Huff Brewing Company near Bellville exists because Ryan and Christine Huff love the beverage industry.
“We really like traveling to different places, tasting what other brewers are doing and mastering the nuances of the business,” Ryan said. “If we’d just been looking for a way to be our own bosses, I suspect we’d have picked something where we didn’t have to work so hard.”
And, while the craft brewery is a more than full time job, it is their avocation, not their full-time profession. Currently, Ryan works in the energy industry and Christine is a banker.
“We’re fortunate that our bosses allow us maximum flexibility,” Ryan said. “And let me be clear, we enjoy what we do professionally, but we really, really love brewing beer.”
Q&A with Ryan Huff
Ryan and Christine met while they were both attending Texas A&M University. Their paths literally crossed daily in the recreation center where they were both student workers. He graduated in 2008 with a B.A. in English. She graduated two years later with a B.S. in interdisciplinary studies with the coursework to become a teacher.
By that time Ryan had been brewing beer for years. In fact, he took it up as a hobby when he was attending high school at Bellville.
“Most people don’t have to ask why making beer interested me in high school,” he deadpanned.
And, while the obvious benefit may have played a role in attracting him to the hobby initially, it was his curiosity and imagination that kept him intrigued.
“I was that kid who tried everything because so many things interested me, but nothing really stuck until I tried brewing,” Ryan said. “Growing up in a small town, imported beer—which we couldn’t get at the time—seemed so exotic. I liked learning about what people were drinking in London, Singapore and Sydney and then trying to make that at home.”
After college graduation, Ryan and Christine wanted to see the world. Their careers took them away from Bellville where they staked out a “big city life” and had the chance to travel.
“We tasted a lot of beer from a lot of places, and I saw how wrong I was about the styles I had tried to make as a kid,” Ryan said. “But even when I missed the mark, I got experience trying to hit those flavor profiles and was exposed to the limitless possibilities of brewing.”
Although the young couple enjoyed their big city lives and their globetrotting, the lure of family and community drew them back to Bellville where Ryan’s family had farmed and ranched for generations.
“When I was young, I couldn’t wait to leave Bellville and see the world,” Ryan said. “After I saw some of it, I couldn’t wait to come home. These days I’m quite content to be a tourist.”
Brewing Off of the Beaten Path
According to Ryan, craft breweries start either to make products for sale or to be a destination. He and Christine intended to be in the beverage business not the hospitality business, so it made perfect sense to locate the brewery on his family’s ranch, located about four miles from Bellville’s city limits. Their plan was to sell beverages in Houston and supply regional bars and restaurants. They didn’t envision a tap room.
“The tap room just started because we invited family, friends and local folks out to see the place—and they just kept coming back,” Ryan said. “We built it piece by piece, and now we’re out there every Friday.”
The couple alternates bartending duties not only to maximize their time but because they both like hanging out and talking to their customers.
“We engage people more than most,” Ryan said. “Whoever is on bar duty comes home that night with their head full of random stuff and stories. It’s just fun.”
In order to manage full-time jobs and a brewery, they share the responsibilities equally.
“I make the beer and Christine does all the important stuff,” Ryan said laughing. “We don’t have set job responsibilities, instead we stay flexible. Both of us do whatever needs to be done when it needs to be done.”
For instance, Ryan recently was called out of town for his job, and Christine was left to shovel out the mash cooker, a job she’d never undertaken before. Ryan balances the books and “just tries not to mess up the math” when Christine can’t turn her attention to it and deadlines are looming.
“We’re learning how to do things we’ve never done before because we get backed into a corner,” Ryan said. “We succeed as a business—and as a couple—because nobody ever says, ‘I can’t do that.’ When you master things you’re not good at you get that ‘conquer the world’ attitude, and taking on challenges gets to be addictive.”
As is their wont, the couple will meet the challenges of expanding their business with a plan that is inherently flexible.
“We want to make more and better products that showcase subtle creativity,” Ryan said. “Our goal is not to be extreme but to introduce people to flavors they will unexpectedly enjoy. Christine and I have a lot of life left in us, so we want to grow our business in whatever way people’s tastes dictate.”
_______________________________________________________________________________________by Lorie A. Woodward
photos by Dixie Ray Hamilton, Dixie Ray Photography