The 12 drinks of Christmas: Delicious libations for boozy holiday entertaining

I love the traditions of the holidays. The Trail of Lights, the decadent treats, spending time with family around the Christmas tree, sitting on Santa’s lap, and sometimes even Christmas carols.

But not all Christmas carols. The indomitable repetition of that seemingly endless cumulative carol “The 12 Days of Christmas” is as maddening as it is catchy. It may draw on your nostalgic heartstrings, convincing you to sing along the first time you hear it each season, but after that …

Back in 1982, the Canadian comedy couple Bob and Doug McKenzie created a fantastic parody of the “12 Days of Christmas” that gleefully declares, “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, beer.” To honor that sentiment, here are 12 festive drinks to have at home or a party to help you start new holiday traditions.

1. Beer is the right thing to have on the first day of Christmas in a nod to Bob and Doug. A good choice is Rahr & Sons Winter Warmer, a dark English-style ale with dried fruit and chocolate flavors. These guys in Fort Worth know how to make a solid brew. It’s great on its own and pairs incredibly well with gingerbread.

Rahr and Sons Winter Warmer
Rahr and Sons Winter Warmer

 

2. The second day calls for a delicious holiday twist on a classic cocktail, a perfect way to prep your appetite for a big holiday meal. The boozy Cynar Manhattan made with double-proof Cynar 70 is one of the best tasting versions of a Manhattan you’ll ever have. The newly introduced big brother of Cynar has the same balance of bitter and sweet flavors with festive hints of spice and herbs.

Stir the ingredients with ice and strain into a coupe or martini glass. Garnish with maraschino cherries.

Cynar Manhattan
Cynar Manhattan

 

3. The third day deserves a classic wine to celebrate the holidays: a stout cabernet sauvignon. Cabernet is a bear skin rug in front of the fire. To really wow your holiday guests, grab the 2012 Rodney Strong Alexander’s Crown cabernet sauvignon single vineyard, a Sonoma County beauty bursting with the lovely smell of plum and chocolate and powerful blackberry, black cherry, licorice, and dark chocolate flavors with a bit of cedar lingering on the finish. Whether you serve this with a sumptuous beef Wellington or on its own, it’s sure to dazzle for $75.

Alexanders Crown Cabernet Sauvignon
Alexanders Crown Cabernet Sauvignon

 

Another choice is the 2012 Experience Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with viscous flavors of spiced black currant, jammy plum, and dried strawberry. It’s great with rib roast for $25.

Experience Napa Valley Cabernet
Experience Napa Valley Cabernet

 

The third day calls for a third bottle of wine. An easygoing and unpretentious choice for the neighborhood party is 2013 Sterling Vintner’s Collection cabernet sauvignon. This Central Coast cab packs in a load of blackberry, ripe blueberry, dark chocolate, and vanilla flavors with a sprinkle of baking spice. Pick it up for $27.

Sterling Cabernet Sauvignon
Sterling Cabernet Sauvignon

 

4. The fourth day warrants a lush wine. Merlot is the Snuggie of the wine world: soft, cuddly, and oh so comforting. An incredibly elegant merlot for the holidays is the 2012 Matanzas Creek Winery Jackson Park Vineyard merlot. This Sonoma County vineyard is planted with the same grapes as one of the most famous Bordeaux wineries, Petrus. It’s velvety smooth with plum, blueberry, and boysenberry jam flavors and a bitter-sweet chocolate finish. The Matanzas Creek merlot goes incredibly well with roasted duck and sells for $60.

Matanzas Creek Merlot
Matanzas Creek Merlot

 

5. The fifth day asks for a slightly more rustic wine. Syrah is a walk through the woods to find just the right Christmas tree. The 2012 Qupé Santa Barbara County syrah ($30), made with biodynamic or organically grown grapes from the cool climates of the Santa Maria Valley and the Edna Valley in California, is as wild, funky, and brambly as any French Rhone wine. This little number is bounding with blackberry, cranberry tarts, and spiced with herbs and pepper. Serve it with a festive grilled lamb for the holidays.

Qupe Syrah
Qupe Syrah

 

6. The sixth day requires a playful wine. Petite sirah is a kiss under the mistletoe. For one big, bold kiss go with the 2013 Parducci True Grit Reserve petite sirah from Mendocino County, California. It has dusty raspberry scents, tart raspberry, Luden’s cherry cough drops, and blueberry pie with a healthy dollop of tannin. Yum! It is a great wine with steak and sells for $30.

Parducci True Grit
Parducci True Grit

 

7. The seventh day is a good time for portable wine. Grab a can of Underwood rosé from the Union Wine Company of Oregon to sip while you look at holiday light displays. The half-bottle size can be enjoyed in a crowd, and the fresh watermelon, strawberry, and tart lemon flavors pair resplendently with funnel cake. Pick up a four-pack for $24.

Underwood Rose Wine
Underwood Rose Wine

 

8. The eighth day is all about cuddly comfort. Pinot noir is the purr of a snuggly kitten, velvet furred and wispy tongued. A classic from the Eola-Amity Hills in Oregon, the 2013 Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate pinot noir gleams like Dorothy’s ruby slippers with aromas of wet leaves, Bing cherries, and mocha. It has bright black cherry, raspberry, and chocolate flavors that give way to an earthiness characteristic of Oregon pinot noir. It is great with salmon and sells for $30.

Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir

 

9. The ninth day is a little naughty. Cinsaut is a tryst at the office Christmas party. Emblematic of a night of debauchery is the 2014 Bonny Doon cinsaut counoise from vineyards in California’s Paso Robles, Mendocino, and Lodi. Its looks are deceiving. The light ruby color of this wine is as delicate as the newest Beaujolais Nouveau, but its taste is anything but subtle. Wild strawberry, raspberry, and cranberry scents endorse the red berry, satiny chocolate, and herbal flavors. It pairs exceedingly well with quail and sells for $35.

Bonnie Doon Cinsault
Bonnie Doon Cinsault

 

10. The 10th day is sophisticated. There is nothing as erudite as a snifter of brandy. A Spanish delight, Lepanto Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva is made from Palomino grapes and aged for 15 years in the same intricate fashion that sherry is made. The century-old oak casks used in the aging give it vanilla and honey flavors that envelop a bourbon-esque core like a velvet smoking jacket. Serve it at room temperature to savor the unmistakable imprint of sherry with its telltale oxidized sea-breeze taste. I could sip this all night after opening gifts. Deelish. It goes for $46.

Lepanto Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva
Lepanto Brandy

 

11. The 11th day wakes up early for a cup of coffee. Coffee with a dose of cheer, of course. Coffee with liquor is the next best thing to snuggling with a ski bunny. Pour a couple ounces of Frangelico into your cup. The sweet hazelnut and vanilla flavors will perk up any morning. Pouring from the distinct bottle with the rope belt is a lot of fun too. Be careful not to overdo it because even in coffee it can get you drunk as a monk. Grab a bottle for $25.

Frangelico Coffee
Frangelico Coffee

 

12. By the 12th day you are bound to be in need of a tummy soothing digestifAmaro Averna soothes the flames of holiday indulgence with a luxurious blend of honey and bitter-sweet chocolate flavors. Sip a small glass neat or with an ice cube and let the sweet, thick herbs and citrus do their trick. It’s a lovely way to wind down the holidays for $30/bottle.

Amaro Averna
Amaro Averna

 

If you must sing a Christmas carol while enjoying any of these drinks, please make it “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. Cheers to a happy holiday!

This story was originally published on CultureMap.

Disclosure: I received samples to review of most of the products included in this post.

What are you drinking?

Sneak peek at Barley Swine’s new location and big boozey additions

This December, Barley Swine will open a new location at 6555 Burnet Rd. The move from its South Lamar home, where it’s been for the past five years, not only gives the restaurant triple the size for up to 80 guests, but also the opportunity to add booze to its beverage program.

John Michael Williams and Kristy Sanchez of Barley Swine
John Michael Williams and Kristy Sanchez of Barley Swine

 

Until the new location opens, Barley Swine will keep a focus on beer and wine, but the move to Burnet brings an inventive cocktail menu under the direction of General Manager John Michael Williams. With a full bar at his disposal, Williams is concocting seasonally focused cocktails made with ingredients from local farms. He’ll use those fresh bits to create his own vinegars, shrubs, syrups, tonics, and sodas.

Williams has a strong food and beverage pedigree. After graduating with honors from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) with a concentration in wine and spirits, he completed the CIA advanced wine and beverage certification as well as the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) level II sommelier certification. He has honed his skills at renowned gastronomic destinations like Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York and Blackberry Farm in Tennessee.

“Our new cocktail program is part of the evolution of Barley Swine,” says Williams. “We’ll take a cue from the culinary direction from our executive chef and owner, Bryce Gilmore, to have a focus on making seasonal drinks with house-made ingredients. I’m working on recipes for our own velvet falernum syrup for Tiki drinks, a house-made vermouth, and 10 varieties of bitters. We’ll make cocktails that are fun and approachable.”

Robert Stevens will join the Barley Swine team as the new bar manager from Blackberry Farm. He’ll select the tight lineup of high-quality craft spirits for the 10-seat bar. You won’t see big-name booze brands like Grey Goose either. Stevens will use those spirits to make barrel-age cocktails like a mezcal Manhattan with house-made vermouth.

In addition to delectable drinks, Barley Swine is rolling out a completely new creation: edible cocktails. There will be a tasting menu of one bite amuse-bouche with alcohol: Imagine a Negroni as a fruit roll-up rather than a cocktail.

Luckily, Barley Swine won’t move away from its excellent selection of craft beers.

“Beer is always a huge focus for us, especially with our gastro pub tasting menu format, which allows for pairing of beers,” says Williams. “There are so many great breweries in Austin, which lets us pour lots of local beers. We’ll have 12 taps and several bottled and canned beers. Seventy percent of our total beer list will be local. We’ll have bombers from Adelbert’s Brewery and Jester King, and we’ll have Blue Owl and Strange Land on tap.”

The wine list is getting a boost too. Wine buyer, Kristy Sanchez, who has been at Barley Swine since the beginning, is excited to bring in more wines from small boutique vineyards and more natural and biodynamic wines. The wine list is constantly changing to offer selections that pair with Gilmore’s ever-evolving menu. Now the list will expand to include 40 wines by the bottle, split bottles options, and 14 white and 18 red wines by the glass.

Beer and wine at Barley Swine
Beer and wine at Barley Swine

“I’m excited about the versatility we’ll have with the wine list,” says Sanchez. “We’ll have more space to carry a full spectrum of wines to pair with the chef’s tasting menu and a la carte menu. We’ll have higher end bottles and affordable wines that are great at happy hour. We have some really hard to find wines like the Teutonic Wine Company Traubenwerkzeug Quarryview Vineyard pinot noir — there are only six bottles of it in Texas — and Boundary Breaks riesling from Finger Lakes region of New York.”

