Official Drink of Austin event returns May 12, with tickets now available

Bartenders will make a bunch of original cocktails during the Official Drink of Austin competition, hoping to capture the hearts and taste buds of attendees. The competition returns May 12.
Bartenders will make a bunch of original cocktails during the Official Drink of Austin competition, hoping to capture the hearts and taste buds of attendees.

Austin’s biggest cocktail competition, the Official Drink of Austin, returns next month with more boozy creations from nine local bar teams. Tickets for it are on sale now at $45 each.

As it has in past years, the Official Drink of Austin brings together groups of bartenders from various bars around the city — often, the best ones we have to offer — to compete for the top title. The event, which benefits the Austin Food & Wine Alliance’s culinary grants program, spotlights Texas spirits and also features top-notch bar food from local eateries.

Cocktail guru David Alan resurrected the Official Drink of Austin as a competition a couple of years ago, bringing in the alliance to help with the organization’s funding of a variety of different culinary endeavors.

“Austin has become one of the top cocktail cities in the U.S., and Texas is one of the top states for independent distilleries,” Alan, a professional bartender and author, said in a press release. “With the talent and innovation here, Austin deserves a competition like this. It’s one of the best events in the city.”

Taking place at Fair Market this year, on 1100 E. Fifth Street, the Official Drink of Austin allows attendees to sample the various cocktails vying for the Official Drink of Austin title. Last year’s winner came from Garage’s Chauncy James, whose Indian Paintbrush drink with Dripping Springs Vodka ultimately won over the voters and judges. He and his bar team beat out the likes of Vox Table, Drink.Well, Odd Duck and other top Austin bars — places that may well return for this year’s. (They haven’t been announced yet.)

Once the early-bird tickets for the 7 to 10 p.m. event are gone, ticket prices will jump to $55 online and $65 at the door. To secure your spot, visit austinfoodwinealliance.org.

Independence Brewing continues line of Austin-themed cans

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Independence Brewing's Austin Amber was recently released in cans.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Independence Brewing’s Austin Amber was recently released in cans.

Although not all of Independence Brewing’s canned beers are Austin-themed, the brewery’s latest can release — and another one coming soon — pay homage to Texas’ beloved capital city.

Austin Amber, one of Independence’s oldest brews, was launched in cans just before South by Southwest earlier this month with a design inspired by the the locally based, beer-loving Alamo Drafthouse, just like the beer’s tap handle.

The beer was first introduced in 2006 with an “iconic theater marquee as the tap handle,” Amy Cartwright, one of Independence’s co-founders, said.

“We wanted to build on that since so many people in Central Texas enjoy Austin Amber on tap and associate the beer with that image,” she said. “To us, the marquee represents an older era, when a theater was an anchor for a community and a celebration of creativity, music, film, art and independent-minded people.”

Independence Brewing decided to can the Austin Amber after getting a new canning line at the brewery. The beer joins the Power & Light Pale Ale, Reaper Madness Black IPA, White Rabbit White Ale and the Red Bud Berliner Weisse in the canned beer lineup — and two of those are also Austin-themed cans. Power & Light is a tribute to Austin’s old, art deco-inspired Seaholm Power Plant, while Red Bud nods to the lakefront dog park Red Bud Isle.

And they won’t be the only ones of Independence Brewing’s canned options with fun local themes, either. Look for the Liberty Lunch IPA in the coming months, named after the beloved open-air night club that served as an epicenter of local nightlife for 24 years.

New Braunfels Brewing co-owners lose house in a fire

Photo from Guadalupe Brewing's Facebook. The co-founders of New Braunfels Brewing lost their home last weekend from an attic fire, and local breweries like Guadalupe are stepping in to help.
Photo from Guadalupe Brewing’s Facebook. The co-founders of New Braunfels Brewing lost their home last weekend from an attic fire, and local breweries like Guadalupe are stepping in to help.

The husband-and-wife co-owners of New Braunfels Brewing, Kelly and Lindsey Meyer, endured a devastating loss this weekend when their house burned down from an attic fire.

