, and it’s easy to work together,” he said.
In addition to the Baroffios, John credits his life partner Elizabeth (whom he met at the brewery when she attended a Zumba class) and her children Bailey and Braden for the continuing success of the brewery.
“John and Liz really led the charge,” said Dr. Baroffio. “The social experience here reflects aspects of their personality.
John Oliver also said that the support of event managers and financial advisors Jason and Kerrye Church are of paramount importance to him.
“Their dedication and support are how we got through the pandemic. I owe a lot to them,” he said.
More for information about Bandera Ale Project, visit banderabrewery.com