Liberty Tavern reopens with fresh Austin vibe and focus on Texas-made brews and cocktails

I recently wrote about the newly renovated Liberty Tavern for Austin Man magazine. Today I published a follow-up Q&A with the Liberty Tavern general manager, Michael Creecy, on CultureMap Austin. I guess I can’t get enough local craft beer. 

lot of people complain about the “Dallasification” of Austin. Oh how people go on about big oil moneyed, overly made up, aesthetically-challenged Dallasites (or is it Dallasonians?) crossing the border into our city with the reprehensible intent to plow through our “weird.” One only has to go to the Domain to understand just how insidious this threat is to our way of life.

When will it stop? The Hilton Austin just brought in a new general manager from Dallas to run its recently renovated Liberty Tavern. But wait: Dallas transplant Michael Creecy is bringing an Austin focus to a previously non-descript restaurant that was mostly just a breakfast buffet place. Now that’s a twist.

The Liberty Tavern reopened its doors this month with the newly added Austin vibe, which includes a new bar with a menu of seven Austin craft brews out of the 12 beers on tap and 20 bottles. CultureMap had a beer with Creecy to get a feel for the reborn Liberty Tavern, learn what Creecy brings to the table and hear what guests can expect from the new menu.

CultureMap: What brings you to Austin and the Liberty Tavern?

Michael Creecy: I left banking several years ago for a more exciting and dynamic career in restaurants. I love the fast pace and dealing with new customers all the time. I worked at the stylish Neighborhood Services in Dallas under Nick Badovinus, who was nominated for the Outstanding Restaurateur James Beard Foundation Award. He was a great mentor and taught me a lot about having an attention to detail. Every picture must be straight and not a crumb on the floor.

I had a great four-year run with Nick, and then we decided to relocate to Austin because we wanted to raise our son here. The timing was right for Liberty Tavern, and the owners and I met just before the remodeling started. The renovation brings a great new atmosphere with the Texas beer theme, but the bar is still evolving to meet my high standards.

CM: What’s new at the Liberty Tavern?   

MC: The first thing that’s new is the bar. Although it was called “Tavern” before, it didn’t have a bar. We know that people who come to Austin want an authentic taste of what the town has to offer, so we have introduced a menu focused on Austin and Texas-made beer, cocktail and bar food.

We have a great bar menu with our Beer Dinner, a roast pork shank served with cheese spaetzle and a flight of Austin beers, as well as Texas inspired dishes like our seafood ceviche made with Tito’s Handmade Vodka. We also have installed three long communal table and 14 high-definition TVs. The vibe is younger and more exciting, particularly with the focus on beer. Our evening crowd has really picked up.

CM: What local beers are you serving?

MC: We have one draft beer tower that is completely dedicated to Texas craft brews like (512) Brewing Pecan Porter, Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap, Real Ale Fireman’s 4, Thirsty Planet Buckethead and Austin Amber, Stash IPA and Saison from Independence Brewery. We also have Hops and Grain Pale Dog in cans, Rahr & Sons Ugly Pug by the bottle and Jester King Noble King and Drink’in the Sunbelt in the 750ml bottles.

The reception for local craft beer has been really good in the past couple of weeks since we reopened. Our guests have loved our emphasis on local beer, have explored a wide selection of beers and have delved into the exotic bottle selection. In fact Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap has been a best seller beating both the traditional big sellers, Bud Light and Blue Moon sales.

CM: What are you most excited about with the newly refurbished Liberty Tavern?

MC: I’m most excited to bring new attention to service to the Hilton Austin; I’m bringing my experience in four-star dining service to the Liberty Tavern. Our staff will pay a lot of attention to aspects of refined service to make sure customers have a good experience.

I’m also excited about introducing new creative ideas from the stand-alone restaurant world, such as unique signature cocktails that change to meet the fast moving desires of guests. I experienced the craft cocktail explosion in Dallas and have a passion for making excellent drinks with Texas spirits.

At the Liberty Tavern, our cocktail menu features Texas spirits like Dulce Vida Tequila, Rebecca’s Creek Whiskey, Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Treaty Oak Rum. We also have a selection of 15 Scotches and 10 small batch bourbons. We plan to refresh the cocktail list seasonally month to match the weather. As soon as we get the first cold snap, we’ll introduce heartier cocktails and heavier beers like stouts.

Liberty Tavern is located in the Hilton Austin downtown on 500 East Fourth St. in between Red River and Neches Streets. The tavern is open from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. daily with a special reverse happy hour from 9:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. featuring $2 off Texas specialty cocktails and beers. Reservations are available by phone (512) 682-BREW (2739), or through Opentable.com.