Both of them, their two kids and their dog escaped from the flames, “but pretty much all of their belongings are a total loss,” according to a Facebook post written on Sunday on the brewery’s page.

Already, the community has rallied to help them out.

Among the ways to help the Meyer family get back on their feet is a GoFundMe emergency fundraiser that has already brought in $4,835 since going live two days ago — an amount that far exceeds the original fundraising goal of $1,000.

Another way is to stop by Guadalupe Brewing, also in New Braunfels, on Friday from 4 to 9 p.m., when a fundraiser and silent auction will offer the Meyer family additional relief.

During that time, 100 percent of the beer sales will go toward the family. Plus, much of the silent auction items are beer-focused and donated from the likes of Adelbert’s Brewing, Ranger Creek Brewing and Distilling in San Antonio and Southern Star Brewing Company in Conroe.

More information on that event is available here.

Kelly and Lindsey Meyer revived New Braunfels Brewing a few years ago as a little brewery with a lot of history: The original opened four years before Prohibition and didn’t survive the no-alcohol laws of the time period. The couple decided to take on the business after becoming enchanted with the backstory. Now, they’re facing a new obstacle.

“Over the years we’ve weathered many storms and come out stronger because of it,” they wrote on the brewery’s Facebook page. “When the dust settles on this chapter, the results will be the same. The next few weeks may be tough but this tragedy reminds us what is important to us and why we face our challenges head on.”

Thirsty Planet’s upcoming South Congress brewery to triple capacity

Thirsty Planet Brewing is bringing its location farther into Austin, a move that will triple the amount of beer being produced.

Photo by Emma Janzen. Later this year, Austinites will be able to enjoy Thirsty Planet beers closer to town when the brewery opens a new, much larger facility on South Congress Avenue near Slaughter Lane.
Photo by Emma Janzen. Later this year, Austinites will be able to enjoy Thirsty Planet beers closer to town when the brewery opens a new, much larger facility on South Congress Avenue near Slaughter Lane.

On the road to Dripping Springs, the almost 6-year-old brewery has been limited to a maximum of 10,000 barrels per year — but the new space on South Congress Avenue, just north of Slaughter Lane, gives Thirsty Planet a significant increase of 30,000 barrels per year, with room to grow. Its anticipated opening is late fall this year.

“The overwhelming local demand for our beer is very humbling, and we’re thrilled to keep contributing to the increasing enthusiasm for craft brewing here in Austin,” Brian Smittle, owner and founder of Thirsty Planet, said in a press release. “We are deeply invested in the unique culture of this community and want to continue bringing people together over quality beer.”

The brewery will be moving into the Capital Area Food Bank building at 8201 S. Congress Ave., according to a brewery representative. (The nonprofit is moving to East Austin this summer.)

With the 60,000 sq. ft. facility, Thirsty Planet will be able “to meet current product demand and expand its bottle offerings to include its Buckethead IPA and Yellow Armadillo Wheat,” according to the release. So far, only its beloved Thirsty Goat Amber is bottled.

Additionally, Thirsty Planet can start offering a bigger variety of seasonal and specialty brews in the tasting room and increase the distribution of its mainstay options, including Thirsty Goat, Buckethead and Yellow Armadillo, out of Austin to Waco and San Antonio.

The architectural firm of V Three Studios, based in Missouri, is designing the brewery and tasting room, and the firm already has a clear vision of what the new space will look like.

Once it’s finished, V Three’s principal and founder Kurt Kerns said in the press release, the tasting room will allow “people to appreciate really great beer while getting a sense of Thirsty Planet’s unique style and sense of humor, which will be on full display with beer pallets used as ceiling elements, open views of the brewing process and wall-mounted papier–mâché heads representing the brewery’s best-selling beers.”

For more information about Thirsty Planet, visit www.thirstyplanet.beer.

Saint Genevieve the latest bar to open at the Domain’s Rock Rose

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Saint Genevieve is one of the newest bars in the Domain's Rock Rose district.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Saint Genevieve is one of the newest bars in the Domain’s Rock Rose district. Its striking design “

With the opening of Saint Genevieve, the Rock Rose entertainment district in the Domain is continuing to round out the bar offerings there.

