Celebrate Negroni Week with locally made gin

My Fair Lady at Whisler's is one of the cocktails you'll find at area bars next week celebrating Negroni Week and raising money for charity.
My Fair Lady at Whisler’s is one of the cocktails you’ll find at area bars next week celebrating Negroni Week and raising money for charity.

The Negroni is disarmingly simple — one part gin, one part sweet vermouth and one part Campari, stirred and served over ice with an orange twist — but its balance of botanical bite from the gin, the sweet and spicy tug-of-war from the vermouth and the final bitter punch from the Campari has been bewitching bartenders for years now, even when the martini reigned supreme.

The scarlet-colored cocktail (so hued because of the Campari, a striking aperitif) is such a crucial component of any bar program that there’s now a whole week devoted to it.

Running starting Monday through June 7 this year, Negroni Week, a nationwide event, both celebrates the beauty that is the Negroni and raises money for important charitable causes. Bars all over the U.S. are serving up the classic cocktail, as well as fun riffs on it, and donating the proceeds from each purchased drink to the charity of their choice.

Here’s a list of what some local bars are doing next week and which charity they are benefiting in the process.

Drink.Well: The Negroni (Campari, Genius Gin, Dolin vermouth); Sbagliato Negroni with sparkling rosé; and Bianco Negroni (Ford’s Gin, Suze and Dolin blanc vermouth). Benefiting the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

East Side Show Room: Western Union (mezcal, punt e mes, Campari), benefiting Austin Pets Alive

Freedmen’s: Bartender’s Choice Negroni, benefiting American Heart Association

Italic: Classic Negronis on tap, benefiting the Sustainable Food Center

The Negroni at Italic is on tap during Negroni Week, starting Monday through June 7.
The Negroni at Italic is on tap during Negroni Week, starting Monday through June 7.

Midnight Cowboy: Walking Spanish (Vago Espadin Elote Mezcal, La Guita Manzanilla Sherry, Bigallet China China Quinquina, grapefruit peel), benefiting the Capital Area Food Bank.

The Hightower: The Negroni, More Cowbell (Rakia, Aperol, blanc vermouth) and New Pal (rye, vermouth, Averna, bitters). Benefiting ColorCancer.

Searsucker: White Negroni with Lemon Verbena-infused gin, benefiting Austin Pets Alive

The Tigress: Classic Negroni, Crimson Dream (mezcal, sweet vermouth, Aperol, Ancho Reyes chile liqueur), Roses Are Red (gin, Scared Spirits Rosehip Cup, sweet vermouth) and Oh Sherry (gin, Contratto vermouth, Tio Pepe sherry fino). Benefiting Austin Pets Alive.

Vox Table: Classic Negroni, Boulevardier (Buffalo Trace bourbon, Campari, Cocchi Torino), Aged Negroni (Waterloo Antique Gin, Campari, Cocchi Torino), American Negroni (Aviation American Gin, Campari, Cocchi Torino) and Rum Negroni (Treaty Oak Aged Rum, Campari, Cocchi Torino), benefiting Austin Pets Alive.

W Austin: Barrel-Aged Negroni (Dripping Springs Gin, Campari, Martini Rossi Sweet Vermouth), benefiting Austin Young Chamber of Commerce

Whisler’s: My Fair Lady (Pisco Porton, Campari, Cocchi Americano, Bittermens Grapefruit Bitters), benefiting St. Jude’s Research Hospital.

For the full list of participating bars in Austin, visit negroniweek.com/participating-bars/.

Or, if you’re interested in mixing up a Negroni yourself, consider using locally made gin from any one of the mostly top-notch spirits producers here: Dripping Springs Gin, Genius Gin, Moody June Gin from Bone Spirits, Waterloo Gin from Treaty Oak Distilling and Austin Reserve Gin from Revolution Spirits.

At an informal blind taste test yesterday at the Tigress, I had the opportunity to try each of these gins by themselves and then incorporated into a Negroni (with the Campari and the vermouth remaining the same each time). The results?

I found myself preferring the bold anise-heavy Dripping Springs Gin all by itself — it’s not a traditional juniper-forward London dry-style gin, something that works for it — as well as Treaty Oak’s Waterloo Gin, a stellar example of the London dry style with a Texas twist. Waterloo, in addition to using local juniper and other botanicals, also features lavender, grapefruit and pecan. They aren’t typical ingredients to add to gin, but they impart Treaty Oak’s gin with a regional flavor.

