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? 

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.

What are you drinking?

Austin Brew Pubs Could be Better

2013 Austin City Guide Austin Food Bloggers Alliance Texans love to crow about the great beer scene in the state. They point to the insane growth in breweries and production. Sure, the craft brew industry in Texas is enjoying explosive expansion with brewers almost doubling the number of barrels they produced from 2010 to 2011 according to a study commissioned by the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. They point to the award winning quality and diversity of styles of beer that have consumers clamoring. Sure Texans are bringing home medals in international competitions and we are enthusiastically draining pints of locally made brew as fast as it is made. That doesn’t make a great beer state. It’s not great at all.

If state of the Texas craft beer industry were great, we would be able to buy an armload of 750 ml bottles of Jester King after a visit to the brewery. Or we could grab a six-pack of Uncle Billy’s at the local HEB. But we can’t. Alas, Texas laws prohibit breweries to sell directly to consumers on-site and bars brewpubs from selling package beer at off-site retail locations. That sucks.

This month Senate Bills 515, 516, 517 and 518 were filed in the State Legislature aimed at overturning those archaic laws that artificially constrain the business of craft brewers and limit consumer choice. Don’t get your hopes up too fast. Similar bills filed last year failed to reach a vote. Until politicians hear our voices and wake up to the economic opportunities of selling craft beer in an open market, Texas is not a great beer state.

Until then, we will have to leave the comfort of home to drink great beer at brew pubs. Fortunately there are some great ones to choose from in Austin.

Draught House PubDraught House Pub and Brewery, 4112 Medical Parkway  Austin

When the inside bar is crammed full of beer lovers, you can sometimes find a seat at a picnic table in the outside beer garden. The Draught House has been an Austin beer bastion for years; first opening its doors in 1968 and now celebrating its 45th anniversary in October. Brewmaster, Josh Wilson, has been brewing since 1994 and brews about 30 original beers each year. He has done hundreds of recipes over the years using traditional and interesting ingredients to make brews like the Grackle Black Lager and Reanimator Dopplebock. The Draught House serves five house beers that change seasonally.

The Draught House also has 70 beers on tap and cask and has an additional 20 beers in bottles, including gluten free and Belgian. Wilson selects the line-up to support local brewers, represent the best American craft beer and to offer of as many styles as possible. The line-up includes several Texas craft beers, seasonal and special releases, brewer’s reserve and small batch beers. The Draught House keeps things fresh by varying the beer menu by changing out about a dozen taps weekly. The mix of its beers and selection of guest taps earned The Draught House a spot on “America’s 100 best beer bars: 2012,” chosen by Draft Magazine.

“We have a hand-picked selection of beer that reflects my tastes, served in a comfortable atmosphere with low lighting and a beer garden. It’s a chill place to find really good beer at honest prices,” says brewer, Josh Wilson

Black Star Co-op, 7020 Easy Wind Drive, Midtown Commons, Suite 100, Austin,

The world’s first co-operatively owned brew pub is anything but an average beer bar.  Steven Yarak had an idea to start a neighborhood brew pub owned by the neighborhood and gathered like-minded individuals with the panache and know-how to brew beer and operate a business in April 2006. It’s now owned by more than 3,000 members who have chipped in money to brew the beer that they want to drink.

Brew Master Jeff Young, brews 15 house beers broken down into rational, irrational and infinite series. I like to taste my way through all of them by ordering flights. They also offer ten local and craft beers rotating on guest taps and an extensive selection of bottled beers. Black Star currently has eight gluten free beers available. Its conveniently located next to the Crestview Train Station.

Davis Tucker, NXNW Owner North by Northwest (NXNW), 10010 Capital of TX Hwy N, Austin

Patterned after a Pacific Northwest lodge, NXNW serves a full menu with steak, grilled duck and cedar plank salmon. While the food is tasty, the beer is the star with prominently displayed grain silo and six house-made brews on tap. Owner, Davis Tucker is an active board member of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, and has assembled a team of talented brewers making top notch beer. The Barton Kriek brought home a bronze in the Belgian-style lambic for at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival.

