Austin Wine & Cider’s new taproom offers fermented fruit beverages

Austin Wine & Cider is located at 411 E. St. Elmo Rd. Ste. 2, next door to Casa Brasil Coffee.
Austin Wine & Cider is located at 411 E. St. Elmo Rd. Ste. 2, next door to Casa Brasil Coffee.

One South Austin cidery is ready to make a big splash with its roster of fermented fruit beverages.

Austin Wine & Cider, which opened quietly at the end of March along the increasingly boozier St. Elmo Road, has been offering a variety of off-the-wall draft ciders made from apples and other fruits. Owner and founder Mike Allgeier is purposely veering from traditional ciders.

“With this place, I’m looking for drinkability with a little bit of funk. We are in South Austin, after all,” he said.

A veteran with a Purple Heart after years in the military, he had traveled extensively through Europe during his time in the service — trying beverages not far from where they were made — and was disappointed to return in the late 1990s to a city with “few local products that I wanted to drink,” he said. “There was a very limited selection of craft beer, no ciders and a small amount of wine. So I started making them myself.”

He’s had a long time and a lot of help to perfect the hobby that friends and family began to urge him to turn into a business. Although he self-taught himself how to homebrew at first, he began reaching out to people in the industry: Austin Homebrew Supply, Real Ale Brewing and Black Star Co-op when it first opened as a revolutionary concept in 2010.

He also got involved with South Austin Brewery — located in the same set of St. Elmo Road warehouses where Allgeier’s Austin Wine & Cider is now.

But unlike his brewery mentors, he didn’t stick with making beer.

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. The Austin Wine & Cider tasting room is open on weekends, offering visitors four different ciders to try.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. The Austin Wine & Cider tasting room is open on weekends, offering visitors four different ciders to try.

“I worked my way into ciders, meads, Texas-grown fruit wines,” he said. “They’re a very similar process to brewing. I liked making the ciders because… I could apply my brewing experience to blend the two worlds.”

Although the ciders now feature apples primarily from Washington and Canada, he tries to use Texas ingredients when he can. Two of the ciders on tap at the Austin Wine & Cider tasting room are made with Texas-grown grapefruit and lime, in addition to the apples: the Puckering Pomelo Cider and the Smashed Lime Cider. They’ll rotate out as Allgeier comes up with new recipes.

“I want to use cool fruits from Texas that aren’t used a whole lot, like fig and kumquat,” he said.

The other two ciders on draft are Austin Wine & Cider mainstays. The She’ll be Apples cider is a good introduction to Allgeier’s particular style because with apples as the solo fruit, it’s as straightforward as he gets. Not too sweet and not too dry, it’s an easy-drinking and balanced expression of what good cider should taste like.

But that’s not the most popular one. The one he pours for visitors most often on weekends, when the tasting room is opened, is the Hefe Apfel Cider, an unfiltered German-style cider that will appeal to beer devotees: Allgeier crafted it to taste like a hefeweizen, albeit without the grains that give the wheat beer such a distinct flavor.

“It has hops and spices and yeast, but everything else is just fermented fruit juice,” he said. “It’s about as close as we can get to a hefeweizen without having any grain product, which is something we can’t have because we’re licensed as a winery. Notice the lovely smell from the hefeweizen yeast.”

In addition to the four ciders on tap, the tasting room in the modest Austin Wine & Cider space offers, on many weekends, live music and game nights with Cards Against Humanity. Right now, it’s the best place to find these ciders, although they’re slowly going on draft in area bars. Allgeier’s goal is to get them into cans one day as well.

“Apple is just good to cook with, to make ciders with, even if you’re flavoring it with something else like blueberry,” he said.

Austin Wine & Cider, at 411 E. St. Elmo Rd. Ste. 2, is opened 4 to 11 p.m. Fridays and 2 to 11 p.m. Saturdays. For more information, visit the Facebook page.

Two Austin-area breweries, IronSight and Bindlestick, are closing

Even an industry as lucrative as craft beer has its limits — and two local breweries in Leander and Cedar Park have discovered that hard truth in the past month.

