The six-pack bottles of Thirsty Planet’s Buckethead IPA and Yellow Armadillo Wheat that are currently hitting store shelves are an alluring taste of what’s to come: many, many more Thirsty Planet beers.
Thirsty Planet is currently moving into the former Central Texas Food Bank building on South Congress Avenue, a little north of Slaughter Lane, that will nearly quadruple production from 11,000 barrels to 40,000, with considerable room to grow from there. The brewery will start brewing and bottling in the new space before opening an accompanying taproom to the public this fall.
In the meantime, Austinites who miss the old tasting room — it shut down in early March to keep brewery staff completely focused on the transition — can at least console themselves with the new bottles of Buckethead and Yellow Armadillo that now join their behemoth brother Thirsty Goat Amber, previously the only Thirsty Planet brew that was packaged for retail sales.
Plus, in a nod to the brewery’s approaching seven-year anniversary, Thirsty Planet is also releasing a limited number of “Damn-7 Packs”: a special 7-pack of Buckethead beer in a bucket-shaped container.
“Why not seven?” Thirsty Planet owner Brian Smittle said about the limited release that will start going into stores later this week, on May 12. “We’re turning seven this year, and that many beers can fit into the bucket. Nice proportions. And then you can stick it on your head.”
You might be able to get your hands on a Damn-7 Pack early with Thirsty Planet’s Buckethead Launch Party tomorrow at Black Sheep Lodge, where the brewery will take over the taps and offer free bites of food, a photo booth, Thirsty Planet swag and even free branded tattoos. Or look for it at the many HEB locations that are already selling six-packs of Buckethead IPA and Yellow Armadillo Wheat.
Buckethead IPA is no ordinary American-style IPA — at 8.9 percent ABV, it’s “beer you can feel,” as Thirsty Planet phrases it.
Smittle and the brewing team are still making all of the Thirsty Planet beers at the old location on Circle Drive, on the way to Dripping Springs, but are hoping to make the total transition this summer to the new space, six times larger at 60,000 sq. ft.
The South Congress building, because it was formerly the food bank, comes already equipped with a packaging hall with the necessary high ceilings as well as a very large freezer. Thirsty Planet will additionally have a lab for quality control, a 60-barrel brewhouse and a connected 10-barrel system that will be used for experimental beers, and a handful of towering 22-foot-tall fermenters. Smittle is excited in particular to have an entirely automated system.
“It’s definitely been a change in mentality to think how to scale up to the 40,000 barrels we’ll be able to immediately do,” he said. But the brewery’s ultimate goal is much bigger: “Eventually, we think this building could do 100,000 barrels.”
That’s a lot of Thirsty Goat.
The amber is already the top-selling draft beer in Central Texas, according to data from Thirsty Planet’s distributor Capitol Wright, and it’s not hard to imagine the number of tap handles pouring it will only go up with Thirsty Planet’s expansion. The brewery has spent the past nearly seven years in only the three main Central Texas counties of Hays, Travis and Williamson but recently signed an agreement to distribute into 11 more counties.
Depending on the progress of the new brewery, Thirsty Planet may hold early tours of the space, at 8201 S. Congress Ave., in the summer. Keep connected on the progress at thirstyplanet.beer.
Following in the footsteps of neighboring St. Elmo Brewing at one end of the row are two boozy newcomers at the other end: the Austin Winery, which relocated from the east side of the city, and Spokesman, a coffee shop and beer bar from industry veterans who are finally opening their own space.
Spokesman is the brainchild of C.J. West and Trey Ramirez, who wanted to create a comfortable hangout for the neighborhood that features two of their favorite things. West has helped to open and brew at local breweries like the ABGB and the south location of North by Northwest, while Ramirez developed his love for coffee working at Home Slice and the Brew & Brew.
As a result, Spokesman has opened with nearly two dozen draft beers — primarily local — and a toddy, served in a chilled pint glass sans ice and roasted on-site, that will be the first of many house coffee drinks to come. A few of the taps are also devoted to wine and cider.
“Working with coffee for many years, I’ve always wanted to learn how to roast,” Ramirez said. “Getting the control and being able to shape what it tastes like is huge. It can be overwhelming at times, but it can be a lot of fun. And C.J. has been brewing beer for a long time here in town. He’s the other side of it. He’s been pulling in amazing beers from Austin and Texas. So you could say Spokesman is kind of a fusion of both our backgrounds.”