Brewmaster, Don Thompson, augments the core menu of five classic beers with eight seasonal and special beers that are rotated regularly. Special cask-conditioned beers are featured at “Cask Night,” held the last Monday of every month. NXNW also has a full bar serving cocktails and wine.

Pinthouse Pizza, 4729 Burnet Road, Austin

Austin’s newest brew pub packs in guests at long shared tables and often is crowded with groups of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder yearning for craft beer. Families, young couples and well-bearded beer geeks soak in the boisterous environment that includes several flat-screen TVs playing sports and video games. As the name suggests, the menu sports a wide assortment of pizza including pizza rolls, a Vietnamese style Banh Mi pizza and “Off the Map Pie,” a specialty pizza with artisan sausage, jalapeños, pickled onions & carrots and cucumber topped with sriracha sauce and cilantro. Damn!

The real star of the pub is of course, the beer.

Pinthouse had 45 taps and typically eight-to-ten of those are pouring house-made beers that vary week to week and the rest are guest taps.  Its mainstay beers are the Man o’ War, a bright, tropical IPA; Iron Genny, a hoppy and earthy Pale Ale, Calma Muerta, a hoppy Session Ale; and Bearded Seal, a dry Irish Stout with lovely coffee and chocolate flavors. Pinthouse offers a rotation of seasonal beer with at least two on tap at all times. If you can’t make up your mind which beers to try, they offer two different flights: the Pinthouse Flight which includes all 4 mainstays and “fallen cask” and the Guest Flight: includes any five beers on tap. They also have one constantly changing “ironic” tap with beers like Coors Original, Keystone Light or Natural Light.

The house-brewed beer is in hot demand. Owner, Ryan Van Biene says, “We brew as fast as we can and try to put as many Pinthouse Pizza beers on tap as possible, but this is a thirsty town and they are often ahead of our fermentation capacity.”

Uncle Billy’s Brew & Que, 1530 Barton Springs Road, Austin

This award winning brew pub has gone through some big changes in the last year with the closing of its gorgeous Lake Travis location with its expansive state-of-the-art brewery, to the departure of its two star brewers Amos Lowe and Brian “Swifty” Peters.  Despite the change, Uncle Billy’s is still a great place to drink fantastic craft brew while munching on finger-sucking-good barbeque in a convenient location just south of downtown.

New brewmaster, Michael Waters, brews 1,200 barrels of five mainstay beers and regularly rotates in a Brewer’s Choice beer as well. The beer menu is dominated by light, hoppy beers made with Belgian yeast like Back 40 Blonde, Axe Handle Pale Ale and Hop Zombie. The Bottle Rocket Lager, made at the former Lake Travis location, garnered a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2011 and gold in 2012.  Let’s hope they resurrect that recipe. They also serve a few local beers on guest taps, bottled beers, cocktails and a crappy selection of wine.

Whip In, 1950 South IH-35 South, Austin  

While it might look like a convenience store on the frontage road of a major interstate highway, it’s actually an amazing Indian-inspired restaurant, retail shop and now a brew pub.  The South Austin institution has been in business since 1986, offering an eclectic café menu (they call themselves a Gastro Pub, but that feels like a stretch) and a small beer garden to enjoy a drink and live music. The retail shop not only offers more than 200 bottled beers to drink on premise or take with you, but it also features 58 special, season and craft beers on tap and wine by the glass.

Whip In opened Namaste Brewing in August 2012 to an enthusiastic reception. Kevin Sykes, head brewer, currently offers four beers including the Brahmale Post Colonial IPA, Vishnavitripale Belgian style triple, Shivastout dark ale and the Ganeshale aged Belgian.

Coming Soon

Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co., 1305 West Oltorf 78704

The award winning brewers at Uncle Billy’s, Amos Lowe and Brian “Swifty” Peters, left Uncle Billy’s to start their own brewery slated to open in June 2013. The South Austin brew pub will serve hand-crafted pizza and beer on 10 taps in a music hall-style beer garden. “We’re going for the Armadillo World Headquarters vibe with New York style pizza like Home Slice,” said Peters.

