Next door to Thundercloud Subs (and right across the street from the Statesman, oh, boy), the new location will have much of the same spirit as the old one, along with the classic neon sign, the shuffleboard and the employees who have helped to make the beer bar so special — and it’ll also have the additions of liquor and the ability to pay with credit cards.
Expect the new Horseshoe Lounge to be open at 153 E. Riverside Dr. this summer.
In the meantime, say goodbye to the current one. The final few days will feature live music performances, including some surprise guests. And on Sunday, the final day, the bar will auction off the last beer.
It’s far more than the sweet, blended swill of octogenarian pantries, even though that’s the image it’s conjured up in popular consciousness for the last few decades. (Prohibition ruined all the good drinks everywhere.) It’s got such a romantic backstory in the rustic region of Andalusia, Spain, that when I decided to write about it last year, after seeing it again and again on bar menus, I thought Valentine’s Day would be the right time to talk about it.
Part of sherry’s history has been as a versatile component in cocktails, after all, a chapter in its past and present day that we U.S. drinkers contributed. It was the key ingredient in nineteenth-century America’s most popular cocktail, the Sherry Cobbler, which also has the neat distinction of being the drink that introduced us to the straw, and it’s getting the supporting role in a lot of modern cocktails, too. Try one this weekend with your significant other — it’s a boozy adventure meant for two.
And might I recommend you try sherry at Fino? There’s been no better place in Austin at introducing sherry to this city, which is why I chose to focus on that Mediterranean-focused restaurant in the story. But I’ve got to cap it off with a sad addendum: Fino is closing at the end of March after a nearly 10-year run with one of the best sherry programs in town. (I found out yesterday and was very bummed, to say the least.)
That means you’ve only got about a month-and-a-half left to explore the 11 sherry options there. Most are $1 for a 3 oz. pour during happy hour, a deal you can’t find anywhere else.
Over the past few months, Jason Stevens has noticed an increased interest in one tiny part of Bar Congress’ drinks menu: the four cocktails that comprise the bar’s “zero-proof” options.
Stevens, the bar manager for La Corsha Hospitality Group’s restaurants, including Bar Congress, added these nonalcoholic cocktails to the menu about two years ago so that people who don’t want to feel any of the effects of alcohol can still have the experience of having fun with friends at the bar. With the current trend toward eating and drinking healthier, he said, they’re becoming a bigger draw than ever — and it certainly doesn’t hurt that each of them are as thoughtfully made as their boozy counterparts.
“It’s been a mix of crazy and simple zero-proof cocktails over the past couple years,” he said.
That level of attention to the nonalcoholic side of the beverage coin is still rare in Austin’s bar scene. If a place does have a nonalcoholic menu, it’s all too often filled with cloying alternatives a la the Shirley Temple.
At Bar Congress, the zero-proof cocktails rotate out with the rest of the drinks menu on a yearly or seasonal basis. As wide-ranging as they’ve been, they have one trait in common with each other: Stevens makes sure they aren’t just simplified “virgin” versions of common cocktails. Instead, he crafts them into multidimensional beverages resembling classics that won’t leave you wishing for alcohol.
One example is the Hop on Tonic, one of the zero-proof cocktails on the menu right now. It’s a refreshing ode to both gin and tonic and craft beer, with juniper and coriander (two important components of gin) mixed with Amarillo hops, steeped into a tea and then combined with house-made grapefruit tonic. When I sipped on it, breathing in the aromas of the grapefruit slice and hops garnishes with relish, I noticed how easily the cocktail blended the tart, bitter and herbal elements together into a nuanced meet-cute of IPA and iced tea. To achieve such a nuanced drink, Stevens makes it exactly as he would an alcoholic cocktail.
“When building a cocktail, the key is to build on the flavor of the spirit,” he said. “It’s the same for nonalcoholic beverages. With the Hop on Tonic, I needed something to mimic gin, so I went with juniper and coriander, the two big ingredients in gin, along with hops and grapefruit to offset their flavors.”
Another stand-out on the nonalcoholic menu is the very different Maraska Phosphate, “a play on a 1920s soda fountain drink with the flavor of cherry cola,” Stevens said. It’s got Maraska cherry juice, Vietnamese cinnamon, seltzer and acid phosphate, the ingredient used to create sourness in drinks before citric acid or lemon and lime juice became widely available. (Stevens certainly knows his cocktail history: Bar Congress’ 2015 alcoholic drinks menu features “a collection of original and adapted cocktails from legendary historic hotel bars from all over the world, spanning from the 1860s to 1940s,” he said in a press release.)
There’s also the No. 9 Dream, featuring apricot preserves, ginger, citrus, Chinese five spice and shiso, and the Horse and Donkey, containing the oddball (but assuredly tasty) combination of ginger beer, green olive brine, lime and mint. If they all sound good to you, at least you can try all four without worry of getting drunk.
“People want the flavors but not the effects,” Stevens said, adding that when he’s traveling, he wants “to hit up a bunch of bars, but I don’t want to get tanked. A nonalcoholic program can show me what they’re made of.”