The new Barley Swine will still have happy hour every Monday through Friday from 5:30 to 6:30 pm with new a la carte items, hand-crafted cocktails, wine for $7, and $3 beers.

This story was originally published on CultureMap.

Disclosure: I was provided complimentary sips and nibbles at Barley Swine during this interview. 

What are you drinking?

Williams and Sanchez of Barley Swine

What’s on tap for the Texas Craft Brewers Festival and the 6 beers you’ve gotta try

The 2015 Texas Craft Brewers Festival returns to Fiesta Gardens on Saturday, September 19, 2015. The state’s largest craft beer event serving beer made exclusively in Texas got even bigger this year with 65 breweries pouring around 170 brews.

Hops & Grain, Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter Culture
Hops & Grain, Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter Culture

 

There will definitely be a style of beer to suit any palate, as brewers will bring out their year-round beers, seasonals, and special beers to pour at the fest. In addition to the beers poured at each tent, there will be more than 20 special brews that will be tapped on the half hour.

To help you narrow your quest at the fest, CultureMap has selected six top beers to seek out at the Texas Craft Brewers Festival. Here are our picks:

Blue Owl Brewing: Spirit Animal Sour Pale Ale

Blue Owl Spirit Animal
I’ve been salivating with anticipation of the brews from Blue Owl Brewing and now we have our first chance to taste them at the Texas Craft Brewers Fest. This sour pale ale is made with a mix of GR Magnum, Crystal, Centennial, Citra, and Galaxy hops along with pale, Munich, honey, and Carahell malts. Blue Owl calls it “the marriage of sour-mashing and dry-hopping” to create a “truly unique animal.” This quenchy, low alcohol (5.1 percent), citrusy hoppy ale will be great on a hot summer afternoon and will be released at the upcoming grand opening.

Independence Brewing Co.: Reaper Madness

Independence ReaperMadness_front
Independence always brings out something interesting for the Craft Brewers Festival. Head brewer Brannon Radicke brewed a black IPA for Independence’s ninth anniversary party way back in October 2013; the beer was so popular that it was resurrected and reincarnated into Reaper Madness. A gorgeous blend of Columbus, Summit, and 07270 hops and Vienna, Carafa III, and Midnight Wheat malts give it dark and bold, piney and hoppy flavors balanced with mild biscuit and roasted-malt flavors. Its moderate alcohol of 6.1 percent won’t be crippling in the afternoon, and it’ll pair well with boudin balls from the Red’s Porch food truck at the festival.

Hops & Grain: Volumes of Oak Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter Culture
The Volumes of Oak series is all about bringing out complexity in beer with oak aging. The brewing shamans at Hops & Grain converted their delicious Baltic porter, called Porter Culture, into a lush brew with layers of chocolate, coffee, oak, tobacco, and vanilla with a velvety smooth finish by aging it in heavily charred American Oak barrels that were previously used to age bourbon whiskey. It’s made with pale and Munich malts with a touch of chocolate wheat for a smooth vanilla and coconut flavor to balance the heat of the bourbon booziness. Speaking of booziness, this one packs a punch at 9.4 percent ABV, so stick to just one 3-ounce taster of it.

Jester King Brewery: Amicis Mortis
Jester King is well known for its creative beers made with atypical ingredients. This year Jester King is bringing Amicis Mortis to the fest. It’s made in collaboration with the brewers from Brasserie Dunham in Quebec and inspired by a sweet potato, chili pepper, and coconut dish the folks at Jester King enjoy with Dunham. The unfiltered, unpasteurized, and naturally conditioned farmhouse ale is made with Zythos, Saaz, and Cascade hops along with organic pilsner and raw wheat malts fermented with a mixed culture of brewer’s yeast, native yeast, and bacteria harvested from the air and wildflowers around the brewery. The dry, mildly tart, earthy, funky, and mildly spicy beer is versatile and food friendly. Only 2,400 750-milliliter bottles of this were released last month, and the fest is one of the few occasions where it is available outside of the Jester King tasting room.

Save the World Brewing Co.: Froctum Bonum Saison Ale
This 1-year-old philanthropic brewery is starting to show up in more locations around Austin, but it’s still one to grab at the festival. Its Saison, made with Czech Saaz, East Kent Goldings, and Perle hops and Dingemans Pale, Dingemans Cara 20, and Briess Red Wheat malts, is a refreshing example of the traditional farmhouse ale. It’s a robust and versatile ale with assertive aromas and sweet malts, zesty citrus, and peppery spices with a hint of earthiness followed by a crisp dry finish. This will go great with The Knuckle Sandwich at the Nobel Sandwich food truck at the fest. If you miss it on Saturday, it’s available in cases of 12 22-ounce bottles year-round in stores, bars, and restaurants in Austin.

Whole Foods Market Brewing CompanyNo Escape Imperial Coffee Stout
What’s that? A grocery store brewing beer? Yep! Whole Foods Market has an in-house brewmaster, David Ohmer, who will pour a massive stout, billowing with molasses, vanilla, and milk chocolate flavors. It has more than enough hops to keep it from being too sweet with a blend of Horizon, Pacific Gem hops, and pale, Special B, Carafa II, Crystal 77, and roasted barley malts to give it those rich chocolatey flavors. If the initial rush of flavors doesn’t wake you up, the blitz of coffee will: It’s made with Ethiopian Suke Quto espresso beans for a big coffee flavor. Speaking of big, this bruiser packs a 10.8-percent ABV punch.

