First up is a Champagne class, as a primer to New Year’s Eve festivities. On Sunday, participants will learn the basics of Champagne production, how it’s different from other styles of sparkling wine and what to look for when purchasing bottles. The $50 tickets include paired light bites and a guided flight of four top-notch champagnes, led by Backbeat’s co-owner, Jessica Sanders. Hang around afterward — the class runs from 5:30 to 7 p.m. — to try classic Champagne cocktails.
The second event, recurring throughout the month of December, seamlessly brings together Beyoncé, charitable causes and a celebration of the holiday season. Don’t see how all those tie together? Here’s an introduction to #Sleigh: During the first three Mondays in December (Dec. 5, 12 and 19), Sanders will be joined behind the bar by guest bartenders and celebrity barbacks who will create their own special cocktails along with three recurring ones.
Jingle Ladies: Put a Ring on It, with gin, apple brandy, Martine Honeysuckle, Meyer lemon, orgeat, Angostura bitters and Brut Champagne
Santa Bey-by, with tequila, mezcal, Campari, blood orange, honey, lime and allspice
I’ve Got Hot Sauce in My Daiq, with white rum, passionfruit, coconut, lime and Yellowbird Serrano
Each night, a portion of the proceeds from these cocktails, as well as tips, will go toward a charity that benefits women. Backbeat is donating the money to GirlForward, Austin SafePlace and Texas Women’s Advocacy Project.
Guest bartenders and barbacks at #Sleigh include Madelyn Kay with Vox Table, Travis Tober with Aviation American Gin and David Alan with Patron Spirits. The event runs from 7 to 10 p.m. each of those Mondays, although patrons will also be able to order the regular menu during that time.
Backbeat is located at 1300 S. Lamar Blvd. For more information, visit backbeat-atx.com.
The owners of a couple boozy businesses in downtown Dripping Springs have found more success with beer than with wine.
In December, the Mercantile Wine & Tapas restaurant on Mercer Street will close to make way for a new brewery and taproom — but John McIntosh and Dave Niemeyer don’t have to worry about buying equipment for it. Instead, they will simply move the brewery system from the Barber Shop, a small brewpub that they also own on Mercer.
Two doors down from the Barber Shop, the Mercantile will have its final night of dinner service on Dec. 17. After that, it’ll close and go under renovation to transform into the as-yet-unnamed new brewery and taproom. McIntosh and Niemeyer, the brewers, expect to reopen the space with its changed concept in February 2017.
“Thanks to the support of our Dripping Springs and beer communities, the Barber Shop and our house beer have been more successful than Dave and I would have dreamed almost six years ago when we opened,” McIntosh said in a news release. “We are both passionate about beer and brewing and could not be more excited by this opportunity to bring our house beer into its own space and brand.”
But he and Niemeyer also feel bittersweet about the closing of the Mercantile, which established itself as a purveyor of seasonal small plates paired with wine and beer.
“Beer’s siren call cannot be denied,” he said in the release.
The Barber Shop is located at 207 Mercer St., while the Mercantile is at 211 Mercer St. For more information, visit barbershopbar.com.
Austin’s most storied hotel is celebrating 130 years in business this year — a big milestone that one local brewery, Austin Beerworks, is commemorating with a special brew.
Named after the Driskill Hotel’s founder, Colonel Jesse Driskill, the Cattle Baron Wheatwine is a rich and warming winter beer that goes on tap at the homey Driskill Bar starting today during the annual Christmas tree lighting. The 9.5 percent ABV brew will also be available for tasting at Austin Beerworks’ taproom.
“Cattle Baron Wheatwine is inspired by Colonel Jesse Driskill, who 130 years ago ambitiously brought luxury into the Wild West,” William Golden, Austin Beerworks’ head brewer, said in a press release. “Texas Red Wheat gives this beer a full and decadent body, and there’s nothing tame about it. It pairs perfectly with grilled meats, strong cheeses and cowhide chairs.”
