Mike Olenick and his team opened 160ft Beerworks in April, but recent flooding has halted production.
Opening only this past April, 160ft Beerworks is one of Houston's newest breweries, and yet, the fledgling business is already facing one of the biggest challenges any company could imagine: the wrath of a Category 4 hurricane.
Owner Mike Olenick—who along with Andrew Matamoros, Jinnesse Baccam, and Priscila Serrano make up the entire staff of this small-batch nanobrewery—agreed to speak with us on the impact Hurricane Harvey has already had on his operation, as well as how other breweries in the Houston area have been dealing with such a major disaster.
Food & Wine: What were your preparations leading up to Harvey? Did you have to take any special precautions as a brewery?
Mike Olenick: In our case, we did not. There was very little we could do. We knew the main threats were likely going to be power outage and water intrusion. We knew we were secure from any looting. We kept an eye on the facility via security camera and watched the water in the building. Eventually, the power went out as did our ability to monitor (and control) the temperature of our conditioning beer—and this was a huge problem.
FW: Where were you personally at the time?
MO: I was north of the city. The rain was at times intense but was misleading because it never seemed to pour; instead, it just seemed to keep steadily raining and raining and raining. There was wind and branch damage, but where I lived was spared some of the more drastic effects.
FW: In the immediate aftermath, you've shut down the brewery indefinitely. What issues have you faced?
MO: Our whole building flooded: Every single unit had three feet of dirty water in it. I shut us down to have time to work with the building owner and my insurance company on how to move forward since I expect all the sheetrock and exposed wood will need to be replaced at a minimum. All our doors are swollen and will not seal. My equipment and machinery all needs to be thoroughly cleaned, tested, and made ready by repair where appropriate. This takes time as we'll repair things as we can clean them, test them, and bring them back online.
FW: What has the community involvement been like?
MO: We've received a lot of support through our social media page. The Houston beer scene is tight and filled with many folks always willing to lend a hand. While we're down, I made sure our Facebook page acted as a good citizen and shared information with our audience; it's all we can contribute right now with our facility still out of commission and messy. The brewery routinely makes donations to support veterans and other causes; we expect to continue to do that in the future.
FW: What have you heard from other brewers in the area?
MO: Other brewers have stepped up in big ways. Many have acted as donation drop points and coordinated support for shelters. One even threw a brewery logo on a large military five-ton truck and drove through flooded neighborhoods helping to un-trap people from their homes.
FW: How do you think this storm will affect the Houston brewing scene moving forward?
MO: If I was a betting man, I'd wager that most of the Houston breweries are going to create a special brew to somehow mark the event. Because brewers in this city are Houston-oriented, I also suspect they'll tie the profits from these brews to flood relief. This was an event that helped unite the city, and beer makers recognize that.