Mechanical Engineering Wit Behind Austin Craft Brewery

While a student at UT Austin, Kevin Brand (B.S. ME 1996) brewed his first batch of beer in between studying for his mechanical engineering classes. He never thought he’d apply his engineering skills to brewing beer professionally.

Today, Kevin and his wife Sara (B.S. ME 1996) own one of the largest draught-only, self-distributing microbreweries in the nation, right here in Austin: (512) Brewing Company. With 24 employees, they sell beer throughout central Texas and recently expanded to the Houston and Dallas markets. The couple is committed to producing a high-quality product with low environmental impact, sourcing local, organic ingredients.

Kevin and Sara Brand
From the beginning, Kevin has approached the business as an engineer — leveraging his technical background to dial in his brewing process and ensure that each batch is perfect.

“With brewing beer, there’s a lot of application of engineering theory, which I love,” he said. “There’s a lot of heat transfer — ensuring temperatures are where they need to be, and then crash cooling 3,000 gallons of beer overnight.”

Kevin manages day-to-day operations and oversees the brewing of the company’s four core beers and a variety of rotating seasonal beers. He can often be found on the floor, repairing equipment and tweaking systems.

“When there’s a mechanical problem, I know where to start and how to dig in by using the problem-solving skills I learned in my coursework,” he said.

“When starting the brewery, Kevin had an advantage in that he was familiar with the terminology and theory behind the equipment,” Sara said. “He wasn’t intimidated by technical problems and was actively involved in specifying the equipment and designing the systems.”

With a professional background in venture capital and management consulting, Sara helped develop the company’s business model and continues to advise on strategy as it grows.

The Brands’ partnership began on the Forty Acres, when a fellow mechanical engineering student introduced them while studying for an exam in their thermodynamics class with professor Phil Schmidt.

The couple frequently attended the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s brewery tours at Celis Brewery, an Austin-based brewery that has since closed, which sparked their interest in craft beer. These tours allowed engineering students to witness firsthand the application of technical engineering theories and learn more about the complex mechanical equipment required to brew beer.

“That’s when I realized that beer could be made somewhere besides Belgium, Germany or St. Louis,” Kevin said.

After graduation, the couple moved to San Francisco, where Kevin worked for medical device startups in product manufacturing and design, while brewing beer on the side. Sara earned her master’s and Ph.D. in manufacturing and materials science from UC Berkeley and then worked in management consulting in the semiconductor industry.

“I came back from a business trip to find that he’d taken the shelving out of our refrigerator, and there were just two kegs inside,” Sara said. “So we just started putting produce around the kegs.”

The couple returned to Austin in 2005 and discovered many of the breweries and brewpubs they frequented in college had closed down.

“I was talking about the lack of craft beer available in Austin, and I suddenly saw this huge opportunity,” Kevin said. “We began actively looking into the possibility of starting a company, and all the lights started coming up green.”

“I’m usually the one who is less of a risk taker, but I told him to go for it,” Sara said. “When I looked at the business model and financial plans, it looked too good to be true.”

They founded the company in 2008, and Kevin produced and distributed the beer himself for the first six months. Today, (512) Brewing Company produces approximately 25,000 kegs a year and 15 different beers. A larger facility is currently in development in southeast Austin and will feature a tasting room, in addition to a larger brew house.

The Brands remain close to the Cockrell School community. They frequently host brewery tours for mechanical engineering graduate students, teaching them about the engineering behind brewing and inspiring the next generation of Longhorn business owners. Sara serves on the Mechanical Engineering Advisory Committee and has participated in a number of events that encourage and support women in engineering.

The couple resides in Austin with their two sons, Zachary (8) and Parker (5).

Advancing Health-Care Innovation in Austin

Sara Brand

Harnessing her 20 years of industry experience in business strategy, management consulting and venture capital, Sara Brand is launching True Wealth Innovations, a venture fund that will invest in women-led startups that improve public health and develop clean technologies. She recently left her position as corporate vice president at Applied Micro Devices to return to venture capital, recognizing an opportunity to support companies with innovative solutions that will benefit society.

“This venture combines everything that I love,” Sara said. “My Ph.D. was in green design and manufacturing, and I’ve always been interested in health and healthy living. With Austin’s robust tech community and the Dell Medical School moving in, it is an opportune time to support companies who will drive innovation and make a difference in our community.”

Sara is currently working with the Dell Medical School as Senior Advisor of Health Internet of Things to help redefine the health care system by forming partnerships with Austin’s advanced design and manufacturing talent and the nutrition and wellness communities.

The Engineering Behind Beer Making

View Kevin Brand's explanation of the brewing process on YouTube.