However, in the Negroni, I leaned toward — in addition to that Waterloo — the Austin Reserve Gin from Revolution Spirits. Assertive enough to have a complementary presence alongside the Campari and vermouth, it balanced them so well, drawing out the floral, citrusy notes present in the gin. Austin Reserve is made with just six botanicals: juniper, rosemary, grapefruit, lemongrass, lavender and pink peppercorn. That simplicity is effective.

The Negroni

1 oz. gin
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. sweet vermouth
Garnish orange twist

Stir all ingredients with ice in a double old-fashioned glass. Garnish with the orange twist.

Hill Country vineyards not yet devastated by recent floods

Contributed by Phil West. Pedernales Cellars' Kuhlken Vineyards require dry sunny days for the grapes to ripen at the optimal level, so if these rainy days extend deep into summer, the winery's David Kuhlken will be worried about the result.
Photo by Julie Kuhlken. Hill Country vineyards, including Pedernales Cellars’ Kuhlken Vineyards, require dry sunny days for the grapes to ripen at the optimal level, so if these rainy days extend deep into summer, winemakers are worried about the result.

For many involved in Texas’ wine community, it’s a question that so far doesn’t have an answer: How does all this rain affect the quality of the grapes being grown in the Hill Country and the High Plains regions of the state?

Grapes, later on in the growing season, require “nice, dry, warm summer days to ripen,” Pedernales Cellars’ winemaker David Kuhlken said. So even though the floods that recently devastated areas in the Hill Country, including Hays County’s Wimberley and San Marcos, have brought a higher-than-normal amount of rain to the area’s vineyards, the extra moisture isn’t detrimental to the grapes — yet. If this rainy weather continues into the later summer months, he said, the grapes won’t be able to ripen in time.

There’s still another problem that arises from these rainy days, however. The humidity resulting from them makes the grape vines susceptible to mildew and other fungi that can grow on the skins of the grapes if left unchecked by winemakers’ careful watching and spraying, Kuhlken said. And fungi growth can lead to grape rot.

While he and the rest of the Pedernales Cellars team in Fredericksburg have been diligent about keeping away the pests, he’s noticed after driving around other vineyards in the area that “some are having a harder time than others.”

It’s a problem that Pilot Knob Vineyard, northwest of Georgetown, has already been dealing with, try as owner Craig Pinkley might to fend off the fungi from his fruit. His winery has one estate vineyard, used to make a Cabernet and a Tempranillo, that he originally saw was being “turbo-charged” by all the rain earlier this year. Now, the rain is proving a hindrance.

“There’s no way to combat what comes in with so many excessive days of rain,” he said, citing mold and rot issues. “You try to stay on top of your spray regimen, but it’s hard to make your way through a soggy field. And, of course, the spray can wash off in the rain, too.”

Pinkley is predicting lower yields of the grapes as a consequence — but he can’t say for sure if the grapes that do remain will be as good quality as past harvests. “Hopefully it doesn’t affect quality; I don’t think it will,” he said.

Kuhlken can’t say for sure, either. “Things are very difficult for the vineyards, but it’s a little early to say what the impact will be,” he said.

For Pedernales Cellars in particular, an April hailstorm caused the most trouble, decimating about 60 percent of the young grapes on the vines in the winery’s Kuhlken Vineyards. Although Pedernales sources grapes from 7 other vineyards, none of which suffered hail damage in the April storm, the loss of the winery’s estate fruit means they won’t be able to have as many estate vintages this year as they had hoped — wines that come exclusively from the winery’s own vineyards and are thus pretty special bottles.

Still, Kuhlken is optimistic. He remembers 2007, when “it rained and didn’t stop” all the way through harvest season, hampering the crop. As long as the rain lets up later this year, this harvest won’t be so bad, he said.

That’s the crucial time for growers, High Plains grape producer Neal Newsom of Newsom Vineyards said. With 150 acres devoted to growing grapes for a dozen Texas wineries, a venture he’s had in some form since the 1980s, he knows what weather conditions can do to the fruit.

“The only thing that would affect the crop in this part of the world is a lot of rain at harvest,” he said, although “if it became a biblical flood for the next four months, we’d have really bad issues.”

