Starting tomorrow, Hops & Grain will also become a purveyor of beans.
Coffee beans, that is. The brewery is expanding taproom hours, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekly, and adding coffee, tea and kombucha to the menu to create an inviting work space during the day and the same fun hangout for friends at night (albeit with a couple of extra hours in the p.m.).
“My thinking behind these changes is to make Hops & Grain more than just a beer brand,” founder and owner Josh Hare said. “I want Hops & Grain to become a lifestyle brand available all year-round, 7 days a week. Plus, coffee is becoming a craft just like beer.”
He also had noticed, as someone who lives east of Pleasant Valley Road, that there aren’t any coffee shops until farther into town. Hops & Grain will become a closer option for people living in far East Austin to grab a cup of joe or work remotely, he said.
To accommodate these new daytime crowds, the brewery is currently undergoing small renovations, with more wireless network options, larger communal seating inside and a spruced-up patio outside all in the works.
The coffee is coming from locally owned Flat Track Coffee Roasters and Dallas-based Tweed, Houndstooth’s line of coffee. Hops & Grain plans to start slowly, launching with a trio of pour over options and drip service before adding espresso in July and in-house roasting in August or September. Other beverages on the menu include tea from Zhi Tea and 2 to 3 kombucha choices.
But that’s not the only change coming to Hops & Grain. Hare said the brewery’s line of mainstay brews is also evolving: Pale Dog and Alt-eration are going to become canned seasonals along with Pils Party, a pilsner. A Pale Mosaic, which launched as Hops & Grain’s first year-round draft beer, is taking their place and will go into cans featuring a fun mosaic pattern in July. (Alt-eration will be a fall and winter seasonal, Pils Party a summer one and Pale Dog a spring one.)
Additionally, Greenhouse, the series of small-batch beers typically available only in Hops & Grain’s taproom, is getting renamed. Because the series shares that name with the Greenhouse IPA, a popular year-round brew made with different hop varieties each month, these limited beers are now going to be part of the Dispensary series, which will focus on hop-forward beers, Hare said.
“There are always new hop varieties coming out, but when you have four or five regular beers, you can’t play around with the new hops,” he said. “Our small-batch beers will allow us to support the growers programs that make these new hops possible and really show off what they can do.”
They’ve come a long way in the year and a half since. Although honey’s sweetness still creates perceptions about their product, the meadery has grown to meet the demand for the variety of different honey wines the trio has been producing, from sessionable meads that compete with cider to still, higher ABV meads that are more like wine. Having gotten medals for three of their meads and seen Meridian Hive’s capacity swell to 160 bbls, the trio is now ready to throw an official grand opening party on May 9, complete with live music, a special release honey cider and a beekeeping demonstration with a local beekeeper.
The celebration will be a good opportunity to try Meridian Hive’s meads. The eight main releases aren’t like a lot of the meads on the market today, which Whitehead said tend to be “Renaissance Fair-style: 14 percent, super thick and super sweet for summer in Texas.”
In fact, he and the other co-founders — who originally decided to make mead because it was an underrepresented fermented beverage that they saw had a lot of promise — produce rather distinctive representations of the honey wine. Meridian Hive offers two types: carbonated session mead often made with additional ingredients like hops (like the dry-hopped Frontier or the ginger-peach Haven) or the higher ABV still mead that is mostly only available in the tasting room or at farmers markets (like the Huajilla or the Sage).
This second group of mead features, for the most part, mono-floral honey (meaning that it comes from a single pollen source) and no other additions so as “to showcase the flavor profile of one individual honey,” Whitehead said, adding that depending on the pollen the bees cultivated, honey varietals can taste wildly different from each other.
Although the Meridian Hive founders are just as interested as other craft producers to source regionally, they’re also very picky about the honey they use and have found the local honey they prefer the most is Huajilla from Uvalde. The clean, mellow varietal produces a mead that some people have mistaken for white wine before, Lowe said.
Plus, it’s important to the trio to experiment with honey beyond the borders of Texas.
“We’ve got this explorer/ adventurer outlook, so we source honey from coast to coast. We want to portray flavor profiles from all over the world,” Whitehead said, noting that the passion for exploration gave the meadery its name.