If you are looking for the No Escape Imperial Coffee Stout, you’ll only find it in the “Whole Foods Market presents: What’s Brewing?” interview series. Austin American-Statesman drinks-writer Arianna Auber and I will each interview brewers throughout the afternoon, including Ohmer.

What’s Brewing? Interview Schedule

Moderator: Arianna Auber (Liquid Austin, Bitch Beer)

  • 1 p.m. – Chip McElroy, Live Oak Brewing
  • 1:30 p.m. – David Ohmer, Whole Foods Market Brewing with Tiffany Cunningham, Whole Foods Market talking Beer & Cheese
  • 2 p.m.  – Jeff Young & Suzy Shaffer, Blue Owl Brewing
  • 2:30 p.m. – Scott Metzger, Freetail Brewing

Moderator: Matt McGinnis (CultureMap Austin, What Are You Drinking?)

  • 3 p.m.  – David Ohmer, Whole Foods Market Brewing with Tiffany Cunningham, Whole Foods Market talking Beer & Cheese
  • 3:30 p.m.  – Marco Rodriguez, Zilker Brewing
  • 4 p.m.  – Trevor Nearburg, Uncle Billy’s Brewery
  • 4:30 p.m.  – Quynh & Dave Rathkamp, Save the World Brewing

The event starts at 11:30 am for VIP ticket holders and 2 pm for general admission and closes at 6:30 pm. VIP tickets are sold out. General admission tickets sell for $30 on the Festival site and entitle guests to admission, eight 3-ounce sampling tokens, and a tasting cup. Tickets will not be sold at the door.

This story was originally published on CultureMap and has been slightly modified for the blog.

Disclosure, my marketing communications agency, Pen & Tell Us, represents Uncle Billy’s Brewery, which is mentioned in this story.

What are you drinking?

Real Ale Brewing has Extreme Makeover

Real Ale Brewing New Bottles

Just in time for Texas Independence Day, my birthday and SXSW, Real Ale Brewing Company, will unveil a completely new look for its logo, packaging, and website. After 19 years of brewing craft beer and selling it in somewhat miss-matched bottles and cans, the brewery has made the bold move to update its image while retaining  elements of the brand’s heritage. Starting the first week in march, new bottles, cans tap handles and swag will start hitting stores, bars and restaurants all over Texas.

Out with the old
Out with the old

The new packaging ties the entire family of beers together with a consistent look, unlike the disparate designs currently available. At a party thrown to unveil the shiny new persona to industry types and press, Tim Schwartz and Erik Ogershok, were clearly pleased with the new design. With big grins they talked about plans to introduce the shiny new labels with the same tasty beers.

Ogershok says they have some new stuff up their sleeves with three heavyweight beers coming in April in 22 ounce bombers. Real Heavy Scotch Ale, Red King Imperial Red Ale and Commissar Russian Imperial Stout will move off the Seasonal and Special release list to become year-round brews. In addition, new seasonal beers will hit the shelves in the fall.

The new logo includes a stylized image of hops borrowed from the original logo, the sprocket from Firemans #4, and the characters “TX 96”which is a reference to the company’s Texas roots and the year it was founded, 1996. The new brand was designed by Butler Bros, a creative communication company based in Austin.

Real Ale is on heavy rotation in my beer fridge and I’m glad they are sticking with the same brewing philosophy. .I’m a fan of its new brand identity. The swag they handed out at the party looks pretty damn good. What do you think?

In with the new

 

What are you drinking? 

Breaking the Pint Ceiling

Women hold influential roles in Texas craft beer

 

This story was originally published in the October issue of Austin Woman Magazine. Photos by Rudy Arocha.

 

Beer_webflag_flattened

It’s a man’s world. At least that’s what they say about the beer industry. It’s simple: More men drink beer than women and more men brew beer than women. Big beer companies clearly recognize this and fill the airwaves with advertisements featuring attractive women, ads obviously aimed at titillating men.

The rise of craft brewing in the 1990s has significantly changed the game. Women are increasingly drinking the more flavorful brews. A recent survey by Consumer Edge found that 26 percent of women named beer as their favorite alcoholic beverage in September 2013, compared with only 24 percent in 2012. The old boys’ club has cracked the doors open a smidge, giving women like Kim Jordan and Lauren Salazar at New Belgium, and Tonya Cornett of Bend Brewing an opportunity to show what they can do in the breweries.

Not only are women entering the beer world as brewers, but also throughout the industry as distributors, beverage directors and bloggers. The Austin beer scene mirrors what’s going on in the rest of the country, with several women in prominent roles. The city has several women shaping the craft-beer industry in multiple ways.

What it Takes to Run a Brewery 

88-amycartwright

If it weren’t for a man, Amy Cartwright, president of Independence Brewing Co., probably wouldn’t be in the beer business. Sure, she got to know craft beer while working at Bitter End Brew Pub during college, and developed a taste for it while living in Portland, Ore. and visiting Germany, but it was the influence of Rob Cartwright that set the wheels in motion. Cartwright met her now husband, Rob, when he was brewing beer at the Copper Tank Brewing Co. She was keeping a busy schedule in communications and website development, but the two bonded over a shared passion for home-brewing.

