Kooper Family Whiskey releases Austin’s first locally produced rye

Texas whiskey — unburdened by the long, storied legacies of other whiskeys like bourbon and Scotch — is beginning to become a category unto itself, thanks to the playful knows-no-bounds direction the distillers in this state are taking the dark aged spirit, and one new whiskey producer is continuing that streak.

Photo by Kooper Family Whiskey Co. Austin's finally got a rye whiskey produced here with the arrival of Kooper Family Rye to the local market.
Photo by Kooper Family Whiskey Co. Austin’s finally got a rye whiskey produced here with the arrival of Kooper Family Rye to the local market.

Joining the ranks of Texas whiskey is a 100 percent rye recipe, barreled, aged and blended in the Hill Country, that Austin couple Troy and Michelle Kooper, newcomers to the spirits industry, decided to create after noticing their love of rye whiskey couldn’t be satiated by any local producers.

“The whole idea has been rye from the beginning,” Troy Kooper said. “Michelle and I were drinking whiskey together one night when it struck us that no one local was making rye. That’s our favorite… so it just made sense that we do it.”

Kooper Family Rye, now in bars and stores around Austin, is the first rye whiskey to come out of Central Texas. And it’s a good one, too, with rye’s characteristic spice at the forefront in a delightful tug-of-war between black pepper and cinnamon.

In other words, the robust rye is just as enjoyable to sip neat as it is to incorporate in a cocktail like an Old Fashioned. That’s how the Koopers drank it on a recent visit to the Blackheart on Rainey Street, the first bar in town to carry their whiskey. Notably, the couple had to wait a few minutes for another bottle of Kooper Family Rye to be brought in by the distributor — the previous one had already been emptied within days by thirsty Austinites curious about a new whiskey on Blackheart’s bar shelf.

That kind of positive reception for Kooper Family Whiskey Co.’s rye is exciting, but it’s also giving the Koopers growing pains. Although they’re in charge of nearly every part of the process of producing their rye, from the barreling to the blending, they don’t have the proper equipment just yet to do any distilling of their own. They’re quick to explain that Chicago’s Koval Distillery, where both of them spent some time training to learn the trade, sends them unaged spirit “cut deep to eliminate every trace of the heads and tails” of the distillation.

“We chose them because they had a similar philosophy about the whiskey,” Troy Kooper said. “It was either doing it that way or not do it at all, and we’d already invested so much into it.”

He and Michelle are hoping their arrangement with Koval is only temporary, however. Their goal is to open a full-scale distillery where they can continue to play around with rye, maybe even produce a rye liqueur.

Rye just stood out to us from the start,” Troy said, noting that he stumbled across it at a bar in New York that specialized in carrying American whiskeys. “As soon as we discovered it, it was head and shoulders better than the others for us.”

They decided to start tinkering with rye three years ago, when Troy, who’s in advertising, was looking for a way out of his career and into something else he was more passionate about.

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Michelle and Troy Kooper used to enjoy drinks at Blackheart on Rainey Street, ogling the whiskey shelf, so it's a treat for them to see their own rye whiskey being poured at the bar.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Michelle and Troy Kooper used to enjoy drinks at Blackheart on Rainey Street, ogling the whiskey shelf, so it’s a treat for them to see their own rye whiskey being poured at the bar.

For Michelle, an avid cook involved in a variety of different DIY projects, coming up with the right recipe for rye was a fun challenge that required a lot of research, including visiting whiskey distilleries around the U.S. — as well as doing a lot of experimenting at home.

“The amount of trial-and-error we had,” she said, recalling how often they’d have to throw away eight hours’ worth of work in the early days of the business. “We would go to Central Market and buy out all their rye grains and just have these long days of mashing and trying to figure out which kind of rye was best,” whether that be pumpernickel or some other type of rye meal.

Now, the Koopers source the rye from an organic grower in Kansas because even though they’d like to keep all their ingredients as Texas-based as possible, rye — the kind used in whiskey — doesn’t grow here. But they are happy that Texas still has an influence over Kooper Family Rye.

“The Texas climate is perfect for aging whiskey,” Troy Kooper said. “We just let Texas do with it what it will.”

