Cocktail bar Backbeat combines Champagne and Beyoncé for holiday events

Knoxy Knox. Backbeat is serving up Beyonce-themed cocktails during the #SLEIGH event in December.
Knoxy Knox. Backbeat is serving up Beyoncé-themed cocktails during the #Sleigh event in December.

South Lamar Boulevard’s sophisticated Backbeat has perfected the recipe for boozy holiday merriment: lots of Champagne and lots of Beyoncé-themed cocktails.

Get bubbly

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.

#SLEIGH

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.

Dripping Springs’ Barber Shop moves brewery to bigger space

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. The Barber Shop is a brewpub in downtown Dripping Springs that's about to celebrate a big milestone.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. The Barber Shop is a brewpub in downtown Dripping Springs that’s about to give up its brewing system to a new brewery concept opening just two doors down.

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.

The Barber Shop, which celebrated its fifth anniversary early this year, will remain where it is. Cozy, with a lived-in look, the bar gets its name from a previous occupant of the 1920s building.

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 Beerworks created beer in honor of Driskill Hotel’s 130th anniversary

Photo by Mark Knight. The Driskill Bar is tapping a special Austin Beerworks brew during the Driskill Hotel's Christmas tree lighting on Nov. 29.
Photo by Mark Knight. The Driskill Bar is tapping a special Austin Beerworks brew during the Driskill Hotel’s Christmas tree lighting on Nov. 29.

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.

The wheatwine (similar to a barleywine in style but with a heavy portion of wheat malt) was made with the hotel’s founder and his considerable project in mind.

“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.

The hotel’s tree lighting event starts at 6 p.m. today and will showcase seasonal sounds from the Arundel Ensemble String Trio. Lighting the tree this year will be one of the families that the American-Statesman’s Season for Caring campaign is hoping to help: the McGills. To read more about the family and their needs, visit statesman.com/season-for-caring-2016.

Texas brewers remain in fight over distribution rights with TABC appeal

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Austin beer maker Live Oak Brewing has been involved with a case about distribution rights that the state is now appealing.
Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Austin beer maker Live Oak Brewing has been involved with a case about distribution rights that the state is now appealing.

Texas brewers and others in the beer industry have been winning court victories  — most recently, the fight for retailers to use crowlers — but one battle, it seems, is not over yet.

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.

Austin-based Live Oak Brewing, along with the Dallas/Fort Worth-area’s Peticolas Brewing and Revolver Brewing, decided to sue the state in 2014 in the hopes of getting the valuable earnings they believed they could get from selling those rights. A judge ultimately sided with them.

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.

That’s not the issue at stake at all, according to the lawyers who represented Live Oak, Peticolas and Revolver in the suit. Instead, they argue that the law unfairly hurts brewers’ ability to grow their businesses.

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.

San Diego’s Coronado Brewing is coming to Texas

Starting this week, Austin beer lovers will start noticing new brews on draft — those of San Diego’s coastal-themed Coronado Brewing.

Contributed by Coronado Brewing Co. Eventually, San Diego-area brewery Coronado Brewing will have cans of beers like the Islander IPA in Austin bars and stores.
Contributed by Coronado Brewing Co. Eventually, San Diego-area brewery Coronado Brewing will have cans of beers like the Islander IPA in Austin bars and stores.

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.

For more information, visit coronadobrewing.com.

Lavaca Street Bar opens in World of Beer’s old South Lamar location

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. The new Lavaca Street Bar has plenty of seating, as well as a couple of basketball hoops in one corner.
Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. The new Lavaca Street Bar has plenty of seating, as well as a couple of basketball hoops in one corner.

Lavaca Street Bar now has three locations in key sections of the city: downtown, in the Domain Northside’s Rock Rose entertainment district and, as of Monday, on South Lamar Boulevard.

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.

For more information, visit lavacastreet.com.