“Early in our relationship, Rob and I had this old, nasty couch in the garage next to a kegerator and a dart board,” Cartwright reminisces. “It wasn’t a man cave, but more like a cheap man’s garage lounge. I would sit on that couch and drink Rob’s home-brew pale ale and think about starting our own brewery. That pale ale convinced me that we could start a brewery. One day I said, ‘You know, Rob, we could do this.’ Back then, the only craft breweries in the state were Live Oak, Real Ale and St. Arnold.”

The two started scheming to start a new brewery in 2001, and by 2004, Cartwright had left her corporate job and had Independence Brewing up and running. She took the lead, running the business right from the beginning.

“When we first started, I quickly realized that the amount of work it takes to fine tune the beer recipe, to get better and make a unique style,” Cartwright says. “At the same time, I had to figure out the regulatory work with the feds, states and health department while also learning everything it takes to run a small business, like payroll tax. In the beginning, I did everything from sales and customer service, to delivering the beer and answering phones, to marketing and creating the website.”

Even though Cartwright was the first woman to run a craft brewery in Austin, it didn’t occur to her that she was a female trailblazer. She was just dealing in the moment and working to stay afloat on a shoestring budget. The first three years, the Cartwrights were in survival mode, sleeping on a futon in the back office and working nonstop. She was focused on the daunting obstacle of breaking into the good-ol’-boy system of mass-produced beers that dominated the taps at most bars.

It was difficult to convince people to replace Budweiser, Miller or Coors with Independence, to be poured alongside Shiner, Real Ale or Live Oak. She realized she was a pioneer for women in the beer industry when The Ginger Man invited her to host a Women’s Beer Night, along with Diane Conner from Real Ale. It dawned on her that it was a rarity to have a woman host an event like this.

cartwright quote

“Normally, that wouldn’t be appealing because I don’t like being called out on the gender thing,” Cartwright says. “It goes against the grain of what we are doing every day. We just are part of the field like anyone else. But a patio full of women would show up, and it actually is really fun.”

The next time gender became a prominent issue at work was when she was pregnant with their first child. She was used to being a jack-of-all-trades, including the delivery driver. That had to change with a child on the way, and she hired her first driver. That was just the beginning of the changes.

“When I got pregnant, we were at a transformative time with the brewery. To grow, we needed new fermenters, new tanks, a new van and new driver. We had to make a decision on doing that or just making beer. We chose to sign on a distributor in 2010,” she says. “It was a relief because I was bearing so much of the business myself. That’s not sustainable when doubling growth. It was an important lesson for me in business to find the right people to divest myself of some of the responsibility.”

While transferring a big part of the business to others was scary for Cartwright, she knew it was the right thing to do. Having a newborn was momentous for her and somehow made the business feel a little less important in comparison. It turns out that a shift in priorities was essential not only in the next phase of growth for the brewery, but also for the next phase of the Cartwrights’ lives. The couple chose to have a second child right away. The extra help at the brewery gave them that freedom. That extra help became incredibly necessary when their daughter, Bonnie, was diagnosed with leukemia at 8 months of age.

“It was a big shock,” Cartwright says. “We had to change everything to focus on the important things. I had to hand over responsibilities, cultivate our team and put the right people in place. We named the brewery Independence because we were going out on our own. Now we have to rely on others to help run the business and have faith in them to do what they are good at doing. Now we have to rely on doctors who have our child’s life in their hands.”

Bonnie is now 2 years old and has been undergoing chemo longer than she’s been alive. She is scheduled to complete her treatment in January 2015.

“I’m learning to rely on other people more and engage people more,” Cartwright says. “Making the choice to prioritize family over business while finding ways to still run and grow a business has been great for me. I don’t think choosing to spend time with family is just something a woman would do. That’s something anyone would do.”

While dealing with harrowing personal issues, Cartwright’s tenacity, hard work and drive to stick with the brewery’s mission have led to success. The business has undergone a major expansion, with the Cartwrights adding gleaming new equipment and significantly increased the amount of beer Independence brews every day. Independence Brewing has come a long way since the early days.

Independence 10th anniversary

Bringing Science to Brewing

Bree Clark Hops & Grain

Armed with a master’s degree in biochemistry and experience as a high school chemistry teacher, Bree Clark joined the team at Hops & Grain Brewery as a lab technician to ensure consistency and quality of its beers. Hops & Grain puts a premium on quality control and safety. It’s Clark’s job to get that right.

“In graduate school, I used yeast as a model organism for human cells to study cancer,” Clark says. “My goal was to do cancer research, but I chose teaching high-school chemistry. I got bored during the summer break and wandered into the brewery to volunteer. Before school started again, I had a full-time job at Hops & Grain.”

Clark converted the former tasting room into a new lab that she built to her specifications. She chose the equipment. She determined the tests to run. While most large craft breweries have this type of facility, it is a rarity for craft breweries in Central Texas. Clark speculates that Real Ale may be the only other brewery with a full-sized lab with a full-time employee dedicated to testing.

When the brewery started, it relied on Josh Hare, Hops & Grain’s owner and brewer, for his “super taster” abilities to be the cornerstone of quality control. It’s not possible to count on his sensory receptors alone to ensure the beer is good as the brewery grows. The company has tripled production in the past year in an attempt to keep up with demand from thirsty Austinites. The brewery is at capacity and looking to expand in a new building.

“It’s easier to fix problems early when a brewery is small, but it’s essential to have the right methods in place to maintain consistency and high quality as the operation gets larger,” Clark says. “We’re not concerned about messing up the recipe or having unsanitary conditions as we grow or add a new facility because I’m here to monitor it.”

