Amy Cartwright has always been a trendsetter. When she opened Independence Brewing Co. in 2004, it was the only female-owned brewery in Austin, Texas, and one of only two production breweries in the city limits.
Since then, she has grown the company from a small local business to a multi-state operation, and helped create some of the most notable and popular craft beers in Texas. As Independence celebrates 18 years, she reflects on how the beer industry has changed, the brewery’s history of breaking the beer-brewing mold, and the innovative ideas that will lead them into the next 18 years.
A lot has changed since Amy and her husband, Rob Cartwright, made their first beer in a second-hand, 15-bbl system they found in the desert and came up with the idea for Independence Brewing. They have since upgraded to a new 60-bbl system, grown their craft beer line, and expanded their distribution to other major Texas cities—San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, and El Paso—as well as the state of Arkansas, with more to come including Oklahoma next year.
When the pandemic hit, Amy and her team capitalized on Texas’ to-go alcohol waiver and began to sell cases, 6-packs, and crowlers (large format cans, canned on-site) of both year-round beers, and seasonal and small batch brews, that were typically only available at the brewery. When the to-go allowance was made permanent, Independence made its sales permanent too.
“With energy drinks buying breweries and soda companies making alco-pops, there is a consolidation and blurring of the lines of when it comes to what it means to be a brewery. It’s crazy, feels like the early 2000s all over again,” Amy says with a laugh.
These days store shelves are lined with companies with bigger budgets (including seltzers and hard tea) which means that smaller breweries can get overlooked or pushed out if they don’t play their cards right. However, Amy is taking this change in stride, and actually sees it as an opportunity for Independence Brewing.
“We are in a time of change, which can feel scary or depressing to some people,” Amy says. “The fact is that beer, as a foundational, thousands-of-years-old part of human civilization, is not going away. The idea of craft beer—our desire to experiment and evolve creative use of ingredients and processes—is expanding beyond beer. What else can we bring this philosophy to?”
As Independence Brewing adapts, Amy and her brewers find inspiration by looking for beers they want to drink. And, as Amy has learned, sometimes those beers don’t exist yet.
This was the situation when Independence created its bestseller — Stash IPA.
“Back in 2008 there weren’t a lot of super hoppy beers being made in Texas,” Amy recalls. “We wanted that for ourselves, so if it didn’t exist, well hell, time to get to work. We called it Stash IPA because it was what we stashed away for ourselves when we went to parties, our ‘brewer’s stash.’ That’s not to say we didn’t share our Stash, quite the opposite, we wanted people to take that hop trip with us. It was way too hoppy for most folks when it was released, now it’s by far our bestseller. That’s wild!”
And because of the success of Stash IPA, they realized there was a huge opportunity to make beers they wanted and not just what was popular at the time. This has pushed the brand to be innovative, instead of trying to replicate what others are doing.
“After 18 years, you figure out that if you want something that doesn’t exist, you have to do it yourself.”
A Future Infused with Innovation
As Amy looks ahead to find what’s next for Independence Brewing, she wants to pioneer more than just craft beer.
“We are dedicated to experimenting with new ingredients, new flavors and new interpretations of styles,” She explains. “When hard seltzers and hard teas blew up, it became interesting for us to find our own interpretation of that trend. We dig innovation, and trying to figure out how to create things we want to see in the world.”
But she is aware that not everyone is a beer drinker. In fact, not everyone is an alcohol drinker. “Even if you are a daily beer drinker, sometimes you just want something different,” she states. “It’s the same for us. So we’re trying to create products that resonate across the beverage spectrum.”
To achieve that goal, Amy and her team have embarked on a new project — Delta 8 and Delta 9 infused sparkling water.
“The Delta 8 and 9 stuff is exciting. We have become huge fans and see the potential of this developing scene,” she says with characteristic enthusiasm. “So far we’ve seen a lot of edibles, but there aren’t a lot of beverage options. We figure it’s time to change that.”
As it turns out, beverage options are limited because of the considerable difficulty of sourcing and working with water soluble hemp. But Amy and her team have never been ones to shy away from a challenge.
“It has required a ton of research and experimentation,” she explains. “We’ve had to figure out how to achieve total solubility, and experiment with flavor and potency. There’s a lot to work out and not a lot to go on, but that’s where the fun starts.”
And, while some breweries might not be willing or able to take on this kind of project, the ability to develop these boundary-pushing products is what makes Independence different, and they’re uniquely equipped to handle this kind of R&D.
“Our focus on quality and consistency with our beer products is paramount,” Amy emphasizes. “Which means that we’ve made considerable investments in our lab equipment and most importantly personnel. Our brewing and lab teams were built for this type of intensive, highly technical research.”
After years of work, Amy and her team have found the right formula. And they’re offering customers a preview.
At Independence’s 18th anniversary party on Saturday, October 22 at the South Austin brewery, guests sampled the new Delta 8 and Delta 9 sparkling waters in flavors like Orange Aperol, Blueberry Maqui, and Cucumber Gin. The brewery also showcased 13 new and revamped beers at the event, including a popular Pumpkin Spice Lager, their barrel-aged Convict Hill Oatmeal Stout, and the retired Bootlegger Brown Ale, which hasn’t been brewed since 2016.
The response was overwhelmingly positive, so Independence Brewing is planning to launch their hemp-derived Delta 8 and Delta 9 infused beverages for retail in 2023.
After 18 years, Amy Cartwright has created one of the best craft breweries in Texas and proven that Independence is more than just a name. As the industry evolves, her innovative ideas keep Independence ahead of the curve, and her resilient attitude helps her roll with the punches.
With Amy at the helm, Texans can be sure that Independence Brewing Co. will continue serving up craft beers and unique beverages to independent thinkers and drinkers for many more years to come.