Proposed southside Alpine brewery meets pushback from residents, who fear impact on neighborhood

A preliminary design of the exterior view of Chisos Brewery from East Murphy Avenue. The new brewery is looking to build a production facility and taproom in Alpine but is encountering pushback from community members concerned about the business’ scale and water usage. Architectural rendering courtesy Chisos Brewing.

ALPINE — Chisos Brewing, a local family-run craft beer company, is coming up against criticism from southside residents as it seeks to build a block-long facility on Murphy Avenue that would include a two-story taproom, production building and an outdoor beer garden, with citizens protesting potential environmental and cultural impacts. 

Alpine has been without a local brewery since Big Bend Brewing Company filed for bankruptcy and announced they were closing in the summer of 2019 after operating for six years. Chisos Brewing — a family affair headed by Lisa and Guy Fielder, whose son Tim handles brewing operations — is looking to provide residents with a replacement, they said. The Fielders acquired a lot on Murphy Avenue between 3rd and 4th streets, close to downtown Alpine, where they intend to build their production facility and taproom. Chisos Brewery has been over a year in the making, said Lisa. 

“The Big Bend Brewery was really fun —  it didn’t have a great taproom, but it was a fun place to go and a gathering place for all Alpinians. I think Alpine misses their brewery, and I think Alpine deserves a brewery,” said Chisos co-founder Lisa Fielder. 

But not all Alpine residents are sold on the idea of a new brewery. Lonnie Rodriguez and wife Paula Wilson — who have been living on the predominantly Hispanic south side of town, a block away from Chisos’ proposed location, for the past six years — have launched a petition opposing the brewery with the help of an attorney. Among other objections, petitioners are concerned the brewery would not fit in with the surrounding neighborhood, would bring an influx of traffic to the area, and that its operations could have negative environmental impacts.

Rodriguez said so far they have gathered around 70 signatures from other concerned residents and will continue to circulate the petition, eventually turning it into City Hall. “I just want as many folks [as possible] to know what we’re doing. [Citizens] also need to know that all the kinks are not worked out for the Fielders,” said Rodriguez. 

Design plans for Chisos Brewery’s new site have recently been finalized, said Lisa, and they intend to move onto the next phase of acquiring construction drawings, necessary city permits and construction bids. The lot they intend to build on did not previously host any infrastructure, and so far the only permit the Fielders have acquired is one to put up an 8-foot fence around the property. Lisa said if all goes according to plan, they hope to open January of 2023 at the earliest. 

The Fielders estimate the new brewery will initially require around 12 employees, and up to 25 should the need arise in the future. Chisos will brew and sell a variety of ciders and beers, including Belgian and German-style beers as well as stouts and sours. They will also import beers from other craft breweries in Texas to pour in their taproom. 

Tim said he expects their yearly output of beer to amount to 6,000 BBL or barrels of beer, which classifies Chisos as a “nanobrewery,” a designation below a “microbrewery,” which produces at least 15,000 barrels of beer a year. 

The Fielders first purchased the old Hotel Ritchey building, also on Murphy Avenue, intending to use it for the brewery, but ultimately decided to sell the structure after discovering it would need significant structural repairs, and even then would not suit their business’s needs. The Hotel Ritchey was built in 1886 and is a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark. 

“It turned out to be a beloved building in Alpine and there was a great outcry about ‘Don’t demolish the Ritchey,’” said Lisa. “So instead, we sold the Ritchey.” 

The Fielders, Rodriguez and Wilson, along with another Alpine citizen opposing the brewery, recently met to discuss the community’s initial concerns regarding the brewery project: parking and traffic, wastewater, odor, and the building’s appearance and scale. The Big Bend Sentinel was not present at the meeting but spoke to parties after the fact and obtained meeting notes provided by the Fielders. While the meeting may have addressed certain issues, it did not result in those opposing the brewery throwing their weight behind the project.

“They talked about the cultural fit, that it’s the wrong size, the wrong shape, it’s too modern, it’s too new, that it doesn’t fit into the neighborhood,” said Lisa. 

Chisos Brewery’s design plan shows the facility will consist of two structures — a stucco-finished taproom and a metal-sheathed production facility, both standing at two stories — joined in the center by a garden and outdoor seating area covered by an exposed beam structure. There will also be an outdoor catwalk that will lead to an observation tower. The taproom will be outfitted with a commercial kitchen, said Lisa, so those wishing to host events at the space may do so. 

Lisa said their desire is to create a native garden with water features to imitate a park-like setting. The Fielders are working with a local native plant expert to conceptualize the garden and a local artist to fabricate native animal sculptures for the property, Lisa said. When complete, the brewery would also include spaces for children and pets. 

Rodriguez said he would prefer Chisos Brewery operate a production facility elsewhere and reduce the size of the brewery to a smaller, more neighborhood-friendly one-story taproom. 

“We don’t have anything against breweries, our son owns a brewery in the Austin area, but we’re really trying to get them to scale it down,” said Rodriguez. 

Lisa said the family did a lot of research on how breweries affect economies of rural communities and based on those findings believe being in downtown Alpine will benefit other area businesses. 

“It seemed to make more sense to benefit Alpine to put a brewery downtown so that the overflow from us will visit other local businesses but also is a benefit to us because we get foot traffic from those businesses,” said Lisa. 

