Argus Cidery now releasing latest Perennial cider

If you’ve been at Jester King this weekend relishing the farmhouse brewery’s latest release, the peachy Fen Tao, you might have noticed an Argus Cidery bottle that isn’t anywhere else just yet.

Argus Cidery’s 2014 Perennial hits store and bar shelves tomorrow, but in the meantime, pick up a bottle of it at Jester King today to guarantee that it’ll make its way to your home stash of beer and cider — you’ll be glad you did.  

Jester King Brewery has the new Argus Cidery Perennial before everyone else, so stop by the scenic brewery to pick some up.

The Dripping Springs cidery, located down the road from Jester King, is making Perennial an annual tradition that won’t taste the same every time, thanks to the apples sourced each time. While the 2013 release featured apples from two different Texas terrains, the Panhandle and Bandera County, the 2014 version has fruit sourced primarily from Argus’ grower in Northwest Arkansas.

Even though many of the apples in this blend have originated from another state, the 2014 Perennial doesn’t stray too far from the 2013 Perennial.

“The blend of apples has changed a bit, but the yeast profiles drive a flavor profile similar to that of the last year,” the cidery’s Wes Mickel said. “This release lacks the minerality and vegetal nature of last year, but makes up for it in an added fruity profile, the change coming from the soil composition and growing region.”

According to the cidery’s tasting notes, Perennial 2014 is “a combination of Jonathan, Spygold, Melrose, Red and Golden Delicious apples” that deliver “a straighforward apple palate, with a finish of our natural Hill Country yeast characteristics and the residual flavors from aging in French and American oak cider barrels.” 

Taste it and you’ll pick up notes of cherry, lemon and grass with a tart, dry finish. The cider clocks in at 6.7 percent ABV.

Jester King is opened until 9 p.m. today. When you’re grabbing your two bottles of Fen Tao, don’t forget to add Argus Cidery Perennial to your tab as well.

Jack Daniel’s releases superb cask-strength whiskey

Jack Daniel's has released the whiskey brand's first-ever barrel strength offering, Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Barrel Proof.
Jack Daniel’s has released the whiskey brand’s first-ever barrel strength offering, Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof.

The newest whiskey in the Jack Daniel’s portfolio is, arguably, the best, according to the early word from whiskey aficionados.

Jack Daniel’s first cask-strength release, Barrel Proof, is a fairly easy concept: Jack Daniel’s whiskey isn’t watered down (as many whiskeys are to cut down their alcohol-by-volume levels) to let the flavors of the barrels it was aged in shine through. The result is a robust mix of sweet vanilla and toasted oak — the usual hallmarks of the Tennessee whiskey brand — albeit this time taken up a notch without overdoing it.

“(Working in the distillery’s barrelhouses) provides me the rare opportunity to taste Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey in its purest form, unfiltered and uncut,” Jeff Arnett, Jack Daniel’s master distiller, said in a press release. “I’m always amazed at the intensity of the aromas and the deep amber colors, and yet at the same time, the exceptional smoothness of the whiskey at this higher proof point.”

Arnett said that now seemed like the right time to allow whiskey fans to also try the whiskey at its most authentic.

The other whiskey in Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel collection, Select, is bottled at a constant 94-proof; Barrel Proof, however, ranges from 125 to 140 proof, levels that are based on each of the casks that the whiskey comes from. It’s going for about $65 in stores.

Chances are, you’ll want to sip it straight, but if you do want to appreciate the Single Barrel whiskey’s full-bodied beauty in a cocktail, add the sweet and tangy taste of grapefruit to this take on a Boulevardier. (The Select is also an option for the cocktail.)

Lincoln Blvd.

1 oz. Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel
1 oz. Aperol
1 oz. Pamplemousse Rose

Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain over fresh ice into a double old fashioned glass. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.

— Jack Daniel’s

Yard Bar a dog-friendly hangout in North Austin

Austin sure loves its pets — to the point that we now want their happy hour experience to be as good as ours.

