Biggest beer bash ever: 120 brews on tap for Texas Craft Brewers Festival

Texas Craft Brewers Festival FanIt seems like there is a new brewery or brew pub opening somewhere in Texas every month. It would be a daunting (but fun!) task to try to visit all of the breweries; fortunately the Texas Craft Brewers Festival will bring 57 of the best brewers in the state together for its biggest event ever.

This year, 120 different beers will be available at the annual event, which takes place at Fiesta Gardens on Saturday, September 27. The festival’s growth mirrors the booming Texas craft beer industry — the Texas Craft Brewers Guild reports that beer production increased 44 percent in 2013 with around 225,000 barrels brewed in Texas.

“One of the big draws of the festival is the opportunity to taste beers that are hard to find or that are made specifically for the event,” says Charles Vallhonrat, executive director of the Texas Craft Brewers Build. “We will feature a Rotating Tap list of 20 special beers that will be poured each half-hour throughout the festival. We’ll publish the list before the event so people can be on the lookout for specific beers. One beer I’m excited about is the Revolver Brewing Fracker Barrel #1, a barrel-aged beer.”

In addition to the special brews, there will be a slew of Indian pale ales, pale ales, sours, saisons, farmhouse ales and a bunch of pumpkin ales to wet your whistle. Local brew pubs (which are now allowed to sell and distribute their beer off premises) that will be pouring at the festival include Black Star Co-op Pub & BreweryKamala Brewing at the Whip In, Oasis Texas Brewing Company and Uncle Billy’s Brewery & Smokehouse.

The beer bash starts at 2 pm and goes until 6:30 pm. General admission tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the gate. That will get you six 4-ounce sampling tokens and a commemorative tasting cup. Extra tasting samples are available for $3 a pair.

The Texas Craft Brewers Festival is put on by the Young Men’s Business League of Austin and the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. Proceeds benefit Austin Sunshine Camps, a nonprofit providing mentorship, education and personal development for high-potential, low-income girls and boys throughout Central Texas.

This story was originally published on CultureMap.

Bitch Beer at the Texas Craft Brewers Festival

What Are You Drinking? 

Beers to go: 3 Texas breweries introduce new canned beers for spring

The  warmer days of spring lure Austinites to the lake, to the green belts and swimming pools around town. All of that fresh air and healthy activity works up a mighty thirst that can only be quenched by a cold beer. Thankfully three Texas brewers — Independence Brewing Co., Hops & Grain Brewing and Spoetzl Brewery, makers of Shiner — understand are introducing new beers in cans suitable for enjoying in the great outdoors.

Independence White Rabbit AleIndependence Brewing Co. introduces its first beer in cans  
Independence Brewing Co. is pulling a new trick out of its hat with the introduction of White Rabbit Ale in cans. This Belgian-style white ale was previously only available seasonally on draught.

“We tested several special release beers last year to see which would be the next we would package based on popularity,” said Independence president and co-founder Amy Cartwright. “People loved White Rabbit and were asking if we would release it as a year-round beer. We knew we had to release it.”

This is the third spring release of White Rabbit Ale, which has evolved from a hybrid-style saison to a traditional-style saison and now to a traditional Belgian-style witbier made with Belgian wit yeast. Head Brewer Brandon Radicke’s current recipe uses orange zest, coriander and peppercorns, along with Nugget and Styrian Goldings hops and Two-Row Pale, White Wheat, Pils and Munich malts.

“We wanted a refreshing beer with creaminess to the body, some fruitiness and a super dry finish,” said Cartwright. “The creaminess is based on the yeast we selected and the orange zest gives it some fruitiness. It’s medium bodied and perfect for drinking in the spring. We will probably have it available from February to August because summer is long in Austin and people want a summer beer for that long season.”

Cartwright acknowledges that packaging Independence in a can is a great way to help people enjoy a cold beer in their favorite outdoor spaces outside, but the decision to introduce cans has a more practical reason.

“We have a four head bottling machine that we bought in 2005 and we abuse it every day just trying to keep up with the production of our regular beers,” she said. “To put out a new beer was hard to do with the limits of our bottling line. We started talking with American Canning, a local company that has mobile canning equipment that they bring right to our site. It is a great way to try out cans without buying the equipment.”

The name White Rabbit ties in with the Independence vibe with a wink and a nod to the free-your-mind ethos of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland. Six-packs of White Rabbit are available for about $11 at the usual places you find Independence Brewing, including Specs, Central Market, Whole Foods and HEB stores in Austin.

Hops and Grain Green House IPAGrab Hops & Grain Greenhouse IPA in cans while it lasts
Recently Hops & Grain Brewery released the second version of its Greenhouse IPA series. In January Hops & Grain released Greenhouse IPA as a year-round beer in a can after experimenting with many recipes for it over the past year. Brewer, Josh Hare, settled on the recipe for the canned version to have plenty of heft from the hops and just a hint of malt flavor.