Above all, making rye whiskey together is a way of staying close. It’s allowed Troy, whose day job keeps him away from Michelle and their two kids more than he likes, to have guaranteed time to spend with them. That’s why, he said, they’ve called their business the Kooper Family Whiskey Co. “We had to name the distillery Kooper Family because that’s what it is,” he said.

Look for bottles of Kooper Family Rye in bars and stores, primarily Twin Liquors locations, for $42.99. For more information, visit www.kooperfamily.com.

Sommelier Paula Rester returning to Austin’s La Corsha Hospitality Group

Sommelier Paula Rester just can’t stay away from Congress and the rest of La Corsha Hospitality Group’s restaurants — lucky for them.

Photo by Jay M. Sauceda. Sommelier Paula Rester is returning to Austin from New York City to take on the role of wine director for La Corsha restaurants.
Photo by Jay M. Sauceda. Sommelier Paula Rester is returning to Austin from New York City to take on the role of wine director for La Corsha restaurants.

Integral in establishing strong wine programs in Austin dining spots, Rester returns to Austin from New York City, where she moved in September 2014 to serve as sommelier at Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group’s Italian concept Maialino.

In her new role with La Corsha Hospitality Group, she’ll act as wine director for each of the group’s restaurants: Congress, Bar Congress, the Second Bar + Kitchen downtown and at the Domain, Boiler Nine Bar + Grill and the soon-to-be renovated Green Pastures. She’ll begin the new position on Dec. 1.

“I am excited to return home and take on this greater and more challenging role,” Rester said in a press release. “It’s an honor to be trusted with the responsibility of curating the wine lists for some of the best restaurants in the city.”

Rester’s role strengthening wine programs in this city runs deep. In addition to working as sommelier and wine director at Congress off and on from its opening through last year, she’s also spent time at Vino Vino and Uchi. Under her leadership, Vino Vino was declared one of “America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants” by Wine Enthusiast magazine, an honor that only a couple of other local spots, including Congress, have gotten.

As wine director for all La Corsha restaurants, Rester will be a boon for them, according to Scott Walker, vice president of operations at the restaurant group.

“We are growing very quickly as a company and to have Paula return to create, educate and maintain the various wine programs is a great benefit to the company, our employees and our guests,” Walker said in the press release.

Deep Eddy Vodka to teach mixology classes for cocktail lovers

Deep Eddy Vodka is about to start offering a mixology class in its large tasting room at the Dripping Springs distillery.
Deep Eddy Vodka is about to start offering a mixology class in its large tasting room at the Dripping Springs distillery.

Starting in mid-November, Deep Eddy Vodka will start offering something new at its Dripping Springs distillery.

The distillery plans to bring in bartending gurus Jason Ducharme and Ben Walker to teach a monthly class on the fundamentals of making cocktails. Plus, Deep Eddy will also start opening to the public on Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. starting on Nov. 5.

“We’ve seen a fantastic reception for our distillery in our first year, with over 1,000 daily visitors on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays,” Tracy Beacham, Deep Eddy’s hospitality manager, said. “With the expanded hours, we’ll be able to open our home to even more visitors throughout the Austin area.”

Those additional hours will include the “Dive in to Mixology” series that Ducharme and Walker are set to teach. Each course is going to focus on a different flavor of Deep Eddy Vodka — from sweet tea to Ruby Red grapefruit to lemon — and participants can also expect to get a behind-the-scenes look at how each of the flavors are produced at the distillery, according to a press release. They’ll enjoy a cocktail hour afterward with small bites from a rotating list of local chefs.

Creating a DIY cocktails class was important to Deep Eddy, Beacham said, because it’s just one more way for the distillery, which features a 5,000 sq. ft. tasting room and visitor’s center, to reach out to and connect with the community.

“The new cocktail class is an extension of that idea and will allow our fans to bring the Deep Eddy love home with knowledge of how easy it is to make great cocktails from a few simple ingredients and our products,” she said.

Expect the classes to focus on “classic techniques that easily translate at home,” Beacham said. “The fundamentals of tasting and mixing vodkas, proper shaking/stirring techniques and use of natural ingredients you can find anywhere.”