The Blue Cat Cafe, where felines will roam while you interact with them, is slated to open later this fall. For dogs now, though, there’s Yard Bar. This outdoor canine equivalent has recently opened on Burnet Road with a large and small dog park and an adjoining bar peddling a good-sized selection of craft beers. A dining area is also part of the sprawling space, although it’s on the other side of a chain-link fence to keep the dogs away from the food.

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Yard Bar offers the best of both worlds for dog and beer lovers: a place for you to enjoy happy hour while your canine plays with other dogs.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Yard Bar offers the best of both worlds for dog and beer lovers: a place for you to enjoy happy hour while your canine plays with other dogs.

Walk up from the parking lot with your dog and you’ll hear the happy yaps of playing pups well before you actually see them. (Your dog’s barks will probably join the cacophony.) The larger dog park is available to dogs of all sizes, but if you’ve got a small dog that might not do so well with the bigger ones, they’ve got a little play area right next door.

That one was far less crowded on a recent evening, when a variety of mutts pranced about the big dog park, exploring the large wood-chipped space (and each other) that provides them plenty of water, toys and supervision by watchful Yard Bar employees. Dog owners sat at picnic tables and chairs along the perimeter of the park, some with cans or cups of beers, and chatted as their dogs ran wide circles around them and the park. The canines have tennis balls to catch, obstacles courses to play with and even a fire hydrant at the entrance. (You can guess what that’s for, right?)

Although Yard Bar has only recently opened, it’s already attracted plenty of visitors of both the four-legged and two-legged variety. Lindsay Seiberling and her two friends stopped by for the first time that evening with their two dogs, and she said they planned to return.

“I like that you can drink while your dogs play. That’s my favorite part,” she said while throwing a tennis ball for Riley, a golden retriever.

She and her friends were drinking Real Ale beers and an Austin Eastciders cider, but those are far from the only brews you can order.

The bar offers a large selection of beers from all over the U.S. in both cans or bottles and on draft, as well as a smaller selection of wines and cocktails. Beer options currently include everything from Big Bend Terlingua Gold to Revolver Blood & Honey to the Santa Fe Java Stout. Or, if you prefer spirits, there’s the Blue Lacy with bourbon, blueberry, basil, lemon juice and rhubarb bitters or the Catahoula Mama with reposado tequila, lime juice, agave nectar and cayenne pepper.

Of course, at Yard Bar giving the dogs as much fun as possible is really the main focus. But not too much fun — in case they get overly rowdy or confrontational, the “bark rangers” who prowl the park are ready to put a stop to any fights. The dogs were all on good behavior the evening I was there, so hopefully that’s not a big problem on other nights.

You can visit with a daily pass of $5, or you can sign your dog up for a monthly fee or annual membership of $15 and $150, respectively. (Humans can go for free.) And today, National Dog Day, seems like a particularly fitting time to visit. The hours of the dog park are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; the hours of the restaurant are 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Yard Bar is located at 6700 Burnet Rd.

For more information, including the rules of the park, visit yardbar.com.

IronSight Brewers takes over old Twisted X space in Cedar Park

When Twisted X Brewing moved into a much larger, scenic space in Dripping Springs a couple of years ago, the warehouse its brewers left behind in Cedar Park was still outfitted to make beer — making Robert Chaney’s transition from homebrewer to commercial brewer just a little easier.

That made all the difference considering the difficulty he and his brother-in-law, Grady Reynolds, have had turning their vision of IronSight Brewers into a functioning business. Like other start-up breweries these days, IronSight has faced permitting delays and other problems that the two co-founders, relatively new to the industry, couldn’t anticipate would come. They’re putting all that behind them, though, with the arrival of a milestone: IronSight’s grand opening is around the corner.

“Finally,” Chaney said. “After a long, hard road.”

On Sept. 5, IronSight will open with a big bash offering visitors tastes of the brewery’s four core beers and a few small-batch brews made just for the party. The grand opening celebration, which you’ll need to RSVP to ahead of time, will also have live music from Bear Creek Wilderness and food from Mission Dogs.