Greenhouse IPA is unique in an industry known for consistency, because every month Hops & Grain will release a slightly modified version using different hop varieties. The January release featured Mosaic hops and the February release employed dry-hopping of 60 percent Falconer’s Flight hops grown in Washington, and 20 percent Chinook and 19 percent Centennial hops from Oregon.

The beer has a hazy, light caramel color with a full head that lasts a long time. The variety of hops gives it a green, grassy smell with plenty of floral, pine and bread scents. While it’s not an over-powering hop-bomb, it has floral hoppy flavors with citrus and a punch of pine complemented by a hint of caramel from the malt. It’s complex, but still an easy drinker after a long hike.

Hops & Grain is only releasing 300 cases each month — each store receives only 10 cases — so it sells out fast. Greenhouse IPA is also available on draught at just two Austin bars: Star Bar and Haymaker.

Shiner Farm House 966Spoetzl Brewery releases Shiner FM 966 Farmhouse Ale in cans
For the first time, Shiner is introducing its spring seasonal in a can. Shiner FM 966 Farmhouse Ale, made in the style of European seasonal provision farmhouse ales, is an easy drinking beer made to be knocked back in the sun.

Reminiscent of a saison style, FM 966 is made with boiled Sterling Golding hops, with Meridian hops added in the whirlpool and then dry hopped with Meridian. It has an 80/20 two-row malt to wheat ratio.

FM 966 is a good beer for your first tubing trip of the season. It’s got plenty of carbonation to keep you buoyant. The hazy gold brew has fresh floral, orange and bread dough aromas and tastes fruity, grassy and a bit hoppy along with yeast, bready and soft malt flavors.

The FM 966 spring seasonal is available through March at central Austin HEB, Central Market and Whole Foods Markets locations.

Whether you are chilling on your back porch or headed down the river, you have excellent options of Texas beers in cans to take with you.

This story was first published on CultureMap.

What are you drinking? 

Whole Foods Markets brings 45 beer taps to its new Domain store

Whole Foods Market Domain StoreDo you want to go to the grocery store to have a couple beers? Not too long ago that would have been an absurd question. Lately a few stores around Austin have added beer taps to let customers enjoy a pint whether they are buying groceries or not. Whole Foods Markets, which has beer taps in its downtown, Arbor Trails and Bee Caves stores, is opening a new location at the Domain on Wednesday, January 15, 2014, that will have 45 beer taps in its Draft Shack. That’s great news for beer lovers in Austin.

Austin’s fifth Whole Foods Market store will be its second largest in the area with 63,000 square feet and will of course carry the fat selection of natural, organic and locally sourced eats that we’ve come to expect. Like each Whole Foods store, the new location at the Domain will have a unique feel with art pieces by Judy Paul, a cool moss and steel wall installation above the escalator by Articulture, re-purposed wheel barrows hanging above the Wheel barrow mobil at Whole Foods Marketproduce department and neon art in beer ally made by Austin Ion Art.

The artistic touches give it a cozy feel worthy of lingering a bit longer. The draw to linger is enhanced immensely with the Draft Shack, the store’s indoor oyster bar with 45 beers and four wines on tap as well as chargrilled oysters, gumbo and BBQ shrimp. The bar is located adjacent to the wine section. Both the beer and wine selections will rotate regularly with unique selections from new distributors.

Having a big selection of beer on tap gives Whole Foods the ability to sell us local brews that aren’t currently bottled to be available on the store shelves. The taps in Draft Shack will feature local beers from brewers like Austin Beerworks and wine from Duchman Winery. It will also have Abita Root Beer, house-made cold brewed coffee and hard cider from Austin Eastciders.

The Draft Shack isn’t the only place in the new store to chill with a draft beer. In front of the store, the Public Domain has outdoor seating, playground equipment for the rug rats, fire pits and a bad-ass recycled freight train shipping container that has been converted into an outdoor beer and bratwurst bar with four beers and root beer on tap. Dogs are welcome and even invited to “Yappy Hours.” The Public Domain will also have space for live music. Not bad for a grocery store.

Whole Foods Market Draft Shack BarIf you prefer to take your beer home, the Domain store will have 80 feet of beer in coolers. The beer aisle will have a four foot section that features 100 point rated beers. It will also have a selection of gluten free beers and ciders.

Krystal Angelo, the draft beer buyer for Whole Foods Market Domain and Jake Maddux, aka @BeerEvangelist, will host a Google + Hops Hangout on Tuesday, January 14, from noon to noon:30 to talk all things craft beer. This is a great chance to plan out your first beer adventure at the new Domain store.

All of those excellent beverages call for a nosh. Prepared foods will be plentiful in the Domain store. The bakery will have bread from Easy Tiger, fresh tortillas made in-store, a cookie of the, and made in-store bagels and bialys. The seafood department will also roll out do-it-yourself sushi and sashimi. My tour guide, Rachel is a huge fan of the Texas Ramen spot that will make Ramen with a Texas BBQ. There will be plenty of good chow on the hot bars and salad bars.