But don’t try to pigeon-hole Spokesman as the place to go solely for beer and coffee. The two co-founders feel strongly that Spokesman — decked out with eye-catching art from local painter Briks, of the Blue Dozen Collective — has more to offer than just drinks.
The name of the coffee bar, for example, comes in part from West’s passion for cycling. Spokesman aims to be “a ride-up shop where you can park your bikes inside and not have to worry about locking them,” Ramirez said, pointing out the vertical metal racks along the front garage-like wall where bicycles can hang. (Another nod to cyclists is the row of tap handles made of colorful bike handles.)
And then there’s all that wall art.
Walk in and your jaw just might drop at first glance, like mine did, at the larger-than-life figures adorning nearly every available inch of wall space: the plump cat (or is it a raccoon?) with his arms folded, the boombox with dials and two large eyes and lips, the cheerful stork covering the Employees’ Only door leading to the back warehouse. The art is a marvel and so integral to the experience you’ll have at Spokesman.
“To bring Briks onto this project was amazing. I don’t think we could’ve picked anybody else. His art and his sense of humor reflected in his art just made this place come to life,” West said.
He and Ramirez hadn’t expected they’d renovate an old warehouse for their project. They looked for about two years at retail spaces in Austin, none of which were quite right for what they envisioned. Then, West’s friends at St. Elmo Brewing told him about the Yard.
Part of the reason the warehouse works so well is that it’s got lots of extra room to grow into — which, first and foremost, will be used for the expanding coffee program. The goal is to sell bags of roasted beans to go from the shop and to have them in retailers around town as well. But that’s largely phase two, the co-founders said.
In the meantime, Spokesman has a coffee roaster visible to customers in its nook at the back of the shop. Ramirez will continue using it to make the toddy and other upcoming coffee items until Spokesman outgrows it, he said, and needs to move roasting operations to the back warehouse.
“We’re starting with just a couple of origins that we’re really excited about,” he said. “We’ve always loved Mexican coffee and African coffee, and we’ve been looking around for coffees that are just right for us and what we want to kind of mix together. The African coffee that we’re doing with our toddy we’re super thumbs-up on.”
West similarly aims to pay careful attention to the draft beer program. He said the taps will rotate out constantly (save for four always-on brews: Real Ale Axis IPA, Live Oak Brewing Gold, Hops & Grain River Beer and Austin Beerworks Peacemaker) and will primarily, but not exclusively, be from area brewers. Austin Beerworks’ limited Grinds My Gears, a hoppy ale with hefeweizen yeast, is only available at the Beerworks taproom and at Spokesman, in a nod to the coffee bar’s bicycling theme.
“We take a lot of pride in the breweries that we feature because for me, personally, this is my contribution to Texas craft brewing,” West said. “I went from the production side to this side. In the brewing industry, everybody wants to be a brewer. It’s like the star quarterback. The lead actress. Everyone wants to do it. But brewers can’t do it alone.”
For now, Spokesman is open 4 to 10 p.m. on weekdays at 440 E. St. Elmo Rd. A small menu of cafe food is to come. After the grand opening — look for that date to be announced on the coffee bar’s social media accounts — it will be open 7 a.m. to midnight daily.
This morning’s news that Wicked Weed Brewing, one of the country’s most lauded makers of barrel-aged sours and hoppy ales, had been scooped up by Anheuser-Busch, stunned many people in the beer industry who hadn’t seen it coming.
Wicked Weed, based in the beer-loving city of Asheville, North Carolina, joins others breweries — like Seattle’s Elysian, Chicago’s Goose Island and New York’s Blue Point Brewing — in A-B’s craft and import portfolio, High End, a position that gives the brewery a very big step up in funding and more access to thirsty markets.
“In order to innovate, push the boundaries, and grow, we’ve decided to take on the High End branch of Anheuser-Busch as a strategic partner,” Wicked Weed Brewing announced this morning. “Our founding ownership staff will continue to lead Wicked Weed in their same capacities as we move forward and into the future. This decision is a large part of the future for Wicked Weed, and will allow our brand, staff, and beers to achieve their greatest potential.”