Eventually, the soon-to-open IronSight Brewers hopes to offers their beers in cans, which were designed by one of the co-founders' friends in a local homebrew club.
Eventually, the soon-to-open IronSight Brewers hopes to offers their beers in cans, which were designed by one of the co-founders’ friends, Wes Jones.

After that, the brewery plans to offer taproom hours on weekends — Friday nights and Saturday and Sunday afternoons — and eventually also will distribute the beers in kegs and cans. The kegged beer will probably come first, and it’ll be available in the Cedar Park and Leander area until Chaney, who handles the brewing side of the business, is able to expand production farther into Austin.

He’s got all of the recipes ready to go, for the most part. He and Reynolds are starting with a cream ale, an amber, a white IPA and an oatmeal pale ale because of their “drinkability,” a factor they sought out when choosing the brewery’s main beers.

“We want beers that are easy to drink, something you can enjoy after mowing the lawn,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean the novelty ales, which we’ll save for taproom-only… We were also wanting beers we knew were good. Each of the four beers we’re doing have won multiple awards (from homebrewing competitions).”

The cream ale, he said, serves as a great introduction to craft beer because it’s lightly hopped, straddling the line between ale and lager (which it balances, Chaney said, because it’s made from an ale yeast that ferments at colder temperatures). The amber, made with a West Coast-style twist for extra hoppiness, is IronSight’s darkest beer, but it stays sessionable at 5 percent ABV. The unfiltered white IPA is “sort of like a Belgian white, but with American hops” for a big fresh finish, he said. And the oatmeal pale ale, so called because about 25 percent of the grain bill is comprised of oats, isn’t overly bitter but still has nice hop aroma and flavor thanks to late-addition Citra and Cascade hops.

The IronSight Amber isn’t the only beer in the lineup that keeps the ABV relatively low; the white IPA clocks in with the highest ABV at only 6 percent.

“I’ve worked really hard on these beers,” Chaney said. “The two homebrew clubs I belong to, I’ve learned a lot from both. I’ll take my beer and say, ‘Here, try this.’ Hearing feedback from people who have been brewing for 20, 30 years has really been valuable.”

Although he hasn’t been brewing for as long as some of the other members of the Austin Zealots or the Texas Carboys, the two homebrewing clubs in town that he’s joined, he’s picked up a lot from them. He originally started homebrewing because “I thought it would be something easy that I would enjoy,” he said.

Brewing hasn’t been easy, but he’s hooked. So is Reynolds. He works in the oil and gas industry in Wyoming but visits Austin as often as he can to help Chaney with IronSight. His role with the brewery is to handle the legal and financial sides of the business, all of the paperwork, although he’s got a beer background, too. When he was an undergraduate in business administration at Texas State University, he used to work at the Tap Room Pub & Grub in San Marcos, purchasing all of the bar’s beers.

The native Austinites — Chaney, a safety manager for a construction company, is married to Reynolds’ sister — developed their love of craft beer together, to the point that they couldn’t resist putting together an initial business plan for IronSight.

“I was always adventurous with beer, and I guess I passed the craft beer thing on to him. I was always having him try something new,” Chaney said.

Neither of them anticipated how difficult it would be to open a production brewery. Throughout the past couple of years, they’ve had to re-brand IronSight after realizing the original name for it was already taken, had to find a different location for the brewery and moved it to Cedar Park, and had to re-apply for TABC permitting from a brewpub to a brewery license. And all of it, Reynolds said, was funded out of their own pockets.

“The ultimate goal is for us to brew full-time and quit our current jobs,” he said. “But honestly, I’m just happy we’re finally getting this thing off the ground.”

IronSight’s Grand Opening Party, 12 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5. $15-$20. 3200 Woodall Dr., Cedar Park. www.facebook.com/ironsightbrewers.

Zagat’s 30 Under 30 features Austin beverage professionals

Austin’s restaurants are receiving accolades and recognition on a national level, and that’s in small part thanks to their beverage programs accompanying the food — and the people who run them. After all, our meals always go down better with a beverage in hand.