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Bindlestick Brewing is open every Friday evening in Leander for tours and tastings of each of the four beers.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. For fans of Bindlestick beers, May 21 will be their last chance to drink them.

According to their Facebook pages, IronSight Brewers, which had taken over the old Twisted X Brewing space last summer, and Bindlestick Brewing, which opened last February as Leander’s first brewery, are folding in light of tough circumstances.

All, we have reached an unfortunate point and will be closing the doors on Bindlestick Brewing Co,” a Facebook event page for Bindlestick’s farewell blowout party announced yesterday. “We want to thank everyone who became part of our lives and the business. From all the volunteers, the regular faces, and our retail customers who gave us a chance. We have made new friends and have so many great memories there is not even a place to begin.”

Bindlestick’s final brewery party will be on May 21 and will be fans’ chance to “pick up some memorabilia to help recall all the fun moments we had,” according to the Facebook post. Visit Bindlestick from 12 to 5 p.m. at 1309 Leander Dr. #504.

Fans of the Cedar Park-located IronSight have gotten no such closure, however. The brewery shut down without fanfare last month — with the tentative promise that it might return once “we find a new home with a new name,” according to IronSight’s Facebook page, which is now called “Brewery formally known as Iron-Sight.”

The Facebook page alludes to a falling-out between Robert Chaney, the co-founder of IronSight, with a business partner. Chaney, according to the brewery page, “has a new vision for something awesome and we are working hard to get the ball rolling on it.”

These are the first Austin-area breweries to close up shop since last year’s abrupt end to Kamala Brewing at the Whip In. (Another version, Kamala Gardens, is in the works at another location.) Other Texas breweries have also been bidding adieu in the past year, a testament to how the industry — despite the amount of support and camaraderie surrounding it — can be a tough place to work. Fort Bend Brewing in Missouri City and Firewheel Brewing in Rockwall have been among the closures.

But don’t worry: The number of U.S. breweries opening (last year’s total: 620) far exceeds the number of them closing (last year’s total: 68), as this Brewers Association post notes.

Barrow Brewing becomes first brewery in Bell County

A 50 minute drive north of Austin on Interstate 35, Salado is a small town full of artists and other creative souls that, until recently, didn’t have a brewery of its own — and didn’t have the laws to make one possible. But Barrow Brewing founders Graydon and KD Hill worked to change that and are ready to celebrate the grand opening of their brewery next month.

Photo contributed by Barrow Brewing. The beautiful new taproom of Barrow Brewing, in Salado, is opened Thursdays-Sundays every week.
Photo by Ellen Mote. The beautiful new taproom of Barrow Brewing, in Salado, is opened Thursdays-Sundays every week.

Already, the couple is seeing how much their beers are in high demand, the gratifying result of a lot of sweat and tears and support from their close-knit community.

The Hills’ battle to open Barrow Brewing, named after Graydon’s long Texas lineage, has been harder than most.

They didn’t just have to deal with the usual permitting and renovating of a space that many brewery founders have to handle on the road to opening. They also had to petition Salado — a village of some 2,000 residents — to change an existing law that permitted the sale of alcohol only in places making at least 50 percent of their profits from food.

“We petitioned and got on the ballot,” KD Hill said. “And 784 people voted yes. That was a huge moment. We actually named one of our beers after that, the 784 Belgian Wit. We knew when the election passed that people were going to support the brewery; we weren’t completely out of our minds for working that hard to make it happen.”

Her husband, Graydon, had been a commercial airline pilot whose hobby of homebrewing became a passion he couldn’t shake. He and KD had moved to Salado in 2011 and noticed that the town, comprised of potters, glass-blowers and other people following their dreams, lacked a brewery.

“Being in Salado, we felt it was the perfect place for it,” she said.

Once KD was on-board with Graydon’s big career move — which she said was at first “a scary, scary change” — she found that Salado’s creative residents served as motivation for going through with the brewery.

“We found a group of people who we feel are our tribe,” she said. “We’re surrounded by people who are pursuing their dreams, who are just all-out going for it. It’s hard not to want to be a part of that.”

