Truly a Family Effort: Vallensons’ Brewing Company
In a little more than two years of operation, the popular, family-owned and operated Vallensons Brewing Company located at 4081 Rice Drier Road in Pearland has made an impact locally, regionally and now internationally after winning four medals last month at the prestigious U.S. Open Beer Championship including a gold medal for the brewery’s Settler’s Oatmeal Stout. The U.S. Open Beer Championship is a top International beer competition with commercial breweries from Russia to Rhode Island and beyond sending in entries to compete for the best of more than 130 beer styles. In additional to winning gold for the top Oatmeal Stout internationally, the young brewery took home three bonzes for their Peach Tea Beer (Tea Beer category), their “Pink” Tart Cherry Berliner (Berliner Weisse category) and their ExBERRYmental Fruit Beer (Wood/Barrel - Fruit Beer category).
“It is very overwhelming,” explained an excited but humble Valle Kauniste, brewmaster and founder of Vallensons. “Winning medals on the pro scale is real validation. I didn’t even know about it the day I won. I got a text message from Jason (Stromberg) at Galveston Island Brewing saying ‘Valle, nice job bro!” I thought he must have been referring to the fact ABC Channel 13 came out the day before and did a really nice story on us. He replied ‘No, dude, you won four medals!’ I’m still in shock.”
Don’t mistake Kauniste’s humility for a lack of confidence as the Air Force veteran who specialized in the high altitude reconnaissance flight of the U-2 and SR-71 airframes before leaving the service to help advance Human Spaceflight since 2000 is not new to brewing. He has experienced considerable success and received significant praise as both an award-winning home brewer and in his short time brewing commercially. But winning medals was not a goal for him.
“The reason to me for entering this competition was to get some feedback,” said Kauniste. “That was the ultimate goal. This completion has judges from all over the US, Europe, Canada and elsewhere who don’t know Vallensons from anyone. If they came back and said our beers are way off or something was wrong with our water profiles, then that would be valuable. But sending off five beers and getting four medals really blew my mind.”
Besides enjoying such a rare successful start in professional competitions, Vallensons is unique for a number of reasons.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
If you dissect the name Vallensons, you get “Valle-N-Sons.” This name was created with the vision that his two sons, Valle Jr. and Konner, would one day work with dad at the brewery. While Konner is still a tad young and helps out where he can, the 17-year-old Valle Jr. is the assistant brewer and has been brewing with his dad since he was 10, dating back to home brewing in the family garage.
“I used to hate the smell of beer,” Valle Jr. explained. “Dad would be brewing it in the garage, and I really couldn’t handle it. But now I love it. It is a lot of fun. A lot of work, but a lot of fun.”
Kauniste is quick to point out how valuable his son is on brew days and how it is almost a ballet with each having a different role but knowing exactly what the other is doing at every moment and when the other might need a third or fourth hand.
“It truly is a balance on the back end, especially during a double batch brew day,” Kauniste explained. “There are 50 moving parts, and timers going off all over the place. We are moving beer from one tank to the next, cleaning the empty tank and filling water up because we don’t have holding tanks. Everything is down to the minute. He has his area that he focuses on; I have mine. And after a while we developed such a rhythm, so if I grab a tri-clamp fitting and hand it to him, he knows where it is going. It gets to the point where we don’t even have to say anything as we have the routine down. And that is really fun and rewarding to do with your son.”
One date coming up that the younger Valle is really looking forward to his is 18th birthday, when he becomes legally old enough to serve the beer he brews.
“I love Rocky Road ice-cream,” explained Valle Jr. “So I plan to brew something like a marshmallow, vanilla and chocolate stout, and then I will be able to serve it. That will be a lot of fun, and I’m really excited about that.”
So stay tuned for events in September as a special Assistant Brewmaster’s beer release served by the birthday boy himself is in the works.
But the family effort at Vallensons stretches far beyond only Valle and his sons as the elder is quick to point out that it takes a team of talented and dedicated people to keep the brewery running and growing at the pace it is.
