Friday, March 13, 2015

Horny Toad Brewing Co. Opens to the Masses

I didn't really believe it when I first heard about it, but it's true: Somebody opened a brewery in Rowena, Texas. That's right, Rowena. This sleepy little town about 25 miles east of San Angelo doesn't even have a stoplight and now has a brewery.

And it's not half bad.

Mike McNeill had been brewing his own beer for some time, but it was mostly for himself, friends and family. He started out with a basic home brewing kit that made just a few gallons and then upgraded to more sophisticated equipment so he could keg his own beer. After serving a tour of duty in Iraq, McNeill, an Army veteran, started thinking a little harder about what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. "That kind of experience gives you a new appreciation on how short life is," McNeill said.

So, after seeking some business advice, purchasing and converting an old 1920s filling station, McNeill set about creating the Horny Toad Brewing Company. Horny Toad is a seven-barrel brewery, with one barrel equaling 31 gallons. McNeill spends most Saturdays brewing which can take up to 10-12 hours. He also distributes to several bars and eateries in San Angelo.

Now, tell me what craft beer enthusiast hasn't thought of owning and operating their brewery? This guy is living his dream and he is sharing it with the rest of the community. Sure, you can go to any one of the bars his beers are currently on tap and have a pint, or you can go straight to the source. Every first Saturday of the month McNeill opens the brewery up to the public to see his operation and have a few beers. Being a craft beer enthusiast myself, I found the experience to be a heck of a lot of fun. I have family that live in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and whenever I'm in town visiting we go to some of our favorite breweries that open up their doors on Saturdays.

I am so glad that there is now a brewery close to where I live that does this. The atmosphere is laid back, there's live music and usually there is food with a small donation. McNeill also gives a quick tour of the brewery where he explains his process of brewing. He has also shows off his fermentation tanks which he has named Bonnie and Clyde, after the infamous bank robbers of the 1930s. "You're supposed to name your fermenters, and Bonnie Parker was born here in Rowena, so I thought the name was appropriate," McNeill said. In another quirky twist of fate, "The brewery is ironically located directly across the street from a memorial to Prohibition when Rowena voted itself dry in 1911," McNeill said. "The people of Rowena buried a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of beer and erected a headstone that reads, 'Here Lies Our Liberty.'"

I do have one complaint though, if you want to call it a complaint. It could be considered a compliment. I don't like the fact that Horny Toad is only open to the public one day a month. I understand why, McNeill is basically a one-man show brewing on the other Saturdays of the month and still has a full time job as a civilian contractor at Goodfellow Air Force Base. Maybe I'm just being selfish. "The first Saturday we were open we had a very small crowd come in," McNeill said. "But we've seen steady growth over the past few months and now there's usually a line out the door." For now, I'm going to make it a point to attend every open house I can get to. The atmosphere is too fun, the beer too good and the camaraderie between friends too important to be missed. So, if you want to reach me on the first Saturday of the month please send mail to 313 Edwards St. Rowena, TX 76875 or call 325-212-1177. Ask for Patrick.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

2015 High School Basketball Playoffs: Wall vs. Shallowater Regional Semifinal

Because of all the snow and ice the Texas Panhandle received a few weeks back, sports writer Carlos Silva and I had to extend our stay in Lubbock one more night. We were there covering the Region I-2A basketball tournament and watched the Christoval Lady Cougars end their season in a double-overtime loss to Gruver. Originally we were supposed to cover that game early Friday afternoon and then head to Midland to cover the Wall Lady Hawks take on Shallowater in the Region I-3A semifinal that night. The snow delayed the start of the Region I-3A tournament, pushing it back to Saturday. That gave time for the snow to melt off the roadways for Carlos and I to make a safe trip.

Wall High School is one of our core area schools that the sports desk covers all year long. Almost all of their respective sporting teams make deep runs in the playoffs and this year was no different. Last year the Lady Hawks won the Class 2A girls state title in basketball and for most of the season, if not the entirety of it, were ranked in the top five in the state. After watching an exciting double-overtime loss by Christoval the day before, we were hoping the Lady Hawks would show a little magic during their first-round game against No. 2 Shallowater.

The game got off to a slow start. A really slow start. At the end of the first quarter only five total points had been scored with Shallowater leading 3-2. This struck me as really odd. We're talking about the No. 2 and 3-ranked teams in the state and there were only five points scored in the first quarter? Obviously, this was going to be a defensive battle all night.