Justin Lavenue is one of Zagat's 30 Under 30 for his attention to detail behind the bar.
Justin Lavenue is one of Zagat’s 30 Under 30 for his attention to detail behind the bar.

Zagat’s 30 Under 30 list of young Austinites excelling in the city’s thriving service industry is primarily made up of people involved in making or curating the food we eat, but eight of these faces also shake up the cocktails, brew the beer and curate the wine that we love, too. Oh, and they brew our beloved coffee as well. The list includes

  • Brett Esler, barman at Whisler’s. He’s won bartending competitions before with his creative flair, but his favorite drink to whip up, according to Zagat, is the Old-Fashioned. Good thing, too: Whisler’s has become known for them and makes a bunch every night.
  • Justin Lavenue, co-owner and beverage director at the Roosevelt Room. He and business partner Dennis Gobis have recently opened up an interim bar, the Roosevelt Room, in preparation for their ultimate dream: De Rigueur, a whopping 10,000 sq. ft, three-story bar downtown.
  • Oscar Martinez, brewer at Independence Brewing. Although he still plays death metal, the job that pays his bill is not nearly so loud — he’s happy to provide Austinites with all their IPA needs.
  • Patrick Pierce, co-founder at Fleet Coffee. He’s about to open a new coffee bar in town that will stray from the caffeinated classics people might be used to, with a focus on beverages like coffee cocktails.
  • Rania Zayyat, lead sommelier at La V. She recently passed her advanced sommelier exam, which is no easy task to do. That puts her into a small group of big wine lovers who know a lot about their reds, whites and sparkling wines.

Deep Eddy Vodka now owned by Kentucky beverage company

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Deep Eddy Vodka's distillery in Dripping Springs has been a popular destination since opening late last year.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Deep Eddy Vodka’s distillery in Dripping Springs has been a popular destination since opening late last year.

Cross Deep Eddy Vodka off your list of Austin companies: Kentucky’s Heaven Hill Brands, one of the biggest players in the liquor industry, has recently purchased the local vodka makers for an undisclosed amount of money.

As the Statesman’s Gary Dinges reported yesterday, Deep Eddy’s five vodkas — including sweet tea, lemon, cranberry and ruby red grapefruit-flavored ones — will still be made at the large Deep Eddy distillery in Dripping Springs, and Eric Dopkins will stay on as president. Plus, the distillery will remain open to the public from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 12 to p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

Deep Eddy, founded in 2010, has seen tremendous success following the release of each of its vodkas, and it’s the fastest-growing spirits brand in the country, according to Dinges.

“This is an incredible day for Deep Eddy Vodka,” Dopkins said in Dinges’ story. “The Deep Eddy team and their distributor partners will remain in place and continue to build on the exceptional momentum of the brand alongside Heaven Hill.”

Heaven Hill’s boozy products include Evan Williams Bourbon, Burnett’s Vodka, Admiral Nelson’s Rum and Christian Brothers brandies, among others.

Studies: If you live in Texas, you’re probably drinking Bud Light or Jack Daniel’s

You might want to put those pinkies down the next time you’re on Rainey Street. According to two studies, most Texans might not be drinking craft beers or artisanal cocktails when they’re out at the bars.

(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

According to Business Insider, one study calls Jack Daniel’s the most popular hard liquor in Texas, citing not-quite-airtight figures from a social app called “BARTRENDr.” The article says that the app company “analyzed data from its 700,000 users to determine the most popular liquor brand in every state based on posts and photos of the liquors its users like to drink,” so the results would definitely (not) pass peer review.

(American-Statesman file)
(American-Statesman file)

On the hoppier side of the booze spectrum, data crawlers Priceonomics published a study on their blog last month claiming Bud Light is the most commonly available beer at bars in Texas (not Lone Star or Shiner like one might assume/earnestly hope). This study, also to be swallowed cautiously, used state-by-state bar menu data from a website called BeerMenus to arrive at its conclusion. Priceonomics also drills a little further than the liquor study with information for select cities. Apparently, the most commonly available beer on Austin menus is Real Ale Fireman’s #4, according to the study’s data set. As far as other local beer stereotypes go: Only 14 percent of the Austin bars considered offer the hipster-favorite brew Pabst Blue Ribbon, and our fair burg didn’t even place on the “Beer Snob Cities” list. Blame that abundant availability of macrobrews statewide, maybe?