Salado’s artisans have already proven to be helpful collaborators as well. Now that the year of renovating an old granary is over and the brewery has quietly opened for weekend tours and tastings, the Hills are putting the finishing touches on Barrow Brewing: filling it up with German biergarten tables salvaged from nearby Round Top, keeping the long-leaf pine bar where the beer is served cleaned and shiny, and waiting on the special snifter glasses from a neighboring glassworks company. A local potter is also making them growlers.

“You’re getting a full experience when you come here. You’re getting craft handmade glassware with our beer made just yards away,” KD Hill said.

Barrow Brewing’s beers include the Evil Catfish IPA, named after a local legend, and the Ski Boat Blonde, named after the family-heirloom boat that Graydon inherited from his father and proposed to KD on. The blonde ale has been the most popular, KD said, because “we still have a Budweiser crowd around us.”

There’s also the Tipsy Vicar Stout, named after “our local homebrewer Episcopalian priest. He’s been a big supporter, so we were excited to name one after him. He has a good recipe for an ESB (Extra Special Bitter) that we’re talking about scaling up,” she said.

And in June, she and Graydon also hope to release the Ginger Rye, a small-batch offering that will come out just in time for Father’s Day.

Although these beers are only available in the taproom right now, the Hills have a canning line installed and hope to start sending their beers out in cans soon to local bars and stores. But don’t expect Barrow beers in Austin: As Bell County’s only brewery, Barrow is going to have its hands full supplying the big market of Fort Hood.

In the meantime, KD Hill hopes people will drive up to check out the brewery and Salado as a whole.

“We want to make the brewery a community space,” she said. “This is where they can gather, bring their kids, eat from the food truck onsite. Make it a second living room. We feel strongly about the community of Salado; we’ve made true, true friends with people we would never have made friends with in a big city or in another small town because the town of Salado is so, so eclectic. We want people to make friends when they come to the taproom.”

Barrow Brewing’s grand opening party is a good opportunity to visit. It’ll kick off with a ribbon cutting at noon on June 4 and will have food trucks, games, giveaways and a Barrow-branded pint glass for the first 500 customers.

The brewery is located at 108 Royal St. in Salado and opened 4 to 10 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 12 to 10 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 6 p.m. Sundays. For more information, visit barrowbrewing.com.

Meet the Official Drink of Austin bar teams

Photo by Whit Preston. Geraldine's offers locals and hotel guests alike the chance to dine and drink as live music plays.
Photo by Whit Preston. Geraldine’s offers locals and hotel guests alike the chance to dine and drink as live music plays. It’s one of the bars participating in Official Drink of Austin.

In some ways, the Official Drink of Austin competition serves as an unofficial look at the current best bars in Austin. The competition, which returns on Thursday as a benefit for the Austin Food & Wine Alliance, shows off some underrated places, too, that cocktail lovers should have on their radar.

This year’s bar teams hail from Juliet, Juniper, Freedmen’s, Drink.Well, Backbeat, Geraldine’s, Central Standard Kitchen & Bar, and District Kitchen + Cocktails. Of them, Drink.Well is the only veteran.

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 — along with food from local restaurants, to keep the tipsiness at bay. 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.

Here’s a look at this year’s participants.

Drink.Well: This North Loop cocktail bar from husband-and-wife team Michael and Jessica Sanders is not only the one bar of the bunch with previous Official Drink of Austin experience; it’s also the oldest one, with the exception of District Kitchen + Cocktails, by a few years. Couple that experience with consistently exceptional drinks and Drink.Well’s got an edge over the competition.

Like sister bar Drink.Well, Backbeat offers well-made cocktails and food, some of which will be on special during happy hour.
Like sister bar Drink.Well, Backbeat offers well-made cocktails and food.

Backbeat: The Sanders might have a hard time cheering on their favorites — they also own Backbeat, which opened a couple months ago on South Lamar Boulevard. Like its sister bar, Backbeat is all about well-made drinks and bar food that pairs with them, but with a rooftop patio offering views of downtown Austin, its funky melody is not likely to be confused with Drink.Well’s.