They will make several varieties of always on-tap mainstay line up of Pilsner, Pale Ale and IPAs, with a rotating selection of seasonals and brewer’s choices, including a cask-conditioned beer. At opening, all of the beer will be house-made, but they have plans for some big collaborations down the road.

The venue will seat up to 170 inside, and potentially just as many people outside. It’s a big space with plenty of parking. The owners plan to be open for lunch every day and feature live music at night. “We’re all passionate about music, so it will be a big part of our place. We want the ABGB to feel like an old comfortable place you’ve been loving and coming to for years, right from the get go,” says Mark Jensen, owner.

Other local Brew Pubs

  • The Barber Shop, 207 Mercer Street, Dripping Springs
  • Flix Brewhouse, 2200 South IH-35, Suite B1, Round Rock
  • Middleton Brewing, 9595 Ranch Road 12, Suite 4, Wimberly
  • Wimberly Brewing Co. , 9595 Ranch Road 12, Wimberly

OK, so we now know that Texas, and particularly Austin, has great beer at brew pubs, but it doesn’t have the rights to claim that it is a great beer state because of its ridiculous laws. Do your part. Drink local and voice your opinion. Open The Taps has a convenient page describing how you can voice your support for craft brew in Texas. Do it!

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.

What are you drinking? 

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.

What are you drinking?

 

My top 3 picks to celebrate Austin Beer Week

What in the hell is going on? Every time I turn around there is another reason to drink silly amounts of fantastic craft beer. A couple weeks ago it was the Texas Craft Brewers Festival, last week the Great American Beer Festival and next week its the Austin Beer Week with more tap draining events than you can shake a stein at. More than 45 breweries and brewpubs are participating with special keg tapings, tastings, tours and dinners. Silliness.

A couple of the absurdly awesome things to hit up are:

  1. The Banger’s Beer College: This is a series of sessions hosted by beer experts like Matt Abendschein of You Stay Hoppy Austin, Chip McElroy of Live Oak Brewing, Caroline Wallace of Bitch Beer, Ron Extract of Jester King, Josh Hare of Hops & Grain, John Brack of Austin Homebrew Supply, Chris Booth of Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden and John Sikes, Independence Brewery all teaching us about the beauty of various styles of beer. Bliss!
  2. The Uncle Billy’s Wild Game Brewer’s Dinner: Fresh from winning a Gold Medal at the Great American Beer Festival, the hot shot brewers are going to show their swagger by pairing five beers with five courses of Texas wild game at the Lake Travis Location on Thursday, Oct. 25. My mouth is watering already.
  3. The Austin Beer Guide Presents – Ultimate Fanboy Showdown Bike Pub Crawl: who can resist the potty-mouth bitches that write the fantastically awesome Austin Beer Guide? If you’re not a fanboy yet, one look into their dreamy eyes and you will be for life. Put on your skinny shorts, mess up your beard and straddle your single speed bike on Sunday, Oct. 21 for a ride you’ll never remember.

There are a ton more gut bustingly good events to check out all week. Drink up!

What are you drinking? 

Raising a glass to fight cancer, LIVESTRONG!

There is nothing light-hearted about cancer. However, even the most serious subjects deserve a serious party. Sometimes gathering like-minded souls together to fight a shared villain is the right thing to do. This weekend we hosted our third annual Mellow Yellow Benefit to raise a glass, and raise money and awareness for the LIVESTRONG Challenge for the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

We set out to raise $5,000 by inviting people to attend our party and make a donation to LIVESTRONG as their ticket to entry. We asked for donations of services and food and beverages to keep our costs down and to be able to donate all proceeds to the Foundation. I am moved by the outpouring of generosity I found every time I asked. To date we have raised $6,000!

Three Texas spirits companies — Republic Tequila, Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Treaty Oak Distilling Company —  gladly donated for a third year in a row. Heck, Republic Tequila also sent two beautiful bartenders and Republic Spirit Blends to set up and staff a margarita bar! They made Twisted Margaritas. Here is the recipe:

Twisted Margarita

  • 1 ½ ounces Republic Tequila
  • 1 ½ ounces Republic Jalapeño-Lime Spirit Blend
  • 1 ½ ounces Republic Prickly Pear Spirit Blend
  • Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice Shake and pour into a rocks glass

Josh Hare, brewer at Hops & Grain, sent over 10 cases of beer on the eve of his brewery’s first anniversary.

