What do you get when you want to talk about craft beer at a wine festival? An audience salivating to hear about brewers’ inspiration and latest brews. Bill Norris, beverage director for the Alamo Drafthouse, hosted a panel of craft brewers. Adam DeBower, co-owner and brewer at Austin Beerworks; Brad Farbstein, owner of Real Ale Brewing Company; and Terry Nance, of Alaskan Brewing Company, discussed their beers and what got them into the industry.
Real Ale, one of Austin’s oldest craft breweries poured 4-Squared, a dry hopped version of its wildly popular Fireman’s Four released for 16th anniversary of the brewery, and Blonde Barleywine Ale, a dry-hopped American and English style ale that is part of the Brewers Cut series.
Norris acknowledge Real Ale’s role as one of the pioneers of the Austin craft beer industry, having started in 1996. He asked Farbstein how business has evolved since he joined the brewery in 1998.
“We have seen the level of interest in craft beer blossom in the last five to seven years and our customers’ knowledge has increased significantly. They know what they want,” said Farbstein. “Our beers were very aggressive for the market in 1996. We made beers for beer drinkers. We realized a few years ago that we were still making the same beers for 15 years and the market was moving on. We have released more than eight new beers in the last three years to provide our customers with new styles. We want to stay current, hence the 4-Squared and Brewers Cut series.”
Austin Beerworks, which is celebrating its second anniversary on May 4, poured its Pearl Snap Pilz, German style lager, cold fermented European hops and Fire Eagle IPA American IPA. “This was the most successful brewery launch I’ve ever seen. You started with four beers and overnight it was in every craft brew bar in town,” said Norris.
DeBower humbly acknowledged their fast success, “I give credit to everyone that came before us and created a lot of demand for craft beer. We have four partners and who each have extensive personal networks. We drink a lot, so we have a lot of relationships with bars and restaurants.”
He credits his love for beer as the reason he entered the business. “I like to work. I like to work hard, and I don’t like to get paid well. I know how to make things work on a shoe string. I used to work eight hours a day and then go to the bar and spend six hours drinking and talking about beer. I realized I didn’t want to do my day job. I just wanted to make beer,” said DeBower.
Alaskan Brewing makes its Texan brothers look downright young. The brewery, which opened in 1986 was just the 16th licensed craft brewery in the U.S. has only just ventured out of Alaska in the last 10 years. The well established northern beer outpost poured Alaskan Amber, its best selling German Alt style beer made with a gold rush recipe and Alaska Freeride APA, which brewed with Cascade, Citra and Centennial hops.
“Brewing in Alaska presents challenges. There are no roads in or out of Juneau,” said Nance. It’s also really damn cold, which can present challenges for brewing. “We generate steam to keep the brewery warm enough to ferment. We call it ‘beer powered beer.’ We use spent grain from the brewing process. We dry it and burn it in our boilers instead of fossil fuels.”
Norris turned the topic to the use of cans, which is beginning to be a more popular choice for craft brewers. Half of the beers served in the session were packaged in cans. Austin Beerworks hasn’t put any beer in glass. Real Ale just installed a canning line and packages with both bottles and cans.
DeBower thinks the stigma that cans are for lower quality beers is starting to fade. “Cans protect beer better,” he said. “Light is the second worse spoiler of beer after oxygen. We need to give our beer a fighting chance by protecting it.”
Farbstein likes the flexibility that cans provide. “We chose to use cans because there was a demand for our product in areas where you can’t take bottles, like the beach, the river or on a boat. It’s a keg that fits in a koozie.”
This story was originally posted in a different format on CultureMap.
Disclosure, I was provided a press pass to cover the festival.