Juliet: This beautifully designed Italian restaurant on Barton Springs Road might have made missteps with its cuisine, but those problems have never extended to the cocktail program, which was strong from the start with Italian-centric spirits and liqueurs and even a whole roster of Negroni variations. Beverage director Jeramy Campbell recently produced a spring cocktail menu as tasty and nuanced as ever.

Juniper: Another Italian restaurant, this charming east side spot has carved out its own distinct niche. The cocktail list is small but runs the gamut on spirits used — with everything from pisco to aquavit.

Geraldine’s: The Hotel Van Zandt’s fourth-floor restaurant fulfills this town’s love for live music in more ways than one. While local artists play onstage, locals and hotel guests alike are able to sip on music-themed cocktails like the Willie’s Cup, with rye whiskey, sage leaves and hemp-seed milk and adorned with a telltale red bandana. Geraldine’s regular tributes to Austin’s favorite things make it a natural choice for the Official Drink of Austin.

Freedmen’s: A barbecue restaurant with a stellar cocktail list might seem like a strange combination — but not if you’ve ever dined at this campus-area smokehouse and beer garden located in a historic building. There, you can try drinks that have a touch of smoke themselves, like the Pimm’s Cup-like Garden Party on the current menu.

Central Standard Kitchen & Bar: Another hotel restaurant has made the cut, this time from the South Congress Hotel. The drinks from this strikingly designed spot are straight-forward and elegant, such as the Congress Sour with Old Overholt Rye, Fonseca Port, egg and lemon.

District Kitchen + Cocktails: Although it’s the only restaurant in the Official Drink of Austin lineup not located centrally, don’t let its suburbs status fool you. The Circle C spot has a solid cocktail program that both gets creative and goes back to the classics.

The Official Drink of Austin is $55 in advance, $65 at the door. Tickets are available on the Austin Food & Wine Alliance website.

Three Austin brewers take home World Beer Cup wins

Photo from Circle Brewing's Facebook. Circle Brewing's newest release, the Archetype Historical IPA, took a gold medal at the prestigious World Beer Cup.
Photo from Circle Brewing’s Facebook. Circle Brewing’s newest release, the Archetype Historical IPA, took a gold medal at the prestigious World Beer Cup.
Seven Texas breweries won big at the World Beer Cup this weekend in Philadelphia — and three of them were from Austin. Circle Brewing, Independence Brewing and the ABGB won gold medals and a bronze medal, respectively.

The World Beer Cup, a prestigious competition held by the Brewers Association, is one of the highlights of the Craft Brewers Conference, a five-day educational conference and trade show for more than 1,400 participating craft breweries. The competition, featuring U.S. and international breweries, closes out the conference.

And if a brewery takes home a medal from the World Beer Cup, they must be doing something right: 96 categories and more than 6,500 entered beers means there’s a lot of competition and no guarantee that a brewery will come back with a win. That’s why Circle Brewing, Independence Brewing and the ABGB getting medals is all the more remarkable.

Circle Brewing earned a gold medal in the historical beer category for the recently launched Archetype Historical IPA, which the brewers created to taste exactly as an IPA would have tasted hundreds of years ago. The brewery got its start in Austin five years ago by making beers using only the four traditional ingredients of hops, malts, yeast and water, also a historical practice.

Independence Brewing was another Austin medal winner — for the brewery’s Power & Light Pale Ale in the golden or blonde ale category. The light, easy-drinking brew launched in 2014 as an homage, like many of its canned brews, to Austin.

The final Austin brewery to win was brewpub the ABGB, whose pilsner called the Rocket 100 grabbed a bronze medal in the American-style lager category. The Rocket 100 has already been a medal winner, having gotten a gold at last year’s Great American Beer Festival. (That’s another notable beer competition in the U.S.)

Texas’ four other World Beer Cup are Houston’s Karbach Brewing, Dallas’ Deep Ellum Brewing, Dallas’ Oak Highlands Brewery and Addison’s Bitter Sisters Brewing.

For more information, visit worldbeercup.org.

