Can Murphy Street co-exist with a new brewery?
The area known as Historic Murphy Street south of the railroad tracks in Alpine isn’t an officially designated district, but it feels like it should be to those who work and live there.
It’s special. The commercial buildings are old and some of them are adapted only to the extent they need to safely conduct business, which is part of the charm.
A large, modern building — part of which amounts to a bar — can seem out of place in a community that, after hours, is home to people who live in the same house as their grandparents did, or for those who have settled in because they’re seeking the same kind of comfort.
Paula Wilson and Lonnie Rodriguez live in a restored home in the area with a high fence as evidence of their lifestyle. It’s quiet. They keep horses outside of town and look forward to visits with their grandchildren. They love to cook and read.
The thought of the Chisos Brewery, located just a block away, upends their peace of mind and heart — so much so that they’re gathering signatures for a petition and considering a move.
“It doesn’t look historic, it’s huge, it’s an obstruction,” said Wilson of the proposed building.
She and Rodriguez are opposed to the idea of a two-story structure blocking their views of Hancock Hill and Sul Ross State University, and they worry about how a business with an unquenchable thirst for water could effect the south side’s dire sewer infrastructure issues.
They’ve met with the brewery’s owners, Lisa and Guy Fielder, and their son, Tim Fielder, but say they came away with more questions than answers.
“It’s not personal,” said Rodriguez, who conveys a legitimate concern for his neighbors. “They threw their anchor out through rough times and they’re still here. There’s something to be said for that.”
Wilson and Rodriguez are hoping for a compromise, particularly on the building’s height, and to make sure that what’s good for a business is equitable for the neighborhood. Sewage flooding into homes on the Alpine’s south side isn’t uncommon, and is indicative of a systemic failure that the City of Alpine has only recently acknowledged.
Just last week, the Alpine Police Department posted a video on Facebook of a sewage clean-up in town. The post read, “Recently, the City of Alpine has had several sewer backup calls and pumps malfunctioning due to the lines being clogged with ‘flushable’ wipes and other unauthorized items … Avoid a nasty cleanup in your home and help protect the City’s sewer system by NEVER flushing any consumer item … regardless of what the label or packaging promises.”
According to interim City Manager Megan Antrim, Alpine was allocated over $740,000 from the American Rescue Plan for repairs at the wastewater treatment plant, and is in line for more. She said they are also keeping an eye out for when the time comes to apply for infrastructure funds from the federal bill passed late last year. While the repairs won’t provide much help for old pipes, a new aerator will help to break down sludge so that it moves more efficiently.
Lisa and Guy Fielder are Pecos natives. They raised two sons in Austin, and retired to Midland in order to be close to home and healthcare.
Lisa Fielder said the culture of Austin doesn’t quite fit their family, but neither does Midland. “I can wear a sweatshirt and drink beer on the patio of the finest hotel in Alpine. That’s who I am,” she said.
She spent lots of time in the Big Bend with her family as a child. “I thought these mountains were mine. I thought the McDonald Observatory was mine,” she said.
The “brewery bug” first bit when Fielder traveled to London with her children. After reading a book about the city’s famous pubs, they toured 26 of them. “They’re meant to encourage community. People’s homes are small and so they don’t entertain there — they meet in these pubs.” She described sitting in booths “thigh to thigh” — so close to others that conversation is inevitable.
The Fielder’s son, Tim, who started brewing beer in high school, was smitten. He, too, spent time in the area as a child, attending Bloys Campmeeting and Prude Ranch summer camp. In 2020, he traveled to Alpine during the pandemic. “We knew that Alpine had a brewery, missed its brewery, and deserved to have one,” said Lisa Fielder.
The family purchased the Ritchey Saloon at auction, but a major renovation to make it suitable for their business model would have been costly, and Fielder said public sentiment about the historic building pushed them to sell. “We just got into something that was not a viable option for us. We took one for Alpine on that,” she said.
Fielder said the apprehension expressed by Wilson and Rodriguez is legitimate. “I would have the same questions,” she said. “We’re tackling these issues as we’re aware of them, and we’re doing so in good faith.”
When neighbors took issue with the recently constructed privacy fence on the property, the Fielders asked the builder to flip it and face the finished side toward their yards. They’ve committed to storing and treating the wastewater from the brewing process to irrigate the native landscape in response to concerns about the pressure on the system. The lot across the street has been purchased from Union Pacific to create more than 70 parking spaces, and a lease was signed with the owners of the Alpine Farmers Market, located just to the west, for overflow if needed. The Fielders said they expect just two semi-truck deliveries of wheat a year.
According to Tim Fielder, the plan is to build a 10 barrel brewery, which amounts to 32,240 gallons of beer or cider a year. Nano and micro systems range from 1.5 barrels to about 30 barrels.
Recipes are still in development, though he said a tasting of the pineapple and cherry ciders was well-received. “There are a few kinds of fruit that are grown in Texas in large enough quantities that we may be able to make them into cider — peaches, grapefruit, cantaloupe, melons, prickly pear — but they may end up being seasonal, or we may be unable to produce a satisfactory product from them,” he said. “I can't tell you what beers we will offer when we open because we have not developed recipes with which we are satisfied.” Beer brewed elsewhere will also be served.
The Alpine Downtown Association endorsed the brewery in an email to their membership on March 8, and Bob Ward, the longtime proprietor of Morrison True Value, whose family owns property near the site, called it progress. “It will be good for Alpine. It’s good for the economy and good for tourism, and it’s a beautiful building,” he said.
City Secretary Geo Calderon said that the Fielders haven’t applied for building permits, other than the fence, but that the city has advised them of “procedural requirements related to their concept.”
“The City welcomes economic development and encourages businesses to open in Alpine, but the City remains neutral so long as the proper procedures, ordinances, and other regulations are followed by entrepreneurs,” said Calderon.
He acknowledged that the sewer infrastructure needs improvement city-wide, and that permit applications are reviewed as received, department by department. “Until building plans are received, the City is unable to comment further on the concept because there are no definitive issues to comment on,” said Calderon.
“I just can’t see what we’re doing wrong, so our only choice is to keep going,” said Lisa Fielder.
Chisos Brewery hopes to be open by the end of 2022.