Their curiosity extends beyond honey as well. The grand opening party on May 9 will debut a couple of special Meridian Hive beverages, including Aurora, a strikingly complex cider featuring mainly Texas apples, honey for sweetness and cinnamon-roasted pecans sourced from a pecan orchard in Elgin.
But even though Whitehead, Lowe and Simmons might dabble with cider or wine, their primarily love is mead — and they’re not the only ones with an affection for the honey beverage. They’ve made fast converts out of newcomers who stop by the Meridian Hive booth at area farmers markets, Whitehead said, who makes it a challenge of his to prove wrong anyone who thinks the mead is going to be too sweet. They’ve also drawn people into the meadery in far East Austin for weekend tours and tastings. (It’s open 4 to 7 p.m. on Fridays and 2 to 7 p.m. Saturdays.)
“We can’t make enough of some of our stuff,” he said. “Rhapsody, our blackberry mead, is sold out as soon as we keg it and get it out the door.”
They’re relatively alone in the market, too. Simmons said they’re likely one of only 10 other meaderies in the country focusing on carbonated session options and one of 150 total beverage producers in the country classified as meaderies (versus as wineries that make mead).
“We’re part of a very small group of people,” he said.
In the future, look out for meads made from raspberry and blueberry honey, as well as from less-recognized varietals like fireweed, a plant that grows extensively in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Simmons also wants to produce a margarita mead — something that’s sure to go fast in ‘rita-loving Austin, especially because Meridian Hive’s small-batch system can only put out so much.
“There’s so much we want to make, but it just all depends on what we have room for,” he said with a rueful laugh.
Meridian Hive’s Grand Opening Party, 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday, May 9. $15. 8120 Exchange Dr. Ste. 400. meridianhive.com.
Because a movie pairs best with a pint of beer, the Alamo Drafthouse has always had a solid beer list — and in May, one of the brews on it will be one that Drafthouse employees had a hand in making with Colorado’s Odell Brewing.
The Drafthouse decided to collaborate with Odell in honor of the upcoming Drafthouse Films French crime thriller “The Connection,” releasing this summer. The beer will be a small-batch offering available in stores and on tap at Drafthouse locations in Texas, Colorado and Missouri, according to a press release. Plus, these locations will also have mini Odell tap takeovers throughout next month.
The collaboration brew, the French (Hop) Connection, is a nod to the film not only with the name. The saison features more than 112 lbs. of sought-after French hop varietals Aramis and Triskel.
“I knew (Odell) would love the challenge of pairing a French-style beer to our new French crime thriller,” Drafthouse founder Tim League said in the press release.
He joined the Drafthouse’s beer team in Fort Collins, Colo., a couple months ago for one final tasting and brewing session with Odell. The brewery wanted to create a beer that would complement the film, which hits theaters on May 15.
“We were able to to source both Triskel and Aramis hops from a grower in France,” Odell head brewer Bill Beymer said. “It was the first time we used these two varietals, so it was really pleasing to see the way the sweet, spicy character, with hints of citrus and herbs, complemented the saison.”
Drink the French (Hop) Connection while watching “The Connection,” a 1970s-era crime thriller starring Academy Award winner Jean Dujardin as real-life Marseille magistrate Pierre Michel, who relentlessly crusaded to dismantle the most notorious drug smuggling operation in history, the French Connection. Some Drafthouse locations will have special beer dinner screenings to go along with the flick; keep an eye out for further details on those dinners.
And in the meantime, here’s a fun look at the making of the beer.
The result of that project is Highspire Pure Rye Whiskey, which he debuted at the Austin Food and Wine Festival Sunday with a trio of cocktails that displayed the range of the rye’s flavor profile.
It’s a peculiar rye, to be sure — Hope trumpets its distinction as a whiskey with an all-rye bill, an unusual characteristic for most other rye whiskeys, but sip it neat and you’ll notice the robust spice so prevalent in many other rye brands is subdued by a fruity sweetness. Tasting it at the festival yesterday, I was puzzled by that until he said that Highspire spends about 120 days in the French and American oak barrels that previously used to age Hope Family wines. Oak staves are also added to the rye’s maturing process.