The store opening celebrations will start with a bread breaking ceremony (a Whole Foods Market version of ribbon cutting) at 7:30 a.m. and the official opening at 8 a.m. The first 500 shoppers in the store will receive a new Austin shopping bags filled with goodies. I wonder if it will include a local beer?

What are you drinking?

Texas Craft Brewers Festival taps booming beer market

“This has never been seen before in Texas,” mused Tim Schwartz, president of the  Texas Craft Brewers Guild and owner/brewer at Real Ale Brewing Company, as he looked around at the 39 Texas craft brewers and a growing crowd of thirsty people at the 2013 Texas Craft Brewers Festival, held at Fiesta Gardens in Austin on September 28. He was referring not only to the growth or the Festival, with 13 new breweries participating this year — up from 28 in 2012 and 18 in 2011 — but also to the vibrant development of the industry.

“We’ve more than doubled the number of brewers coming to this festival in the past few years,” said Schwartz. “That’s because there are a lot of new breweries opening up around the state. There are more breweries in Texas now than there ever have been. The increase in the number of people who drink craft beer has been fueling that growth. We see it at Real Ale. We’ve grown by 30 percent this year and will be producing more than 50,000 barrels.”

Schwartz has data from a recent study by the Texas Craft Brewers Guild to back up his enthusiasm. According to the study, Texas craft brewers produced 42 percent more beer in 2012 than in 2011.  From the looks of the expected sellout crowd of 6,000 at the Texas Craft Brewers Festival, there are enough eager beer drinkers in the state to gulp down all of that brew.

More than 130 local beers were on tap at the festival. Intrepid beer fans sought out the breweries that were new to this year’s festival, including Armadillo Ale Works, Branchline Brewing, Brigadoon Brewery, Buffalo Bayou Brewing, Cedar Creek Brewery, Community Beer, Cycler’s Brewing, Infamous Brewing,  Karbach Brewing, Lone Pint Brewery and Stones Craft Brewing. Clay Wicker, brewer and owner of Cycler’s Brewing, hopes to take advantage of cyclists’ proclivity to down a few pints after a hot ride with his cleverly named beers.

Returning breweries brought special and seasonal beers that aren’t readily found in bars, restaurants and retail shops.Independence Brewing Co. broke out a Muggles Double Cask dry hopped with Galaxy, Live Oak Brewing Co. introduced its Smoaktoberfest, Austin Beerworks tapped its Einhorn, Hops & Grain poured its Greenhouse Baltic Porter and the always inventive Jester King Brewery dazzled with Atrial Rubicide. The biggest crowds queued up for the special tappings that happened throughout the day.

With a mind-numbing variety of beer styles — from Czech, to Belgian, to German, to Texan — there were too many fan favorites to crown one king. A few that garnered audible oohs and aahs were Adelbert’s Brewery Barrel Aged Dancin’ Monks,No Label Brewing Black Wit-O, Pedernales Brewing Lobo Oktoberfest and (512) Brewing Company Whiskey Barrel Double Pecan Porter.

Despite the oppressive humidity early in the day and the sudden downpour in the afternoon, the crowds were in good spirits, luxuriating in barrel after barrel of locally made craft brew. It’s a good time to be a Texan beer lover.



This story was first published on CultureMap.

Disclosure: I was provided a media pass to attend the Festival free of charge. 

What are you drinking? 

Your guide to the best Texas-style Oktoberfest celebrations in Central Texas

One of the best things about having thousands of German immigrants settles in Texas beginning in the 1840s is the proliferation of Oktoberfest celebrations that happen each autumn. Just like the German Oktoberfest, which is held each year in Munich for 16 days from late September through the first weekend in October, our Texan versions of the festival place a strong emphasis on beer and traditional Bavarian food.

The differences between our local festivals and the original Oktoberfest are that Texans don’t stick to the exact dates, nor do we serve only German beer. Here is a rundown of where you can hoist a liter in your lederhosen starting today, September 28 and going straight through November.

Saturday, September 28
Scholz Beer Garden, Saengerrunde Hall
1607 San Jacinto Blvd
Austin, TX
Admission Price: $35.00

In its first year, this Bavarian bash features open taps pouring German beers like Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr and piles of German-style sausage and other eats from Black’s BBQ, Easy Tiger, Frank, Louie Mueller, Meyers Elgin Sausage, Micklethwait Craft Meats, Opa’s, Salty Sow Southside Market, School House Pub and Taylor Cafe. Work off a few calories by dancing to live music from White Ghost Shivers, Possum Posse and Off The Grid. All of this, along with full access to the rooftop biergarten and the bowling alley are included in the price of admission. Proceeds from the event will benefitFoodways Texas.