Thankfully, the High Plains is producing a good grape harvest this year, he said. The High Plains, in the northwestern part of the state, is a big provider of fruit for many Hill Country wineries, not all of whom have their own vineyards like Pedernales Cellars or Pilot Knob or, if they do, still rely on other sources to make all the wine they want.

Like Kuhlken, Pilot Knob’s Pinkley is in good spirits. “What we do is farming, so we have some kind of natural peril each year,” he said. “It’s either a freeze or a drought or this year, too much rain. You have to learn how to roll with it or you’re going to go batty worrying about what could happen.”

Infamous brewing up funds for leukemia and lymphoma research

Josh Horowitz, brewer at Infamous Brewing Company in Hudson Bend, is campaigning to win Man of the Year through the South Central Texas chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through various fundraising activities.
Josh Horowitz, brewer at Infamous Brewing Company in Hudson Bend, is campaigning to win Man of the Year through the South Central Texas chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through various fundraising activities.

Although less than a week remains until the end of May, that’s plenty of time to help out Infamous Brewing’s Josh Horowitz with an important cause: raising money for the .

As a story for the Statesman-owned Lake Travis View explained earlier this month, Horowitz has been campaigning since the end of March to become  for the South Central Texas chapter of the LLS, which has entailed coming up and following through with creative ways to raise money for leukemia and lymphoma research.

For him, co-owner of the Hudson Bend brewery, it was probably a pretty easy brainstorm: Horowitz said in the story that in addition to sending out emails and letters asking people to donate, he’s doing a beer sales match campaign f

So far, 10,240 Infamous pints have been sold this month, according to a recent post on Infamous’ Facebook page. You can find these beers at places like Brew Exchange, School House Pub, Foxhole Culinary Tavern and more. Or, if you’re simply looking to help out, visit Horowitz’s LLS Man of the Year campaign website.

Austin bars prepare for summer with seasonal cocktails

Photo by Julia Robinson / for American-Statesman. Qui's On Tour with Zykos is one of the cocktails featured in a big summer drinks story in Austin360.
Photo by Julia Robinson / for American-Statesman. Qui’s On Tour with Zykos is one of the cocktails featured in a big summer drinks story in Austin360.

Summer is my favorite time of year, and not just because my birthday falls at the tail end of it. Just the thought of running into the ocean spray with the coconut smell of sunscreen filling my nose is enough to get me counting down as early as April to my annual sojourn to the Texas coast. But with all that glorious sun comes scorching temperatures — and the best antidote for those, of course, is a nice refreshing beverage.

In Austin, at least, there will be plenty of them, alcoholic or not. For tomorrow’s big summer-focused Austin360, I’ve explored the boozy options that local bars and restaurants like Qui, which head bartender Justin Elliott tends to keep well-stocked with on-the-rocks drinks, are offering in the hot months ahead. Here’s a roundup of some of the summer cocktails that didn’t make it into tomorrow’s story (but not because they aren’t tasty. Just because, you know, there’s only so much space available and I could go on and on). In no particular order:

Among the drinks on Bess Bistro's seasonal menu is a Lavender Bees Knees, as well as a Spring Thyme Lemonade, right, and a mint julep.
Photo by Ashlyn Allison. Among the drinks on Bess Bistro’s seasonal menu is a Lavender Bees Knees, as well as a Spring Thyme Lemonade, right, and a mint julep.

Bess Bistro: This West Sixth Street restaurant, along with sister eatery Walton’s Fancy & Staple, has its very own farm in West Austin from which to cultivate the fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs for the food and drinks menus alike, allowing Bess’ bar staff to “prepare seasonal cocktails around the harvesting of our garden,” general manager Alanna Eck says.

Four of these cocktails are poured straight from a tap. Among them was my favorite on Bess’ current menu, the Lavender Bees Knees with gin, honey syrup, lavender bitters and a garnish of honey powder. The lavender teases with a soft floral aroma, drawing you right into the sweet honeyed soul of the drink, but you’ve got to pull some of that honey powder onto your tongue as well — its sugary texture adds a dimension to the cocktail that will lure you in again and again.

Sip one on the terrace, Eck recommends. The outdoor patio area is a tucked-away little nook many don’t know is there, only adding to its charm.