The wood’s brief influence on the rye imparts hints of vanilla into it, but the sweetness (which the Highspire tasting sheet gave the more nuanced description of “poached apples”) most likely derives from the wine that aged in the used barrels. That’s another unusual trait of Hope’s rye whiskey — wine barrels don’t typically have a second life as whiskey barrels. (In fact, one of the rules of American rye, besides having to be distilled from at least 51 percent rye, is that the whiskey has to be aged in new charred oak barrels, just like bourbon.)
Hope’s aware his whiskey isn’t made the customary way, and he’s okay with that. “That’s who I am. Untraditional and random,” he said during his festival presentation yesterday.
Although I prefer rye whiskeys that make the spicy soul of the grain more prominent, I still appreciated Highspire for its complexity. It’s exactly the sort of whiskey that a winemaker like Hope might make, as he seems unafraid to break the rules to stay true to a certain vision.
The name of his whiskey brings back an old rye brand from 1823, when it was much more common to distill with 100 percent rye. He wanted to stay true to the Highspire legacy (which died out, like so many American spirits did, during Prohibition) by making it from a single-varietal heirloom rye that he had specially grown.
“Last year, nobody like rye,” Hope said, but he’s noticed a trend toward adding it in cocktails that he’s betting will only continue. He and local bartenders Brian Floyd and Vanessa Cook all presented the audience with three drinks featuring Highspire, including this one below.
Peach Julep with Highspire Rye
1-2 oz. Highspire Pure Rye Whiskey
3 oz. peach juice
3 oz. club soda
1/2 tsp. sugar
Muddle mint leaves in a shaker. Add rye, peach juice and sugar into the shaker with ice and shake thoroughly. Pour over crushed ice and top with club soda.
This year’s Austin Food and Wine Festival, which kicked off Friday evening and runs through Sunday afternoon, is shining the spotlight on Texas beverages. The three panels I attended today, including master sommelier Devon Broglie’s look at rosé wines, all emphasized either Texas-made or Texas-favored drinks — and they also included helpful tips to enjoy these products in your own home.
Devon Broglie’s “Rosé By Any Other Name”
Although rosé wines were once perceived as the sweet, low-budget blush wines that no self-respecting wine aficionado would dare touch, winemakers all over the world are making award-winning rosés that are not only easy on the wallet but especially suited for sipping in this steaming Texas weather. Broglie, a global beverage buyer with Whole Foods, is a staunch supporter of them and offered up some of his favorites for tasting.
Tips for finding that perfect rosé: Just like whites and reds, rosé wines have an array of flavor profiles based on the grapes they’re made from, so select ones you know you’re partial to. Plus, they don’t have to be fancy. All of the ones Broglie selected for his talk had screw-tops, making them easy to stash in a cooler for a summer barbecue or a day poolside, he said, and the most expensive one (from Provence) clocked in at an affordable $20 to $24. Among his selections was a rosé from Texas’ McPherson Cellars, the 2014 Les Copains Rose, a blend of Cinsault, Mourvedre, and Viognier grapes so well done that the 2013 version was included in Texas Monthly’s top Texas wines list at the end of last year.
Ray Isle’s “Texas Two-Sip”
The wine editor of Food & Wine magazine teamed up with Broglie and another local master sommelier, Craig Collins (who was the subject of my recent Austin Food & Wine Fest preview piece), to bring fest-goers a fun blind tasting to compare how Texas wines can compare to their global counterparts. The trio selected one Texas-made wine to compete against one from another wine region, with four total rounds featuring white, rosé and red grapes.
Tips for creating your own blind tasting: Make sure to pair up wines with the same grape varietals and a similar price point, Isle said, who found the other wines to compare against the Texas versions that Broglie and Collins cultivated. Make sure they also run the gamut in varietal, from Trebbiano to Cinsault to Syrah, as the wines in the Texas Two-Sip. Also taste the lighter wines first, or their more delicate notes will get obliterated by the richer ones.
Most of all, don’t be afraid to pick out some wines from Texas — as the tasting proved, they can hold their own in a competition.
“Really great wines are coming out of Texas and I don’t think the rest of the world knows that yet,” Isle said.