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Liberty Tavern gets a Texan makeover

Michael Creecy Liberty TavernHotel restaurants are often soulless caverns devoted to conveniently serving captive out-of-town guests unimaginative, substandard grub at highly inflated prices. Until recently, the Liberty Tavern in the Hilton Austin downtown fit that bill. Heck, it wasn’t even a tavern at all. It was known for its expensive breakfast buffet and subpar service for convention goers. That’s all changing with a complete makeover.

The newly renovated Liberty Tavern opened for business this week with one big addition that officially makes it a tavern: It now has a bar. The Liberty will still cater to the hotel breakfast crowd with the typical buffet. In fact, the lunch and dinner menus are standard Hilton fare, but the new bar menu introduces a distinctly Austin focus, with specialty items like seafood ceviche on avocado marble made with Tito’s Handmade Vodka. I went for the Beer Dinner, a manly one-pound hunk of chili-rubbed roast pork shank served with an iron skillet laden with cheesy spaetzle and paired with a flight of five Texas craft beers.

The Texas-themed bar menu and beer-and-cocktail list are the conception of General Manager Michael Creecy, who recently left the upscale gastropub Neighborhood Services in Dallas. He isn’t cut from the corporate Hilton cloth and brings a new focus on Austin’s craft-beer and cocktail scene.

“People come to Austin to get the Austin experience. Austin craft beer is a big part of that experience,” he says.

Creecy plans to meet that expectation with a menu of seven Texas craft brews out of the 12 beers on tap and 20 bottles. One draft beer tower is dedicated to Texas craft brews such as (512) Brewing Pecan Porter, Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap, Real Ale Firemans #4, Thirsty Planet Buckethead, and Austin Amber, Stash IPA and Saison from Independence Brewery. They also carry other local beers in cans and bottles, including Hops & Grain Pale Dog, Rahr & Sons Ugly Pug and Jester King Noble King and Drink’in the Sunbelt. Dog lovers, any time you buy a Hops & Grain or a Rahr & Sons Ugly Pug, Liberty Tavern will donate $1 to Austin Pets Alive.

Creecy was at the epicenter of the craft-cocktail explosion in Dallas, with a strong bent on Texas spirits. He is keeping the Texan theme going at Liberty Tavern with a Texas-based spirits-and-cocktail menu featuring Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Treaty Oak Rum, Dulce Vida Tequila and Rebecca’s Creek Whiskey. Liberty also has a selection of 15 scotches and 10 bourbons, with a focus on small-batch. Not all of the whiskeys are on display, so ask the bartender to show you the good stuff.

The folks at Liberty Tavern hope to attract out-of-towners hankering for an authentic Texan experience, as well as thirsty locals. While elements of the bar are decidedly masculine, Creecy says, “This is a good place to bring a date to watch a game. We have some cocktails specifically geared toward women, like the Lady Bird, made with Tito’s Vodka, St. Germain, Prosecco and blackberry puree, and the French 75 and Liberty Lemonade.”

Hotel restaurants aren’t always noted for excellent service. Creecy brings four-star-dining sensibilities to the Liberty Tavern and is putting a big emphasis on proper service.

“Timing is essential to a good experience,” he says. “Our servers will pay a lot of attention to aspects of graceful service like the placement of items, the timing of drink and meal orders.”

It sounds like good old-fashioned Texas hospitality.

When you go:

  •  Liberty Tavern is located in the Hilton Austin downtown at 500 E. Fourth St. between Red River and Neches streets.
  • Call ahead for reservations at 512.682.BREW (2739), or visit opentable.com.
  • Save a couple bucks on seven Texas specialty cocktails and 15 Texas beers during the reverse happy hour from 9 to 11 p.m.
  • The tavern occasionally books live music and has 14 hi-def TVs with a never-ending supply of sports.
  • Leave your car at home. There is a MetroRail station right outside with trains running every 30 minutes and there is a cabstand in front of the hotel.
  • For more information, visit libertytavernaustin.com.

This story was previously published on Austin Man magazine.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary Beer Dinner and a pint of Thirsty Planet Buckethead IPA. 

What are you drinking?

Wines duke it out at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse Bottle Wars

Flemings  Bottle WarsEvery Friday in September Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Austin and San Antonio is hosting comparative wine tasting sessions called “Bottle Wars” as part of their “Month of Discovery.” Every September, Flemings revises its wine list of 100 wines by the glass and this is a fun way of introducing some of the new choices.
Beautiful wife and I attended the “Pinot Smackdown” on September 7th and had a lot of fun comparing eight wines. Here is my score sheet:

My overall favorite was the Cambria from the Central Coast. I’d buy that again. I enjoyed the format, but whined to myself that I would prefer more Oregon Pinot and some Burgudy from France, but that’s because I’m a snot. The event was attended by wine aficionados and new comers alike. If you are just getting started in wine tasting, this is a fun, no-pressure way to do it.