Odd Duck: Like Bess, the South Lamar eatery focuses on using seasonal farm-to-table ingredients in each thoughtful meal, and its cocktail program is no different. Plus, each seasonal menu will always feature a frozen drink and a draft drink. The current cocktail on tap is a bright orange Carrot Moscow Mule that I thought was pretty balanced given how assertive an ingredient ginger (a Moscow Mule necessity) can be.

But the most intriguing one was the boisterous Mexican Monk, with tequila, yellow chartreuse, fennel, hopped grapefruit bitters, rosemary tincture, orange juice and herbs. Yes, fennel. Although I thought I had a pretty strong aversion to the green plant, its sweet anise notes rounded out the herbaceous heart of the drink nicely and complemented the agave smoke of the tequila.

Travaasa Austin: Take a day trip to the Hill Country resort Travaasa Austin (most specifically located in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, in case you were wondering) and you’ll feel yourself instantly relax as you weave your car through a maze of towering live oaks and other greenery to the secluded epicenter of buildings that comprise the resort. You certainly don’t need a cocktail — just one look at that view is enough to send you into a zen-like state — but food and beverage manager Edward Morgan has crafted a whole seasonal menu of them that will only enhance the experience.

A cocktail at Travaasa Austin (this one, the C&C, features vodka, cilantro and celery) will only enhance your peaceful retreat at the Hill Country resort.
A cocktail at Travaasa Austin (this one, the C&C, features vodka, cilantro and celery) will only enhance your peaceful retreat at the Hill Country resort.

His Flora & Fauna, a floral spin on the Bee’s Knees, has remained on the menu no matter what time of year it is because it’s just been too much of a hit, he says. That’s thanks mostly to one ingredient, a Douglas Fir eau-de-vie from Clear Creek Distillery in Portland, Ore., that pretty much smells and tastes exactly like the springtime buds of the tree that the infused brandy came from. By itself or combined with Treaty Oak’s Waterloo Gin, honey, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur and lemon juice for the Flora & Fauna, the eau-de-vie is unforgettable and, as Morgan notes, transcends the seasons. (Doesn’t it come from an evergreen tree, anyway?)

If you do want a cocktail that roots you firmly in summer’s warm embrace, look out for the High Plains Drifter in June. Featuring mezcal, sage, smoked paprika and chili salt, the smoky cocktail packs a boozy punch — maybe not exactly like the sort you’d get from Clint Eastwood’s character in the eponymous movie, but close.

Corner Bar at the J.W. Marriott: The bar at the new J.W. Marriott Hotel downtown specializes in tequila and mezcal drinks, so seek out the Summer Smoke next time you’re there. With fresh watermelon and lime juices, ginger syrup and a pinch of maldon salt, it’s a three-dimensional cocktail that will help turn people uneasy about mezcal (its smoky qualities can be overbearing) into fans of the rugged agave spirit.

Vox Table: One of the latest additions to the Lamar Union development that also houses Shake Shack and the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, this New American restaurant already has a pretty solid cocktail program thanks to the specific vision of beverage director Travis Tober, who favors fortified wines and isn’t afraid to make them front and center on the menu. That daring has led to cocktails like the delicately complex Bad to the Bonal, made with Bonal Gentiane Quina (a French aperitif), grapefruit and lemon juices, Beefeater gin, salt and Boston Bittahs.

Austin’s June Rodil becomes 7th Texas master sommelier

McGuire Moorman Hospitality's June Rodil recently became Austin's third master sommelier, a rare accomplishment in the wine world.
McGuire Moorman Hospitality’s June Rodil recently became Austin’s third master sommelier, a rare accomplishment in the wine world.

It’s extremely difficult to become a master sommelier, the highest ranking of wine specialist that exists. In Austin, only two sommeliers had reached that echelon until McGuire Moorman Hospitality’s beverage director, June Rodil, joined their ranks yesterday.

Rodil, who handles the drinks side of the local hospitality group’s spate of restaurants, including Lamberts, Perla’s, Jeffrey’s and more, joins Whole Foods’ Devon Broglie and ELM Restaurant Group’s Craig Collins as Austin’s three master sommeliers, providing their sophisticated wine knowledge and palates to their respective beverage programs. Both men became master sommeliers in 2011.