David Alan’s “Rescue the ‘Rita”
With his characteristic flair, Tipsy Texan’s David Alan started off the panel bluntly: “I’m angry,” he said. “The sacred institution, the rarefied holy water that is the margarita” has become a cheapened version of its former tequila-soaked, Cointreau-accented self. As simple as it is, it’s become messed up over the years by mixes and “skinny” 100-calorie versions that are either too sweet or too watered down to count as the cocktail that Texans have adopted as their drink of choice just about any time of year. (Cinco de Mayo’s coming up, but you certainly don’t need a reason to down a margarita, he said.)
Tips for making the perfect margarita: Avoid the mixes. Also avoid the cheap mixto tequila that isn’t 100 percent blue agave, as this stuff was probably the reason you woke up with so many bad hangovers and a story to tell for years to come during your college days (which Alan is very interested in hearing, by the way). In addition to good tequila, use Cointreau, freshly squeezed lime juice and some simple syrup for a touch of sweetness — that’s all you need for the margarita that he said is worth preserving.
Having a mariachi group to serenade you while you shake all those ingredients together with ice, as Alan had, certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
Throughout the week, anyone can relax in one of the hammocks available at Irie Bean Coffee Bar’s back patio shared by the brick-and-mortar East Side King on South Lamar Boulevard.
But on Thursday and Friday evenings starting at 4 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays starting at noon, the coffee shop turns the outdoor space into a full-blown bar, the South Lamar Social Club, with beer and wine cocktails — a move that owner Raf Robinson and staff made to showcase the bit of a hidden gem that the back patio has become.
The name came from a comment made a few years back by regulars at the coffee bar, Robinson said. “A few friends in the neighborhood said Irie Bean was the South Lamar Social Club because all our neighbors come here,” he said, adding that to transform the back area into a boozy spot all its own, he and the staff had some renovations done to it with more seating and 14 beer taps put in, among other changes.
Beers there include a mix of local offerings from Hops & Grain, Real Ale and Independence Brewing as well as more international suds like St. Bernardus Abt 12, a Belgium quadrupel ale widely regarded as a world-class brew.
Although Irie Bean doesn’t have the license to sell liquor, Robinson said the staff has had fun making wine cocktails instead with the help of a frozen drink machine.
“We wanted to get a little adventurous with our wine menu,” he said, adding he drew inspiration for the frozen cocktails from Zocalo Cafe, a Clarksville-area interior Mexican restaurant where he used to order frozen sangria.
The South Lamar Social Club has 7 wine cocktails on the menu, including a frozen margarita made with an agave wine, a watermelon moscato featuring fresh watermelon pureed in-house, a blueberry mojito with moscato instead of rum, and a white sangria. All of them, he noted, are suited for summertime sipping.
Pair a pint or one of the frozen drinks with food from East Side King next door and Irie Bean Coffee Bar’s new beer garden offers something pretty special, Robinson said.
South Lamar Social Club, 2310 S. Lamar Blvd. 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, noon to 11 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. www.iriebean.com.
As the monthly Liquid calendar proves, there’s typically something booze-related to do every weekend — but this weekend is particularly chock-full of these events and is worth its own round-up to keep ’em all straight.
Off-Centered Film Festival: The 8th annual weekend of film and beer, a collaboration between the Alamo Drafthouse and Dogfish Head Brewery, kicks off on 6 p.m. Thursday with a Rolling Roadshow Beer Party featuring Master Pancake mocking the 1997 romance classic “Titanic.” The film doesn’t start until 8 p.m., giving you plenty of time to relish the beers, which are plenty and all very good, from Austin Beerworks Furry Beagle to Jester King Repose. Plus, you can dunk a booth full of brewers and stuff yourself full of grub from a variety of food trucks.
The Austin Food and Wine Festival: Yes, it’s the big to-do starting Friday night, but if you don’t already have tickets, the festival is sold out. Although both food and wine are in the fest’s name, it leans more heavily toward food, with a few select demos devoted to, this year, wine and spirits specifically. Among them is Whole Foods sommelier Devon Broglie’s “Rosé By Any Other Name” at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Food & Wine Magazine wine editor Ray Isle’s “Texas Two-Sip” at 2:15 p.m. Saturday and Tipsy Texan’s David Alan’s “Rescue the ‘Rita” at 3 p.m. Saturday. Isle’s demo in particular is worth checking out because you’ll be blind-tasting a Texas wine and its more global counterpart to see how the Texas wine industry fares against older wine regions.