Texas Craft Brewers Festival
Saturday, September 28
Fiesta Gardens
Austin, TX
Admission Price: $20.00 general admission and $10.00 for designated drivers

While it’s not exactly an Oktoberfest celebration, this is one huge beer party with several Oktoberfest brews on tap. Sure you won’t find beer from Germany, but the Festival’s remarkable 130 beer selection includes several season selections such as Karbach Brewing Karbachtoberfest, Live Oak Brewing Smoaktoberfest, Pedernales Brewing Lobo Oktoberfest, Rahr and Sons Barrel Aged Oktoberfest, Ranger Creek Brewing Septoberfest and Rogness Brewing Rogtoberfest. Leave your dogs and kids at home. Lederhosen optional.

Banger’s Oktoberfest
Saturday, September 21 – Sunday, October 6
Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden
79 & 81 Rainey Street
Austin, TX
Admission Price: Free, with normal pricing for food and beverage

The second annual Banger’s Oktoberfest celebration schedule spans twelve of the sixteen days that our German friends are celebrating in Munich. The Banger’s bash has German food specials, featured local beers and games including chicken-shit bingo, a sausage eating contest, a keg roll, ladder ball and a stein race. The outdoor stage will feature lineup of live music from bands like Urban Achievers and Boxcar Preachers. Join the staff in wearing traditional Bavarian attire like dirndls and those felt hats with feathers. Proceeds from the event will benefit local charities Horse Boy Foundation and Austin Pets Alive!

Fredericksburg Oktoberfest
October 4 – 6
Marktplatz (Market Square) – 100 West Main Street
Fredericksburg, TX
Admission Price: $7.00 per person for a one day ticket and $10.00 for a two day ticket

For three days, the Hill Country hamlet of Fredericksburg converts its market square into a mini Bavarian town replete with oompah bands and food booths serving authentic German treats like sausage-on-a-stick, burgers, potato pancakes, and sauerkraut. To put you in the mood to polka all night, this Oktoberfest has more than 50 varieties German Texas and other beer flowing. The family friendly event includes a Kinderpark with activities like a hi-striker, duck pond, bungee jump, a slide and my personal favorite, Sunshine the Clown.

NXNW Oktoberfest
October 19 – 20
10010 Capital of TX Hwy N
Austin, TX
Admission Price: Free, with normal pricing for food and beverage

Now in its twelfth year, the North by Northwest brewpub’s Oktoberfest will once again roll kegs into the parking lot and bust out a German bash complete with special house-brewed Oktoberfest beer. The chef will whip up classic German food such as bratwurst, sauerkraut, red-cabbage, pretzels and Bavarian cobblers. Family-friendly entertainment such as live traditional German music, dancing, local artists, a bratwurst eating contest and a wiener dog costume contest.

November 1-10
178 Landa Park Dr
New Braunfels, TX
Admission Price: $8 at the gate and additional charges for food, beverage and carnival rides

This one may be the granddaddy of all Central Texas Oktoberfest celebrations. Billed as a “ten day salute to sausage,” Wurstfest is the only local Oktoberfest with a permanent biergarten and facilities dedicated to the annual festival. For the duration of the celebration, there are traditional Bavarian bands playing on three separate stages so there is no chance you’ll miss an opportunity to do the chicken dance. Multiple non-profit organizations and businesses sell German-inspired food from their semi-permanent store fronts and several traditional beers flow from multiple stations throughout the festival grounds. This is definitely a family-friendly event, and kids under 12 are admitted for free. There are also several carnival rides for those who haven’t hoisted too many cups of Spaten Münchner.

This story was first published on CultureMap.

Photos courtesy of the Fredericksburg Oktobergest, Banger’s and Wursftfest. 

What are you drinking?

For the Love of Beer at the Austin Food & Wine Festival

Beer Panel at Austin Food & Wine FestivalWhat 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.”

Beer at Austin Food & Wine FestivalAustin 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.

What Are You Drinking? 

Meet the Tastemakers: 5 of Austin’s top breweries and their award-worthy beers

Craft beer is on fire in the U.S. and passion for local brews is stoked by a growing number of breweries in town. Austin now boasts 14 craft breweries —10 of which are new since 2010 — and with more in the planning stages. Not only do we have more choice, but local beers are winning awards on a national stage.

On Thursday, April 11, the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards will honor five of the top local breweries which were selected by a panel of culinary and beverage experts. Here is a look at the award-worthy nominees and the beers that inspired them to create their current brews.

Austin Beerworks

Austin Beerworks poured onto the Austin scene in April 2011 with its first batch of golden magic sealed in distinctive cans emblazoned with an iconic “A.” Comrades, founders and brewers Michael Graham, Will Golden, Adam DeBower and Mike McGovern are cranking out more than 100 cases an hour trying to meet demand for its highly drinkable brews. (Speaking of demand, sales rose 400 percent in 2012 over the previous year.)