The trio belongs to a similarly small group of master sommeliers, totaling 7, in the state of Texas as a whole. That’s in part because reaching that level of wine professional is hard to do. The Master

The Court of Master Sommeliers was established in 1977 as a way of improving the standards of beverage service in hotels and restaurants, implementing levels of specialization that people in the industry can reach, and master sommelier is the highest.

Bindlestick Brewing sets up shop in Leander

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Matt Bigler, left, and Dan Kernek have opened a nanobrewery in Leander, Bindlestick, with four beers on tap and plans for a couple of seasonal releases, including a summer wheat ale.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Matt Bigler, left, and Dan Kernek have opened a nanobrewery in Leander, Bindlestick, with four beers on tap and plans for a couple of seasonal releases, including a summer wheat ale.

Dan Kernek and Matt Bigler have been friends since the fifth grade — and after having lived in the same city for so long, even going to the same college and sharing the same office in another industry for a time, they decided a few years ago to join forces and open a brewery where Kernek could produce his homebrew recipes on a bigger scale.

They might love beer, but they’ve launched the small Bindlestick Brewing operation in Leander in large part because they love each other’s company, too.

“We always knew we were going to do something together, whether it was a brewery or not,” Bigler said. “We picked a brewery because of Dan’s experience with brewing and how good his beers were, but we went through a litany of business ideas before settling on this one.”

Their decision has been a wise one, according to the positive response of locals who have been stopping by the warehouse brewery since the end of February, when Bindlestick officially opened. Austin’s northwestern suburb of Leander has grown a lot in the 16 or so years since the two men first moved into the area, even adding Blacklands Malt, Texas’ only producer of locally grown malted barley, but the town had lacked a brewery until Bindlestick.

Ultimately, Kernek and Bigler want to turn it into a destination location like Jester King where people can hang out with a pint, listen to live music and have a couple of restaurant options in the same spot, but that’s “phase two,” Kernek said. Right now, they’re just trying to get their beers out on the market — they self-distribute kegs of each of the four main beers while also holding down additional day jobs, two part-time gigs for Kernek and a full-time position for Bigler.

So far, they’ve gotten their beers, available on draft only, into the Brass Tap in Round Rock and the Leander Beer Market, with plans to also tap at Red Horn Coffee House and Brewing Co. in Cedar Park, currently the closest brewing operation to Bindlestick. Plus, Bindlestick’s taproom, located at 1309 Leander Dr., Ste. 504, is open every Friday from 5 to 8 p.m.

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Bindlestick Brewing is open every Friday evening in Leander for tours and tastings of each of the four beers.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Bindlestick Brewing is open every Friday evening in Leander for tours and tastings of each of the four beers.

There, you’ll get to try each of the four core beers: the Monkey Wagon Amber, the lightest beer; Chimney Stack Pale Ale, made with smoked malt; Candy Mountain IPA, which Kernek likes to call a “GPA” because of all the ginger he adds to it; and the Pullman Porter, a dark beer featuring 10 percent rye for a spicy, earthy flavor. They’re all his homebrewing recipes — he’s been part of local homebrewing group the Austin Zealots since about 2001 — but their names are all new and in keeping with Bindlestick’s pre-Prohibition theme.

A bindlestick is the stick that hobos from early 20th-century America used to carry their belongings on, Bigler said. “The idea behind (our name) was, before Prohibition, there were a lot of local breweries,” he said, adding that the men having to take their stuff with them wherever they went “were actually migrant workers. They would follow the crops around the U.S. or wherever there was work. They often visited local taverns, which at that time were often breweries.”

Although neither Kernek nor Bigler got their degrees in history from Texas State University’s Round Rock campus, they know a lot about the old trains those migrant workers would take to get from job to job. Each of the four beer names are related to locomotive lore; the monkey wagon, for instance, is a slang term for the caboose where the hobos would sleep with their bindles.

But as much as the overall branding of Bindlestick focuses on the alcohol-soaked days before Prohibition, Kernek’s 18 years of homebrewing experience is actually thanks in part to another time period: Prohibition, when there was a little bootlegging chapter in his family’s history.