The first class will be on Nov. 19 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Space is limited, with only 25 spots available at $25 per person, so make reservations soon by emailing Beacham at tracy@deepeddyvodka.com. In addition to taking the class, the $25 will get you a cocktail, a souvenir glass and a 20 percent discount on Deep Eddy merchandise.

For more information about Deep Eddy Vodka, visit www.deepeddyvodka.com.

Pinthouse Pizza’s South Lamar location now open

Photo contributed by Pinthouse Pizza. The new South Austin location of Pinthouse Pizza is now opened at 4236 S. Lamar Blvd.
Photo contributed by Pinthouse Pizza. The new South Austin location of Pinthouse Pizza is now opened at 4236 S. Lamar Blvd.

In November, Pinthouse Pizza will celebrate turning three-years-old — and the Burnet Road brewpub has already gotten an extra big birthday present: a new location that’s now open on South Lamar Boulevard.

This second location, in an old Chili’s building in the Brodie Oaks Shopping Center, has been in the works for awhile as a beer-and-pizza haven for Austinites living farther south.

Brewing director Joe Mohrfeld, who helped to open the first Pinthouse Pizza in fall of 2012, said that the new brewpub has the same warm, casual “feel” as the original, albeit with some notable differences. It’s larger, he said, with “a new huge patio space with a bar that will be able to service it with 4 Pinthouse beers, a really cool open fermentation room where you will be able to see the beer actively fermenting and an awesome mural painted by a local artist on our tap wall.”

Photo by Emma Janzen. Pinthouse Pizza is celebrating two years in business in November.
Photo by Emma Janzen.
Pinthouse Pizza is celebrating three years in business in November.

Plus, the second brewpub will have lots more fermentation space for brewing beer — and the beer program is going to veer from the one Mohrfeld, who honed his brewing chops at Colorado’s Odell Brewing before moving to Texas, started up at the first Pinthouse Pizza. The South Lamar spot has two special rooms: one with an open-top fermenter, he said, that will allow them to focus on Belgian-style ales, and another dedicated to housing barrels for sour and wild ales.

“There will be new beer offerings across the board,” he said. “Our three new mainstays will be Electric Jellyfish IPA, Jib Cutter Craft Lager and Blunderbuss Bock, and we will be doing a series of mountain bike-inspired beers being so close to the Greenbelt called 26″ Pale Ale, 27.5″ IPA and 29’r Double IPA.”

At heart, it’ll remain a kid-friendly place with freshly made pizza and beer. Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar, at 4236 S. Lamar Blvd., currently has the same hours as the Burnet flagship — 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays through Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to midnight Thursdays through Saturdays — so visit soon for lunch or dinner. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/PinthousePizzaLamar.

A guide to Austin Beer Week events

Photo by Emma Janzen. The Rainey Street bar Craft Pride will again be the location of Austin Beer Week's opening party.
Photo by Emma Janzen / American-Statesman. The Rainey Street bar Craft Pride will again be the location of Austin Beer Week’s opening party.
One of the biggest weeks of the year for Austin beer lovers has finally arrived, with beer dinners, tap takeovers and all-around sudsy revelry in store through Nov. 1. And it’s going to be another doozy.

As the packed schedule for Austin Beer Week suggests — it’s available in full here — you’re in store for some careful planning so that you don’t miss any of your must-attend events. They all sound so good, don’t they? If you’re having trouble deciding what’s worth it and what can be skipped, consider this post your guide to the boozy week ahead.

Friday, Oct. 23

Austin Beer Week’s Kickoff Party at Craft Pride. Look, there’s just no other way to welcome your liver to the 6th Annual Austin Beer Week. Rainey Street’s Texas-focused beer bar will have a variety of special beers, including last year’s Saint Arnold Pumpkinator, Buffalo Bayou Pumpkin Spice Latte and (512) Whiskey Barrel-Aged Double Pecan Porter. The festivities start at 6 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 24

UPDATE: This event has been moved to Nov. 14. (512) Brewing’s 7th Anniversary Party. Although Draught House’s 47th anniversary celebration has been rescheduled for Nov. 7, (512) Brewing isn’t letting the threat of a promised deluge steal their anniversary thunder. Good thing, too, with all those firkins, barrel-aged brews and other goodies promised.