Bottle Wars are held 5:30- 7:00 pm each Friday this month. Flemings serves light hors d’oeuvres and pairs eight to ten wines in each competition for $25 per person. Here is the schedule for the month.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disclosure: Beautiful Wife and I were provided complimentary tickets to this event.

What are you drinking?

Hops & Grain and Live Oak Brewing introduce “Schlager”

In the mid-90’s I had a thing for Schlitz. I suppose I figured drinking it was cool like hipsters think drinking Pabst is cool today. The biggest difference is that Schlitz is easier to drink. I talked my corner wine shop into carrying 12-packs of it in cans despite their haughty objections that their customers preferred craft beer and fine wine. I even put a Schlitz beer tap in my car as the gear shifter.

It turns out I’m not the only person with an affinity for Schlitz.

This Saturday, September 15th, the good folks at Hops & Grain and Live Oak Brewing Company are throwing an East Side Brewery Backyard Party starting at noon at the Hops & Grain. The highlight of the party will  be the tapping of their latest collaboration beer, a Classic American Premium Lager they are calling Schlager. They will have some brats and dogs hot off the grill and will have the beer pong table at the ready. Entry is $5 and they warn that capacity is limited. The party will roll until the last keg runs dry.

What does this have to do with Schlitz? According to Josh Hare, the brewer at Hops & Grain, it is the inspiration for Schlager and its name. He says,”The name comes from a combination of ‘Schlitz’ and ‘Lager’ to represent the inspiration behind the beer and the American institution that is adjunct lagers.”

The inspiration for Schlager predates my mid-90’s Schlitz binge and the recipe is based on the premium American adjunct lagers of the 50’s and 60’s.  “I mean let’s be honest, they didn’t call Schlitz ‘the beer that saved Milwaukee’ for nothing.  We basically took the process and techniques from some of Americas oldest breweries and paired it with modern high-quality ingredients and technological advancements,” says Hare. Really, two of the most venerable craft brewers in Austin are trying to recreate Schlitz?!?! No Shitz!

“What were we going for? To create a beer that is everything you would expect from Schlitz with an added dose of artistry and craft.  We came up with the recipe as a statement to what craft beer can stand for.  It doesn’t have to be highly hopped and incredibly boozy to turn peoples heads and let’s face it, everyone makes a Pilsner,” says Hare.
This is the second collaborative brew from Hops & Grain. In this one, the brewers from Live Oak contributed their expertise in lager brewing and Hops & Grain foot the bill for ingredients, manpower and the brewing facilities.  Hare tells me, “The guys from Live Oak also contributed a 12 pack of Schlitz and a big bucket of fried chicken, purely for inspirational purposes.”
The recipe uses 20 percent flaked corn and 80 percent Bohemian floor malted barley and 100 percent European noble hops throughout.  Hare described it as an easy drinking beer, “with a lingering bitterness letting you know that it’s more than just ‘triple hops brewed’.”
If you want to taste it to see how good a the Schlitz remix is, you better get to the Backyard Party this Saturday because they plan to serve all of it there and won’t be selling any of it around town.  Who knows, maybe they will do it again.

A Texas winemaker in Spain: Russell Smith’s Mediterranean journey

When I was a kid I used to make tiny worlds in a shoe box. I guess dioramas were a popular thing for Midwestern kids to make in the 1970s. I would populate my model worlds with paper mache hills covered with green colored saw dust grass, aluminum foil streams, popsicle stick trees and plastic dinosaurs.

The landscapes always resembled my real world, but the creatures and activities were always exotic. It was my first foray into traveling to far off foreign lands, even if it was only in my imagination. The desire to experience places that were somewhat similar, yet completely unfamiliar was in me at an early age.

That wanderlust is deep in lots of people. Russell Smith, the former winemaker at Becker Vineyards is one of those people.

I met Smith in July at a public pool in the tiny village of El Molar in the Montsants wine region located in eastern Spain, about two hours south of Barcelona. He was leaning back in his deck chair, a glass of Estrella Damm draft cerveza lazily tucked into his hand, a rumpled fisherman’s hat shading his eyes from the mid-day sun.

He was flanked by his partner, Susan Halseth, who traveled with him from Austin. Smith had the ease of a man on vacation, but this was no vacation. He was there to work. The pool was a short walk from his recently purchased old-vine Cariñena (also known as Carignan) vineyards.

Smith and Halseth had only been in Spain for about a week, and he was reveling in the beauty of the region and relaxed way of life. “This is a dream. I’m as happy as I can be,” he said. “It’s in the top 10 percent of best climates for grape growing and I love the little villages and the people. Everyone is so nice here.”