You can find out what else it pairs with at the Driskill Hotel’s monthly beer dinner, this time featuring Austin Beerworks’ brews. The four-course Craft Series feast at the 1886 Cafe & Bakery on Dec. 12 will also pair three other beers from the North Austin brewery with cuisine from the Driskilll’s executive chef, Troy Knapp.
“The Driskill has seen and been through much in its 130-year history, but having a beer inspired by the founder is a first for us,” he said in the release.
In August, a group of brewers successfully convinced a state district judge that a current Texas law wasn’t constitutional. The law, part of the bundle of 2013 legislation that otherwise advanced the interests of breweries in the state, prohibited them from receiving monetary compensation from distributors for the right to distribute their beers.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, however, has decided to appeal the decision. Now, the case goes to the Third Court of Appeals in Austin.
As before, the state will argue that the law was important in maintaining the three-tier system — Texas’ regulatory system dictating that makers of beer, wine and spirits create their products, distributors sell them to retailers, and those places, in turn, peddle them to the public. Brewers being able to sell their distribution rights, rather than give them away as the law dictated, would be a violation of the system.
Institute for Justice senior attorney Matt Miller, the breweries’ attorney, said in a statement after news of TABC’s appeal that they believe the Texas courts will still side with the breweries in a state that has always cherished small business.
“The trial court correctly saw that this law was written by distributors to do one thing: enrich themselves at the expense of craft brewers,” Miller said. “That is unconstitutional, and we are confident the appellate court will agree.”
In August, when the court ruled in favor of Live Oak and the North Texas breweries, Miller noted that the Texas Constitution doesn’t allow the legislature to pass laws “that enrich one business at the expense of another.”
TABC’s public information officer, Chris Porter, declined to comment because of the pending legal matter. The commission is also expected to appeal the ruling of the crowler case and has until Friday to make that appeal.
The beers debut at a happy hour at Waller Creek Pub House on Monday evening, followed by two other happy hours at the Brass Tap Domain Tuesday and Little Woodrow’s Southpark Meadows location on Wednesday. These bars will have Coronado’s core offerings available, including the Orange Avenue Wit, Mermaid’s Red, Islander IPA and newcomer Stingray IPA.
Plus, Tuesday’s happy hour at the Brass Tap Domain will also have the only keg of Idiot IPA in Austin.
Although the initial launch features draft-only versions of Coronado beers, the brewery will eventually start selling six-pack cans and 22 oz. specialty bottles. Texas marks the 19th state for Coronado Brewing to expand into, after first opening as a brewpub 20 years ago on the island of Coronado, a resort city in San Diego County. The brewery has grown at a double-digit pace since.
“San Diego and Austin share a lot of similarities when it comes to appreciating the best life has to offer — and doing it your own way — and we think our brand will resonate with Texans,” Brandon Richards, the COO of Coronado Brewing, said in a news release.
Get a first taste of Coronado Brewing in Austin at 6 p.m. today at Waller Creek Pub. The Brass Tap Domain’s event runs from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
The bar from locally based FBR Management — the owners of other popular Austin spots like Star Bar, the Rattle Inn and Mean Eyed Cat — has moved into the old World of Beer location, a chain with 50 taps and more than 500 bottles, that despite its supply of beer couldn’t quite find a following here.
But Lavaca Street Bar may prove to be more successful, having clearly found a formula that works: good beer and cocktails, TVs playing sports games and bites from Chef Ralph Gilmore’s Turf ‘n Surf Po’Boys.
The opening tap list includes FBR’s collaboration with Last Stand Brewing. The Ale Pastor was, as the name suggests, inspired by a taco. Other beers include Hops & Grain A Pale Mosaic, Avery Brewing White Rascal and Thirsty Planet Thirsty Goat.
At 3121 S. Lamar Blvd., the new Lavaca Street Bar is opened from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. on weekends. Once the staff adjusts, it’ll be opened every day at 11 a.m. like the other two locations.