Clark started a sensory education program for employees, with a weekly tasting panel to test their ability to taste flaws in the beer. They also examine beer stored for various ages in varying conditions versus fresh beer to understand how time and temperature affect the flavor. This allows the team to educate distributors and retailers on the best ways to store and sell the beer. As one of the only beer lab technicians in Texas, Clark is in demand as an expert in the field. She relishes the opportunity to demonstrate how women can be successful in the male-dominated fields of science and beer.

Clark quote

“Craft beer is on the rise in general and particularly with women,” Clark says. “We have a lot of women who visit and our customers see me walk through the employee door and want to hear about what I do. It’s a great way to show that beer is friendly to women.”

Even though the field has traditionally been male dominated, Clark doesn’t feel that men discount her abilities. She chalks it up to a welcoming community among brewers with a collaborative approach to helping each other. She is active in the Pink Boots Society, a national networking and educational group dedicated to advancing women’s careers in the brewing industry. Clark has hosted monthly meetings at Hops & Grain and is inspired to see women’s dedication to continuing education in every phase of the industry.

Clark is having fun working with new beers. Hops & Grain just finished brewing an imperial stout and is aging it in Angel’s Envy whiskey barrels. At that point, she gives up all control to the gods of the barrel to influence the final flavor. She is also excited about releasing the new Porter Culture this fall, which is the brewery’s fourth beer released in cans.

Elegant Food and Beer Pairings at the Award-Winning Barley Swine

Billy Timms Barley Swine

In wine, the hand of God is foremost. But in brewing, it’s the hand of man that is clearly visible, and that, to me, is one of its greatest fascinations.”

Barley Swine’s general manager and beer and wine director, Christina “Billy” Timms, spouts off that quote from Randy Mosher with a grin. She simply couldn’t contain her excitement to talk about beer.

Barley Swine recently landed a spot on the Wine Enthusiast 100 Best Wine Restaurants 2014, but it’s also well known for its stellar beer list. The restaurant specializes in carrying a variety of large-format bottles for sharing beers. In total, it has about 50 types of beer on the menu.

“I try to have a lot of different styles of beer so we have something to please everyone,” Timms says. “We have everything from easy-drinking German pilsner to artisan ales to yeasty Flemish sours. I love dropping a German ice bock beer for dessert. It is delicious, sweet and boozy with concentrated fig and raisin fruit notes.”

During the past few years, Timms has moved from head bartender and assistant manager to running the show. Along the way, her taste for beer has progressed from hankering for Red Stripe—the first six-pack she bought when she turned 21—to a love for the Real Ale Phoenix double IPA, which comes out every summer near her birthday. She’s become a student of beer, with an insatiable thirst for learning more.

“I dove in pretty hard after going to my first beer dinner at Barley Swine with Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster Garrett Oliver,” Timms says. “We were doing ghost beer pairing. You know, the beers they brew but don’t sell. I loved tasting the interesting tinkerings Oliver made.”

That set her on a path to take and pass the Cicerone Certified Beer Server exam as a part of the prominent certification program for beer professionals. She is still studying beer, doing a lot of tasting with friends and visiting breweries to learn in a relaxed setting. She’s eager to take the second-level Certified Cicerone beer exam soon.

“I fell in love with the history and what goes into making the beer,” Timms says. “It’s interesting to learn where styles come from and what parts of the world are bringing different yeasts and hops to the table. It’s a world community that tells a story.”

While studying beer, she learned that throughout history, women dominated the beer industry. In fact, in England in the 1700s,  about 80 percent of licensed brewers were women who were responsible for brewing for their houses. The move to mass-market beers made in factories transformed it into a male-dominated industry. The rise of craft brewing in the past two decades has brought many more women back to the industry.

Timms quote

“Both men and women are more excited about unique beers,” Timms says. “Lots of breweries are doing interesting things like whiskey-barrel aging, adding fruit and playing with what beer can be. The spectrum of what beer is is getting bigger and drawing in more people. We’re really fortunate to have great new breweries in town. And the established breweries, like Independence, are reinventing and doing cool stuff.”

Timms doesn’t see gender as a barrier in the beer industry.

“Craft beer is a very welcoming community and young women in this town are super involved in the craft scene in multiple ways,” she says. “The Central Market beer buyer is a woman. Amy Cartwright is doing great at Independence. There are women working at Jester King and enjoying beer. Gender doesn’t make much of a difference.”

The Woman Behind One of the Best Beer Gardens in the U.S.

Easy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden has piled up the accolades recently, including being listed among the Top 10 Best Beer Gardens by Food & Wine Magazine, and ranked one of the Great Beer Gardens with Bites by USA Today. The Sixth Street bakery and pub is recognized for its easygoing vibe, well-appointed selection of beers and its every-other-month beer-flight nights.

Yvonne Sharik, the general manager of Easy Tiger, continually updates the beer list with fresh seasonal brews while keeping a core list of go-to beers. She likes to have a mix of new and interesting beers for the adventurous drinkers and accessible beers like Avery White Rascal and Real Ale Firemans #4 to please the crowd.

“Whether they are beer lovers or not, we are determined to find a beer that people like,” Sharik says. “We want to make sure everyone feels comfortable and beer is accessible.”

Sharik fell in love with craft beer when she discovered Boundary Bay IPA while living in Washington State.

“Craft beer is one of those communities where you can find common ground with anyone,” she says. “It is so dynamic and there are so many different styles that allow people to come together and geek out on beer. Austin has a growing craft community that is really fun and fresh. It is great to be a part of it.”