His dream has been long in the making. Smith first visited Spain right after college in the 1970s and absolutely fell in love with the country. The dream stayed alive and evolved with each stage in his career in the wine industry. He interned at a winery in Germany, worked at Joseph Phelps Vineyards and Flora Springs in Napa Valley, made wine at a small Texas winery and had a successful 13 year run as the winemaker at Becker Vineyards.

In that role, he increased the production from 11,000 cases to more than 85,000 cases. With his skills honed through years of practice, it was time to try his hand at doing the familiar in a far off foreign land.

There is no doubt Smith has extensive winemaking experience, but the odds are against him. What in the hell does a Texan know about Spain? Translating his work with grapes grown in the High Plains of Texas to a completely different world in Spain won’t be as easy to translate as recreating his world in a diorama shoe box.

The soil is calcareous clay as powdery as flour, and holds water much better than the sandy loam of Texas. His new vineyards lie at about 1,000 feet in elevation, 20 miles inland from the Mediterranean. The land gently slopes down to the Ebro River that snakes its way to the sea. The Mediterranean climate is more temperate than the continental climate of Texas.

Helping Smith translate his Texan drawl and wine know-how to Catalan language and Spanish winemaking is where Sumpta Mateos comes in. She is his muchachas-guías. Mateos, a professor of enology at Rovira i Virgili University in the province of Tarragona, is serving as his vineyard management and winemaking consultant in Spain as Smith embarks on a new adventure in life.

We walked the rows of 40 and 60-year-old gnarled Cariñena vines jutting out of the cake-mix dirt, like Texas cedar fence posts topped with tufts of green leaves and green grapes. As we walked, Mateos explained, “Grape-growing knowledge has been passed down for generations in this rural community. Some of that information is good and some of it is useless fiction.”

That’s where her degree in enology (the science and study of all aspects of wine and winemaking) and viticulture (the study of the cultivation of grapes) comes in handy. It’s not enough to know that the cool evenings mean that the grapes will mature with good acidity. You have to know exactly when to pick those grapes to get around 24 to 25 Brix and 3.5 to 4 pH to make the best quality wine. That know-how is the mezclarse of science and insight passed down for generations.

Smith intends to produce about 760 cases of red and white wine with the grapes grown in his vineyards and sourced from neighboring vineyards this year and next. The plan is to sell the wine primarily in the U.S. and possibly some in Germany in 2014.

Fast forward to September: Smith is still in good spirits in the midst of harvest. “Everything here is going as well or better than I had hoped.” He harvested a one hectare vineyard of 14 year-old, pristine, organic Garnatxa (aka Grenache) in a neighboring village on Labor Day. He is harvesting his own Cariñena this week. I guess a Texan can make it as a wine grape grower in Spain.

He and Halseth also enjoy the daily life as much as they expected. “I´ve spent a fair amount of time in Spain over the years. The lifestyle here in rural Cataluña suits us perfectly. All the folks in El Masroig have been friendly and welcoming in spite of our rudimentary castellano. Our greatest frustration is the language, since many people here prefer to speak Catalan. As soon as the grapes are in, I plan to really bear down on my language skills.”

While it appears that Spain and Smith are getting along well, we will have to wait a couple of years to judge whether his winemaking skills have fared as well in the new environment. I sampled three of Mateo’s wines, giving me an idea of the quality of wine that she and Smith may produce.

The Don Ferranti Tinto, a blend of Tempranillo, Garnatxa and Cariñena; Don Ferranti White, a blend of white Garnatxa and Macabeo and Don Ferranti Oaked, white Garnatxa aged in French oak barrels, were all approachable and enjoyable wines. If Smith’s yet-to-be-named wines are as easy-drinking and food-friendly, he should sell out the small lots immediately.

Sometimes after being in a place that is unfamiliar, we long for home. He says, “We really miss our friends and family but try to stay connected through Skype and email. Also, speaking of home, I could really dig a plate of Polvos’ enchiladas right now.”

He and Halseth will return to Austin temporarily in November before heading back to Spain for another growing season, harvest and bottling of his Spanish wine. I expect in his second season, there will be fewer things unfamiliar for this Texan winemaker in Spain.

This article previously ran on CultureMap.

What are you drinking?

AUSTIN’S TOP DRAFT PICKS

In Austin, we can always count on hot weather and hot and spicy food. Nothing cuts through the acrid scorch of thirst on a hot Texas day and the sear of a jalapeño quite like a cold beer. Fortunately, we’re blessed with an abundance of local craft brews and places dedicated to serving them up cold. The craft-brew mania gripping the country is alive and well in Texas. We’re enthusiastic about drinking locally made brew, which is evident in Austin’s booming beer business. An economic study commissioned by the Texas Craft Brewers Guild shows explosive growth in the number of independent Texas craft brewers, growing from 52 in 2010 to 78 in 2011. Those brewers have almost doubled the number of barrels of beer they produced in the same period. The Austin beer scene is certainly hot. The city now boasts 14 craft breweries—10 of which are new in the past two years—as well as numerous brew pubs and taprooms to slake our thirst for local brew.

