From Bubbles to Brews

08/27/2014 12:00 AM

08/26/2014 7:06 PM

Tucked into pastoral North Keller among the tree-dotted hills, multi-acre lots and comfortable family homes, a spring flows up from honeycombed beds of sandstone and silt.

The watering place drew settlers to the area more than 150 years ago. Buried and forgotten for decades, the spring was rediscovered and unearthed 30 years ago to bring a new industry to Keller. Now it’s drawing people for a whole new purpose.

Shannon Brewing Co. founder Shannon Carter calls the natural water source serendipity, the driving force behind his new brewery in Keller.

“It’s all about the springs,” Carter says.

For Carter, the story is relatively new — just a few years — although he had been brewing his own recipes of Irish ale in his Southlake garage for more than a decade, and eventually, the idea of expanding his business became a quest. His goal was to build a brewery to produce the most wholesome ale possible. When he talked with Keller officials, he learned about Samantha Springs. The water was the key.

“It’s a complete brand difference,” he says. “This is phenomenal water.”

In recent years, craft breweries have become a thriving industry in North Texas, with beer purveyors popping up from Frisco to Granbury and all across Dallas and Fort Worth. While most other breweries in the region are on city water and have to take out chlorine and fluoride and tweak the mineral content, Shannon Brewing Co. has a direct line from Samantha Springs for its pure, filtered spring water. Carter says the mineral content is perfect, adding a subtle, but unique, flavor to his beers.

Samantha Springs

The story stretches about 30 years longer for Joe McCombs, back to 1983. That’s when he and his first wife, Carolyn, purchased acreage just off Mount Gilead Road with plans for a weekend getaway retreat he hoped would one day be a permanent home.

He began digging holes for fence posts and noticed that they quickly filled with water — repeatedly. In February 1984, he went out to work on the property and noticed that, despite the dead-of-winter time frame, one area of his property remained lush with ferns and green grass. Taking a garden hoe to the damp ground, he removed some of the vegetation and hit something solid. Further digging revealed a wooden barrel filled with sand and capping some sort of man-made structure. As he dug a trench in the area, a steady stream started to flow.

Renting an excavator to continue his explorations, McCombs eventually unearthed a second hand-hewn barrel, and beneath that, a rock that was 6 feet wide pocked with holes like a honeycomb packed with sand. Once he cleaned this out, water gushed freely.

A history lesson

McCombs began investigating the area’s history — making multiple trips to the Keller Public Library and talking to local historians like Joyce Gibson Roach, author of two books about the region. He soon learned that he had rediscovered one of the springs that first drew pioneers to the land here in the 1840s.

Long before Keller got its name, the town of Double Springs sprung up to the north.

According to archives from the Old Town Keller Foundation, Double Springs was first settled in the 1840s by widow Parmelia Allen and several of her married children. The abundant water source made it possible to raise crops and livestock. In 1851, the settlers constructed a log church they named Mount Gilead. Local legend says the building was burned down in 1859 by a band of Indians. Several years later the church was rebuilt and part of it remains today as Mount Gilead Baptist Church.

While the water continued to flow, the town of Double Springs dried up when news began circulating that a railway would be going through Athol. The smaller community to the south changed its name from Athol to Keller in honor of a railroad construction foreman, and in 1881, Keller got the rails and a depot, drawing more people to the newer town.

Bottling a business

More than a century later, McCombs saw a commercial opportunity in the abandoned springs. About 10 years after he uncovered the first barrel, he began working to develop a business to sell the mineral water.

When his 3-year-old daughter, Samantha, died in 1993 while awaiting a heart transplant, McCombs decided to name the company in her honor, Samantha Springs. Born with a heart defect, the little girl who loved stars is buried in a small family plot on the back of the property while the spring flows on in the front.

What was at first an annoyance as McCombs tried to develop the property has turned into a wellspring of blessings for McCombs and his family, he says.

At the old spring head, McCombs had a springhouse constructed. In digging out the adjacent pond, he found pieces of an old gristmill. That told him the spring flowed year-round. He decided to have a replica gristmill wheel incorporated into his new springhouse, following the example of a replica mill at the Fort Worth Zoo. The wheel turns with the overflow water going from the in-ground silo to the pond.

He likes to remember the historic roots of the site and keeps remnants of the old barrel and unearthed tools in the springhouse.

“It seemed fitting that 150 years later, what caused everyone to settle here turned into one of the first industries in Keller,” he says.

Today, Samantha Springs’ in-ground silo collects about 200,000 gallons daily. While most of the spring water is piped west and trucked in tankers to bottling plants where it is eventually sold under various labels in stores throughout the state, some is bottled in Keller for local consumption.

And now, a portion will become a key ingredient to Shannon Brewing Co.’s fire-brewed Irish ales.

A new kind of brew

Shannon Brewing Co.’s ales, Carter says, match the pure mineral water with nongenetically modified grain and whole-grain flour. His “serendipitous” result is a unique line of craft beers brewed on site. The company’s first fire-brewed beers include a pale ale, India pale ale, all-American blonde, chocolate stout and Irish red.

He also uses a brewing method that’s a bit different from other methods. In brewing the recipes handed down by his Irish grandfather, Carter uses a cleaner, gas-fired process rather than steam. The fire caramelizes the sugar better than electricity or steam. At the end of fermenting, he gives the beer time to carbonate naturally so the facility is not releasing carbon dioxide into the air.

While the results can be enjoyed on site at the brewery, the company also sends bottles and cans to Central Market and Whole Foods and provides beer to a number of local restaurants, including FnG Eats and Blue Mesa.

All the used grain is recycled into cattle feed for a local rancher.

“I feel good about reusing everything we can and being kind to the environment,” Carter says.

Carter’s commitment to natural, environmentally friendly products extends to the building itself. In constructing it, he reused some of the materials from the dilapidated pole barn that used to occupy the site. Oak planks, corrugated tin and drilling pipes are repurposed in the beer garden, the hops garden and the taproom.

The long bar dominating the taproom was built from the reclaimed barn wood and tin by nearby Riggs Fabrication & Restoration.

After months of buzz and anticipation, Shannon Brewing Co. has opened its doors to the public. Visitors can visit the retail counter to pick up refreshments bound for home, enjoy ales in the taproom and adjacent beer garden on Friday evenings or tour the brewery on Saturdays.

The brewery will hold a grand opening Labor Day Weekend, and Carter says he looks forward to hosting many special events on the 10-acre property in the future.

While the water brought Carter and McCombs together, the relationship now goes further. McCombs believes in the product so much that he invested in Shannon Brewery.

“It’s a good beer. The blonde ale is my favorite,” he says. “It’s fun to have a little stake in it. The spring water allows him [Carter] to stick to his mantra of an all-natural product.”

Adds Carter: “Our goal was to brew the most wholesome beer we could. The non-GMO grain, the whole flour, the hops, and — of course — the water.”

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