Bitching About Beer

Bitchbeer

With more women entering the beer industry and drinking beer, it makes sense that a team of women started a blog dedicated to beer. Bitch Beer took the beer-blogger world by storm in early 2012, with the intention of destroying the notion that women only drink watery, low-cal alternatives to beer. Caroline Wallace, one of the Bitch Beer founders, explains how it got started.

“The blog started for fun,” she says. “Several of us went to college together and were on newspaper staff. We were at a Thirsty Planet brewery tour and noticed that we were the only group of all women, but there were lots of groups of all men. We wondered why. We all love craft beer. Why not start a blog about beer? It was just a drunken idea, but we got passionate about it, went and bought the name and started Bitch Beer.”

Using a team approach, the blog is prolific and covers the culture and community of beer to make it more accessible to people, particularly for woman and people in their 20s. The team is made up of Wallace, Ari Auber, Jessica Deahl and Sarah Wood in Austin, along with Wendy Cawthon in Dallas and Shaun Martin and Kat McCullough in Seattle. The group treats the blog like a publication, with monthly editorial planning meetings held on Google hangouts. There is no lead editor for Bitch Beer. The blog follows a collaborative model, calling on contributors’ individual skills in writing, graphic design and photography, along with a shared passion for excellent beer.

“We all have a creative flair that comes together cohesively,” Wood says. “I’m really proud of it.”

The approach is working. Bitch Beer has picked up accolades and awards in its short life. The fresh approach even led to a book deal, with the ladies publishing Austin Beer: Capital City History on Tap in 2013.

“The book was a huge growing point for us,” Wallace says. “It forced us to own it. The book pushed us to hone in and be experts. We want to do that as journalists. The swagger has to be genuine. This thing is going to be out there forever, and we have to know it’s right.”

Even before the book was published, brewers were welcoming of the ladies. They greeted the Bitch Beer bloggers with excitement, not only because of their expertise, but because they realized the blog could introduce their beers to a younger female demographic. Bitch Beer champions women beer drinkers without pandering to them.

“We definitely write for women, but it’s not gender specific,” Wood explains. “We think our readership is probably 50/50 male and female. When you consider that more men are beer drinkers, that is a great thing. Where we differ from other female beer groups like Barleys Angels, Pink Boots Society or Women Enjoying Beer is that we are a news outlet rather than a drinking group.”

Bitch Beer celebrates the community spirit and drive for excellence that the founders see among craft brewers. They are particularly thrilled to see so many women shaping the beer culture and significantly contributing to the industry in Central Texas. The ladies easily rattle off several examples, including Amy Cartwright at Independence Brewing, Diane Rogness at Rogness Brewing Company and Christine Celis at Celis Brewery. Much has changed in the past two years since Bitch Beer was started. Craft beer is no longer marketed just to men or women. It’s marketed to people. Women are responding to the better quality and the bikini-free marketing by buying more beer.

Wallace puts it this way, “We might not be able to go to a taproom and not see a group of woman like the day we got the inspiration for the blog. However, you wouldn’t be writing this story if beer wasn’t still male dominated, but there is a change. Women and beer is not a novelty anymore.”Bitch Beer Must Try Beers

What are you drinking? 

17 Things that Start with B Seen at the Texas Craft Brewers Festival

Yes, there is a firkin lot of great beer at the Texas Craft Brewers Festival (see my 5 favorite beers) , but if that’s all you go for, you are missing half the fun. The people watching is where its really at. Here are 17 things that start with the letter “B” that you can see at the annual beer bash.

Brewers

One of the best things about the Brewers Fest is the opportunity to meet so many of the people behind the creation of the beer. Most of the 57 breweries send the brew master and other brewers who are happy to talk about their craft and their babies with guests.

Beer Scientists

 

Bree Clark the beer scientist at Hops & Grain
Bree Clark the beer scientist at Hops & Grain

 

Bree Clark uses her smarts, education and experience to ensure the consistency and quality of Hops & Grain Brewery’s beers. She developed the know how by earning a master’s degree in bio chemistry and as a high school chemistry teacher and now serves as one of only a very few brewery lab technicians in Texas. Quick with a smile and a pint, she’s a great person to have in the industry.

Beards

Beer dudes and beards. Duh.

Bright Red Mohawks

Bright red mohawks are a gender-neutral fashion statement among beer lovers.

Bitches

Bitchbeer.org bloggers
Jessica, Caroline and Ari from Bitchbeer

 

The ladies from the influential and insightful beer blog, Bitchbeer, are a fixture at most major beer events, gathering information at mixin it up with the brewers. Want to get the inside scope on the best beers around, check their blog.

Bloggers 

Speaking of bloggers, the Texas Craft Beer Festival draws some of the best beer writers around from sites and publications like Austin Beer Guide, Craft Taste and Stay Hoppy Austin among others.  These guys may be excellent beer bloggers, but they sure as hell are not easy on the eyes. Especially the dudes from Austin Beer Guide. You’ll thank me for not posting a photo.

Babes 

 

Twin Peaks found it appropriate to bring beer babes.
Twin Peaks found it appropriate to bring beer babes.

 

The craft beer industry is all about keepin’ it real. Brewers show up at events in t-shirts and jeans. Let the beer speak for itself. This year Twin Peaks, a breastaurant chain that brews its own beer, stood out in the crowd with attractive women with bare midriffs pouring their beer. It seemed a bit off to me, but maybe it worked.