On Sunday, ELM Restaurant Group beverage director Craig Collins (who’s crafted the drinks list for local eateries like Arro and the new Italic) will be teaming up with ELM Chef Andrew Curren to showcase Italian wine and food pairings at 1:30 p.m. An 11:15 a.m. demo about rye and rye cocktails, “Ryeopeners” with winemaker and distiller Austin Hope, is also a good bet for Sunday at the Austin Food & Wine Fest. Plus, the grand tasting tent both days will have lots of good bites and sips to try, so come hungry and thirsty.
WhichCraft’s 1st Anniversary Party at Hops & Grain: Toast to many more years to come of WhichCraft, a store devoted entirely to craft beer, with this celebration at Hops & Grain on Sunday starting at 1 p.m. Fork over $15 and you’ll get a commemorative WhichCraft 1st anniversary glass, 6 drink tickets (1 ticket equals a half pour) and a fun afternoon listening to live music. The store’s own Sahara Smith and her band Girl Pilot will be among the live performers.
¡Viva Tequila! Book Signing at Metier: If you’re looking for something a little less party-centric, tequila aficionado and writer Lucinda Hutson will be at Metier Sunday signing her book about Mexico and its beloved agave spirit, complete with tequila cocktail recipes. She’ll be sharing her stories about how the book came to be (it’s a follow-up to her 1995 “Tequila! Cooking with the Spirit of Mexico”) and offering tastes of T1 Tequila and Tequila 512, as well as cocktails including her Sangrita.
No word yet on where the downtown hotel places on the list for last month, but chances are, with South by Southwest in addition to its regular business, the J.W. Marriott has been moving through a lot of bottles of booze ever since.
Part of the reason it’s become such a boozy stronghold for both Austinites and tourists alike is that it’s a shiny new place with a trio of dining options — the hotel has a walk-up window Burger Bar, Italian-centric Osteria Pronto and the Texas-inspired outdoor spot Corner Bar — and it’s in an ideal location at Second Street and Congress Avenue.
But that explanation doesn’t quite give the J.W. Marriott bar program and staff enough credit. The bartenders (among them Carley Dunavant, one of the key players who helped to make Austin’s bar scene as good as it is today) have worked hard to ensure the J.W. Marriott can compete with some of Austin’s best cocktail meccas, bringing a special focus to the bar with a pair of spirits especially beloved by Corner bar general manager Brian Jaymont: tequila and the Mexican spirit’s more rustic cousin, mezcal.
Although he started out as a whiskey lover, he developed an affinity for tequila over the years, he said, adding that he likes the craftsmanship that goes into making it. Because it takes between 8 to 10 years to grow the agave from which tequila is distilled, “it’s far from a party spirit that you take in shots,” he said — you’ll want to savor each sip for the “complexity of flavor” that each one has.
Jaymont noted that many bar programs highlighting tequila try to be all-encompassing, with all the different styles available from every brand, but he and J.W. Marriott’s bar staff were more selective, especially wanting to highlight Texas-based tequila operations like Tequila 512.
Plus, he wants to showcase mezcal, also derived from the agave plant but often much smokier. Its distinctive taste means that it’s a favored spirit in bartenders’ arsenals, although if incorporated poorly into a cocktail, Jaymont said, it turns off potential fans. (The J.W. Marriott’s Forever Smoky, featuring Corralejo Reposado Tequila and Forever OAX Mezcal, Luxardo maraschino liqueur and serrano peppers, is a beautifully done example of how mezcal can add an extra dimension to a drink, breathing a hint of smoke into the spicy and sweet elements of the Marriott’s signature cocktail.)
Here, Jaymont offers a few of his favorite tequila and mezcal brands on the market today — all available at the hotel, located at 110 E. Second St., of course.