“My dad used to give me sips of Heineken when I was a kid. I hated it. I remember it tasting like I imagined pee would taste. The first beer I really enjoyed was an Oatmeal Stout by Alaskan Brewing Co. The Oatmeal Stout was so different from any beer I’d ever tried — dark, roasty, full-bodied and silky smooth. It really opened my eyes to what a diverse beverage beer can be,” says Graham.

Austin Beerworks 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 has not only built a following among Austin beer lovers, but it also wowed the expert palates at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival, winning a silver medal just four months after its introduction.

“Our beer is currently only available in Austin. People are drinking it faster than we can make it,” Graham states. Austin Beerworks is available in about 175 locations in Austin only: on tap at local bars and restaurants and in cans in local stores.

Hops and Grain Brewing Co.

Hops and Grain Brewing Co. opened its doors at the terminus of East Sixth Street in October 2011, and demand for its beer has already necessitated an expansion of the facilities. The brewery tripled 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.

Running enthusiast turned brewer Josh Hare currently makes three year-round beers, ALT-eration, a Dusseldorf style Altbier; Pale Dog, an American pale ale; and The One They Call Zoe, a pale Vienna lager with a pilsner finish named for Hare’s Papillion dog.

“Our ALT-eration won a gold medal at the World Beer Cup in 2012 and we are incredibly proud of that,” Hare says. “We are also very proud of our third year-round beer that will be released the first week of April, The One They Call Zoe. I don’t take myself very seriously but I take very seriously the art-form that I’ve chosen as a career and we look for consumers that share the same inspiration.”

“The first craft beer that I fell in love with was Dale’s Pale Ale,” Hare continues. “When I lived in Boulder, I had a group of friends that I would rock climb with and, at the time, that was the only quality canned beer we could find. Since the parks and open spaces prohibited glass we had to go for cans, or not take beer with us, which wasn’t really an option! Our Pale Dog resembles Dale’s in that it’s a pale ale and it’s packaged in a can, but the flavors are very different.”

On any given Friday or Saturday, the tap room is packed and the brewery’s events are always crammed with enthusiastic craft beer aficionados and casual drinkers alike. The brews’ success has led to the addition of several new beers. Last year Hops & Grain opened a barrel room to make six beers in French wine and bourbon barrels called the Volumes of Oak series and a sour beer line called Volumes of Funk.

Hops & Grain brews about three different beers every week on its Greenhouse system, which is a three barrel pilot brewery that allows the brewery to continually experiment with new and innovative recipes. Hops & Grain available at 175 Austin bars, restaurants and retail stores like Whole Foods and HEB.

Jester King Craft Brewery

Jester King Craft Brewery started turning heads when it released highly acclaimed barrel-aged brews near Dripping Springs in late 2010. It has continued to capture attention as it tinkers with its year-round brews — Le Petite Prince, Nobel King, Wytchmaker Rye IPA, Black Metal Imperial Stout, Mad Meg and Commercial Suicide — as well as for its ever-changing lineup of limited production beers.

“The first beer I fell in love with was Dogfish Head Raison d’etre. It was the first beer I had with great depth of flavor,” says co-founder Jeff Stuffings. “The beers we brew at Jester King don’t actually resemble a beer like Raison d’etre, however. Our flavors and aromas tend to be less driven by malt and adjunct ingredients and more so by fermentation with a diverse array of organisms that include brewer’s yeast, native wild yeast, brettanomyces and souring bacteria.”

Jester King brews with farmhouse yeast, wild and native yeasts to achieve unique flavors and aromas, and naturally cask-conditions its beers for two to three months for complexity and the authentic farmhouse style. The brewers are currently making 22 small batch beers (and counting), including sour barrel aged beers like Funk Metal, which is a sour Black Metal blended with pure brettanomyces yeast.

“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,” says brewer Ron Extract.

“I think what sets us apart is our use of wild yeasts from the Texas Hill Country that give our beer a unique sense of place. The two beers I’m most proud of are our Funk Metal Barrel-Aged Sour Imperial Stout and RU-55 Barrel-Aged Sour Red Ale. These beers have interesting flavors and aromas and are well balanced and very drinkable in my opinion,” Stuffings remarks.

The Jester King tasting room is open Saturdays from 1-4 p.m., with tours at 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Its beers are mostly packaged in 750ml bottles and sold at local retailers, but it is also available on tap at some Austin restaurants and bars.

Real Ale Brewing Co.

Real Ale is well known beyond the Austin city limits because of the phenomenal success of its flagship ale, Firemans #4. One of the oldest breweries in the area, founded in Blanco by Philip and Diane Conner in 1996, it is one of the largest with a capacity of 72,000 barrels (almost a million cases) a year.