The second quarter was much like the first ending with Shallowater leading 15-8 at the half. I was still confused by the low score between the two teams as I headed over to the media table to do a quick edit of first half photos. Carlos leaned over to me and said, "The first team to get to 25 points is going to win this game." I don't know if he had some kind of inside information or can see into the future, but he was absolutely right. In the third quarter, as it was in the first two, both teams went on hot and cold streaks. Shallowater went on a 5-0 run causing Wall head coach Tate Lombard to call a time out and try to calm the Lady Hawks' nerves. Whatever he said to them seemed to work because Shallowater didn't score another point for the rest of the quarter allowing Wall to go on a 10-0 run to finish out the quarter with a 22-20 lead.

Remember the prophetic words from Carlos about how the first team to reach 25 points was going to win? Shallowater took control of the fourth quarter and went on a 7-0 run in the first two-and-half minutes to regain the lead at 27-22 with 5:41 left to play. Wall made several valiant efforts to stage a comeback closing the deficit to just two points three times in the final five minutes of regulation. But Shallowater was just too much for the Lady Hawks that night, winning the game 40-34 and advancing to the regional final the next day. As a journalist I'm not supposed to care who wins or who loses any particular game, but it hits you in the heart a little when a season comes to an end for one of your teams. But, such is the business and there's always the next sport to move on to. The Lady Hawks had a great season, one that most teams wished they could have had.

2015 High School Basketball Playoffs: Christoval vs. Gruver Regional Semifinal

Man, what a dizzying last few weeks. And it mostly revolved around basketball and weather. About two weeks ago sports reporter Carlos Silva and I were slated to travel to the Texas Panhandle to cover a Region I-2A tournament in Levelland, about 30 miles west of Lubbock. The original plan was to leave early Friday morning from San Angelo and be in Levelland for the 1:00pm tip-off of the Christoval vs. Gruver regional semifinal and then hightail it south to Midland for the Region I-3A semifinal for the Wall vs. Shallowater game.

Mother Nature had other ideas.

We were watching the weather all week and it was forecast that the area was going to get ice and snow over the next few days so we decided it would be best to leave that Thursday night to beat the bad weather. It was an idea that payed off for us because in snowed 4-5 inches while we slept that night. The next morning I had to borrow my step-dad's 4-wheel drive Jeep to make the slow drive to Levelland from Lubbock. Carlos was frantically trying to call coaches to see if in fact the tournament was going to be played at the original time. Surprisingly, it was because all the other teams had the same idea to come a day earlier to beat the weather.

The Christoval girls team has been fun to follow for the most of the season because they were headed into the semifinal against Gruver with a perfect 34-0 record. Gruver, on the other hand, was riding high in the saddle after knocking off No. 2 Wellington, another team boasting a perfect 27-0 record, the week before. It was going to be a tight game for sure.

To quote from Carlos' story, "It was a chess match all game long, and regulation and one overtime period weren't enough." The game went back-and-forth the entire time. Christoval held an eight-point lead with less five minutes to play in regulation, but Gruver went on a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to 29-28 with 2:39 left to play. In the remaining time, Christoval went 5 for 7 from the free throw line but Gruver wouldn't go away making game-saving three-pointers to tie the game at 31-31 and 34-34 to send the game into overtime.

With just 8.7 seconds left on the clock in overtime Gruver held a 39-38 lead but fouled Christoval's Jakayla Halbrooks sending her to the free throw line for two shots to tie or win the game. Halbrooks went one for two prompting a second overtime period. In the second overtime period Gruver took control of the game, outscoring Christoval 9-4 winning the game 48-43 to advance in the tournament. It was a tough loss for the Lady Cougars especially going so far on such a great record. But Christoval has a lot to look forward to as they will only graduate two players from the team, seniors Kameron Wike and Haley Novak.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

83rd annual San Angelo Stock Show & Rodeo: 9th Performance

As it turns out, this will probably be my last rodeo performance of the year. With several of our local basketball teams making it to the regional tournament I'm going to have to put the rest of the rodeo coverage in the capable hands of other photographers while I travel north through the coming winter weather in Lubbock and Midland.

But in the interest of posting photos from every rodeo performance I've covered, here are a few photos from the 9th performance at Foster Communications Coliseum from earlier in the week. This isn't going to be an in-depth blog post, just some photos to give you a visual idea of what the rodeo is like here in San Angelo.