UPDATE 3/10: The new World of Beer location is opening on Monday, right in the midst of South by Southwest. To celebrate the opening, the tavern will offer a special firkin tapping from Independence Brewing.
Plus, there will raffles every other hour until 11 p.m. raising money for the Austin Firefighters Outreach Fund. Tickets are $1.
EARLIER: When a new World of Beer location opens in Austin next month, the tavern, like the nearly 70 other World of Beer spots around the country, will boast one of the widest selections of beer from around the globe, according to a press release.
Along with the World of Beer’s hallmark international scope, the bar will tap into the local beer scene as well, offering brews from Jester King, Independence Brewing, Adelbert’s Brewing and more. And at 3, 422 sq. ft., it’ll have the space for all that beer too — more than 500 bottles and 50 constantly rotating taps — plus craft cocktails, ciders, wine and nonalcoholic beverage options.
The South Lamar Boulevard spot (located just south of Manchaca Road near the Broken Spoke) also plans to become a lunch and dinner destination with bar fare, such as Bavarian pretzels and a Chimay burger, to pair with your pint and a 1,165 sq. ft. outdoor patio to enjoy all of that at on a nice day.
The first World of Beer location opened in Tampa, Florida, in 2007, growing quickly from a neighborhood bar to the nationwide franchise it is today. Expect the owners of the Austin location to turn it into a special place for local beer enthusiasts, according to the press release; they plan to partner with many nearby breweries to offer tap takeovers, rare beers and beer education classes.
“Our goal is to provide our guests with a one-of-a-kind World of Beer experience they won’t find anywhere else,” TJ Cantwell, the Austin World of Beer general manager, said in the press release. “Whether you’re a passionate beer lover or simply looking for a friendly place to gather for great casual food and a drink, we hope to see you here.”
World of Beer, at 3121 S. Lamar Blvd. will be open 11:00 a.m.-to 1 a.m. Sundays through Wednesdays and 11:00 a.m.to 2 a.m. Thursdays and Saturdays. For more information, visit the World of Beer website.
One of the world’s spirits with a distinct sense of place — imbued with all the traits that the natural environment, from soil to climate, influenced it with — is pisco, a brandy made in Peru and Chile’s winemaking regions. It’s one of the few spirits that can boast a Denomination of Origin, a regulatory title that means all pisco has to be made under strict guidelines and in only a specific region. (That region, according to the DO, is Peru, although certain countries allow Chile to export the grape-based spirit under the pisco name.)
Also deeply tied to the land is pisco’s biggest producer, Hacienda La Caravedo, a Peruvian distillery that has been making the white spirit since 1684, now through the Portón brand. The pisco that current Portón distiller Johnny Schuler makes comes from estate-grown grapes that sprout from the distillery’s land, nestled in the Ica Valley of Peru in the foothills of the Andes.
The result of the pisco’s distinct terroir is a silky beverage with a complex symphony of savory and tropical fruit flavors and a stewed stone fruit finish. It’s just as easy to drink by itself as in a cocktail, but if you do want it in a drink, try it in the pisco sour, the creation of an American bartender living in Peru in the 1920s. This Prohibition-era cocktail has helped to introduce many a drinker to the flavorful pisco, and Saturday is its big day: Peruvians celebrate National Pisco Sour Day on the first Saturday in February. A few local bars, including Peche, Searsucker and Firehouse Hostel and Lounge, will be featuring pisco sour specials. Or you can make it yourself at home with this recipe.
Portón Pisco Sour
2 oz. Pisco Portón
1 oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. simple syrup
1 oz. egg whites
Dash of Angostura bitters
Add all ingredients in a blender. Blend on high for 15 seconds, add 5 cubes of ice, and then pulse in the blender 5 times. Strain up into a glass. Garnish with 3 drops of Angostura bitters.
Only one bar that participated in last year’s Official Drink of Austin competition is returning to try and make the cocktail that defines Austin. North Loop pub Drink.Well will be joined Feb. 26 by newcomers Garage, Half Step, Odd Duck, Licha’s Cantina and Vox Table, an upcoming restaurant on South Lamar Boulevard.
The competition, which I announced last month would return in late February, pits local bar teams against each other in a friendly match-up to find out who has the best Austin-inspired cocktail. Although the five judges have the ultimate say in who will take that title, you’ll also get to try each of the offerings from the six bars and vote on which one is your favorite for a people’s choice prize. (And in case you’re worried all that boozy sampling might be too much, you’ll have bites from local eateries such as the Hightower, Gardner, Freedmen’s and Epicerie to keep you sharp.)
Judging this year’s Official Drink of Austin are Jason Kosmos, co-founder of the 86. Co. and a pioneer of New York’s cocktail scene; Jack Gilmore, chef and owner of Jack Allen’s Kitchen; Justin Elliott, last year’s competition winner and bartender at Qui; Jason Stevens, bar manager of La Corsha Hospitality Group’s restaurants; Dan Gentile, Thrillist writer; and Gina Chavez, an Austin-based singer/songwriter. They’ll be looking for an original, expertly made cocktail that in some way reflects Austin’s quirky spirit.