Celebrate 30 years of the Whip In at Saturday’s party

Photo by Emma Janzen. The Whip In has evolved into a mom-and-pop Indian restaurant and beer bar, carrying a variety of specialty draft and bottled beers as well as boutique wines.
Photo by Emma Janzen. The Whip In has evolved into a mom-and-pop Indian restaurant and beer bar, carrying a variety of specialty draft and bottled beers as well as boutique wines.

Just looking at the live music lineup performing at the Whip In’s 30th anniversary bash tomorrow gives you a sense of how special this gas station-turned-craft beer bar has become for Austin.

Among the acts playing, once the event kicks off at 1 p.m., are Money Chicha, Star Parks, the Sour Notes, Los Coast, Elijah Ford and Hello Nomad. It’s a lineup Whip In staffers are quite proud of.

“We’ve got lots of big acts coming in for the party that we really have no business having here because we’re tiny, but we asked them and they said, ‘Oh my god, we love the Whip In!’” MJ Smith, Whip In’s general manager, said.

That’s a sentiment shared across a wide swath of the city, no matter how long you’ve lived here, what part of Austin you hang your hat or whether you’re even much of a beer drinker. The Whip In, which was purchased in 1986 by Indian immigrants Amrit and Chandan Topiwala, has become many things over the years: a mom-and-pop Indian food restaurant, wine bar, beer bar and, at one point, a brewpub that sold small amounts of beer made in-house.

A big reason for its success — thriving in an old building off Interstate 35 in South Austin — is the sense of community the Topiwalas, along with their son Dipak, have carefully built around it. They treat staff like family, Smith said, and pay employees a higher-than-average wage that turns the Whip In into a career, not just a job. In turn, employees host regular events that draw in Austinites, offering everything from open mic nights to poetry readings to beer can chicken contests.

Then, of course, there’s the beer.

In addition to a tap wall capable of pouring more than 70 beers, the Whip In also has a bottle shop in the back with a variety of cans, bottles and bombers. Keeping both the draft and packaged options stocked is a never-ending task, Smith said.

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. The Whip In might be tiny inside, but there's also a cozy beer garden outside for people to sit down with a drink.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. The Whip In might be tiny inside, but there’s also a cozy beer garden outside for people to sit down with a drink.

“Courtney, our beer buyer, is doing what Mr. Topiwala used to do,” Smith said. “He’s meeting with distributors constantly and always changing out our bottle selection. That’s a full-time job just in itself. Bottled and draft, our beers are always whatever is new, although we do have staples, too. Like Live Oak Brewing, we can’t keep that on the shelf.”

The Whip In started out as a convenience store and gas station in a rough part of town. But the business wasn’t enough: A 1980s recession meant the Topiwalas, who were constantly working while raising a family, had to get creative. Getting into beer, Amrit Topiwala said, developed as a necessity.

“The real reason I chose to have lots of beer was the recession. ‘How am I going to survive in the recession?'” he said at a recent interview.

“People drink no matter what,” Smith put in.

“But I had to teach them,” Topiwala said. “I had Budwesier, Miller and Coors, but I would have them try a six-pack variety of other beers and see what they thought.”

He was bringing beers — many of them, like Spaten or Chimay, from European breweries — into Central Texas “20 years before craft beer was really here,” he said. And people took notice of this quirky bottle shop at the edge of town and began ordering from it, driving in from as far away as the big cities of Dallas and Houston and sometimes leaving with whole cases of beer. In the 1990s, Topiwala was also the beer supplier of many a Friday office party.

The Whip In shifted again in the 2000s, serving beer in addition to offering it to-go and becoming an Indian restaurant serving up Chandan Topiwala’s recipes. The current chef, Shaun Verespej, has revamped the menu, and although the prices are a little higher now, it’s for good reason.

“We were all organic and tried to source all local foods, and we lost that,” he said about the Whip In’s original menu. “We’ve been trying to bring that back.”

Saturday’s party will have a roasted goat taco on special starting at 3 p.m. (with the option of substituting the goat for falafel for the vegetarians out there). Order it early: Whip In specials tend to go fast, especially when there’s a celebration.