BREWERIES

Austin Beerworks Austin Beerworks
3009 Industrial Terrace, suite 150
Austin Beerworks took the town by storm with its first batch of kick-ass beer, distinctive branding and plucky wit in April 2011. Founded by four partners—Michael Graham, Will Golden, Adam DeBower and Mike McGovern—the microbrewery is cranking out kegs and cans at a mad pace trying to meet demand for its highly drinkable brews.

“Our beer is currently only available in Austin. People are drinking it faster than we can make it,” Graham says.

Austin Beerworks typically brews more than 4,500 gallons a week and has new equipment on the way that will allow the business to almost double the output of kegs and cans. The company makes four year-round brews, including the Black Thunder German-style Schwarzbier, Fire Eagle American IPA, Peacemaker Extra Pale Ale and Pearl-Snap German-style Pils. The Peacemaker is not only a match for our discerning Austin taste buds, but it also passed muster with the expert palates at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival, winning a silver medal a scant four months after it was introduced. In addition, Austin Beerworks makes seasonal brews every two months. This October, the company will remake Battle Axe Imperial Red Ale, the first seasonal it’s ever released.

Tours: Periodic happy-hour tours provided. Check austinbeerworks.com for tour availability.
How to get it: Austin Beerworks beers are available at about 175 locations in Austin only, on tap at local bars and restaurants, and in cans in local retail outlets.

Celis Brewery
Christine Celis, the daughter of local brewer Pierre Celis, is reopening the family business and using the original recipe to make Belgian beers. The timing of the opening is yet to be determined, but Austinites will soon be able to enjoy the Celis White, Celis Pale Bock, Celis Grand Cru and Celis Raspberry that made this Austin brewery a local legend in the 1990s. The reestablished brewery will start with three year-round beers and one seasonal, and plans to add other beers in a later phase. Celis acquired the family brand name from the now defunct Michigan Brewing Company, which had purchased the name from the Miller Brewing Company after it had previously acquired the Celis Brewery. The reborn brewery will use a combination of older and newer equipment from the U.S. and Europe. Celis hopes to bring back the original copper kettles that were once used in the first Celis brewery.

Tours: Once open, Celis Brewery plans to offer tours and beer tastings.
How to get it: Celis will be available on tap and in bottles in bars, restaurants and retail outlets in Austin.

Hops & Grain Hops and Grain Brewing Co.
507 Calles St.
Josh Hare opened his microbrewery in October 2011 and demand for the beer has already necessitated an expansion of the facilities and the addition of new recipes. Hops and Grain is tripling the capacity to about 4,000 barrels and added an automated canning line, making it possible to move from all kegs to packaging 95 percent in cans. The current two year-round beers— Alt-Eration, a Dusseldorf-style Altbier; and Pale Dog, American pale ale—have been received enthusiastically. Alt-Eration won a gold medal at the 2012 World Beer Cup international beer competition just three months after it was introduced. The success is leading to the addition of several new beers.

“We have a third year-round beer coming out in the fall: The One They Call Zoe, a pale lager named for our Papillion dog. It’s an easy, smooth beer, like a Vienna lager with a pilsner finish,” Hare says.

The company also just opened a barrel room to make six beers in French wine and bourbon barrels called the Volumes of Oak series. Hare will introduce another series called Volumes of Funk, a sour beer line, in late fall.

Tours: The brewery and taproom with eight different beers on tap are open every Friday from 2 to 6 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 4 p.m.
How to get it: Draft is available at Austin restaurants and bars, and cans are available at Whole Foods, H-E-B and other retail outlets.

Jester King Black Metal StoutJester King Craft Brewery
13005 Fitzhugh Road
The unconventional craft brewery started turning heads when it released highly acclaimed barrel-aged brews in late 2010. Jester King has continued to capture attention as it tinkers with its five year-round brews, including Le Petite Prince, Nobel King, Wytchmaker Rye IPA, Black Metal Imperial Stout and Mad Meg, as well as for its eight inventive limited-production beers. (The company will soon bring back Commercial Suicide with a tweaked recipe.)

Jester King brews exclusively with farmhouse yeast, wild and native yeasts. All of its beers are naturally cask-conditioned, which takes two to three months to achieve the authentic to the farmhouse style. The brewers are working on about 15 small-batch beers, including sour barrel-aged beers like Funk Metal, which is a sour Black Metal blended with pure brettanomyces yeast. The brewery has doubled capacity in the past year and plans to continue to expand.