Although Vox Table is new this year — expect it to open in late February, early March — the small plate-focused restaurant’s beverage director, Travis Tober, sure isn’t. A longtime bartender, he competed for the Official Drink of Austin title last year with the Four Seasons team, helping it to take home the people’s choice award for the Treaty Oak bourbon-based Red Handed Stranger. Expect Vox Table’s drinks program to be centered around low-alcohol cocktails, house sodas, boilermakers and even a “Market Price Old Fashioned menu” that “sells drinks by weight rather than by the glass,” according to Details magazine.
The boozy event, held from 7 to 10 p.m. Feb. 26 at Fair Market on East Fifth Street, raises money for the Austin Food & Wine Alliance’s culinary grants program. To purchase the $55 tickets, visit the organization’s website at austinfoodwinealliance.org.
As the entertainment venue did last year during “Game of Thrones” screenings, the North Door will have a list of themed cocktails available during the “Better Call Saul” screenings that start up on Sunday with AMC’s premiere of the “Breaking Bad” spinoff.
Starring Bob Odenkirk as the small-time lawyer Saul Goodman, “Better Call Saul” will air on the North Door’s 25-foot HD screen Sunday at 9 p.m. when the show debuts; after that, the venue’s free watch parties will take place on Mondays, when the rest of the episodes run at 9 p.m. (However, there won’t be a screening of episode three on Feb. 16.)
At each of these watch parties, you’ll be able to sip on a show-themed drink that might just have you feeling a little crooked, from the vodka-based Plea Bargain to the tequila-heavy Time Served. Here’s the full menu of drink specials.
Plea Bargain:Deep Eddy Lemon Vodka and strawberry puree topped with champagne and a strawberry garnish. $8.
Time Served: Espolon Silver Tequila, fresh lime juice and agave nectar shaken and garnished with olives. $7.
Out on Parole: Absolut Citron, blue curacao and pineapple juice topped with a cherry. $7.
The Flaming Alchemist: Fireball, Blue Curacao and a flaming floater of Bacardi 151 Rum. $10.
And if you went to any of the North Door’s “Game of Thrones” or “Breaking Bad” screening last year — or any of the myriad comedy or music shows the venue regularly hosts — you might notice the space looks a little different. It’s been renovated, and among the changes is a new lounge area with revised seating and a service window that opens into the main room to offer additional bar service. A balcony bar and a kitchen are also in the works.
Relishing in the new flavors you can find in your old favorite brews, tapped from a firkin, is just one of the many benefits of the small casks. These vessels are used for conditioning and serving beer that is typically unfiltered, unpasteurized and served without additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure, making it less carbonated and smoother than beer poured from a draft system.
Another plus to using a firkin for serving beer is that it’s kept at a warmer temperature, augmenting the flavor profile and aroma.
In other words, firkins can pull out fresh nuances of the beer your tongue hadn’t detected before. Brewers use the firkins to experiment with their beer recipes, sometimes adding new ingredients to the beer, such as a different type of hops or something more unusual like toasted coconut. And since the beer in them is thus very limited (the cask holds about 41 liters of liquid), beer lovers often scramble to get their hands on a glass of some before it’s all gone.
Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden on Rainey Street is making the scramble a little easier with a firkin tapping every Thursday at 6 p.m. Each of the beers will have been “infused with unexpected additions such as fruits, herbs and spices,” according to a press release.
Here’s the full list of February firkin tappings.
Thursday: Jester King Le Petit Prince, dry hopped with Mosaic hops
Feb. 12: a double tapping of (512) Bruin with French oak tips and (512) Cascabel Cream Stout Mexican Hot Chocolate
Feb. 19: Circle Night Light with Guatemalan coffee
Feb. 26: Ballast Point Victory at Sea with Devil’s Share Whiskey-soaked oak chips
The range of opinions, from rage to satisfaction to apathy, in Austin’s beer scene reflected the country as a whole. Some people vowed not to drink any of the beers from craft breweries that AB InBev (the multinational beverage company that owns Budweiser) has purchased, most recently Seattle’s Elysian Brewing. Others pointed out that the ad, which took a swing at the apparently snobby, very large group of Americans who prefer to drink craft beer over the macro stuff, was simply a defensive maneuver hoping to keep its target audience who already like Budweiser’s “golden suds.”
Hey, @Budweiser. If you're so 'proud to be macro', why do you keep buying craft breweries?
Then, the other big player involved in macro beer responded last night with a sort of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” message: MillerCoors, owners of brands such as Blue Moon and Leinenkugel’s, came out with a poster proclaiming exactly the opposite of the Budweiser ad.
What do you think about Budweiser’s Super Bowl ad? (Which, as many in the media pointed out yesterday, inadvertently poked fun at one of the very beers that its recently purchased Elysian Brewing has produced in the past. Way to do your homework, Bud.) I tend to agree with An Avenue’s Eric Puga — fine, Budweiser doesn’t think very much of drinkers like us who don’t buy their beer, but why should we care? Sure, AB InBev has bought up a handful of smaller breweries over the years. But the company certainly doesn’t have the resources to either take over all craft breweries in the U.S. or convert those who support them.