Both Smith and Verespej see the party as a bright spot in the history of the Whip In, with many more good years to come. One day, maybe, the Topiwalas will find an additional location. Or maybe, god forbid, they’ll finally retire and leave their beloved shop in the hands of people who want it to continue on. No matter what, Amrit Topiwala knows the Whip In will continue transforming, just as it always has. Its evolution just might be why the Whip In has made it to 30.

“Success is always taking the opportunity to change things,” Topiwala said.

The Whip In is located at 1950 S. Interstate 35. For more information, visit whipin.com.

A beer for Austin: Strange Land Brewery’s new canned pilsner, the Austinite

Photo contributed by Tim Klatt. The Austinite is a pilsner meant to be enjoyed in a hot Central Texas summer.
Photo contributed by Tim Klatt. The Austinite is a pilsner meant to be enjoyed in a hot Central Texas summer.

Strange Land Brewery has strayed from its tradition of brewing unconventional styles to make a pilsner — with a name that’s hard to forget for anyone who lives in and loves Central Texas: the Austinite.

The brewery’s two co-founders, Tim Klatt and Adam Blumenshein, “developed the Austinite Pilz in order to add to our portfolio a light, clean and easy-drinking brew (that) doesn’t compromise our high-craft approach to beer,” Klatt said via email. The duo is calling it “an honest beer for true Austinites.”

At 5 percent ABV and coming in a bright red and gold can, the pilsner may well become many locals’ go-to beer this summer.

According to Klatt, “the Austinite Pilz, our postmodern take on the pilsner, transcends the simple boundaries of ‘ale’ and ‘lager.’ Harking back to the brewing tradition prior to the mid-1800s, before the predominance of light and flavorless beers fermented with lager yeast, the Austinite is top-fermented at low temperature and lightly lagered to produce a light-to-medium body and clean finish.”

And why did he and Blumenshein decide to call it the Austinite, clearly the quickest way to all local beer lovers’ hearts?

“Adam and I have lived in Austin now for a combined almost 40 years; we love Austin, we are inspired by Austin, and we wanted to craft the perfect brew for Austinites — a beer that compliments the eight months of summer we have here,” Klatt said. “Once you experience it, I’m sure you’ll agree that the beer essentially named itself.”

It launched at Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden yesterday, but people will be able to find it in bars and stores across the city. For more information, visit strangelandbrewery.com.

Mighty Swell debuts as sparkling wine cocktails in cans

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Mighty Swell Sparkling Cocktails come in cans so that people can take them to the pool, the lake or other summertime activities.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Mighty Swell Sparkling Cocktails come in cans so that people can take them to the pool, the lake or other summertime activities.

The co-founder of Deep Eddy Vodka and the founder of Treaty Oak Distilling are just two of the masterminds behind a new ready-to-drink cocktail, Mighty Swell Sparkling Cocktails, that comes served in 12 oz. cans.

Clayton Christopher, also the founder of Sweet Leaf Tea, and Daniel Barnes joined forces with Sean Cusack, an investment industry professional who first came up with the idea of Mighty Swell, to produce the sparkling wine cocktails. They’ve launched as six-packs in retailers across the state — including HEB and Spec’s — in three flavors: grapefruit, lemon and peach.

The concept of a ready-to-drink cocktail had already been swirling around in Christopher’s head when Cusack and Barnes approached him about Mighty Swell. Right away, he could see its potential.

“I jumped in with two feet,” he said.

They wanted to transform the category of ready-to-drink beverages, which has seen skyrocketing growth as consumers “continue to look for convenience. Even if they’re laid-back and relaxed, people are still in an on-the-go mindset,” Christopher said. But nowadays, they’re also seeking something else: drinks that taste good.

“Consumers are wanting more flavor out of their product, something more exciting that pushes the envelope. Beer from Budweiser hasn’t changed in a hundred years,” he said.

That’s where Mighty Swell comes in. The drinks are made with a sparkling wine base, but the majority of the flavor comes from real fruit juice cultivated from the best sources of grapefruit, lemon and peach the Mighty Swell founders could find. With the juice, they took an extra step to make sure each of the flavors tasted as irresistible as possible.