Although the TABC alleged that retailers like Cuvee Coffee using crowlers “constituted canning,” which only breweries and brewpubs are legally able to do, Texas Administrative Law Judge John Beeler found that “the evidence failed to prove any of the allegations, and therefore (he) recommends that no action be taken against” Cuvee Coffee or its founder, Mike McKim, according to court documents.
The ruling, made Nov. 17, means the TABC can’t prohibit bars and restaurants from filling crowlers — 32 oz. aluminum growlers that look like supersized cans — for customers.
“In theory, what it means is that the TABC’s accusations, all the charges they brought against us, the judge doesn’t agree with at all,” McKim said in a phone interview. “It means that crowlers are no different than growlers. The downside is that the TABC’s lawyer got in touch with mine (‘craft beer lawyer’ Angel Tomasino) and said they are going to file exceptions to this.”
The TABC’s public information officer, Chris Porter, said the agency is examining the judge’s ruling and evaluating whether to file an exception.
If that’s what TABC decides to do, it has a deadline of Dec. 2 to protest the judge’s ruling, and even if the judge again strikes down the agency’s argument, McKim said he doesn’t know when he’s going to actually be able to sell crowlers again. He’s hopeful, however, that the return of the Texas legislature in January means updated codes and laws protecting retailers’ use of crowlers aren’t far away.
“We’ve already started the lobbying process,” he said. “We won’t let them drag their feet. They took us to court, they lost, and they should give us the crowlers back and let all bars serve them.”
He has taken on crowlers as his cause for more than principle. Crowlers have proven to be more lucrative than growlers at selling beer to go, at least at his business; as a result of Cuvee Coffee not having a crowler machine, McKim said that the bar has a lost a substantial amount of revenue. On East Sixth Street, the bar sold 1,000 crowlers in six months but only 16 growler fills in the 14 months since TABC took away the crowler machine. That’s a pretty decisive clue, he said, that customers just don’t use growlers as much.
Growlers — glass, stainless steel or ceramic containers many businesses use to sell beer for off-site consumption — come in 32 and 64 oz. sizes, and they’re more bulky and unwieldy than the large cans termed as crowlers. Crowlers are also seen as favorable for reasons that cans are: because they prevent light from spoiling the beer, keep the beer fresher for a longer period of time and can be recycled, though they are one-use unlike growlers. (Oskar Blues, which now has a location in Austin, first invented the crowler.)
Despite McKim’s apprehension over what TABC might decide to do in light of the ruling, he’s optimistic overall about the Texas beer industry after other court battles have yielded victories for the people in it.
Both beer makers agreed on a settlement in Texas federal court last week that prevents “Fireman’s Brew Inc. (from) using the Fireman’s mark to sell beer in Texas,” according to legal news site Law360. Fireman’s Brew also can’t use any “confusing similar variations of the mark” in the state.
Real Ale felt the lawsuit was necessary because of Firemans #4, the Blanco brewery’s biggest seller and one of Texas’ most well-known craft beers. In addition to having a similar name, Fireman’s Brew has a red logo, the same color as Firemans #4’s packaging. Those two elements, Real Ale believed, could cause consumer confusion while at bars and stores selling both products.
When reached, Real Ale declined to comment on the outcome of the settlement. Fireman’s Brew is also staying silent.
“The terms of the settlement are confidential, and we have no comment,” David Johnson, chief operating officer at Fireman’s Brew, told Law360 last week.
A Texas winter might not be much colder than a Texas summer, but area bars are still getting in the spirit of the season by offering cocktails full of the ingredients so desired this time of year, from whiskey and aged rum to food flavors like apple, pumpkin and even sweet potato.
Here are a handful of cocktails from six Austin bars that will get you in the mood for our coming cold front.