The ABGB’s Fermentation Fest Drei. So far this celebration of all things fermentable — which will include a beer, cheese and chocolate tasting; a stein lift contest; lots of live music and pig roasts; and other fun activties — hasn’t gotten washed out yet. Fingers crossed it stays that way.

4th Tap’s Launch at Black Star Co-op. Austin, meet our latest brewery co-op. The other brewery co-op in town (OK, it’s technically a brewpub) is hosting them and their flagships, including a tamarind wheat ale, a grapefruit IPA and a sorghum-based gruit, so come and toast their arrival. Black Star will have free glassware, deals on taster flights and more.

Photo by Emma Janzen East Austin bar Hi Hat Public House is one of the many spots around town participating in this year's Austin Beer Week, going from Oct. 24 through Nov. 2.
Photo by Emma Janzen / American-Statesman.
East Austin bar Hi Hat Public House is one of the many spots around town participating in this year’s Austin Beer Week, going from Oct. 23 through Nov. 1.
Everything East at Hi Hat Public House. Only beers from East Austin, where this beer bar is located, are being highlighted at this event. Which is not to say other parts of town aren’t cool, but they don’t have Zilker Brewing, Hops & Grain, Austin Eastsiders, Live Oak Brewing or Blue Owl Brewing, do they?

Sunday, Oct. 25

Decktoberfest at Red Horn Coffee House & Brewpub. Celebrate Red Horn’s new outdoor deck with Oktoberfest beers, like Thirsty Planet Smittlefest and Hops & Grain’s O-Fest, in what may well be the last chance to have them.

Odell Beer Dinner at Hopfields. The beers should be enough to lure you to this six-course feast, which promises the likes of Piña Agria, Brazzle and the Fernet Porter, but the food menu looks pretty delicious, too. Call (512) 537-0467 to reserve. $85.

Monday, Oct. 26

Metal Monday with Real Ale Brewing at Craft Pride. Having 10 Mysterium Verum offerings from Real Ale being tapped during a night of metal music over the loudspeakers is definitely cause for exuberant dancing, but please, no moshing.

Tuesday, Oct. 27

Star Bar’s Big Beer Event. 2014 Epic Big Bad Baptist,  Avery The Beast, Mikkeller 2014 Black Hole and many more where those came from. Star Bar isn’t kidding about big beers, folks.

Photo by Emma Janzen / American-Statesman. Easy Tiger's offering $1 Austin Beerworks cans on Easy Sunday.
Photo by Emma Janzen / American-Statesman. Enjoy Austin Beerworks brews at an ELM restaurant crawl between Italic and Arro.
Austin Beerworks Restaurant Crawl. ELM eateries Italic and Arro, within walking distance of each other, are teaming up for this restaurant crawl. You’ll enjoy a couple of Austin Beerworks beer and food pairings at each place, and the cost includes a custom T-shirt. $25.

Wednesday, Oct. 28

Beer Panel: The Future of Craft Beer. Chip McElroy of Live Oak Brewing, Rhett Keisler of Revolver Brewing and Anna Kilker of Guadalupe Brewing will talk about the future of the industry at this Craft Pride discussion you’ll want to hear — with a beer in hand, of course.

Alamo Drafthouse Rolling Roadshow at Independence Brewing. “The Pineapple Express” paired with Independence’s limited release Hop Brownie sounds like a match made in high heaven. Other beers on hand include a couple of taproom exclusives. $14.18.

Thursday, Oct. 29

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Lambic fans, rejoice: Jester King is helping to bring the revered beers of Cantillon to Texas.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Jester King’s annual Funk ‘n Sour Fest is returning during Austin Beer Week.
Jester King’s Funk ‘n Sour Fest. This tart tradition pairs up local or regional restaurants with beer, wine and cider producers from around the world, such as Contigo with Blue Owl Brewing and Lenoir with La Cruz de Comal Wines. This year, try as many of the pairings as you like. $85.

Friday, Oct. 30

New Belgium Beer Class at School House Pub. How does New Belgium’s Le Terroir always come out tasting so good? Find out at this educational tasting. Email newbelgiumshp@brownpapertickets.com to reserve your spot.