“There wasn’t one moment or beer that led to an epiphany. It was kind of a cumulative effect of inspiration,” says Erik Ogershok, brewmaster and woodmaster general. “Back in the mid-’80s, the beers would have been Spaten Oktoberfest, Paulaner Salvator, Duvel, Chimay, Hoegarden, Young’s, Fuller’s, Sam Smith’s, Anchor Liberty and Steam, and Sierra Nevada if you were lucky enough to find any of them. The memories of these early experiences live on in the beers we brew.”

The homework of tasting many excellent beers for inspiration has paid off with a lineup of inventive and award-winning beers. Real Ale brews at least 10 beers at any time; eight of them are year-round brews including the Full Moon Pale Rye Ale, Lost Gold IPA, Brewhouse Brown Ale and ESB. Firemans #4 and Hans’ Pils both brought home Silver medals from the 2012 Great American Beer Festival.

It also brews two seasonals each quarter such as Phoenixx Double ESB and Devil’s Backbone Tripel. The experimental barrel-aged Mysterium Verum series is where the brewers show their creative flair. Recent brews include WT3F?!, a tripelwort fermented exclusively with brettanomyces bruxellensis yeast; and The Kraken, a Sisyphus barleywine aged for 11 months in American and French oak.

“If forced to pick a favorite beer, from our regular line up I’ll pick 15th Anniversary Russian Imperial Stout and Hans’ Pils. They were game changers for us. From Mysterium Verum, I’ll pick Imperium and Scots Gone Wild. They were beers that took years to come to fruition and the final product didn’t disappoint. I also like the fact that we were able to incorporate native yeasts in the beer to bring focus to the Hill Country terrior,” says Ogershok.

Real Ale is widely available around Austin: on tap at locations such as Easy Tiger, Draughthouse, Hopfields, Barley Swine and by the bottle in stores such as Whole Foods, HEB, Central Market, Spec’s and Twin Liquors.

Thirsty Planet Brewing Co.

Thirsty Planet introduced its first keg in June 2010. Its beers quickly gained popularity, and it has been brewing at 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.

Owner and head brewer Brian Smittle had been brewing beer for almost 20 years in Colorado and Oklahoma before he chose to move to Austin. He fell in love with beer while studying politics in the U.K. “There was a pub in the basement and naturally I did a lot of ‘studying’ down there. To this day British style beers are my favorites,” says Smittle.

Thirsty Planet makes three year-round brews — Buckethead IPA, Yellow Armadillo Wheat and Thirsty Goat Amber — that are highly drinkable in the Texas heat.

“Our best selling beer, Thirsty Goat Amber, is a medium body beer with a beautiful reddish hue, a malty profile and a light spicy hop finish. This is my favorite beer because it goes great with lots of different food, and it’s a great session beer,” says Smittle.

“Buckethead IPA is a big, aggressive IPA. The beer is 8.75 percent and 82 IBU. We use Magnum, Columbus, Summit and Cascade hops to brew it. Our Yellow Armadillo has a yellow straw color, a crisp tangy wheat taste, and a citrus finish.”

Thirsty Planet also offers special and seasonal beers like the Silverback Pale Ale, Jittery Monk and Franklin Smoked Porter. Its beers are available on draft in 250 bars and restaurants in the Austin area. 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.

If you want to check out the facilities, tours are offered each Saturday starting in the spacious tasting room.

The 2013 Tastemaker Awards takes place Thursday, April 11 at The Driskill. Tickets are available now. 

This story was originally published on CultureMap. All photos by Bill Sallans.

Disclosure: I am a CultureMap Tastemaker Award Judge.

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Craft Pride Brings Texas Craft Beer to Rainey Street

Craft Pride on Rainey StreetJust when you thought that every beer-soaked square inch of Rainey Street was occupied by a bar, another one squeezes into the scene. The newest entrant to the red hot bar district is Craft Pride, a Texas tap room that will start pouring craft brews at its grand opening on Thursday, February 28.

Husband and wife team JT and Brandy Egli are introducing 54 taps and two cask engines all pouring Texas-made craft brews in a remodeled house at 61 Rainey, next to Javelina.

It takes a little more than a big selection of beer to draw attention among the bars on Rainey Street, something that this team knows well. The Eglis designed Craft Pride with serious attention to detail, aspiring to make it the perfect beer den for Texas craft brew lovers.

“One thing absolutely necessary is for people to be comfortable. All the seats inside are cushioned. Even the big octagon outdoor picnic tables are comfortable,” says Brandy. Craft Pride will offer table service on its back patio and all bar service inside and on the front porch. The back patio also sports two stages for live music.

Craft Pride owners Brandy and JT EgliOf course the real draw is the beer, with a regular rotating supply of staples from 18 Texas breweries as well as seasonal and special beers. “We will serve proper pours in proper glassware. Craft Pride is using 20 ounce Imperial pint style glasses so we can pour a 16 ounce beer and leave room for a two-inch head,” JT says. “It’s a Texas sized pour. It looks great and lets you smell the beer. And we are offering flights of five four-ounce pours. Most places only give you four pours. Ours are Texas sized flights.”