“Our motto is to brew what we like, drink what we want, offer the rest to those who want it. Why would we want to make beers that everyone else is making?” Brewer Ron Extract says.

Tours: The tasting room is open every Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m., with tours at 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
How to get it: Jester King beers are on tap in Austin restaurants and bars, and in several styles in 750-ml bottles at local retailers.

Live Oak Brewing Co.
Corner of Fifth and Allen streets
A stalwart of Austin craft brewing, Live Oak Brewing was started in February 1997 by Chip McElroy and Brian Peters. Live Oak is well-known for its Old World German and Czech-style beers, including its award-winning four year-round beers: Pilz, a Czech Pilsner; Big Bark Amber Lager; Hefeweizen and Liberation Ale. Live Oak also introduces new seasonal brews each quarter. While the Hefeweizen is wildly popular throughout town, the Live Oak Primus snagged a silver medal in the 2012 World Beer Cup. The brewery cranks out 6,500 barrels a year, all on draft with plans for bottling in the works.

“We will be building a new brewery soon and that will increase capacity and incorporate packaged beer as well,” McElroy says.

Tours: Available twice monthly on Saturdays. Check the website for the schedule and sign up ahead of time.
How to get it: On tap and in bars and restaurants in Central Texas, in to-go growlers from Whole Foods Bar Lamar and soon to be released in bottles.

Real Ale Brewing Co.
OK, so it’s not exactly in Austin and you may not even think of it as a microbrew because of the phenomenal success of the omnipresent flagship ale, Firemans #4, but this Blanco-based brewery still makes the list. Founded in 1996 by Philip and Diane Conner, Real Ale is one of the oldest breweries in the area, and with a capacity of 72,000 barrels (almost a million cases) a year, it is definitely one of the biggest. The company just introduced a new canning line to offer additional packaging choices. Real Ale brews six year-round brews, including the Full Moon Pale Rye Ale, Lost Gold IPA, Brewhouse Brown Ale and ESB. It also makes two seasonal brews each quarter, such as Phoenixx Double ESB and Devil’s Backbone Tripel. The real showstoppers are in the experimental barrel-aged MysteriumVerum series, which includes WT3F?!, a tripelwort fermented exclusively with brettanomyces bruxellensis yeast and The Kraken, a Sisyphus barley wine aged for 11 months in American and French oak.

Tours: The tasting room is open on Fridays from 2 to 5 p.m., with tours starting at 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.
How to get it: Real Ale beers are widely available throughout Austin on tap and by the bottle.

Thirsty Planet Brewing Co.
11160 Circle Dr.
Brian Smittle fell in love with beer while studying politics in the U.K., and earned his stripes brewing beer for almost 20 years in Colorado and Oklahoma. He chose to move to Austin after falling in love with the city during a Craft Brewers Conference. Thirsty Planet started rolling out the first keg in June 2010. Its three year-round brews— Buckethead IPA, Yellow Armadillo Wheat and Thirsty Goat Amber—are highly drinkable in the Texas heat. The company also offers special and seasonal beers like the Silverback Pale Ale, Jittery Monk and Franklin Smoked Porter. Last year, Thirsty Planet cranked out 16,000 barrels and it is brewing full tilt with the expectations of doubling the production this year. That increase in capacity isn’t keeping up with demand in thirsty Austin, so the Planet is having four fermentation tanks made. In addition, Thirsty Planet recently purchased a pre-owned Italian bottling machine with plans to sell 12-ounce six packs of all three year-round beers and 22-ounce bottles of specialty beers in local stores.

Tours: Each Saturday. Visit the website to get a ticket.
How to get it: Drafts are available at finer bars and restaurants in the Austin metro area.

OTHER NOTABLE AUSTIN BREWERIES

(512) Brewing Co., 407 Radam, suite F200
Adelbert’s Brewery, 2314 Rutland Dr., suite 100
Circle Brewing Co., 2340 W. Braker Lane, suite B
Independence Brewing Co., 3913 Todd Lane
Rogness Brewing Co., 2400 Patterson Industrial Dr., Pflugerville, TX
South Austin Brewing Co., 415 E. St. Elmo, unit 1D
Twisted X Brewing Co., 3200 W. Whitestone Blvd., C1, Cedar Park, TX

BREW PUBS

Draught House PubDraught House Pub and Brewery
4112 Medical Parkway
This iconic Austin brew pub opened in 1968 and will be celebrating its 44th anniversary in October at the 2012 Texas Craft Brewers Festival. Brew Master Josh Wilson has been brewing since 1994 and has brewed hundreds of recipes during the years using traditional and interesting ingredients like mesquite flowers and ground mesquite beans in his brews. The Draught House serves five of his house beers that change seasonally. Right now, Wilson is brewing a Bavarian-style hefeweizen with a ton of hops. The Draught House also has 70 beers on tap and cask, and has an additional 20 beers, including gluten-free and Belgian, in bottles. Wilson selects the lineup to support local brewers, represent the best American craft beer and to offer as many styles as possible. The lineup includes several Texas craft beers, seasonal and special releases, brewer’s reserve and small-batch beers. The Draught House keeps things fresh by varying the beer menu and changing out about a dozen taps weekly. The mix of its beers and selection of guest taps earned the Draught House a spot on “America’s 100 best beer bars: 2012,” chosen by Draft Magazine.