Hans-A-Thon Jr. at the Brew & Brew. Real Ale Hans Pils in a cask, in cans and on draft. Are you ready?

Devil’s Night Pub Crawl with Austin Homebrew. This 6-hour crawl to some of Austin’s landmark pubs, including the Ginger Man, Flying Saucer and Scholz Garten, will conclude with a visit to the House of Torment, but hey, it also includes a free shirt, lots of beer and a space on Austin Homebrew’s party bus, making your terror totally worth it, right? $35.

Circle Brewing’s Pre-Halloween Party. Two special casks will be pouring in addition to Circle’s 4 year round brews, 2 seasonals and 3 nitro beers. It’s time to drink with zombies, witches and pirates, oh my.

Saturday, Oct. 31

Blue Owl-O-Ween Pre-Party. Blue Owl’s brewmaster, Jeff Young, will be in costume while giving you a brewery tour, and that alone might be worth it. But the brewery will also have their easy-drinking sour-mashed beers pouring and a couple of Halloween surprises in store. $20.

Halloween Cask-O-Lanterns at Black Star Co-op. Crotchety Dockhand, Black Star’s chocolatey coffee porter, is being served from the heads of jack-o-lanterns.

Hops & Grain’s 3rd Annual Halloween Party. For many Austin beer lovers, it just isn’t Halloween without Hops & Grain. Come decked out in your costume and enjoy up to four pours of Hops & Grain beer in a souvenir glass. There will be a live DJ and food from Kick Drum Burgers. $16.73.

Independence Metal Mayhem Show. You’re pretty much getting exactly that — lots of metal, lots of mayhem — at Independence’s live music-focused Halloween bash, which features the shrieking stylings of Independence brewer Oscar Martinez’ metal band, Manifest Insanity. The brewery’s seasonal, Reaper Madness Black IPA, will be pouring in abundance. $5.

Sunday, Nov. 1.

Austin Beer Guide’s #CraftSlacker Bike Pub Crawl. Wind down from the beer-heavy week with this bike ride to some favorite Austin beer haunts, including the Draught House, Black Star Co-op and Billy’s on Burnet.

The details on all of these events are at austinbeerweek.com.

DIY class teaches science of making bitters

Photo by Kate Payne. Austin author Kate Payne now has a line of bitters she's concocted herself.
Photo by Kate Payne. Austin author Kate Payne now has a line of bitters she’s concocted herself.

Kate Payne doesn’t like to let anything go to waste.

A local author who’s written about helpful tricks and tips in the kitchen and in the home with her “Hip Girl’s Guide” books, Payne has explored food preservation extensively and stumbled into a new project in the process: making her own bitters. An alcoholic mixture of botanicals and syrup, bitters have uses beyond flavoring cocktails, and she’s found making them herself to be fulfilling fun.

She’s now got a line of bitters, Salud, that she’s looking to produce on a wider scale. In the meantime, she’s offering a workshop on Tuesday for others who’d like to try it themselves (and it’s only got five tickets left, so hurry and grab yours if you’d like to attend). It’s not the first time she’s offering this class, either; her previous DIY bitters classes been met with lots of enthusiasm, she says, from people who like that they can make something seemingly difficult but very useful.

Photo by Kate Payne. Bitters, common ingredients in cocktails, are mixtures of a variety of different ingredients, from lemon to fennel to white dandelion.
Photo by Kate Payne. Bitters, common ingredients in cocktails, are mixtures of a variety of different ingredients, from lemon to fennel to white dandelion.

“Bitters have pretty cool benefits, whether you’re putting a couple of dashes in a cocktail or relying on them for digestion,” Payne says. “Bitters also help the liver do its job, which is good when you are drinking alcohol.”

So named for their bitter taste on the tongue, which once signaled that you’d just eaten something you shouldn’t have, bitters are still able to get the gastric juices in your stomach flowing to process the seeming unpleasantness out of your body. That’s why some people with digestion issues try them medicinally, rather than recreationally as an accent in a drink, by taking 1/2 tsp. up to three times a day. (Payne recommends taking them before mealtimes.)

Of course, bitters — which are often the smallest component in a cocktail, with 2 to 3 dashes added almost as an afterthought — are also important in drinks. Those three drops of bitters pack a punch of flavor that can help to right a cocktail overpowered by too much of another flavor.