Punch Bowl Social: Pumpkin Spice Libation
Pumpkin might seem like a tired ingredient in seasonal dishes and drinks, but the chef at Punch Bowl Social in the Domain has revived the fall treat by juicing real pumpkins for this bourbon punch, rather than by having the bartenders add pumpkin spice. The result is that pumpkin has returned to its roots, imbuing the punch with a vegetal flavor, surprisingly low on sweetness, that pairs easily with the remaining ingredients of apple and lemon juices, citrus syrup and allspice dram.
Jacoby’s Restaurant & Mercantile: Sweet & Toasty
Jacoby’s head bartender Mike Paulus was able to relive his childhood Thanksgivings growing up in the mountains of Washington State with this bourbon drink featuring Cognac, sweet potato, molasses, smoke and toasted marshmallow.
“My sister always cooked up this dish with sweet potatoes, molasses, and toasted marshmallows, a flavor that will always remind me of home,” he said. “With help from chefs Austin Ewald and Albert Gonzalez, we were able to recreate a truly reminiscent experience.”
Vox Table: Bear Rug Cuddles by the Fire
The restaurant that likes evocative cocktail names — Tom Selleck’s Mustache, with rye whiskey, might be my favorite — keeps the creative christening coming with this riff on the sherry cobbler, a classic cocktail made with the Spanish sherry, muddled citrus, sugar and lots of crushed ice. Head bartender J.R. Mocanu, like Paulus, was able to play around in the kitchen and came up with an autumnal version: apple brandy, cherry-spiced Pinot Noir and Bittercube Trinity bitters. Taste it and it’ll feel as cozy and comforting as bear rug cuddles by the fire.
The Hightower: Gold Coast
Although it might not have felt like fall, the technical change of the season marked a big spike in bourbon cocktail sales at the East Seventh Street restaurant. The obvious result? A couple of additional whiskey drinks were added to the menu, including this one, to answer the demand. The Gold Coast has bourbon, Hoodoo chicory liqueur, curaçao and house cocoa bitters — a winningly boozy combination for lovers of chocolate and coffee. Let the stirred potion sit for a bit and those flavors, particularly the dark roasted notes of chicory, shine through.
Barley Swine: Apples to Ashes
Another Austin bartender has crafted a drink based off her memories of somewhere else: living in Boston, where she and her friends in the bar industry would treat a clarified milk punch as “a welcoming aperitif.” But Barley Swine’s Kasey Pierce — used to adapting to the seasons at the venerated farm-to-table restaurant— brought “a whole new dimension to the experience. The Apples to Ashes begins with smoked apples infused in El Dorado 12-year rum, a black tea concentrate, baking spice syrup and lemon juice. Then, boiling milk is added to clarify the cocktail as a whole.” Drinking it, she says, promises a unique experience.
Freedmen’s: Black Manhattan
The recent addition of barrel-aged cocktails to the bar menu at the barbecue spot turned out to be timely. Though the drinks will be available for ordering year-round, the Black Manhattan in particular will feel suited for this time of year. The warming blend of Angel’s Envy Rye, Nonino Italian grappa and fresh orange is full of citrus and spice and serves as the perfect accompaniment to brisket and the cold blast of winter we’re still hopeful will come.
The 10,796-sq. ft. space is located at the Crossroads Center, 110 East MLK Dr., a mixed-use redevelopment of a former grocery store not far from Texas State University. There, Hops & Grain will house a second production facility and tasting room, according to a press release.
“Our goal is to start brewing test batches on our new system in San Marcos by July 2017, and if all goes well, release our first beer from the new facility in October 2017,” Josh Hare, the founder of Hops & Grain, said in the release. “With our new state-of the-art facility and large, on-site tasting room with outdoor beer garden, we look forward to opening our doors to San Marcos next year.”
Many of the same people who designed the Hops & Grain taproom off East Sixth Street are also creating the look and feel of the second space, including Phillip Edgerton of Edgework Designs for metal work, Austin Evers of Woodwork at 17 for wood elements and Lilianne Steckel Interior Design.