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?

From Mistress to Wife: Jester King Brewery

Texas welcomes a new craft brewery to the neighborhood today with the opening party for Jester King Brewery. And a party it was. Traffic was backed-up more than 2.5 miles to get in. The 2,000 pint glasses ordered for the party ran out in the first hour and half. What do you expect? Texans love a party, and Texans love beer.

Have you ever dreamt of turning your hobby into your job? That’s just what Jeff Stuffings, owner of Jester King, did. He was gracious enough to spend a little time with me at the end of the opening bash to spin a yarn about the birth of his brewery. Jeff started home brewing back in aught three. He fell in love. He was obsessed. After a while, he couldn’t pay attention to his day job. His mistress soon became his wife.

Jeff found a 200 acre working ranch that needed a 6,500 square foot brewery to complete its own life goals, and soon Jester King had a home in the Texas hill country just outside of Austin. The brewery started operations with its first brew day on September 24, 2010 and began shipping kegs of beer to bars in Austin, Dallas and Houston in October.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltK__bPoF98[/youtube]

In a typical brew day, Jeff and his brother Michael produce 930 gallons, or 30 barrels, or 60 kegs of glorious beer. From the fermenter, the beer is kegged, bottled, or barrel aged.  Yeah, Jester King ages three of its five beers in oak barrels. They source barrels from George Dickel whiskey for Commercial Suicide and wine barrels for the farmhouse ales, Boxer’s Revenge and Das Wunderkind!.

The barrels are stored in a temperature controlled room to let the yeast do its best work. The same goes for the 750ml bottles of Black Metal Imperial Stout. This bad ass stout is bottle conditioned, with yeast and sugar added to the bottle for additional fermentation in the bottle. Size matters and these beers don’t come in a puny 12 oz bottle.

Speaking of bottles, the 130 cases of Black Metal is just the first round of bottles produced. It’s hand-bottled, which is pretty damned time consuming. It is available now in good beer stores around Texas. The next batch of beers in bottles will be in stores in late February.

Here’s what you can expect to taste when you get your hands on Jester King beers.

Wytchmaker Rye IPA

Look Tawny amber, hazy with a bone cream head.
Smell Like a bag of sticky weed in a pine forest. Fresh hops and juniper berries burst in the nose.
Taste The British army would order extra of this IPA. Grapefruit rind and pine sap mingle in smooth effervescence and linger for a long, bitter finish.

Black Metal Imperial Stout

Look Black espresso with a rich brown crema head that subsides quickly. Black Metal is as opaque as its name.
Smell A coffee shop a few hours after roasting. Warm coffee beans, chocolate and toasted malt.
Taste Breakfast or desert? Lush, creamy dark chocolate with French roast coffee spiked with tingly bubbles, finishing in a long oak and coffee bean finish.

Commercial Suicide Dark Mild

Look I was never good at telling the difference between burnt sienna or burnt umbra Crayolas, but this beer is one of those. Its dark brown veil is translucent enough to let light shine in through the edges.
Smell A lazy afternoon rolling in dry leaves and straw in the hot sun, with sweet malt and fresh baked bread on the breeze.
Taste Have you had a buddy’s home brew and you know it has potential, but it’s not completely balanced? That’s Commercial Suicide. The yeast is a bit too prominent and overcomes the mild citrus and toasted malt. It finishes quickly, making no excuses.

If you think the darkest, richest beer made in Texas is Shiner Bock, you are in for a treat. Jester King brings rich, hearty brews to the Texas craft brew fraternity. Jeff, I’m glad you gave up your first one to marry your mistress.

 

Unfortunately I got to the opening party late and was unable to try the beer at the brewery. Samples were provided free of charge by The Draught House Pub and Brewery.

What are you drinking?An interview with Jeff Stuffings, owner Jester King