Uncle Billy’s Brew & Que

1530 Barton Springs Road and on Lake Travis at 6550 Comanche Trail
Whether you are looking for a decent place to eat with great beer and fantastic views of Lake Travis or just south of downtown, Uncle Billy’s is your spot, serving finger-sucking-good barbeque and award-winning craft brew. Brew masters Amos Lowe and Brian “Swifty” Peters brew seven beers at both locations, regularly rotating two or three beers. The beer menu is dominated by light, hoppy beers made with Belgian yeast like Bottle Rocket Lager Axe Handle Pale Ale and Hop Zombie. Last year, Bottle Rocket Lager garnered a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival. Uncle Billy’s brews 1,200 barrels at Barton Springs and 900 barrels at Lake Travis, and has the space to ramp capacity over time. The pub serves a few local beers on guest taps and has bottled beer as well.

Black Star Co-Op
7020 Easy Wind Dr., Midtown Commons, suite 100
This isn’t an average brew pub. No sir. This co-operative was started when Steven Yarak had an idea to start a neighborhood brew pub owned by the neighborhood. He gathered like-minded individuals with the panache and know-how to brew beer and operate a business. Members ponied up the money and started brewing the beer that they wanted to drink. It is reportedly the first cooperatively run and owned brew pub in the world. Born in April 2006, Black Star brews 15 rational and irrational beers and serves several other local beers on guest taps that rotate regularly.

North by Northwest (NXNW)
10010 N. Capital of Texas Hwy.
Patterned after a Pacific Northwest lodge, NXNW serves a full menu with steak, grilled duck and cedar-plank salmon. While the food is tasty, the beer is the star, with a prominently displayed grain silo and six house-made brews on tap. The Barton Kriek brought home a bronze in the Belgian-style lambic category at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival. Brew Master Don Thompson augments the menu with eight seasonal and special beers that are rotated regularly. Special cask-conditioned beers are featured on Cask Night, the last Monday of every month.

Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co.
(coming soon)
The award-winning brewers at Uncle Billy’s, Amos Lowe and Brian “Swifty” Peters, are departing to start their own brewery, slated to open in January 2013. The South Austin brew pub will serve hand-crafted pizza and beer on 10 taps in a music-hall-style beer garden.

“We’re going for the Armadillo World Headquarters vibe with New York-style pizza like Home Slice,” Peters says.

The brewers will make several varieties of beer with a mainstay lineup of pilsner, pale ale and IPA. They plan to have a small canning line to sell their beer off premise. The owners are shooting for a location at Lamar Boulevard and Oltorf Street.

TAP ROOMS

Whip In
1950 S. IH-35
Don’t let the deceiving look of a convenience store on the frontage road of a major interstate highway throw you off. This shop not only offers more than 200 bottled beers to drink on premise or take with you, but it also features 58 special, seasonal and craft beers on tap, wine by the glass and plans to open a craft brewery soon. The South Austin institution, in business since 1986, has an eclectic café menu and a small beer garden to enjoy a drink and live music.

Brew ExchangeBrew Exchange
706 W. Sixth St.
Beer served from 72 taps and 60 more in bottles (with at least 25 local brews) is sold according to the laws of supply and demand at the stocktrading-themed Brew Exchange. Real-time market conditions dictate pricing, allowing you to get some unknown beers at a discount while driving the price of more popular brews higher. Owner Nick Adams paired a unique software program that interfaces with cash registers to create stock-market price fluctuations on the huge selection of beer for a distinctive experience.

Black Sheep Lodge
2108 South Lamar Blvd.
The patio on South Lamar is always packed with hipsters and beer drinkers chowing on burgers and washing them back with a good selection of beer. Black Sheep boasts 26 beers on tap and 130 bottled selections with a great lineup of local brews. It’s a great place to catch a game on one of the 20 TVs mounted inside.