“In the cocktail world, bitters are wonderful balancers, just as they are in your body,” she says. “They can tame something that’s cloyingly sweet or just tastes off.”

Her Salud bitters, whose dominant ingredients are all Texas-grown, run the gamut of flavors that bitters take on. The Aromatic expression is a soothing mixture of Meyer lemons, dandelion root, juniper and a variety of spices, whereas the Chile Lime carries more of a kick from limes, chiles, cacao and other ingredients that make it a solid accompaniment to your next Bloody Mary or margarita. There’s also Citrus, with grapefruit, dandelion root, white peppercorn and spices, and Floral, with lavender, Meyer lemon, Bachelor’s Button Flower, Agarita and additional spices.

Future Salud lines will focus on Mexican and Southwestern influences. She’s constantly experimenting, finding seasonal flavors from foraged items like prickly pear.

The class on Tuesday will offer a similarly wide variety of ingredients that people will be able to play with to make their own jar of bitters. The process might seem complex — especially when Payne starts using words like “tincture” and “decoction” — but she’ll break it down with each step and help you find just the right combination of flavors. Plus, you can feel free to bring your own wine or beer of cocktail fixings. To register for the $75 class, visit this Eventbrite link.

Opal Divine’s drinking pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Throughout the remainder of this month, local grill Opal Divine’s is offering a couple of rosy-colored cocktails to patrons at all three locations to raise money for the Breast Cancer Resource Center of Texas.

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. The prickly pear margarita is one of the cocktails on special this month to raise money for the Breast Cancer Resource Center of Texas.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. The prickly pear margarita is one of the cocktails on special this month to raise money for the Breast Cancer Resource Center of Texas.

A portion of the proceeds from the Prickly Pear ‘Rita and the Divine Paloma, made with Austin-based Dulce Vida Tequila, will be donated to the nonprofit, which holds a special place in the heart of Opal Divine’s co-owner Michael Parker after his wife, Susan, overcame breast cancer with the support of the resource center.

“We’ve been fundraising for the Breast Cancer Resource Centers of Texas for years now,” Parker said in a press release, noting that during his and his wife’s struggle with cancer, “the BCRC was the first light we saw shining out of the end of that tunnel. We can never express enough gratitude for that.”

The experience was difficult for him, but he likes to keep Opal Divine’s “Drink Pink” month light and fun, according to the press release, by partnering with Dulce Vida to offer the paloma, a tequila and grapefruit drink, in 16 oz., 32 oz. and 54 oz. glasses. During October, these sizes are known at Opal Divine’s as B Cup, C Cup and DD Cup.

It’s a bit of “cheeky humor and joy,” Parker said in the press release, “to help fight this deadly disease.”

“Breast cancer is a heavy subject, but this is something people can feel good about. It’s fun,” he said in the press release.

Another benefit for the Breast Cancer Resource Centers of Texas takes place on Halloween, when the Penn Field location of Opal Divine’s will play host to costumed Austinites participating in the restaurant’s annual Skaraoke, a karaoke contest. Opal’s will have prizes for the best song and costume combination, so plan ahead. The event runs from 7 to 11 p.m. at 3601 S. Congress Ave.

For more information, visit www.opaldivines.com.

4th Tap Brewing Co-op the latest North Austin brewery

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. 4th Tap's beers are out in cans now and include a tamarind wheat ale, a grapefruit IPA and a sorghum-based gruit that doesn't have any hops or malts. The brewery's founders all wanted their beers to be unusual, standing out on a crowded retail shelf.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. 4th Tap’s beers are out in cans now and include a tamarind wheat ale, a grapefruit IPA and a sorghum-based gruit that doesn’t have any hops or malts. The brewery’s founders all wanted their beers to be unusual, standing out on a crowded retail shelf.

Although the founders of 4th Tap Brewing Co-op didn’t make any big announcements that they’d open the taproom doors Friday for a soft launch, the news spread anyway, and within no time, the large space was packed with people who work and live in that area of North Austin. Some of them had even walked over from their jobs for a wind-down of local beer and good company.