The regal Saint Genevieve, a wine lounge, is now in business following the openings of the more casual Rock Rose spots of the Dogwood, Jack and Ginger’s Irish Pub and, most recently, the northern outposts of Lavaca Street Bar and Kung Fu Saloon. One of the latest bars on the block, it’s the only one to offer shared plates, an extensive wine list, and beer and cocktails to boot.

Saint Genevieve is the second of four original concepts from the Union Venture Group, the hospitality company behind many of the Domain’s bars, including the Park at the Domain and Somersault, which are both outside of the Rock Rose district on the east side of the outdoor mall.

In addition to Jack and Ginger’s and Saint Genevieve, the group plans to open the Rose Room, a 3-story dance club, and 77 Degrees, a rooftop bar, later this year. They’re all side-by-side on Rock Rose.

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. From a design standpoint, there's a lot to admire at the elegant Saint Genevieve, a wine lounge with small plates and cocktails.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. From a design standpoint, there’s a lot to admire at the elegant Saint Genevieve, a wine lounge with small plates and cocktails.

And of each of these new spaces, the visually striking Saint Genevieve is the place you’ll want to go for a sophisticated drinking experience.

“I think one of the things Austin’s having a hard time grasping is that we come off as a restaurant. We’re not; we’re an upscale lounge,” Adam Karam, a managing partner of the bar, said. “Our food is gourmet bar food. We haven’t opened anything as nice as this, so I think it’s taking people some time to adjust and get used to what we are, which is a lounge focusing on mixology and wine.”

Cocktails include the Audrey, a sweet potion of pisco, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, sweet vermouth, muddled fig and thyme syrup — a drink you might say is as lovely as Hepburn herself. Another floral (but not too feminine) option is I Dream of Genevieve, with Bombay Sapphire Gin, rose water and St. Germain, all topped with rose petals.

The wine list features a range of varietals, divided into whites, rosés, reds and bubbles; Texas is even represented with a couple of wines from Duchman Family Winery: the zesty Vermentino and berry-forward Montepulciano. And the beer list is, strikingly, international, with the likes of Italy’s Birra Moretti and France’s Kronenbourg 1664 available. Fans of U.S. craft beer, however, won’t find them here. (For a pint, go next door to Jack & Ginger’s.)

Karam said Saint Genevieve has other delights, however, such as DJs on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Plus, Sunday brunch has champagne deals and a build-your-own-Bloody-Mary bar with the local Bloody Revolution mix. The food menu, he said, “is tapas-like. Worldly items with a twist. Nothing too over-the-top.”

Saint Genevieve, 11500 Rock Rose Ave., is opened from 3 to 2 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sundays. For more information, visit stgen.co.

Sip on cocktails for the Dell Match Play golf event in Austin

One of golf’s most unpredictable tournaments has let the games begin starting today through Sunday, and the action might be stressful enough that post-game relaxation requires a cocktail or two.

Enjoy golf-inspired cocktails like the Green at the Hotel Granduca in honor of the World Golf Championships event kicking off in Austin today.
Enjoy golf-inspired cocktails like the Green at the Hotel Granduca in honor of the World Golf Championships event kicking off in Austin today.

The Dell Match Play, a World Golf Championships event, is being hosted at the Austin Country Club on the west side of town — not far from the Hotel Granduca. That’s where golf-themed cocktails are on special through the duration of the tournament, with a happy hour at the hotel’s Visconti Ristorante & Bar from 4 to 7 p.m. tonight through Saturday offering these drinks, live music and free bites.

Here’s the menu of the golf-inspired cocktails, some of which have names or golf references that may be familiar to only diehard fans of the sport.