Sierra Vieja: This small-batch tequila brought in from Mexico by San Antonio’s Harol Avila is named after the small town in Mexico where his parents met and fell in love, Jaymont said. As the J.W. Marriott’s house tequila, it’s “fantastic quality for the cost ($26),” he said, adding that since so few bottles of it are produced, the hotel is just about the only place in town where it’s distributed. And Jaymont is quite all right keeping it so exclusive.
Qui Tequila: Although this extra añejo has been aged for more than three and a half years in a mix of white oak barrels that formerly aged American whiskey and French Bordeaux, it doesn’t exactly look the part of a matured spirit. It’s clear as a blanco tequila because after its time in barrels, it’s further distilled, Jaymont said, “to make it approachable” while still retaining its agave kick and butterscotch notes from the barrels.
Tears of Llorona: An extra añejo like Qui, it could not be more different from its colorless counterpart. Master distiller German Gonzalez aged his hard-to-find tequila (which has been likened to “the Pappy of tequila” for its rarity) in old Scotch, sherry and brandy barrels for 54 months to impart a port finish, very round and rich, in the spirit that he named after an old Mexican ghost story. Gonzalez, who took over the boozy family business from his father, won’t disclose the details of his aging process, but suffice it to say, his secretive methods work.
Alipus San Baltazar: Of all the mezcals in the J.W. Marriott collection, this one’s Jaymont’s favorite. It’s made from espadin agave (whereas all tequila comes from the blue agave plant) grown at a high altitude in a hilly area of Oaxaca with rocky soil, and it’s got an anise note at the front that he said makes the mezcal stand out from the others. It’s a “joven” mezcal, meaning it hasn’t been aged — but a mezcal that’s spent some time maturing might actually be best for someone new to the Mexican spirit, he said, since “oak mellows out a lot of that char.” For an aged mezcal, he recommends Agave de Cortes 1 year.
An Alamo Drafthouse screening of the original “True Grit” (you know, the one with John Wayne) on Sunday isn’t any ordinary showing of the film.
Present for a bourbon tasting and cocktail presentation beforehand and a Q&A afterward is John Wayne’s son Ethan, as well as world renowned bartender Francesco Lafranconi, to present a very special bottle of booze: the Duke Bourbon Whiskey, a blend of 5 to 10-year-old bourbons aged in charred barrels to recreate the bottles of whiskey that John Wayne had left stashed away after his death.
It turns out that in addition to being an actor whose legendary work essentially defined what it meant to make a western in the 20th century, John Wayne was also a bit of a drinks connoisseur who enjoyed sharing the best of the world’s spirits with his friends.
His son, now 53, “remembers his father telling him about his dream to create his own whiskey, his own Scotch and, of course, his very own tequila,” according to a press release. “Naturally, they would be aged just right and crafted in an authentic style that could be enjoyed in the finest clubs and restaurants, around the campfire with a big steak and roasted potatoes, on a boat while fishing, or after a hard day of shooting for the silver screen.”
That dream didn’t come to fruition during the actor’s lifetime, but it’s one that Ethan Wayne resurrected when he opened his father’s crate of bottles and tumblers dating all the way back to 1963. The bottles were comprised of a lot of John Wayne’s favorites — and echoes of their flavor profiles exist now in the Duke, the bourbon that Ethan Wayne and others have produced in honor of his father’s memory.
If you purchase a $13 ticket to Sunday’s one-night-only screening, you’ll be able to try the bourbon and watch Lafranconi pour some cocktails featuring the bourbon before the show starts. Afterward, he and Ethan Wayne will participate in a Q&A.
Lafranconi has worked at bars around the world and now trains beverage professionals at his Academy of Spirits and Fine Service, a 12-week education program, so film-goers will be in good hands if they want to sip on a cocktail during “True Grit,” a 1969 movie in which John Wayne plays U.S. Marshal “Rooster” Cogburn tracking a murderer into Indian territory.
“True Grit” screening, 6:45 p.m. Sunday. $13. Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, 1120 S. Lamar Blvd. drafthouse.com.
During the day, the brewery’s large garage-style doors are up, beckoning sunshine and passersby into the small, laid-back taproom where currently two beers are on draft, a Honey Saison and an ESB.