The city’s official zoning map classifies the property as residing in a C1 Neighborhood Commercial District, defined as “intended to provide for the establishment of restricted commercial facilities, to serve the conveniences and needs of the immediate neighborhood and must be compatible with the residential character and environment of the neighborhood. These uses generally result in limited traffic generation.” Examples listed are bakeries employing no more than five persons, washaterias, restaurants and taverns. 

Rodriguez said the brewery doesn’t seem to qualify under those guidelines, and he is worried the large-scale design will negatively impact the look and feel of historic Murphy Street. 

“I hardly see how a two-and-a-half story metal building on Murphy streets fits all that — it sure doesn’t provide for the immediate needs of the neighborhood,” said Rodriguez. “It’s a huge building. I mean, it looks like a strip mall. It’s a whole block.”

In regards to parking, documents provided by the Fielders show they purchased a 22,641-square-foot parking lot from Union Pacific Railroad Company across the street from the brewery site and obtained a three-year renewable contract to host an additional 10,000-square-feet of overflow parking in the Alpine Farmers Market parking lot during select hours. The Fielders addressed concerns of increased traffic by stating semi trucks would only be visiting the facility a couple of times a year to deliver grain, but they would be infrequent, said Lisa.

Lisa said at some point the Fielders attempted to buy properties surrounding the brewery in order to provide a wider buffer for noise, but none of the neighbors wanted to sell. 

“I feel like we’ve tried really hard to honor Alpine and the citizens and to do the right thing and to be neighborly,” said Lisa. 

Another ongoing issue being discussed by both the brewery’s opponents and the Fielders is whether or not southside residents would patronize the brewery. Lisa said locating Chisos Brewery on the south side of town was a deliberate act in order to provide the area with something it is missing. 

“We feel that the southside has been historically neglected in terms of economic growth and economic investment. So we hope that our brewery will begin to address that,” said Fielder. 

Rodriguez said it was unlikely that the neighboring community would visit the brewery, and he believes the families he has talked to that have lived in the area for 70-plus years are the center of Murphy Street, not a brewery. 

“We’re predominantly Mexican people on this side, and older Mexican people; the brewery is not going to benefit them,” said Rodriguez. “My view is that those are the folks that are anchors to Murphy Street, they’ve been here that many years. And there’s no consideration for those folks at all from the Fielders.” 

In addition to concerns over cultural impact, Rodriguez said he and other citizens are worried about the potential environmental impacts of the production facility, namely the amount of water that will be needed to operate the brewery. On average, breweries require 217 gallons, or seven barrels, of water to produce 31 gallons, or one barrel, of beer, according to The Brewer’s Association

“We’re in a drought — you don’t need to be brewing beer with our water,” said Rodriguez. 

Data from the National Integrated Drought Information System reports that in Brewster County, 9,232 people are currently being affected by drought, with 100 percent of the county experiencing abnormally dry conditions and over half of the county experiencing what are classified as extreme drought conditions. 

Rodriguez said poor water pressure in the south side of Alpine has also been an ongoing problem and residents are worried the brewery would only exacerbate the issue. 

“Talking to the neighborhood, they don’t see, and I don’t either, how the city could justify giving the Fielders the right to put this brewery in when they haven’t addressed our issues out here,” said Rodriguez. 

Then there is the matter of the local sewer system, which, according to City Secretary Geoffrey Calderon, has encountered infrastructure problems that the city is working to address. Petitioners against the brewery have expressed concern the system is not equipped to handle the brewery’s wastewater. 

In an email provided by the Fielders, Alpine City Utilities Director Keith Segar said Alpine’s wastewater system was not capable of processing industrial wastewater like that of breweries and when applying for their building permit, Chisos would have to provide mechanical drawings of their wastewater treatment system. According to Segar’s email, the Fielders said the only wastewater going into the city system will be from the restrooms and commercial kitchen. 

Chisos Brewery has plans to join other craft breweries in the nation in establishing their own wastewater treatment plant in order to reuse water used in beer production and mitigate impacts on the local sewer system. 

Tim Fielder, who will be the lead brewmaster for the facility, said the wastewater treatment facility will involve digging an 8- to 10-foot hole in the ground, which will hold a 500 gallon holding tank to catch wastewater. The water will then be treated in a 300 gallon treatment tank. He said the treated water will likely contain high concentrations of salts that will need to be removed before using the treated wastewater to irrigate their native gardens. He said digging the hole will likely be the most costly step in the process, and septic and water treatment supplies are easily available. 

To date, Chisos Brewery has made two presentations to city council, and Lisa has met with many city council members regarding the project as well as the mayor and other city officials, she said. Calderon said conversations between the city and the Fielders have been procedural in nature and relate to permit, code and zoning requirements. He said building plans must be submitted by the Fielders before the city can comment further on the project. 

Chisos Brewery has recently received the public support of the Alpine Downtown Association, who said in a press release that they sympathize with citizens’ concerns but that it is important to welcome new businesses and the Fielders are working closely with the city.

“We believe the creation of this brewery could lead to significant economic growth in our Big Bend region,” said ADA President Conley Rasor. “The Big Bend Brewery was a great contributor to the community during its past existence.”