Ed and Susan Auler of Fall Creek Vineyards donated wine for a second year in a row and came to the party to wish us well and enjoy the fun. Miguel Lecuona of Fredericksburg Wine Road 290 was a tour de force gathering four cases of donated wine from seven Texas wineries and delivered them with a smile.

The house and yard looked glamorous and the food fast fantastic thanks to Suzanne Court Catering & Events, who hustled favors to get donations of goods and services. Our photography sponsor, Steve Rogers Photography, donated his time and talent to capture the fun in our LIVESTRONG photo booth (the well lit photo booth pictures below are from Steve and the candids are fom me). Chris Brewer from the Lance Armstrong Foundation made the photo booth look official by loaning us an amazing LIVESTRONG backdrop.
I appreciate the help of Stephen Moser spreading the word about the Mellow Yellow Benefit in the Austin Chronicle and Michael Barnes for sharing the love in the Austin American Statesman.
Much of the thanks for creating a memorable event yet again this year goes to Beautiful Wife. She was instrumental in converting our home in to a fun event venue.
Thank you to everyone who donated to the cause and who came to the event. You are making a difference in the lives of the more than 28 million people living with cancer. THANK YOU! 

Special thanks to all of our beverage sponsors:

Hops & Grain celebrates its first anniversary with eight exclusive brews

Josh Hare, Hops & GrainHops & Grain brewer Josh Hare hadn’t even started brewing his first batch of beer in time to attend the 2011 Texas Craft Brewers Festival. Now he’s in the midst of planning his first anniversary party on Sunday, Oct. 7, the day after this year’s festival, and exactly one year to the day from when the first batch of Hops & Grain beer was brewed.

It’s been quite a year for the upstart East Side brewery. Hops & Grain introduced two year-round beers in cans within four months of opening and is adding its third beer in a can called The One They Call Zoe, named for Hare’s little Papillion dog. Hare set out to brew 650 to 700 barrels in the first year, but will actually produce about 1,000 barrels.

“I’m working a lot harder than I expected.” Right now we are brewing our 26th different style of beer. We’ve done all of these styles in our three barrel green house brewing system. It’s kept the creative juices flowing,” said Hare.

His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed: Hops & Grain won a Gold Medal for its Alt-eration German Pilsner in the German Brown Ale/Dusseldorf Style Altbier category at the 2012 World Beer Cup international beer competition. “This is a huge thing to win with a style of beer that is so old and has been done well by so many German breweries,” Hare continued.

For Hops & Grain, success has spurred growth: The brewery has upgraded from manual canning to automated canning line and added tanks that will triple production capacity; they also expanded space by 1,200 feet to include a barrel cellar for temperature-controlled aging.

“Making it through the first year is a big milestone. We’re still operating as sustainably and efficiently as we can, and we’re growing. I’m proud of the whole culture at the tap room,” Hare said. “We wanted to build a cool community in a neighborhood, and we are starting to do that. It’s fun to see the neighbors coming into the tap room on Friday afternoons.”

The Hops & Grain first anniversary party will be held on Sunday, October 7 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the brewery in East Austin, where Sixth Street dead-ends at Calles Street. There will be food from the Backstage Grill, live music and 12 beers on tap, eight of which were brewed exclusively for the anniversary.

The highlight of the event will be the “Beer Mile” at 3 p.m., a four-lap running race where competitors chug a beer on every lap. Lace up your sneakers and see if you can beat Josh and Meg Hare in the final race. You have to be fast and hold down your beer until you cross the finish line. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased in the tap room or online.

Liberty Tavern gets a Texan makeover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It sounds like good old-fashioned Texas hospitality.

When you go:

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

This story was previously published on Austin Man magazine.

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

What are you drinking?

Hops & Grain and Live Oak Brewing introduce “Schlager”

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

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

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

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

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

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