Zilker Brewing has finally opened on East Sixth Street after a few years of planning and permitting delays — and it’s exactly the sort of neighborhood brewery that brothers Forrest and Patrick Clark and their longtime friend Marco Rodriguez had been envisioning, ever since one of their beers, the Marco IPA, took home a gold medal at their first homebrew competition.
Across the street from the Grackle and not far from Whisler’s, Zilker Brewing is in the thick of East Sixth’s bar scene, but it’s not the kind of place that packs in party-goers looking to slurp down beer after beer, making it a natural fit within the several blocks of the east side’s easygoing nightlife district. A couple of long wooden tables, a row of chairs along one wall and a handful of stools at the bar offer the only seating in the taproom. Behind the bar, the 15-barrel brewhouse that serves as Rodriguez’ playground is in full shining view.
Visitors to the taproom, open Wednesdays through Sundays, can get a 16 oz. pour for $5 and a 6 oz. pour for $2. Although only two brews are available right now, up to 8 other beers will eventually join the Honey Saison and the ESB.
The trio has emulated Zilker Brewing after many of the hundreds of other breweries they’ve visited around the country and Europe, an intentional move that will help to push Austin ever closer to the status of a big beer city like Portland, where every five or six blocks is a small urban brewery serving the immediate area around it.
“What we want to be, what we’ve seen on our travels to all these other places, what Austin doesn’t have a lot of is a neighborhood brewery,” Forrest Clark said. “That’s what we want to be. That’s our focus initially; we’ll distribute to our neighbors on the east side first. We want to be part of the neighborhood. People can ride their bikes here, walk here. We’ll get to know them.”
So far, the only way to try Zilker Brewing beers is through the brewery taproom, but that will change in May when the Clarks and Rodriguez start distributing kegs to mainly East Austin establishments. Come summer, Zilker Brewing’s mainstays — the ESB, as well as a pale ale and session IPA — will also go into 12 oz. cans. (The Honey Saison, the beer that introduced Austin to Zilker Brewing at an Austin Beer Guide event at the Draught House earlier this month, is actually a seasonal.)
Their beers might not sound like they have been influenced much by Belgian flair, other than the saison, but they approach brewing with an American-Belgo twist, Forrest Clark said. All the core beers use Trappist ale yeast for complexity, he said, while still being bright and clean and sessionable, with most of their full portfolio clocking in under 6 percent ABV.
“The Belgian yeast adds something you can’t really pinpoint,” Rodriguez said. “You don’t know what it is; you just know it’s different, it’s good.”
Eventually, they plan to brew up other seasonals as well — additional 30-barrel fermenters are hidden away in a large storage room behind the main facility — including the Marco IPA that started it all, the Zilker Lager that will be a mash-up of a helles and a pilsner, Patrick Clark said, and a coffee milk stout for the colder months.
The Clarks and Rodriguez have known each other for 20 years, ever since attending high school together in Lago Vista. Forrest Clark and Rodriguez went on to join the same University of Texas fraternity, while Patrick Clark, the youngest of the trio, attended St. Edward’s University. He first fell in love with craft beer by tasting Real Ale’s Full Moon Rye Pale Ale (now an IPA that he said is just as good) and decided to homebrew because back then, there weren’t enough Austin breweries serving good local beer.
That’s changed, of course, but Zilker Brewing (so named, Forrest Clark said, because it’s “something local and easy to remember”) has the help of clean branding and design to stand out, in addition to the solid lineup of beers. Zocalo Design, further down East Sixth Street, gave the brewery a “retro modern” logo that will pop on Zilker Brewing’s cans, and locally-based Dick Clark Architecture imbued the old mechanic’s shop the brewery used to be with a homey feel and an openness that will allow visitors to observe every part of the brewing process.
“I think the city is promoting this area to be a pedestrian-friendly zone, and it’s something we were attracted to long-term as well,” Forrest Clark said. “We just want to become part of the neighborhood.”
Zilker Brewing, 1701 E. Sixth St. Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 2 p.m. to midnight Fridays, noon to midnight Saturdays and 2 to 8 p.m. Sundays. http://www.zilkerbeer.com.