It all starts with Kauniste’s wife Lori who has been intimately involved since the beginning and keeps everything moving, especially the business and back office side of the operation including accounting, compliance, marketing and making sure ingredients and supplies are ordered and delivered on time. Lori is also often behind the bar at the brewery taproom working alongside her sister Donna Coneley, niece Erin Coneley, nephew Garrett Coneley and brother-in-law Chris Coneley. Vallensons is truly and literally a family-run operation.
BUILT FROM THE GROUND UP
Every aspect of the brewery was planned, engineered and built from the ground up, literally, with the Kaunistes playing a very active role in the design and engineering process. The search for the land to build Vallensons Brewing Company on started in 2014. By 2015 they found and purchased a little more than an acre in their hometown of Pearland just off of North Main Street (Telephone Road / Hwy 35) on Rice Drier Road. Kauniste has joked he bought the land because of a beautiful, giant 80-year-old protected Green Ash. Soon after they purchased the land, Pearland had a public hearing to approve a conditional use permit for the Vallensons’ site. A lot of political and logistical hurdles followed but by June of 2016 construction finally broke ground and, despite a lot of rain to follow which slowed the construction down at times, roughly a year later in May of 2017 the brewery was open to the public and has been receiving rave reviews ever since.
EXPERIMENTATION AND QUALITY
Kauniste built the brewery to fulfill his passion for experimentation, and it shows in the range of styles he has already brewed to date. But he has only just begun.
“We’ve done 40 or 50 different styles of beers since we opened, but I still have a ton more I want to make,” Kauniste said. “We want to keep challenging ourselves. And that is exactly what we are doing with some of these sours we are playing with. We literally are bringing bacteria into the brewery. So we have to be very careful, be completely sanitary and develop and have the right controls in place. But that is the fun part. I was scared at first, but they have come out great.”
Kauniste has also enjoyed experimenting with a range of yeasts, including some which are cutting edge and could change the commercial brewery game.
A significant reason for the great success — whether according to visitors to the taproom or a panel of judges for an international beer competition — of Vallensons’ fruit beers, is the dedication to quality and sourcing the right ingredients. Many breweries use fruit extracts or fruit syrups in beers but Kauniste prefers not to even if it comes with an additional financial price.
“All of our beers with fruit are 100% all fruit or fruit purees made of 100% concentrated fruit straight from an orchard,” Kauniste explained. “It is more expensive but it is worth the cost. They maintain the fruit within certain high standards, it is delivered cold and goes straight into our cold box and then we have a set amount of time to use it.”
It is that kind of attention and dedication to quality that makes a difference and which Vallensons is building a reputation for.
A UNIQUE MODEL WITH EXPANSION PLANS
Vallensons is currently only open three days weekly (Fridays 3 to 10 p.m.; Saturdays noon to 10 p.m.; Sundays noon to 7 p.m.) The only place to enjoy their beer is at the brewery taproom on those days, which is a pretty unique model that makes every day the brewery is open a special event in and of itself. And Kauniste admits the volume of beer sold each day they are open is far more than he expected.
“We do struggle to keep up with demand, and we are only open three days a week,” Kauniste said. “We used to wash kegs once a month and now we are washing and filling kegs multiple times a week.”
From “Jeep Meets” to favorite food truck appearances to live music concerts to other special celebrations, the weekend event calendar at Vallensons stays pretty active on their acre-plus location.
“We have a lot of room,” Kauniste said. “So people can come out, spread out, bring your canopies, bring your chairs, bring your kids, bring your dogs, cats, birds, spouse or whatever.”
One special event on the schedule for August is the brewmaster’s birthday celebration on Saturday, August 10 with live music by Two Fifths and food by Home Saddled BBQ.
A look further into the future brings expansion in many facets ranging from more beers, more days open during the week and ultimately a larger brewhouse and the construction of a massive separate taproom facility which Kauniste has designed specifically to his needs and the property. And chances are, there could be more medals coming soon as well.
By John Ennis