Like a lot of folks who came up in Austin back in the 90s, Steve Anderson was an important part of my life in that dusty old town. Back then, Austin was like an outsider artist’s mashup of Tuscaloosa and New York.
Texas Showdown, a rough and tumble wood-frame bar on Guadalupe Street was the site of many an afternoon session with Anderson behind the bar, and a group of punks all sitting around bullshitting each other while the Butthole Surfers played on the hi fi.
Then Waterloo Brewing Company opened in 1993 and laid down the foundation for Austin to have a craft beer scene.
Steve was the man who made the beer.
Waterloo was the first operation of its kind in the state of Texas, and Austin would look a lot different today had it not been for owner Billy Forester’s lobbying the state lege (H.B. 1425 in 1993) for the right to brew and sell beer. Prior to Forester’s efforts it was illegal to operate a brewpub in the state of Texas.
It was llegal to make beer and sell burgers in the same building.
Forester sent Anderson to the Siebel Institute up in Chicago to learn how to brew and when he came home the two set up shop in an old paint warehouse in downtown Austin, and breathed life into Waterloo Brewing Company, a legendary drinkery and burger joint that folks in Austin still speak of in hallowed terms.
I ate a few thousand cheeseburgers on their roof and drank a few thousand Sam Houston lagers before the landlord got greedy and tried to quadruple the rent leading Billy to shut it down on Sunday September 2nd 2001.
Nine days later, on Tuesday September 11th, Steve Anderson was back in business across town at Live Oak.
They have been producing beer since February 20th, 1997.
Steve would stay there til May of 2012 when he left the old East Austin brewery to become head brewer at Big Bend Brewing out in Alpine, Texas. If you want to know what the porter or IPA at Waterloo tasted like back in the 90s you better buy a six pack of Big Bend’s 22 Porter or La Frontera IPA quick as both beers utilize Anderson’s recipes from his days at Waterloo.
When I tended bar at Crown and Anchor back in the aughts, we’d all get excited two or three times a week when Steve came in to visit. He always drank Live Oak Pilz and we had a near mutiny when a new gm took it off the draft wall. “What’s Steve going to drink when he comes in?” I hollered.
The tap handle was soon right back where it belonged.
When Big Bend Brewing was still in its formative stages, Steve was excited to potentially be working there. “We might be calling it Trans-Pecos Brewing” he told me one afternoon at Crown. “Wouldn’t that be cool?” He sounded like a kid who found out he was getting a bb gun for Christmas.
If Texas ever carves out a Mt Rushmore of beer, somewhere high in the Davis Mountains range, Steve Anderson’s face will be chiseled right onto the side of it.
The current brewery gold rush in Texas wouldn’t be taking place were it not for Anderson’s crucial role in the early days of Austin’s craft beer movement. Without him and Billy Forester, Austin would be a backwater filled with a bunch of yahoos sitting around drinking Moosehead and pining for the days when DX Bible led the football Longhorns.