The Green: Crown Royal Regal Apple, sweet vermouth, simple syrup, cherry bitters

From the Rough: El Silencio Mezcal Espadin, simple syrup, fresh mango, fresh lime, chili salt

Tee It Up: Belvedere Peach Vodka, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, lemon juice, prosecco

Back 9: Martel VS Cognac, Cana Brava Rum, Grand Marnier, lemon juice

Help revive Celis legacy, a dream of Flemish Fox Brewery’s founder

Christine Celis, the daughter of renowned Belgian brewer Pierre Celis, wants to honor his legacy by opening a brewery of her own in Austin, called Flemish Fox Brewery & Craftworks.
Christine Celis, the daughter of renowned Belgian brewer Pierre Celis, wants to honor his legacy by opening a brewery of her own in Austin, called Flemish Fox Brewery & Craftworks.

When news broke last week that the daughter of Pierre Celis, a renowned Belgian brewer who opened Austin’s first craft brewery in the early 1990s, is reviving her dad’s legacy with a brewery of her own, many longtime Austinites probably salivated at the thought of the Celis beers they used to enjoy.

Many of these beers, in particular the witbier that started it all, are going to be brewed again at Flemish Fox Brewery & Craftworks, the brewery that Christine Celis is opening next year.

But that’s not the only exciting element of Flemish Fox, located at 2013 Rutland Drive in North Austin. Christine is hoping to bring the original equipment that her father used to brew with to the U.S., preserving all of it as a museum piece showcasing a far-away time when fermenters were open and coolships were far more commonplace. Once the old brewhouse is restored at Flemish Fox, Christine also plans to brew on it a couple of times a year.

For now, her father’s equipment is stuck in Belgium because the costs are too high to transport it across the Atlantic. Fans of Celis beers, however, can help — Christine has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.com that aims to provide the vital funds.

So far, the campaign has raised about $2,500 out of a total $450,000 with two months to go.

“You can have a hand in preserving the heritage of witbier’s brewing origins and bring Belgian legacy to Texas,” according to the Indiegogo campaign. “Your generous contribution will not only make sure historically significant equipment is preserved, but the very brewing techniques that are only feasible with this kind of equipment are likewise preserved.”

Christine, who has fought tirelessly to make sure her father’s memory endures, plans to “also bring the original yeast and brewing methodologies perfected in the early days in Hoegaarden to once again revive witbier in Austin for all to enjoy,” the campaign text reads. “This is a process rarely used outside of Belgium in modern brewing to continue a beloved style that deserves to be saved.”

For more information, visit the brewery’s Facebook page at facebook.com/FlemishFox.

Cocktail bar Backbeat now opened on South Lamar Boulevard

The sister bar to Drink.Well, Backbeat was designed by  Jamie Chioco of Chioco Design with a cozy and inviting space in mind.
The sister bar to Drink.Well, Backbeat was designed by Jamie Chioco of Chioco Design with a cozy and inviting space in mind.

The second cocktail bar of husband-and-wife team Michael and Jessica Sanders, Backbeat is now opened and finding its rhythm along a bustling section of South Lamar Boulevard.

Backbeat, sister bar to Drink.Well, was announced last fall as one of the first standalone bars on South Lamar, where so many of the watering holes are tied to restaurants. That status, along with its larger size of 2,200 sq. ft. — including a rooftop patio with views of downtown Austin — gave the Sanders a tall order: to provide a well-defined, well-rounded cocktail menu luring locals in.

That’s exactly what they’ve done with a program that brilliantly divides each of the drinks into three sections: Upbeat, Downbeat and Offbeat.

Upbeat cocktails feature “vibrant spirits, often shaken with citrus, fresh herbs or seasonal fruit,” according to a press release. “Exemplifying the Upbeat spirits is Backbeat’s namesake cocktail, a bright and herbaceous variation of the classic Southside cocktail with gin and fresh-pressed celery juice.”

The Downbeat cocktails, on the other hand, are going to be more booze-forward with more robust flavors and “brooding spirits.” These drinks include the Pick-Up Artist, a bittered bourbon julep in which “the bracing zing of Fernet-Branca is balanced with coffee-infused demerara, cinnamon and a zesty dash of cardamom bitters,” as the menu notes. (The menu, it’s worth noting, is written like poetry for cocktail lovers.)