Now if you will excuse us, we Austinites have a few flights of mezcal and some homebrewed IPAs to enjoy.

[h/t Houston Chronicle and also Houston Chronicle]

Texas Beer Guide founder to present new beer book at BookPeople

Quality beer producers have been popping up all over the nation, and Texas certainly hasn’t been left out of this brewery explosion. But how exactly is a beer fan supposed to keep track of all the new brews?

That’s where Austinite Mike Cortez comes in. As founder of the beer-centric website Texas Beer Guide, he’s recently published a book that will help you sort through the top-tier of Texas beers. “Beer Lover’s Texas: Best Breweries, Brewpubs & Beer Bars” is now available online at Amazon.com and in stores like BookPeople — where Cortez will talk about the book at 7 p.m. on Friday.

Austinite Mike Cortez recently released his new Texas-focused book in the "Beer Lover's" series.
Austinite Mike Cortez recently released his new Texas-focused book in the “Beer Lover’s” series.

His author’s talk will no doubt include a look at some of the state’s stellar breweries. He’s come to know them through the Texas Beer Guide, which he’s currently working on overhauling and updating with new information now that the book is on shelves. His BookPeople event will also include beer, of course, from Fort Worth’s Rahr & Sons Brewing and Austin’s own Infamous Brewing.

Get to know him before Friday evening with this Q&A.

What is the Texas Beer Guide, and how did a full-fledged book spring from that?

Texas Beer Guide is a project that I started almost 6 years ago. I was a writer and photographer in Houston who was known for supporting the local culinary scene, but I always had a passion for beer. I started to see that people didn’t realize that there were many breweries in Texas so I started to work on a website, with no clue about web design, to showcase all of the Texas breweries and brewpubs. Texas Beer Guide officially launched in March of 2012, and I was one of the first blogs to feature a map dedicated to all of the breweries and brewpubs in the state. It took me a couple of years to do all of the research and build the website to my liking. I hosted a launch party in Austin in September of 2012, and the week after I was diagnosed with kidney cancer. It took a big toll on me and I spent most of 2013 recovering.

Last year I received an email from a publisher who liked my website and said they were looking for someone to write the Texas book in the series of Beer Lover’s books. After that, I spent nearly every weekend traveling Texas to write the book from March through October, all while juggling/organizing/hosting the Texas Tequila & Margarita Festival.

Tell me about the book. What should craft beer fans expect in your guide to Texas’ craft beer scene?

Texas is such a large state and there is so much to see and do. With the book, you can navigate the state and see where you can find great beer all over Texas. The book is split up by the geographic regions of Texas, so if you’re traveling through the Hill Country or the South Texas Plains, you can see what breweries, brewpubs and craft beer bars are in your area. There are also pub crawl suggestions for some of the larger cities. With the massive explosion of breweries that have opened up, some of the newer breweries are not listed in the book. As fast as the scene is growing, this book can never truly be complete.

Mike Cortez is speaking at BookPeople on Friday about the new guide he wrote to Texas breweries, brewpubs and bars.
Mike Cortez is speaking at BookPeople on Friday about the new guide he wrote to Texas breweries, brewpubs and bars.

What was the research process like? How did you decide what should be featured and how to tell their stories?

I spent a lot of time just hitting the road. I used my website to plan out my trips and used social media to reach out to people in the beer community for suggestions of bars to check out. I wanted to feature all of the breweries and brewpubs in the state but found out quickly that it’s kind of an impossible task with as fast as everything is growing. I spent nearly every weekend driving to different cities to visit breweries and speak with the breweries about their history and the story behind their beers. I did quite the share of sampling as well.

What are some of your favorite Austin beers right now?