He remembers stopping by his grandfather’s house in Missouri in 1995, when he was still in the U.S. Navy, and hearing an unexpected story about his grandfather’s past. “We were sitting on the porch having a beer,” Kernek said. “He started telling me, ‘Back during Prohibition, I used to help my grandfather make beer in the shed out here.’ And I was like, ‘You can make your own beer?! What?’ So that kind of sparked it. As soon as I got out of the Navy, I found a homebrew store.”

Some of his other recipes that locals can try in coming months include a summer wheat ale, Three Tracks, as well as two for the winter months: a Russian imperial stout and a Christmas ale made with ginger.

Bindlestick Brewing Co., 1309 Leander Dr., Ste. 504. 5 to 8 p.m. Fridays. http://www.bindlestickbeer.com.

Monkey 47 Dry Gin made with Black Forest botanicals

Monkey 47 Dry Gin is made in the Black Forest region of Germany, and many of the botanicals in it reflect that distinctive sense of place.
Monkey 47 Dry Gin is made in the Black Forest region of Germany, and many of the botanicals in it reflect that distinctive sense of place.

One look at the label on Monkey 47 Dry Gin’s quirky bottle (replicated from the cork-stoppered medicine bottles of old) and you’d think the name comes from its 47 percent ABV.

But Black Forest Distillers founder Alexander Stein and his distiller Christoph Keller actually named their gin after the rather large number of botanicals that have gone into it, many of them unusual and predominantly regional to the Black Forest area of Germany. Among them is Monkey 47’s “piece de resistance,” Stein said: the use of lingonberries, a red fruit with an acidic taste. The berry grows in many parts of Europe, and it turned out to be the secret weapon in Monkey 47’s complex recipe.

Although it’s a pricey gin, the sense of place Stein and Keller imbued into it with all those botanicals makes it stand out from the London and American dry styles that it competes with — making it a worthy purchase if you like a good forceful gin. It’s got a juniper aroma, yes, but so much else in aroma and flavor as well.

Monkey 47 is full of hints of peppery spices, including sage and cardamom, as well as the bitter fruity notes of cranberries. Plus, there’s a distinctive note of pine in it, as if Keller distilled the heart of the Black Forest right into it.

Monkey Max Fizz

2 1/2 parts Monkey 47
1 part St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
2 parts fresh lemon juice
1 part simple syrup
1 egg white
Cranberry juice

Infuse Monkey 47 for two minutes with jasmine tea. Shake all ingredients over ice and strain into a chilled tumbler.

Top with cranberry juice.

— Jordi Otero, bar manager at Bocagrande in Barcelona

Monkey Juice

3 parts Monkey 47
1 part Lillet Blanc
1 part fresh grapefruit juice
1 part fresh lime juice
1 tsp. of honey syrup (see below)
2 drops Angostura bitters

Shake all ingredients over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.

— Adapted from Raveen Misra, executive bar chef at Nektar in Singapore

Honey Syrup

1 cup honey
1 cup water

Combine honey and water in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, let cool to room temperature and transfer to a clean glass jar. Cover and keep refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

— Imbibe magazine

Uncle Billy’s cans new beers alongside brand redesign

Uncle Billy's is releasing two new beers while simultaneously re-branding with a colorful, modern homage to one of Austin's biggest historical figures.
Uncle Billy’s is releasing two new beers while simultaneously re-branding with a colorful, modern homage to one of Austin’s biggest historical figures.

The new cans Uncle Billy’s Brewery and Smokehouse is rolling out in June feature a bearded likeness important to Austin’s history: the man the Barton Springs brewpub is named after, William “Uncle Billy” Barton.”

In 1837, Barton moved to the area and promoted the springs that would subsequently bear his name as a tourist attraction, recognizing the watering hole’s value. Now, he’s going to live on as a guitar-wielding, river-floating Austinite on the colorful cans designed by locally based Ampersand Agency.

But the re-branding is not the only big change coming to Uncle Billy’s. Two of the cans that are launching next month are new beers that head brewer Trevor Nearburg, who joined the brewpub last fall from Real Ale Brewing, decided to make the new year-round offerings, both in cans and on draft, because of their easy-drinking qualities, he said last night at a press preview event.

Photo contributed by Matt McGinnis: Uncle Billy's head brewer Trevor Nearburg has brewed up a couple of new beers in time to celebrate the brewpub's 8th anniversary month.
Photo contributed by Matt McGinnis: Uncle Billy’s head brewer Trevor Nearburg has brewed up a couple of new beers in time to celebrate the brewpub’s 8th anniversary month.