And the Offbeat cocktails, as you might guess, are going to be the oddballs, the ones that don’t fit cleanly into a category: the dessert drinks and tiki offerings the Sanders couldn’t leave off the menu. One such example is the Neon Jungle, a “smoky and electric mezcal & Jamaican rum swizzle balanced with coconut-washed bianco vermouth, fresh pressed pineapple, lime, island spices and blue curaçao,” according to the menu.

The cocktails at Backbeat include the bright blue Neon Jungle, a tiki drink, and the green-hued Backbeat (left).
The cocktails at Backbeat include the bright blue Neon Jungle, a tiki drink, and the green-hued Backbeat (left).

(The best part of the Neon Jungle is the straw, but it’s well worth the surprise to find out why for yourself.)

Plus, the bar has six craft beers on tap and 10 wines by the glass — and a rotating champagne program that showcases a single grower-producer champagne house at a time, starting with Jean Vesselle.

These can all be enjoyed in a space with warm colors and natural lighting — and that irresistible rooftop deck, of course.

Backbeat also has a menu of small bites, such as chicken liver mousse and a pate melt with house pork, chicken pate and melted gruyere. With so much to offer, the bar is hoping to become South Austin residents’ go-to spot for fun.

“South Lamar has always been an important cultural destination in Austin and, over time, has become a culinary one as well,” Michael Sanders said in the press release. “We are looking forward to Backbeat being a spirited part of this community and the vibrant social scene here.”

Like Drink.Well, Backbeat’s got a big heart, too. The Moon Bridge cocktail on the Upbeat menu, a Japanese whisky highball with verdehlo madeira, spiced tonic and sparkling water, is an homage to Isamu Taniguchi, who single-handedly built the Japanese Garden in the 1960s that’s now preserved at Zilker Botanical Garden. To honor his work, the Sanders are donating a dollar of the proceeds of each Moon Bridge purchase to the Zilker gardens.

Backbeat is opened 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesdays-Fridays and 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. For more information, visit backbeat-atx.com.

South by Southwest’s SouthBites gets boozier

As South by Southwest’s series of food panels, SouthBites, grows bigger every year, so does the side of SouthBites that explores a very different sort of maker from the chefs who commonly populate the panels: distillers, winemakers and brewers, even a coffee purveyor or two.

That’s a sign of the festival’s increasing devotion to culinary-related topics, but it’s also clear that something else is happening: SXSW is becoming a destination for beverage makers, in the same way that it has been for tech industry insiders, musicians, and film fans and critics, albeit on a much smaller level.

The interactive portion of SXSW is, at the end of the day, all about sharing big ideas, and the beverage producers who were in panels from Friday through Monday this week have plenty of those; at heart, they are entrepreneurs peddling their passions.

Here’s a look at four of the boozier SXSW panels.

Chef-owner of Michael Sohocki of Restaurant Gwendolyn in San Antonio was a SXSW panelist this year.
Chef-owner of Michael Sohocki of Restaurant Gwendolyn in San Antonio was a SXSW panelist this year.

SXSW: Does technology have a place in the craft culinary world?

Alex Vallis, digital director of Food & Wine magazine; Darren Case, owner and distiller of Round Turn Distilling; Ian Brand, owner and winemaker of Le P’tit Paysan; and Michael Sohocki, owner and chef of Restaurant Gwendolyn and Kimura in San Antonio, all discussed whether farm-to-table food and small-batch beverages like gin and wine can be considered craft if they’re made with the use of increasingly high-tech systems.

The conclusion? As long as the technology is making their products better — without sacrificing all of the qualities that separate them from their mass-produced equivalents — it’s got a role in today’s food and beverage-making. Finding that balance, of course, is the tricky part.

SXSW: On-demand services like Favor, Drizly find big business in fast-paced world

Benjamin Doherty, co-founder and COO of Favor; Cory Rellas, co-founder and COO of Drizly; Jess Beck, co-founder and COO of Alfred; and Jordan Metzner, CEO of Washio, talked about the benefits of having their services at your beck-and-call to make life easier. Rellas’ Drizly, for example, which came to Austin a couple of years ago, helps you get alcohol delivered straight to your door, without having to leave your house.