That sort of warm community space is exactly what John Stecker, Chris Hamje and Mike Olfers had envisioned when they decided to found a brewery four years ago, sitting around a table at Uncle Billy’s and plotting their vision. 4th Tap is now Austin’s first worker-owned brewing cooperative and the fourth brewery to open in the part of town where Austin Beerworks, Circle Brewing and Adelbert’s Brewery already are (making that part of Austin one of the best places to go to for beer right from the source).

The brewery co-op is set to be open daily at 8 a.m., serving Cuvee Coffee by morning and craft beer — starting with the three 4th Tap mainstays — by night. It’ll be in soft opening until Nov. 7, when the three founders will throw a grand opening party there complete with live music and food trucks. Already, the taproom, a softly lit mix of wood, tile and metal fronted by large windows, feels like a cozy hangout spot for people in the neighborhood.

Stecker, who handles the business side, and Hamje, who’s in charge of the brewing team, got their start as many professional brewers do. They homebrewed together, to the point that friends, family and, eventually, complete strangers would request their beers for parties, weddings and other events. And the two friends would happily oblige.

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. 4th Tap's co-founders, including Chris Hamje, left, and John Stecker, wanted their brewery to be a cooperative business with all employees owning a piece of it to inspire passion and a hard work ethic in each of them.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. 4th Tap’s co-founders, including Chris Hamje, left, and John Stecker, wanted their brewery to be a cooperative business with all employees owning a piece of it to inspire passion and a hard work ethic in each of them.

“We would always say ‘of course’ because we love serving beer; that’s the biggest high for us,” Hamje said.

After seeing such a high demand for their beers, they decided to make it a full-blown business with a very particular plan in mind for it: a cooperative that allowed each of its workers to have a stake in it. That’s a little different than the business model of Black Star Co-op, the other brewery cooperative in town that centers around a consumer-based ownership structure.

The 4th Tap founders chose to focus on the worker-owned brewing cooperative model, Stecker said, because they’d come from corporate backgrounds and didn’t like how employees were treated. At 4th Tap, new employees come on as apprentices for a year, with the option of becoming worker-owners after that.

“We believe the packaging guy is just as important as the head brewer for the quality of the beer,” he said. “We want employees to feel invested in where they work, to feel like they have a career and not just a job, which will hopefully make the beer better.”

But getting this type of business up and running wasn’t easy, he said. Because 4th Tap is the first of its kind in the state, the three co-founders had difficulty explaining “what we’re doing, what we’re about,” he said, something that’s important to raise needed capital.

Along the way, however, they gained the support of Cooperation Texas, a nonprofit that helps cooperative businesses in the state develop and flourish, offering them guidance on business plans and — most importantly to Stecker, Hamje and Olfers — providing them “a network of cooperative support that we didn’t know existed,” Hamje said. “Lawyers, CPAs, people that were going to help us open as a 100 percent employee-owned company. We learned how to create this business and do it right.”

Now, 4th Tap has five full-time employees — something that Hamje is relieved about so that he doesn’t have to pull 16 hour days anymore. A Black Star alum, he’s overseen getting the three 4th Tap flagships into cans, which are in stores now. The brewery co-op is starting with Renewal, a tart tamarind wheat ale; Long Walk, a grapefruit IPA featuring Texas-grown Ruby Reds; and Sun Eater, a sorghum-based gruit made with rosemary, lemon peel and dark brown sugar and no hops or malts. All of its ingredients come from Texas.

The Sun Eater, a gluten-free recipe, hadn’t been one that Hamje or Stecker imagined they would regularly brew on 4th Tap’s 30 bbl system, but “it kept coming up during our market testing,” Stecker said.

In the taproom, look for a blonde in the coming weeks, as well as additional limited releases for the cooler weather, including a traditional Irish red and a Neapolitan porter with cherries, chocolate and vanilla. The brewery co-op also plans to eventually have a yeast culture lab where Stecker, who has a biology background, can grow in-house strains that will be able “to amplify certain traits in beers, maybe downplay other traits. But that’s a good five-year project.”