“The fact that you guys are here, drinking my beer, is surreal to me,” he said at the event.

Joining the Green Room IPA  — one of the two previously canned Uncle Billy’s brews — is the Lazy Day Lager, a crisp golden brew featuring Vienna malts and noble hops, and the balanced, copper-colored Barton Springs Pale Ale. All three are on draft now at Uncle Billy’s and are launching at other bars throughout the next few weeks with special tastings. (This tap takeover at Black Star Co-op tonight kicks off the launch.)

The new beers and can design are releasing during a significant month for the brewpub: Uncle Billy’s recently celebrated its eighth anniversary, a milestone that’s called for an updated brand, along with many other changes, owner Rick Engel said in a press release.

“A lot has happened in those eight years,” he said in the press release. “We became the first brewpub in Texas to distribute our beers through a third party distributor to bars and restaurants. We recently renovated the brewpub and installed a new 20-barrel brewery system to more than triple our capacity. We have a new brewing team… All of these changes made the time right for us to update our brand too.”

Uncle Billy’s called in Ampersand Agency to help with the re-branding, deciding to tie in the fun Austin-centric names of the beers with the colorful character at the heart of the brewpub, Uncle Billy — himself updated with a bit of a modern twist. On the Green Room IPA can, he’s got a guitar in tow. On the Lazy Day Lager can, he’s tubing down one of the local rivers. And (perhaps best of all) on the Barton Springs Pale Ale can, he’s dressed in an old-fashioned, full-length striped swimsuit.

“We wanted our Billy to remind you of the things you love, which includes beer,” Ampersand’s Cindy Montgomery said last night.

Rogness Brewing to celebrate 3 years Saturday

Photo by Emma Janzen / American-Statesman. The small operation of Rogness Brewing in Pflugerville still does all the bottling themselves, three years after opening, but the brewery has quite a roster of beers.
Photo by Emma Janzen / American-Statesman. The small operation of Rogness Brewing in Pflugerville still does all the bottling themselves, three years after opening, but the brewery has quite a roster of beers.

Rogness Brewing, like many of  Austin’s breweries, had humble homebrewing beginnings — the owners, husband and wife team Forrest and Diane Rogness, once owned the Austin Homebrew Supply Store — but the Pflugerville-area brewery has come far in the three years since.

After initially releasing two beers in 22 oz. bombers, a porter and Belgian golden ale, Rogness quickly filled out their year-round beer list and currently has up to nine different brews at area bars and bottle shops (Vinton, a blonde ale, and Taxon, a Texas brown ale, are draft-only). The brewery is celebrating their three-year anniversary Saturday with a party that will offer up to 3 beers and a souvenir mason jar glass for $12 in advance, $15 at the door. Commemorate the milestone by enjoying the sudsy offerings, which include last kegs of Holiday, Iapetus Stout, Sophina and more.

Plus, read this Q&A with Jon Airheart, the brewery’s PR director and sales representative.

How have you noticed Austin’s beer scene change in the time since you’ve been opened?

It is a very different scene and continues to evolve. So many cans on shelves. So many new breweries. And many of them with lots of money and talent behind them. The roots of my beer education are steeped in Black Star Co-op’s history. As a founding member, I consider myself part of the Black Star alumni. As a result, I’m particularly looking forward to Blue Owl Brewing and 4th Tap opening soon. And the Brewtorium brewpub a little further down the road.

What are some of the changes Rogness has gone through in the past three years?

Quite a few personnel changes for sure. Various people having babies and/or career changes, etc. It will probably surprise many to know that since early November, we have been running a lean operation of just 2 full-timers alongside our owners Forrest and Diane. So whether you see us at an outside event or in the taproom at the brewery, you’ll probably be talking to the head brewer or an owner. It’s a great personal touch, actually, and
can be rewarding. One thing that hasn’t changed since the beginning is that we still package all our beer by hand, 4 bombers at a time.

14 total beers that people can try at the anniversary party is impressive. Any special releases that people should know about?