Buds

 

My buds Beth Thornton and Jessica Dupuy
My buds Beth Thornton and Jessica Dupuy

 

There is nothing better than drinking beer and sharing laughs with good friends. The Fest was filled with groups of friends comparing notes on beers and telling stories. Makes for a lovely afternoon.

Butts 

Butt

It seems the world is obsessed with booty right now. Some people at the Fest chose to call attention to theirs with really short shorts (see mention of Twin Peaks babes) or by slapping a sticker on their ass. Made ya look.

Bellies

Big Belly

Come on, its a beer festival. Big bellies are almost as ubiquitous as beards.

Bavarians

It hasn’t been that long since Oktoberfest in Munich ended. Its hard not to roll out the traditional beer drinking garb and make believe your 4 ounce plastic tasting cup is a liter stein.

Bands

Band

Bands played all afternoon in the pavilion. Live music is always a welcome touch.

Bros in Kilts

IMG_8992

There were more than a few groups of guys sportin’ kilts at the Fest – and not just brewers promoting Scottish ales.

Beer Socks

Lots of people were decked out in beer themed fashion. My favorite is the beer socks that is prevalent year after year.

Bankers

 

The bankers from Craft Royalty Partners
The bankers from Craft Royalty Partners

 

The insane growth of the craft beer industry has several breweries scrambling to expand to meed demand. The dudes at Craft Royalty Partners set up a bank dedicated to funding the growth of Texas craft breweries. Sounds like heroes in pinstripes to me.

Bring Your Own Snacks

Texas Craft Brewers Festival Snacks

Sure there are tons of great things to eat from several food trucks at the Fest, but why stand in line when you can bring your own snack. These people went for convenience with pretzel necklaces. Brilliant.

Big Ass Lines

 

Big ass line at the Texas Craft Brewers Festival

Once the gates open for general admission, the lines start to form at all of the beer tents with insanely long lines forming for the special tappings that happen every 30 minutes. The biggest line of the day is the one to get into the park. It snakes for blocks from the gate to the lake. My advice, spring for the VIP if you can, get there as early as possible or just be prepared to wait.

What did you see that was really interesting at the Texas Craft Brewers Festival?

My other posts on the Fest:

Disclosure: I was provided a complimentary media pass.

What are you drinking? 

 

My 5 Favorite Austin Beers at the Texas Craft Brewers Festival

Texas Craft Brewers Festival VolunteerOceans of beer flowed freely at the 2014 Texas Craft Brewers Festival. More than 150 types of beer were poured by 57 brewers at Fiesta Gardens. There is absolutely no way to taste all of those beers, so I took a simpleton’s approach to the beer bash this year: I tasted only what came to me in the VIP session and after that I tasted only beer that I can readily buy in Austin.

Notes on my approach:

  • VIP is the only way to go if you want to avoid the insanely long lines that come with general admission. Sure you’ll miss some of the special tappings that happen every 30 minutes going later into the day, but you will get to taste almost anything else you want without wasting all day in line.
  • It sounds counter-intuitive to drink Austin based beers when the whole state is coming to Austin. Why the hell not taste what I can’t get normally? Yes I drank other beers, but when I needed to actually seek a beer, I wanted to know that if I like it, I can buy it again after the fest. This wasn’t an exercise in total exploration.

Here are my five favorite Austin beers poured at the Texas Craft Brewers Festival:

Austin Beerworks, Sptunik

Austin Beerworks SputnikThis Russian imperial coffee oatmeal stout is as smooth as any oatmeal stout you’ll encounter with a bit of an edge from coffee from Cuvée Coffee Roasting Company. It wasn’t listed in the official program, but poured during the VIP session. This isn’t one of Austin Beerworks regular line up, but you can get it on tap around town seasonally.

 Hops & Grain Brewing, Double IPA 

Hops & Grain Double IPAThis bad boy was not listed on the official program, but was poured at the Hops & Grain booth along-side its Greenhouse IPA. Richer in color, with a bolder citrus and herbal punch, this 2X IPA cut through any beer lingering on the palate from a previous pour. I’d love to see this released in a can in the Greenhouse series.

Independence Brewing Co. Prickly Pear Stash IPA Firkin 

Amy Cartwright digs on the Stash IPA prickly pear
Amy Cartwright digs on the Stash IPA prickly pear

 

The folks at Independence spiked a batch of its Chinook hops Stash IPA with a dose of deep purple prickly pear juice made by heating, but not boiling, the luscious fruit. Neon pink, this beer stood out. It kept the familiar hoppy bite of Stash, with an added layer of melon flavor. Lots of fun.

Jester King Snörkel

Ron Extract pours a Jester King Snorkel
Ron Extract pours a Jester King Snorkel

 

This was the most interesting beer I tasted all day. The sour German Gose style beer is made with wheat, oyster mushrooms grown near the brewery and both sea salt and alderwood smoked sea salt. Funky, light and low alcohol, I could drink this stuff all afternoon. More please.

Real Ale Oktoberfest 

Erik Ogershok pours the pumpkiny goodness
Erik Ogershok pours the pumpkiny goodness

 

Real Ale made a traditional Bavarian style Oktoberfest with German malt, hops, and yeast and then spiked the bad boy with pumpkin pie spices. While it had the typical body and character of a Märzen, the pumpkin pie spice gave it an extra festive flavor without overwhelming it. Deelish.

Tell me what I missed. What were your favorites?

What are you drinking? 

 

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?