The beer-focused design also extends to the cooler and a new draft system that features short lines from the cooler right behind the tap wall, so the beer is as fresh as possible from the keg to the glass. They redesigned the old house with the intent of getting as much beer as possible in the space by building up instead of building out.

“I think we may have the only two-story walk-in beer cooler in the country. It lets us get more beer and keep more space to accommodate guests,” JT explains.

In addition to the large selection of beer on tap, Craft Pride will also sell beer to go in its retail space called Bottle Shop. While the taps are all Texas, Bottle Shop will carry some non Texas beers like domestic IPAs and Belgian Ales.

Chris Booth, a Cicerone Certified beer expert formerly of Black Star Co-op and Bangers will make sure Craft Pride has a constant supply of the very best craft beers, while keeping service up to snuff. “We are fortunate to have Chris. He is committed to serving the absolute best beer and taking care of customers,” JT says.

Craft Pride will have 54 beers on tap and 2 cask enginesTo soak up all of those suds, Reid Reynolds, owner of Bacon Restaurant, will have a Bacon Bus parked in the back serving an ever changing menu with several items from the restaurant. Burgers, chicken and waffles, as well as a full family of pork — pulled pork, pork belly and pig wings — will be served alongside healthier options like salads, a black bean burger and grilled cheese. “Who doesn’t want to drink great beer and eat great bacon?” Reynolds asks.

The name Craft Pride reflects the couple’s love of all things craft, beyond just beer. The design of the bar reflects their appreciation of hand-crafted elements, using unique materials and architectural elements. The main bar, side bars and some tables are made from one monstrous Live Oak branch. All of the long leaf pine and curly pine on the interior wall is made of wood from the original house.

There is even a hand-made light fixture in the shape of an alpha acid molecule, the agent in hops that gives beer is edgy bitterness. “Architect Ryan Reynolds Design did a great job incorporating the original space with the feel we were looking for. The Historical Society even approved of it,” says JT.

For the grand opening on February 28, Craft Pride will be tapping special kegs and casks from (512) Brewing Co.Adelbert’s BreweryAustin BeerworksDeep Ellum Brewing Co., Hop’s & GrainJester King Craft BreweryRanger Creek and Real Ale Brewing Company.

Craft Pride plans to host new brewery launch parties as well “Meet the Brewers” nights soon after opening.

This story was first published on CultureMap.

What are you drinking? 

Going bananas: Third annual Gorilla Run 5k returns to the streets of Austin this weekend

Drinking Thirsty Planet Beer at the Gorilla Run 5k
Photo by © Justin Lee Bradshaw

This coming Saturday, the streets of Austin will be overrun with hundreds of gorillas grunting and beating their chests. No, it’s not a remake of the campy ’70s flick, Planet of the Apes, it’s the third annual Gorilla Run, a 5K fun run where all participants wear gorilla suits.

The Gorilla Run is more than just a typical 5K race, and not just because people will be running in full suits of fur. I like to think of it as a triathlon of sorts with three important components: running, supporting a good cause, and beer drinking. The event is held to raise money for the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund (MGCF), an international charity working to save the endangered mountain gorillas in Uganda.

And at the run’s end, participants are greeted with a cold Silverback Pale Ale made by event sponsor Thirsty Planet Brewing.

“The event got started in Austin as an extension of the Gorilla Run in Denver. It’s been going on for eight years in Denver. Austin has a reputation for both fitness and fun, so we knew it would be a good fit for the city. Now Austin may overtake Denver in popularity with more than 1,300 expected to run this weekend,” says Jon Partridge event co-director.

That means there will be more gorilla-suited runners in Austin than actual mountain gorillas in the world. The current mountain gorilla population is estimated to be about 880. “Since the conservation fund has been up and running, the numbers of gorillas in the wild has tripled. Hopefully with more support it will continue to get better and better,” says Partridge.

Photo by © Justin Lee Bradshaw

Actual gorillas can run in short bursts up to 20 miles per hour, but only for about 20 yards on their hind legs. The elite runners at the head of the pack would have no trouble beating them in this race.

Partridge explains it’s the mix of seriousness and silliness that makes the race unique. “The race is timed with official numbers and finishing spots. Some people take the Gorilla Run very seriously. It’s hilarious to see someone dressed in a gorilla suit running with determined speed. While you can race it, it’s more about raising awareness and having fun.

“Last year we had people on roller blades, skateboards and even a pedicab. The race starts with guys from Thirsty Planet Brewery dashing off on bikes dressed as huge bananas and hundreds of gorillas chase them down the street. It’s quite a sight.”

Austin borrowed the tradition of having a brewery as a main sponsor from the Denver race. The Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver made the original Silverback Pale Ale to raise additional money and awareness for the MGCF.  Thirsty Planet Brewing brewed about 70 kegs of Silverback Pale Ale this year to sell at 20 bars around Austin and to serve after the race.