Definitely excited for people to try the new Doppelsticke we teamed up with Mark Schoppe for. It’s essentially a double altbier brewed with German hops, German malts, and a German ale yeast. But we fermented at
lager temperatures for a cleaner profile. Mark is great guy and a very talented homebrewer. He won the Ninkasi award at the National Homebrewer’s Conference in 2012 and won the Lone Star Circuit Homebrewer of the Year in 2011, 2012, and 2014. This beer will be available in bottles and kegs in early June. It’s a pretty high gravity beer and will age very nicely.

Three years of the brewery is a great milestone to reach. What’s next for Rogness?

I think we’re releasing exceptional new beers lately, including Taxon (Texas brown ale) and this new doppelsticke. We’ve brewed up a tart pineapple ale called Sophina that is being received very well. We used the sour mash technique, not bacteria. That beer will soon be more widely available, and we have a few other things up our sleeve along the same lines.

Busch family legacy continues in Texas with arrival of Kräftig beer

Photo contributed by William K Busch Brewing Co. Billy Busch is reviving his family's storied U.S. beer legacy with new beers that have recently arrived to Texas bars and stores.
Photo contributed by William K Busch Brewing Co. Billy Busch is reviving his family’s storied U.S. beer legacy with new beers that have recently arrived to Texas bars and stores.

Although the name of Billy Busch’s line of light, sessionable lagers might sound like the beers belong on store shelves next to craft offerings like Saint Arnold, he’s not marketing them that way.

Busch — yes, that Busch, the great-grandson of the man who turned Anheuser-Busch into a mighty brewing empire starting in the 19th century — is offering Kräftig beers as a more flavorful but still affordable alternative to the mainstream beers of Budweiser and MillerCoors. The pair of beers made by the William K Busch Brewing Co. are now in Texas after Busch found success launching them in Missouri, where the Busch family (including his father, brother and nephew) used to run their business before the InBev takeover in 2008.

“We saw an opportunity in the mainstream segment (of the beer industry) because a lot of consumers are looking for more flavor in those beers,” he said, adding that the Kräftig Lager and the Kräftig Light, both available in 6-pack bottles and 12-pack cans as well as on draft, are low in price and in alcohol (at 5 percent and 4.2 percent ABV, respectively).

They’ve also got something else crucial going for them. Busch Brewing brewmaster Marc Gottfried — who built up 16 years of brewing experience at a St. Louis craft brewery before Busch hired him — makes the Kräftig suds following an ancient German purity law that dictates beers can only be made with four ingredients: water, barley, yeast and hops. That means no adjuncts like corn that the macro breweries are said to use in their beers.

“While we aren’t craft beer, people are looking at our brand and saying, you know what, ‘This is OK for me to drink,'” Gottfried said. “It doesn’t have rice, it doesn’t have corn, it doesn’t have preservatives. It’s a gateway beer that bridges the two categories.”

Because there’s nothing else out there like Kräftig, Busch said, he’s found “a sweet spot in the marketplace” that appeals to both craft beer drinkers and mainstream drinkers alike. (Kräftig is the German word for “strength,” an appropriate name for the beer, Busch said, because it’s got so much flavor.)

The Kräftig (pronounced CREF-teg) beers also come in 12-pack cans.
The Kräftig (pronounced CREF-teg) beers also come in 12-pack cans.

In Missouri, “a lot of craft beer drinkers are switching to our beer,” he said. “They can get flavor but drink more of it. And on the other side of the spectrum, the mainstream drinkers are switching to our beer to have more flavor. It’s a unique sweet spot that no one else is hitting.”

He’s hoping they catch on in Texas in much the same way they have in his native state, where his hometown of St. Louis remains largely loyal to AB InBev beers and still houses one of the Budweiser breweries. Although Texas doesn’t have as much of a connection to the Busch name as Missouri does, it’s a big state with a similarly big thirst for the sort of macro lagers that Kräftig is going up against, Busch said.

Plus, gaining a following here would be crucial for launching the next step of his company: a brewery. Currently, Gottfried makes the Kräftig suds out of City Brewery in La Crosse, Wis., but Busch is looking to change that by securing a space of their very own.

In the meantime, they’re both in Texas hoping to secure fans of Kräftig. They’re stopping through Austin today to help introduce the brand and the beers to the new market and will be at Crown and Anchor Pub from 1:30 to 3 p.m. You can also find the beers, which are being distributed locally through Brown Distributing, at downtown bars like Little Woodrow’s and Fado Irish Pub.