In Texas, crowlers ruled legal after Cuvee Coffee, TABC court battle

Cuvee Coffee Bar is the only bar in Austin serving beer to go in crowlers. But the TABC is mandating the crowler system has to go.
Cuvee Coffee Bar went to court to bring back its crowler machine, pictured here, after TABC said that crowlers are for brewpubs’ use only. The retailer won its fight this month.

Less than a week after Real Ale Brewing successfully resolved a trademark dispute, another beer battle being fought in Texas courts has also had a happy ending — at least for now.

Crowlers, according to the Texas judge who heard the case between Cuvee Coffee Bar and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, aren’t getting canned after all.

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.

McKim, who decided to go to court against the TABC after the agency confiscated his crowler machine last year, celebrated the victory with supporters last night but worried this morning that getting his crowler machine back won’t be so easy.

“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.

“With the Live Oak, Peticolas and Revolver win and pending litigation with Deep Ellum, we’re seeing a shift in the attitude of the courts,” he said. “I think it’s great for all of these outdated, non-specific alcohol codes that are left open for 10 different people to interpret 10 different ways. I think it’s great for the craft beer industry in Texas.”

Real Ale Brewing successfully stops Fireman’s Brew’s use of name in Texas

Deborah Cannon / American-Statesman.  Real Ale’s Firemans #4, left, is easily the brewery’s most sold beer in Texas, allowing it to branch out and offer a wide range of other suds.
Deborah Cannon / American-Statesman. Real Ale’s Firemans #4, left, is easily the brewery’s most sold beer in Texas, allowing it to branch out and offer a wide range of other suds.

After filing a lawsuit against California brewery Fireman’s Brew, which had been intending to bring its beers to Texas, Real Ale Brewing has gotten the outcome it sought.

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.

They are just the latest breweries to become ensnared in legal battles over similar-sounding names and branding. Trademark disputes have become a major problem of late in the industry because of the skyrocketing growth of craft beer and the more than 4,000 U.S. breweries clamoring for shelf space and drinkers’ attentions. Differentiating themselves through distinctive branding is one crucial way that breweries can get noticed.

Another Austin-area brewery to battle in court over trademark rights was Oasis, Texas Brewing, defending its use of the name Slow Ride Pale Ale against Colorado brewery New Belgium.

Austin restaurants create cocktails full of fall & winter flavors

Contributed by Punch Bowl Social. The Pumpkin Spice Libation at Punch Bowl Social incorporates juiced pumpkin, rather than artificial pumpkin spice.
Contributed by Punch Bowl Social. The Pumpkin Spice Libation at Punch Bowl Social incorporates juiced pumpkin, rather than artificial pumpkin spice.

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.

Contributed by Jacoby's. The Sweet & Toasty is reminiscent of Thanksgiving in the moutains of the Pacific Northwest for one creative bartender.
Contributed by Jacoby’s. The Sweet & Toasty is reminiscent of Thanksgiving in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest for one creative bartender.

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.

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. The Hightower recently added a couple of seasonal cocktails to the menu, including the Gold Coast.
Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. The Hightower recently added a couple of seasonal cocktails to the menu, including the Gold Coast.

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.

Freedmen's, in the campus area, has a few barrel-aged cocktails on the menu, including the Black Manhattan, the Flight Path and the Vieux Carre.
Freedmen’s, in the campus area, has a few barrel-aged cocktails on the menu, including the Black Manhattan, the Flight Path and the Vieux Carre.

Hops & Grain secures location in San Marcos with projected 2017 opening

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Hops & Grain is opening a second location of the brewery near Texas State University.
Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Hops & Grain is opening a second location of the brewery near Texas State University.

Hops & Grain became the first small business to secure $1 million in crowdfunded investment this summer, seeking money to open a new brewery in San Marcos. Now, the East Austin brewery has also found a location in the college town for the big expansion.

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.

For more information about the brewery, visit facebook.com/hopsandgrain/.