But not everyone is happy about Wicked Weed’s decision to sell to the mega-brewer.
It was only last summer that local beer lovers rejoiced when Wicked Weed started limited distribution to Texas, bringing in beers like La Bonté, a tart farmhouse ale with plums. Already, however, one of Wicked Weed’s biggest local supporters has announced that it will no longer carry its beers or collaborate on projects with its brewers.
Jester King Brewery owner Jeff Stuffings announced the decision on social media, noting that a core principle of the Hill Country brewery is not selling beers from AB InBev or its affiliates.
“We’ve chosen this stance not because of the quality of the beer, but because a portion of the money made off of selling it is used to oppose the interests of craft brewers,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “In Texas, large brewers (and their distributors) routinely oppose law changes that would help small, independent brewers. We choose not to support these large brewers because of their political stances, and in some cases, their economic practices as well.”
“I’m not going to screw the people who made my success possible in the first place,” Austin Beerworks quoted McKean as saying. “That would be an unethical choice I could never be proud of. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to everyone in this industry, and when it comes time for me to do something else, I refuse to throw a hand grenade over my shoulder on my way out the door.”
“The point is that ABI will eventually push to scale all of these brands to the point of crowding out your local, friendly, neighborhood brewer who works 80 (hours per week) to follow his dream and feed his family simultaneously. Beware,” he wrote shortly after the news broke.
Entertainment publication Thrillist has made official what many people already knew: that Jester King Brewery, on the road to Dripping Springs, is royalty among Texas breweries.
In “The Best Craft Brewery in Every State,” Thrillist acknowledges Texas “OGs like Saint Arnold to upstarts like Lone Pint” but ultimately declares that the farmhouse brewery outside of Austin is king of them all.
“Tell you what, get your hands on some Atrial Rubicite, which is made with raspberries and sorcery, and tell us if you STILL don’t like sours,” Thrillist writers Matt Lynch, Andy Kryza and Zach Mack said in the recently published piece.
Atrial has been the beer that gets Jester King a lot of attention, but I’d argue that some of its other fruited sours, like Nocturn Chrysalis with blackberries, as well as less attention-grabbing farmhouse ales like Kvass (made with bread!), reign supreme and deliciously showcase what the brewery does so well.
Whatever beer has you flocking to Jester King on weekends, do you at least agree that it’s Texas’ top brewery, or did Thrillist get it totally wrong? Share your thoughts in the comments.
The inaugural Index Fest, which is combining craft beer and live music with art and food components, kicks off in Austin with quite a beer list.
At the May 13 event, there will be nearly 300 beers from 75 breweries in Texas and beyond, including Fredericksburg’s new Altstadt Brewery, BrainDead Brewing in Dallas and Jester King in the Texas Hill Country. Austin’s only meadery, Meridian Hive, will also have some meads available for tasting, and several cideries will also be on hand.
Here are some of the beers you’ll get to taste at Index Fest. The festival’s website has the full list, which you can explore by brewery, style, ABV and booth number (in case you want to plan out your day).
Run for the Rosé with Twin Liquors, 5:30 to 8 p.m. Derby Day doesn’t have to be all about mint juleps. Twin Liquors’ Hancock location will have up to 20 different rosés featured to celebrate the upcoming Kentucky Derby.
Central Standard Wine Dinner with Mondavi, 7 to 10 p.m. The five-course dinner will feature wine pairings curated by special guest Dina Mondavi, co-founder of the Michael Mondavi Family Estate known for its Napa Valley wines. $160.
Cinco de Mayo at Guero’s Taco Bar, 6 to 9:30 p.m. Where else to spend this Mexican holiday but at a Mexican restaurant? Guero’s garden will have Tequila Cazadores cocktails and live music from Peligrosa.
Hops & Helado Pairing, 6:30 to 8 p.m. Didn’t think beer and ice cream could pair? Think again. The $35-$40 tickets get you 5 beer samples at Lazarus Brewing with 5 ice creams, all seasonal flavors.
Tuesday, May 9
Thirsty Planet Buckethead IPA Launch Party, 7 to 10 p.m. Thirsty Planet’s Buckethead IPA and Yellow Armadillo Wheat are finally in bottles, and Black Sheep Lodge is celebrating with free bites, a photo booth and more.