If you can’t wait until Nov. 7 for a party celebrating 4th Tap, check out Black Star Co-op on Saturday for 4th Tap’s official launch into Austin, the cleverly named “Co-op Two-step: a 4th Tap Launch at Black Star.” Opal Divine’s Penn Field will also have a 4th Tap tap takeover on Oct. 27; in.gredients will have one the day after.

4th Tap Brewing Co-op

Where: 10615 Metric Blvd.

When: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 8 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday

Information: 512-904-9817, 4thtap.coop

Sports bar BaseCamp to open in downtown Austin this fall

The concept of a sports bar generally doesn’t include food beyond chicken wings and beer beyond Budweiser, but that’s not the case with BaseCamp, an upcoming bar on West Fifth Street.

Opening later this fall, BaseCamp will have craft beer, cocktails and “elevated bar food” centered around numerous TV screens so that sports fans can have it as good as the foodies in this town. The bar’s owner, Chad Barrett, decided to open this Warehouse District space after noticing Austin’s lack of good sports bar options, according to a press release. His foray into the bar scene here first began in 2013, when he opened the Summit Rooftop Lounge in the same building where BaseCamp will be.

With BaseCamp, “I wanted to create an establishment that is comfortable to watch a game while enjoying fresh and distinctive food,” he said in the press release.

Bar and restaurant veterans Dan Wyman, left, and Chad Barrett teamed up to open BaseCamp, an upcoming sports bar in downtown Austin.
Bar and restaurant veterans Dan Wyman, left, and Chad Barrett teamed up to open BaseCamp, an upcoming sports bar in downtown Austin.

He teamed up with Dan Wyman, formerly of Uchi and Parkside Projects (which owns the restaurants Parkside, Olive & June, Backspace and Bullfight), to bring his vision to life. With his hospitality background, Wyman is able to give “BaseCamp that something extra: a menu that is thoughtful, prepared with fresh ingredients, and a staff and atmosphere that assures that the experience will be both lively and fun,” Barrett said in the press release.

BaseCamp’s executive chef, Eric Kuypers, hails from Uchi, the Peached Tortilla and Barton Creek Country Club, where he’s worked since graduating from the Texas Culinary Academy. He’ll have a mix of American fare on the menu, from salads to Texas barbecue.

Located on the first floor of 120 W. 5th Street, BaseCamp will be open 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays through Fridays and 11 a.m. through 2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/BaseCampATX.

New Canned beer festival coming to Austin

Canned beers have become so popular that the producers of one beer festival in Texas have decided to throw another one devoted entirely to the aluminum vessels and the beer inside them.

Photo by Ricardo B. Brazziell / American-Statesman. The new Canned Festival coming to Austin on Dec. 5 celebrates the glory of canned beers.
Photo by Ricardo B. Brazziell / American-Statesman. The new Canned Festival coming to Austin on Dec. 5 celebrates the glory of canned beers.

On Dec. 5, Austinites can attend the Canned Festival on the Austin Studios lot, where 40 breweries and 125 of their canned beers will keep fest-goers satiated while jamming out to live music. The festival — which previously debuted in Denton in 2013 — is the handy work of the Untapped Festival organizers, who previously brought that beer-and-music fest to Austin for the first time earlier this year.

They’ve decided to re-launch Canned as a separate event from Untapped as a way of highlighting “aluminum cans (as) an ideal, eco-friendly method of serving high-quality craft beer,” according to fest co-founder Matthew Harber of Spune Productions.

“The idea behind Canned Festival originated after countless discussions about the  growing popularity of cans among craft brewers,” he said.  “We’re all pretty fond of beaches, lakes, boats, hiking, biking, etc. and having awesome beers in cans allows us to do the things we love and drink tasty beer. Another important element of  Canned Festival (to us) is sometimes as craft beer lovers, we lose sight of all the amazing beers available to us year round.”

So Canned, he and the other festival organizers said, gives us the chance to sip on some old favorites — “many of which happen to be some of the best beers in the world.” Enjoy them starting at 4 p.m. Dec. 5 while listening to live music from Shotgun Friday, Built to Spill, Diarrhea Planet and UME American Sharks.

Tickets to Canned are on sale now through the Do512 website. General admission is $32; VIP, which will get you a lot of bang for your buck, is $85. Austin Studios is located at 1901 E. 51st St.