Picking a favorite beer is nearly impossible because there are so many great beers brewed around Austin. There are a few that hold a special place in my heart. I am a really big fan of Senor Viejo from Twisted X Brewing Company and I am usually quick to recommend that. The Green Room IPA from Uncle Billy’s is always a great go-to, as is Christine Celis’s Gypsy Series beers. I’m a big fan of Adelbert’s Dancin’ Monks and I really love what the guys at Infamous Brewing have done with Double Tap IPA and Sweep the Leg.

New Saint Arnold beer a nod to Austin’s old Celis Brewery

A Houston brewery has looked back to the very beginning of Texas’ craft brewing industry for inspiration while making the latest beer in its rotating limited release series, Icon.

Saint Arnold has styled the newest Icon Gold, a Belgian-style wit, after the beer that world-class brewer Pierre Celis brought from his Belgian homeland to Austin in the early 1990s, helping to spark the explosion of Texas-based breweries that continues today. The Icon Gold Belgian-Style Wit deliberately pays homage to Celis White, that first game-changing beer, according to a press release.

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. The latest beer in Saint Arnold's Icon series is a Belgian-style witbier, paying homage to a beer from Austin's first craft brewery.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. The latest beer in Saint Arnold’s Icon series is a Belgian-style witbier, paying homage to a beer from Austin’s first craft brewery.

“Pierre Celis is one of the first people I visited when I decided to open a brewery,” Saint Arnold’s founder Brock Wagner said in the press release. “Saint Arnold Icon Gold is a tribute to Celis and his pioneering of craft brewing in Texas.”

Wagner and the Saint Arnold brewing staff kept their own witbier traditional to the ancient Belgian style, albeit with some tweaks. While the beer has “the familiar aromatics of coriander and orange peel to add spice and tantalize the nose… it has a strong malt backbone due to the addition of oats to the wheat and pilsner malt bill,” according to the press release.

And it’s not an easy beer to make, either, because of its subtlety.

“Getting the herbal, citrus and spicy notes from the coriander and orange peel dialed in took some time,” Saint Arnold brewer Stephen Rawlings said in the press release. “The result is a nice balance with no one piece standing out or overwhelming the others.”

Rawlings has also brewed up Saint Arnold Divine Reserve No. 13, Bishop’s Barrel No. 4 and Saint Arnold Boiler Room Berliner Weisse in his time at the Houston brewery.

The witbier style was largely forgotten in post-war Europe before Celis revived it. Before ever coming to Austin, he honed his craft at the Hoegaarden brewery in Belgium, making it a household name synonymous with good beer.

Look for Icon Gold on draft and in 12 oz. bottles this week in local bars and stores through October, when the next beer in the series, in the American Roggenbier style, will be released.

Half Step now opened for happy hour

Photo by Laura Skelding / American-Statesman. Half Step on Rainey Street is now offering low ABV options for happy hour during the week.
Photo by Laura Skelding / American-Statesman. Half Step on Rainey Street is now offering low ABV options for happy hour during the week.

You can now add one more Rainey Street bar to your growing list of Austin happy hour spots: Half Step is going to start opening earlier during the week with a special happy hour menu from 4 to 7 p.m.

During those hours on Tuesdays through Fridays, the powder-blue bungalow bar will focus on aperitif-style cocktails and low ABV options offered at lower prices, according to a press release. Draft beers will be available for $4, and wine and canned and bottled beers will also be cheaper.

Half Step’s new happy hour menu includes the following cocktails. They are $8 unless otherwise indicated.

  • Summer Sherry Cobbler: manzanilla sherry, lemon raspberry and fresh fruit
  • Rome with a View: Campari, dry vermouth, lime, sugar and seltzer
  • Cider Julep: Calvados, dry cider, mint, sugar and angostura
  • BBC: bourbon, blackberries, lemon, sugar and seltzer
  • Half Step Two Step: Steigel Radler and a shot of tequila. $6.
  • Don Bostick Michelada: Tecate, Valentina, Worcestershire and lime. $4.

Half Step, which opened early last year under cocktail maven Chris Bostick’s watchful eye, is now opened 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Stop by for a post-work drink at 75 1/2 Rainey St.