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.