Thirsty Planet slightly altered the original recipe, but brews Silverback with the same special ingredient, Grains of Paradise, which is an important part of the gorilla’s natural diet in Africa.

“Having the brewery involved is a fun way to get people involved who might not want to do the run. Along with my event co-director, Tammy Smittle [wife of Thirsty Planet Brewing’s founder Brian Smittle], the brewery is doing awareness building events like a pub crawl to call attention to the goals of the event,” says Partridge.

Event participants are encouraged to donate and raise money for the MCGF, and based on the amount they raise, they are eligible to win prizes. Last year the Austin event raised more than $60,000 for the cause and they are aiming to raise up to $80,000 this year.

Proceeds from the Austin Gorilla Run will help support the construction of a new Wildlife Veterinary Education facility at Makerere University in Uganda. Students taught at the facility go on to help protect Africa’s struggling wildlife.

Registration is still open for the Gorilla Run. Your entry fee of $110 (for first time adults) includes a gorilla suit that you get to keep afterwards, race participation and an after party with live music, beer and beverages, food vendors and an awards ceremony.

Packet and gorilla fur pick-up will be held Tuesday, January 15 at RunTex on W. Riverside, Wednesday at The Tavern, Thursday at Hopfields, Friday and Saturday at RunTex.

This story was originally published on CultureMap.

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Getting wild at Uncle Billy’s

Uncle Billy's Wild Game Brewer's Dinner Uncle Billy’s Brew & Que is well known for its its excellent craft beer. It’s notoriety grew when Hell In Keller Pilsner won gold in the 2008 Great American Beer Festival. Their beer street-cred just got a big bump with another gold for the Bottle Rocket Lager at this year’s GABF.

Being a BBQ joint, they are not well know for their haute cuisine. They’ve always got a good selection of smoked goods, but you’d never confuse them with a white linen table cloth kind of place.

So what is Uncle Billy’s doing by throwing a five course Wild Game Brewer’s Dinner during the heart of Austin Beer Week? They certainly aren’t going to transform the place into a rival of Hudson’s on the Bend. Nope.

My guess is that they are eager demonstrate that the new brewer, Spencer Tielkemeier, has what it takes to follow in the enormous footsteps of out-going brewer, Brian “Swifty” Peters. Peters is taking his gold medals with him to start the new Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co., which he describes as having an, ” Armadillo World Headquarters vibe with New York-style pizza like Home Slice.”

Tielkemeier worked with Chef Ludlow to create interesting pairings of wild game that bring out the most in their beers. Here is what they served:

  • Course 1: Smoked Texas quail from Broken Arrow Ranch, stuffed with blueberries, fresh sage and orange rind paired with Uncle Billy’s Agave Wit.
  • Course 2: Rabbit consommé made with rabbits from Countryside Farm and plenty of  fresh tarragon, thyme and rosemary paired with Uncle Billy’s Axe Handle Pale Ale. Plenty of bitter hops to go with the rich broth.
  • Course 3: An arugula and spicy micro greens salad topped with fresh berries and Pure Luck local goat cheese paired with the gold medal winning Uncle Billy’s Bottle Rocket Lager. I love this beer and its great with a salad.
  • Course 4: Wild boar loin chops from Black Hill Ranch grilled with a sweet and spicy prickly pear glaze and served with pine nut polenta and greens with bacon. This was a fantastic loin and it went really well with Uncle Billy’s Vienna Lager.
  • Course 5: Vanilla bean ice cream made with local duck eggs from Countryside Farm paired with Uncle Billy’s Cask Lake Monster Imperial Stout.

The event felt a little bit like a dress rehearsal rather than a polished tasting dinner. There were areas where the food didn’t dazzle and the pacing of the event was off. If they wanted to show that Uncle Billy’s is a culinary destination and not just a BBQ place, they have more work to do. If they wanted to show that Uncle Billy’s has a passion for locally sourced food paired with excellent beer, then they did a pretty good job. If they wanted to show that Tielkemeier has the chops to follow Peters as the brewer, then they certainly showed off the right beer.

Tielkemeier learned the craft from his home-brewer dad. He honed his brewing skills working at (512) Brewing Co. alongside local brewing stars Kevin Brand and Nate Seale. He showed off his first non-house recipe Uncle Billy’s beer with the cask conditioned Lake Monster Imperial Stout. Tielkemeier brewed it with English brown malt, black malt, and roasted barley and fist full of Texas brown sugar. Its a bad-ass with creamy, sweet roasted malt profile and coffee, molasses, chocolate flavors. It makes a statement with 10 percent alcohol  and 70+ IBU. Its a damn fine first beer for the new brewer and heads all around the tasting table nodded their approval. Welcome to Uncle Billy’s Mr. Tielkemeier.

Reportedly, Uncle Billy’s plans to do more brewer’s dinners in the future. I’d go again. If you go, check your fine dining expectations  at the door and enjoy the beer and the company.

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