Spreading the Cheer How an Austin solo attorney brought good beer to town in the late 1970s and continues to help the local brewing industry thrive. IF YOU HAPPENED TO SEE SOLO ATTORNEY JAMES “JIM” HOUCHINS AT A LOCAL BAR AROUND AUSTIN, knocking back a frothy pint of Belgian tripel IPA, you might assume he is just another Capital City craft beer enthusiast. While Houchins is no doubt a fan of the Austin beer scene, he is more deeply involved than are the majority of Austinites—and even played a role in making the industry the success it is today. For those who do not know how craft beer differs from “normal” beer, Houchins explains that it is like comparing mass-produced white bread to a loaf of freshly baked rosemary sourdough. “White bread was created so that, as the saying goes, ‘even the rats weren’t interested in eating it,’ ” said Houchins. “And it always tasted the same in San Francisco as in New York. [Craft beer] is about flavor— and you can tell, once I get going about this stuff, I get on my soap box—it’s about passion, it’s about local production, it’s about being handcrafted.” If you had the opportunity to share a drink and chat with Houchins, you would quickly recognize that his beer knowledge is vast. He can tell you about the history of most notable U.S. craft breweries—and even many of the lesser-known ones—as well as the trends of brewing communities abroad, American beers that are exported to Europe, elements that are responsible for certain tastes, the difference among species of American hops, and the amazing abilities of yeast to impart delicious flavors without the use of added ingredients. As part owner in two Austin beer import companies, Houchins influences which specialty brews are available at local restaurants and retail locations. Artisanal Imports specializes in craft beer from small-scale German, English, and Belgian breweries, and Authentic Beverage Management Company imports from small breweries in Belgium. In addition to serving as legal counsel, Houchins helps the companies decide which beers to import by looking for brews with a unique and smooth taste (a balance of hops and malt), as well as an interesting story. He also advises them on marketing and the evolving Austin beer industry. Houchins is no newcomer to the gospel of beer. In fact, he helped bring high quality brews to Austin in the late 1970s, back when people would look at Shiner Bock and say, in his words, “‘What is that? That doesn’t look like beer!’” After finishing at the University of Texas School of Law, Houchins spent a year studying in Brussels, where he says he discovered the world of good beer. Soon he had started his first beer business, Manneken Brussel Imports, and in 1978 began introducing Belgian beer, including Duvel and Chimay ale, to Austin imbibers. Although it took time and the work of other similar visionaries, Houchins’s influence helped spread the fever for craft beer around the city and the state. As of 2011, the Texas craft beer industry had an estimated economic impact of $608 million. “Belgium is to beer what France is to wine, really,” said Houchins. “And Austin was the first city where imported Belgian beer was consumed commercially by Americans.” In 2012, Houchins was recognized for his history with the Belgian brewing community and inducted into the Belgian Brewers’ Guild, also called the Knighthood of the Brewers’ Mash. The year before, Houchins and a few friends started an Austin nonprofit called the Generalists, whose main function is to put on an annual beer festival that donates all proceeds to various charities. In 2013, the Love Beer Fundraiser generated several thousand dollars and attracted about 500 attendees. When it comes to beer, Houchins’s motto is simple: “The excitement isn’t how much of this I’m going to sell, it’s about how much fun it is to drink and share.” LINDSAY STAFFORD MADER History Hero How a West Texas lawyer is working to preserve a 19th-century building—and his hometown’s past. AS THE “MOTHER CITY OF WEST TEXAS,” Colorado City has seen a fair share of change since its founding in 1877. From cattlemen roots and salt mining ventures to farming prospects and oil interests, the town is rich with history. And it is this history that Ty Wood, a solo practitioner and Mitchell County Attorney, is now working to protect. Passionate about preservation and their hometown of about 4,300, Wood and his wife, Amie, director of the city’s Community Development Department, are in the process of remodeling a Colorado City building constructed in 1884 by the famous buffalo hunter J. Wright Mooar. The building was originally used as a livery stable, but over the years it has served as a fire department, a furniture store, an electric company, and a hardware store. Rumor has it that at one point the upstairs was a brothel, though Wood says that might be just a “good story.” Now, the Woods are transforming the space, which is located at 249 Walnut Street, into a mixed-use building with offices and loft apartments slated to open in 2014. Wood reports that inquiries from potential tenants have already been coming in—a demand hard to imagine just decades before. “When I was growing up here in the late ’90s, there was little reason for anyone to stay,” said Wood. “The community had high rates of poverty and unemployment.” But after a cycle of booms and busts, Colorado City seems to be on the verge of another economic upturn. Wood believes that a new interest in oil and gas exploration activities is causing a shift in the region’s value, drawing in young professionals and business owners from larger cities, such as Austin and Dallas. Downtown revitalization efforts and individual projects are also contributing to community betterment. Wood hopes updating the Mooar building will be a positive example for residents who want to do something similar to other area structures. “Everyday we lose historical small-town buildings for no better reason than a lack of creative, forward thinking,” said Wood. “Even a project as large as this is, it is something that is feasible and can be accomplished.” The Woods’ remodel is also evidence that modernity doesn’t have to mean sacrificing antiquity. Knowing they wanted to maintain the building’s integrity, the couple opted to keep historical details, including original archways and exposed brick and beams. They also restored the facade to replicate the original design, taking cues from historical photos found in the city’s museum. Even so, Wood stresses that it is not just a period piece; contemporary amenities make the structure both livable and functional. “We’re trying to incorporate modern things, but to also be able to appreciate the basic historical foundation that we’re working off of,” said Wood. While the renovation hasn’t been without its challenges, Wood has found the process to be rewarding. “It’s an honor to be able to take one of these buildings that does have such a long history to it and to be able to add your own chapter,” he said. “Hopefully there will be some young attorney 100 years from now that’ll come back in there and restore what I’ve done this time.” HANNAH KIDDOO TEXAS PEOPLE Nelda Luce Blair The Blair Law Firm, Houston Honored as the 2013 Breakthrough Woman in Education by the Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce. Kim J. Askew K&L Gates, Dallas Selected as the 2013 recipient of the Morris Harrell Professionalism Award by the Texas Center for Legal Ethics and the Dallas Bar Association. Wallace B. Jefferson Alexander Dubose Jefferson & Townsend, Austin Former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson was named the 2014 Texan of the Year by the Texas Legislative Conference. Susan F. Smith Cantey Hanger, Fort Worth Elected to the 2014 board of directors for the North Texas Society for Healthcare Risk Management.
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.
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