Slow and Low Whiskey Pop-Up Gallery, 7 to 10 p.m. Photographer Asher Moss is showing off his work at Byron & Blue with whiskey cocktails and music from Kalu and the Electric Joint.
Donkey & Goat Wine Dinner at Olamaie, 6 to 8 p.m. The five-course dinner is being paired with the wines of Jared and Tracey Brandt, who take a hands-off approach to natural winemaking. $100.
Thursday, May 18
Chocolate & Spirits Tasting at Backbeat, 6 to 8 p.m. Want a little booze to go with your bon bon? Chocolaterie Tessa is teaming up with the cocktail bar to show what a divine pairing spirits and chocolate can be. $45.
St. Genevieve’s Champagne Social, 9 p.m. The Rock Rose wine lounge’s new monthly event kicks off with a champagne fountain and a free dessert bar. Your weekend starts now.
Whip In’s 6th Annual Pink Mahal, 1 to 5 p.m. It’s officially rosé season, and Whip In boasts one of the largest rosé selections in the country. The wine bar will have 100 rosés from all over the world available for tasting. $35.
Orf Brewing Open House, 1 to 6 p.m. Austin’s newest brewery is open for business for the first time. Tour the space and taste the beers, like an Asian white ale, that will be on tap.
The beer is, fittingly, a red IPA and one of the San Antonio brewery’s bottled mainstay beers, which means it won’t be too hard to find this weekend.
“We figured since hops are a cousin to cannabis that the Red Headed Stranger himself would appreciate a hoppy red IPA,” co-founder Mark McDavid said. “Plus, we love Willie’s music, and we love to honor Texas musicians with our beers.”
Red Headed Stranger has “a strong malt backbone with an assertive bitterness of sticky sweet American hops (Nugget, Zeus, Chinook and Cascade),” according to the brewery. It’s one of the four year-round beers that Ranger Creek makes, including the recently award-winning San Antonio Lager.
You can find a six-pack of Red Headed Stranger at various locations of Spec’s, Total Wine & More, HEB and Central Market. Whip In might also carry some — as well as the new 365 by Whole Foods Market in Cedar Park that opened earlier this week.
Better yet, the Yeti Flagship on South Congress Avenue is throwing a birthday party for the beloved Texas singer (and delighting our pun-loving hearts by calling it Have a Willie Nice Birthday). The party will feature the Texas Gentlemen on stage singing nothing but Willie tunes. There also will be custom Yeti Flagship bandanas and — you guessed it — Red Headed Stranger pouring at the Barrr.
But, it seems, victory has come at last: Cuvee’s crowler machine, which had been confiscated during the early stages of a long battle between the coffee company and the TABC, was returned at the end of last month. Now, the East Sixth Street coffee shop and beer bar wants to celebrate.
On Thursday, stop by Cuvee Coffee Bar to toast to the win at the Crowler Independence Party running from 6 to 11 p.m. There will be a limited number of free crowler koozies, a boot-stomping live music performance from the Mismatch, food from Slab BBQ, a photobooth and, of course, a menu of draft-only Texas beers.
According to Cuvee, “April 27th now marks Crowler Independence Day, the official day we recognize the legality of crowlers and the independence gained in court.”
Crowlers — 32 oz. aluminum growlers that look like supersized cans — are filled up with draft beer and then sealed using a crowler machine on-site; from there, customers can take the beer to go to enjoy later. Although the TABC argued that only manufacturers of beer (breweries and brewpubs) could can beer, Texas Administrative Law Judge John Beeler ultimately ruled that the government agency hadn’t succesfully defined why crowlers were illegal but growlers were not.
“TABC witnesses agreed that beer could be sold to customers in just about anything except crowlers,” according to his decision. “The sale of beer in buckets, mayonnaise jars, or even tennis ball cans, for off-premise consumption is permitted.”
Being able to use growlers and crowlers are appealing to customers because they can have beer only available on draft, versus also in cans or bottles, at home. Crowlers in particular are popular because they are recyclable and already a familiar vessel, albeit in a larger size.