Ultimately, their on-demand businesses aren’t going to be for everybody — people who don’t have the extra income to pay for service fees, for example — but there’s no doubt they’ll have plenty of other customers in this age of instant gratification.

SXSW: How to drink smart in the craft beer and whiskey boom

At a beer and whiskey-focused SXSW panel, Austin Beerworks brews will serve as an example of something well-made but still affordable, an increasing rarity in this high-demand market.
At a beer and whiskey-focused SXSW panel, Austin Beerworks brews served as an example of something well-made but still affordable, an increasing rarity in this high-demand market.

Emma Janzen, Imbibe’s digital content editor; Jason Kosmas, co-founder of the 86 Co.; Michael Graham, Austin Beerworks co-founder; and Tom Thornton, section editor at CultureMap offered advice to drinkers who want to know how to find good deals in the liquor store and the bar now that beers and whiskey brands are increasingly marked up, with demand for them at an all-time high.

They offered lists of breweries and whiskey companies who keep their well-made products affordable. Additionally, they shared their thoughts on what the bar scene will look like in the coming years, with increasingly more people developing sophisticated palates. Sour beers, rums and lower-alcohol options like vermouth are going to become the hot commodities.

SXSW: San Antonio is a hotbed for some of the alcohol industry’s most forward-thinking entrepreneurs

This panel featuring Boyan Kalusevic, co-founder and distiller at Dorcol Distilling; Cathy Tarasovic, partner at Shrub Drinks; Manny Carral, co-founder of Revolucion Coffee + Juice; and Ryan Salts, co-founder & director of Break Fast & Launch, was supposed to be a how-to on carving out a niche business in a competitive market, but all four panelists hail from San Antonio and noted that the city has been a clear factor in their success.

“San Antonio was a great opportunity for entrepreneurship,” Carral said about his coffee and juice bar, a concept that didn’t exist when it first opened. “I know who my customers are, all within a two-to-three block radius.”

He’s finding that his business has plenty of room to grow, in part because it’s fulfilling a health and fitness need for San Antonio residents.

Likewise, Kalusevic — whose distillery, the producer of Kinsman Rakia, recently acquired a brewery license for their HighWheel Beerworks project — has found a home in the city. He and his business partner built out Dorcol in a southern part of San Antonio that is like “what East Austin was 15 years ago.” Dorcol Distilling is helping to turn that area into a bustling, up-and-coming city center with an arts district.

Keep an eye on our southern neighbors. Austin isn’t the only Texas city that knows how to brew up a good beverage.

Mañana Coffee & Juice, at South Congress Hotel, opens Tuesday

South by Southwest tourists staying at the South Congress Hotel won’t have to go far starting tomorrow morning to get an energizing breakfast.

Photo by Ralph Barrera / American-Statesman. The South Congress Hotel's latest dining spot, Manana, opens tomorrow.
Photo by Ralph Barrera / American-Statesman. The South Congress Hotel’s latest dining spot, Mañana, opens tomorrow.

The final dining spot in the hotel, which opened last fall, Mañana Coffee and Juice is located in the courtyard with ample bar seating and a large communal table for group meetings. Once it opens tomorrow, it’ll “offer a curated menu of single-origin, direct-trade and local coffee blends from Austin-based roaster Cuvee Coffee” and Kusmi Teas, according to a press release.

“We’re applying that warm Texan hospitality we naturally have in Austin to the specialty coffee shop experience,” general manager Jesse Ryan Hartman said in the release. “We want Mañana to be your neighborhood home base.”

On the menu, diners will find plenty of house-made cold-pressed juices and milks with seasonal fruits and vegetables, as well as a variety of sweets and snack made by Amanda Rockman, the hotel’s executive pastry chef and James Beard Award semifinalist. Rockman’s daily menu will have primarily breakfast and dessert items on it: pastries, croissants, macarons, cookies and tarts.

Mañana Coffee & Juice will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. You don’t have to be a guest of the hotel to stop in, either: Any visitor to one of the South Congress Hotel’s food and beverage places, including the Lobby Bar, Cafe No Se and Central Standard, can take advantage of free valet parking for up to three hours.