“The goal for the company is that when consumers try Mighty Swell, it tastes like a sparkling cocktail that tastes better than Mother Nature could make it,” Christopher said. “To get it to that point, we deconstruct the fruit. We add not only fresh juice, but essential oils from the rind as well as the pith, the skin of the fruit. So when you taste the grapefruit one, for example, take notice. You’ll be able to taste some of the bitterness from the pith that balances out the sweetness of the juice. The zest, the outside, has a very bright taste to it, a lingering finish.”

In introducing essential oils back into the juice, he said, the lemon and grapefruit cocktails both end up tasting more like the juice of the fruits themselves. (Peaches, however, don’t have rinds or pith.)

“With that process, we bring those flavors to life better than juice would,” he said.

So far, the reception to these 5 percent ABV cocktails has been better than he could have expected so early on in the release — so the trio’s methods with Mighty Swell must be on the right track.

“I’ve been in the beverage industry all my adult life and have never seen such a great response,” he said.

They’re already planning new flavors — though with lemon and grapefruit, one of the additional flavors wouldn’t have anything to do with citrus — after choosing the three that are, according to Christopher, the most popular on the market. He would know, thanks to his experience at Deep Eddy Vodka.

“When you think about Mighty Swell, think about it as a friendly wave that’s crashing over the category and moving consumers to a product they’re going to fall in love with,” he said. “We want consumers to fall in love with products they’re consuming. They have a better choice now.”

For more information about Mighty Swell Sparkling Cocktails, visit mightyswell.com.

Flix Brewhouse to double capacity of brewery, bring beers to Austin

Flix Brewhouse, in Round Rock, has created more than 200 beers since opening in 2011. Although they've been mostly on draft at the theater, a brewhouse expansion will distribute some of them into Austin.
Flix Brewhouse, in Round Rock, has created more than 200 beers since opening in 2011. Although they’ve been mostly on draft at the theater, a brewhouse expansion will distribute some of them into Austin.

When Flix Brewhouse opened in Round Rock the summer of 2011, it was an experiment — a previously unheard-of combination movie theater and microbrewery. Sort of like the Alamo Drafthouse, except that the beer at Flix was and still is made in-house.

Needless to say, it’s proved to be a success. There are now a few additional Flix Brewhouses across the country, including two upcoming locations in Texas: one in Denton County and another in Sugar Land. And there are now big changes coming to the original Flix. With the upgrade to a 7-barrel system in June, the brewpub plans to double brewing capacity — allowing Flix to distribute into Austin.

Although very few bars will receive Flix beers on draft, that’s nonetheless a boon for Flix and head brewer Justin Rizza, who still hears groans from Austinites about how far of a drive north his brewery is.

Flix Brewhouse's head brewer, Justin Rizza, is excited to have more room to grow his sour beer program.
Flix Brewhouse’s head brewer, Justin Rizza, is excited to have more room to grow his sour beer program.

“I want to have tap takeovers and introduce Austin to what Round Rock has to offer. Maybe inspire people to drive up here for a change,” he said.

He’s hoping the taste of Flix’s mainstay brews, like the

Having a bigger brewhouse will allow Rizza to produce a lot more specialty beers, including lagers, sours and other barrel-aged offerings. These are the beers that take up time and space to make, and now he’s got the room for them.

“We’ve done a couple bourbon barrel-aged beers, but I’m kind of more intrigued or inspired by the sour beers of Belgium,” Rizza said. “Most of the barrels I have are red wine barrels from Becker Vineyards. What I’ve been doing mostly is having the beer fermented clean, then transferred into the barrels with different blends of wild yeast and bacteria.”

The rotating Flix Funkhouse line where these funky beers come on has been building a following over time, Rizza said.

Plus, he’ll be able to make more beers that are based off movies. In December, when “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” first blasted into theaters, Flix Brewhouse released four “Star Wars” tribute beers; last month, when the theater was playing “Purple Rain” following Prince’s untimely death, Rizza put together a Little Red IPA. They tend to be hits, he said.

