Shayn Robinson was trying to make a good impression on the man who eventually became his father-in-law.
He never imagined the Christmas gift he gave John Ferguson in 2002 would lead to them eventually becoming business partners.
Robinson, who for about a year had been dating Ferguson’s daughter, Elizabeth, knew her dad was a chemical engineer and knew he liked beer. So Robinson got Ferguson a home-brewing kit, which allowed him to combine the two passions into one activity.
Seventeen years later, the two men are brewing their own beer-making business. They plan to open New Magnolia Brewing Co. in the late summer or early fall at 1616 Bevis St. in Shady Acres.
“We’ve had a good time with it,” Ferguson said.
The upcoming brewery, which sits on a 1-acre plot of land that will provide ample parking and patio space on both sides of the under-construction taproom, will add to an exploding craft beer scene in the area. There are 10 other breweries in the Heights, Garden Oaks and Oak Forest area, with Astral Brewing and Walking Stick Brewing Co. having opened within the last six months.
The newest addition pays homage to Houston’s beer-making roots. Robinson said the New Magnolia name is a tribute to the original Magnolia Brewery, which Hugh Hamilton operated in the city from the late 1800s until shortly before Prohibition in 1920.
Robinson said Magnolia Brewery once was awarded a grand prize at an international beer competition in Belgium.
“Once we dug into it, we said, ‘We just can’t pick a name off the street. We just can’t come up with some whimsical, carefree name. We need something that’s Houston strong, Houston deep,’ ” Robinson said. “We did the research, and nobody had trademarked or kept the Magnolia brewing (name). They abandoned it in 1973.”
New Magnolia hopes to stand out in Houston’s modern beer scene by making a variety of styles and frequently rotating them. Robinson said he and Ferguson have a four-vessel, 15-barrel system that will allow them to brew several different beers in a relatively short period of time. Their plan is to offer at least 10 varieties from the start.
Ferguson, New Magnolia’s head brewer, said he especially likes making beers that are popular in Northern Europe, such as Irish red ales, English brown ales, porters, stouts, hefeweizens, pilsners and Belgian styles. He and his wife lived in Switzerland from 1998-2000, when Ferguson branched out from drinking American light beers and discovered a sea of locally made suds.
Two years later, he received his home-brewing kit from Robinson and immediately started making his own. Now brewing beer is a family affair, and they plan to share their love for it with the Heights community and all of Houston.
“One of the neat things about craft brewing is that you’ve got people from all over the world,” Ferguson said. “It’s a very open culture, a very welcoming culture that just invites people to join in.”