Banger's Sausage House Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden
79 and 81 Rainey St.
Ben Siegel thinks of his new addition to the Rainey Street District as an American beer hall with the feel of a traditional German biergarten but without the pretense. The casual beer garden has communal seating at long tables made from reclaimed bar wood, liter beer steins, artisanal sausage and live music played in a spacious outdoor setting. Siegel aims to make Banger’s one of the best beer bars in the country with a knowledgeable staff and corpulent beer selection. The staff is required to pass the level-one Cicerone beer certification to be able to help customers make informed beer choices. It has one of the largest tap walls in the state with 103 beers on draft, more than half of which are dedicated to Texas craft brews. Banger’s has many German-style lagers and Czech-style pilsners that go really well with the 30 varieties of sausage made in-house. Banger’s offers everything from a classic Bratwurst with sauerkraut to fried-chicken sausage made with chicken thighs wrapped in chicken skin, soaked in buttermilk and fried.

Billy’s on Burnet
2105 Hancock Dr.
Billy’s is a family-friendly joint run by local beer icon Billy Forrester. The beer menu features 28 brews on tap ranging from the mundane Miller Lite and Lone Star to stand-out local, seasonal brews. It also carries 25 bottled beers. Billy’s features regular beer specials and hosts beer events on a regular basis. The menu is dominated by inventive burgers like the bad-ass cobra jalapeño bacon cheeseburger and an ample vegetarian lineup with more than a dozen dishes.

AUSTIN DREAM SIX PACK

With so many good beers made in Austin, it’s damned difficult to pick the best, but a panel of five prominent beer bloggers selected their favorites in six main categories.

Meet the Judging Panel:
Aaron Chamberlain, Austin Beer Guide
Chris Troutman, Austin Beer Guide
John Knox, Hop Safari
Lee Nichols, I Love Beer blog
Matt Abendschein, You Stay Hoppy Austin

Pale Ale
These are the copper- and bronze-colored beers that have evolved in to the piney, bitter delight of hop heads throughout the world, particularly in the IPA category. Judges’ selection: Independence Stash IPA. Tasting notes: “Piney hops dominate the scent and flavor, followed by floral and citrus flavors and a hint of sweetness.”

Black/Schwarz
This bottom-fermented German-style lager gets its dark color from oodles of dark roasted malts. It has coffee and chocolate flavors similar to a stout. Judges’ selection: NXNW Okanagan Black Ale. Tasting notes: “The dark color is deceiving. This beer is medium bodied and refreshing with scents of toasted malts, bitter chocolate and nut that marry with bitter coffee and floral hops flavors.”

Stout/Porter
Both beers are robust, malty and dark brown in color. Famed Guinness and others are known for roasted coffee and chocolate flavors. Judges’ selection: (512) Whiskey Barrel Aged Double Pecan Porter. Tasting notes: “This is a dark, bold beer with an intense head. The whiskey barrel aging and locally grown pecans give it roasty, chocolate flavors with a slight nutty bitterness.”

Wheat
Wheat beer differs from other beer in the ample use of wheat malt versus barley malt. The result is a light colored, hazy beer with a thick, long-lasting head. Judges’ selection: Live Oak HefeWeizen. Tasting notes: “Light-bodied, with a crisp, wheat, banana flavor.”

Pilsner
Pilsners are classic golden lagers that are crisp and light. Mass-produced beers like Bud draw on the Pilsner heritage but aren’t true to it. Judges’ selection: Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap Pils. Tasting notes: “Light, crisp and dry with subtle spices, toasty bread and a hint of bitter hops on the finish.”

Belgian
This broad category is typified by strong flavors, strong alcohol (5 to 7 percent) and bottle conditioning. Judges’ selection: Real Ale Devil’s Backbone. Tasting notes: “This Belgian style has rich scents of ripe banana and lush taste of fruit, citrus and cloves followed by light hops.”

2012 TEXAS CRAFT BREWERS FESTIVAL

Oct. 6, 2 to 8 p.m. (noon entry/VIP)
Fiesta Gardens, 2101 Jesse E. Segovia St.
The Young Men’s Business League and Texas Craft Brewers Guild are busily organizing the 2012 Texas Craft Brewers Festival, a day-long festival featuring Texas-brewed craft beer. Emerging and established brewers from throughout the state will bring new and special releases, seasonal offerings and rare beers to delight our taste buds. In addition to the excellent beer, there will be local food vendors, live music and educational sessions. For more information, visit texascraftbrewersfestival.org.

Know before you go:

  • You must be 21 or older to attend.
  • Limited parking in the Fiesta Gardens. Street parking is available in the neighborhood. Ride your bike. There will be plenty of nice racks on site. Of course, taxis will be available.
  • Leave your chairs, coolers, glass and dogs at home.
  • You can bring in water in factory-sealed bottles.
  • Proceeds from the festival benefit Austin Sunshine Camps, which provides education and personal development for economically disadvantaged children.

This story was originally published in the Fall 2012 Issue of Austin Man Magazine. Photos by Kimberly Davis, except the Jester King and Banger’s photos which I took. 

What are you drinking?