Even once the brewhouse is expanded, it’ll still be a little smaller than the ones at newer Flix locations. But that’s OK with Rizza, who has learned to make the most of a small space.

“I want to participate in Texas Craft Brewers Fest for the first time,” he said. “Business is on an up slope and not stopping. While we’ll be focusing production on keeping the tap wall filled here, we’ll send off core beers or seasonals as we can to take over the taps at the great multi-tap craft beer bars of Austin.”

Sports bar BaseCamp opens as upscale spot on West Fifth Street

Photo by Cultivate PR. BaseCamp offers a menu of bites, like burgers and fried pickles, that isn't your typical pub food.
Photo by Cultivate PR. BaseCamp offers a menu of bites, like burgers and fried pickles, that isn’t your typical pub food.

Although sports fans can order Budweiser and chicken wings while they watch a game at BaseCamp, the idea behind the new Warehouse District bar on West Fifth Street is that they don’t have to — they can have a more upscale experience.

Walk into BaseCamp once it opens for dinner and drinks daily at 4 p.m. and you might not guess that it’s a sports bar, save for the 13 TVs spread out among the dimly lit space and the sports memorabilia hung up along the back wall. The cozy booths and comfy chairs, along with a menu of cocktails, wine and craft beer, suggest that it’s more of a sit-down restaurant, but don’t be fooled.

Although BaseCamp hails itself as a sports bar, cocktails and wine are both prominent on the drinks menu.
Photo by Cultivate PR. Although BaseCamp hails itself as a sports bar, cocktails and wine are both prominent on the drinks menu.

BaseCamp founder Chad Barrett, who teamed up with general manager Dan Wyman (formerly of Parkside Projects restaurants like Olive & June) and executive chef Eric Kuypers (formerly of Uchi and the Peached Tortilla), wanted to transform the concept of a sports bar with BaseCamp — offering “elevated pub food” along with a laid-back atmosphere, bar manager Shea Baespflug said.

“It’s for people who want to watch a game and be in a nice, chill environment with good-quality products,” he said at a recent interview. “For sports fans, we don’t want to go where it’s going to be packed and loud and gross and everything’s fried and it’s all cheap beer. That has its place, but you don’t want to do that every time you watch a sporting event.”

The bar will play the major showdowns — such as a UFC fight or the NFL draft — but also allows fans of a particular sport to take up a couple screens watching the game they love. Already, Baespflug said, regulars come in to watch their teams play.

“We cover all bases without shutting anyone out,” he said.

That’s true of the food and drink menus as well. BaseCamp offers the expected bar bites of chicken wings, burgers and fries, but they come with ingredients like peach barbecue sauce and aioli instead of ketchup. There are also options like mac & cheese with taleggio, fontina, English cheddar, cavatappi and herbed bread crumbs and Asian ribs with sweet chili and green onion.

Pair those with either a Texas beer or a cocktail. The cocktail list, which Baespflug helped to craft, is a mix of original drinks and riffs on classics, like the Beam & Hops with Jim Beam whiskey, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, a draft IPA and basil and the Blue Steel with Dewar’s Scotch, creme de violette, agave and lemon.

And don’t discount the wine list, either — it was put together by Wyman, whose experience at Parkside Projects means he knows his reds, whites and bubbly wines.

“I don’t know how many sports bars have a really nice wine list,” Baespflug said. “So many times, you’ll see a man come in and watch a game with his wife, and even though they’re both into it, for drinks he wants a big old beer and she wants a glass of wine. At other places, she’s stuck with ‘we have two types of wine for you and they’ve been on the shelf for two years.’”

Check out BaseCamp on Wednesday, when the bar is throwing a grand opening party with free appetizers and NBA playoffs playing on the TVs. BaseCamp will also be hosting a Kentucky Derby watch party on Saturday starting at 4 p.m., with specials on champagne and mint juleps.

The bar, located below Summit Rooftop Lounge at 120 W. Fifth St., is opened from 4 p.m. to midnight Sundays through Thursdays and 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. For more information, visit facebook.com/BaseCampATX/.