Here are the draft-only beers Cuvee is tapping on Thursday:
Lone Pint’s Zythopile Ella IPA
Blue Owl Brewing’s Saison Puede
Friends & Allies Brewing’s House D’Orange (tart orange ale)
If you visit all 30 of the local brewpubs and breweries participating in this year’s Barks for Beers fundraiser, each of the beers you receive from the fundraiser will amount to a total of roughly 67 cents.
That’s quite a deal, and the organization behind Barks for Beers, the Austin-based pet therapy organization Divine Canines, is banking on it to reach its goal of raising $75,000 — the highest amount yet for the boozy benefit now in its fourth year.
Here’s how it works.
It’s pretty simple: Buy a Barks for Beers pint glass and an accompanying “pawsport” for $20, and you’ll be able to take them to any of the 30 participating breweries and receive a free pint of beer in return (but only one from each brewery). Participants include Barks for Beers veterans like Hops & Grain, Thirsty Planet and the ABGB and newcomers like Hi Sign Brewing, St. Elmo Brewing and Idle Vine Brewing.
“It’s just this great way for people to check out the breweries,” he said, noting that he’s heard Barks for Beers used as a brewery-hopping experience during a family reunion, as a welcome-home gift from a father to his college-age daughter and as the first introduction to local breweries from locals who want to help out a good cause.
All proceeds from the sales of the pint glasses go directly toward Divine Canines. So far, Pizinger said, the fundraiser has proved invaluable in more ways than one.
“In addition to Barks for Beers being our primary fundraiser, it is also a community outreach program and how we gain new volunteers,” he said. “We have a waiting list of organization who would like our services, but we need more dogs and handlers to meet the demand. All of the breweries and retailers are dog-friendly, so even if your canine isn’t ‘divine’ yet, bring them out to learn more about the Divine Canines organization.”
You can get your free pint of Barks for Beers brew at any time the breweries are open, but many of them are also throwing specific Barks for Beers events. Here are some of the ones you don’t want to miss:
Hops & Grain’s Barks for Beers Kickoff Party on April 30. Hops & Grain is one of the breweries wanting to get the fundraiser started early. Visit the East Austin brewery from 12 to 4 p.m. Sunday, and you’ll get to check out pet-friendly vendors on site, a photo booth, a food truck for the humans and YoDog Snackery for the pups, as well as meet Hops & Grain’s four-legged Divine Canines ambassador.
Barks for Beers & Baubles at Copeland Jewelers on May 4. Nope, it’s not a brewery, but the Westlake Hills jewelry store is a big supporter of the cause and is selling the pint glasses. There will be many cute Divine Canines running around, as well as free beer from Strange Land Brewery and free pizza from 360 Uno.
Barks for Beers at Treaty Oak Brewing & Distilling on May 7. Newly a brewery, Treaty Oak will just about have it all at this special event for dog and beer lovers. Meet some of the dogs involved with Divine Canines and enjoy live music, beer and cocktails, and brunch at the recently opened restaurant on-site at the ranch.
Bluebonnet Beer Co.’s Barks for Beer Party on May 13. Even Round Rock is getting a taste of the Barks for Beers fun thanks to Bluebonnet Beer, which became a participant for the first time this year. There will be cool doggy swag at the event, as well as a food truck.
Barks for Beers Pup Run on May 13. The first-ever pup run will start at Hops & Grain and will take you and your furry friends on a two-mile adventure to some of the other participating Barks for Beers breweries.
Plus, don’t forget to tag #barksforbeers on Instagram during your Barks for Beers adventures next month to be entered into a weekly contest. One photo will be chosen each week, with the winner getting a cool prize.
The Flamingo IPA launches this weekend with a seafood boil, limited release beers, a branded IPA pint glass and the chance to take a photo with the flamingos from which the hoppy brew took its name and design.
“Our IPA cans pay homage to the storied history of our location and its beloved flocks of pink flamingos,” Strange Land co-founders Tim Klatt and Adam Blumenshein said. “In that same rebel spirit, we are proud to create one of the only naturally carbonated cans of IPA on the market.”
Like all Strange Land brews, the IPA is conditioned in its container rather than force-carbonated in a tank, a process most breweries choose for introducing carbon dioxide into their beers. Naturally conditioning the beer, Klatt and Blumenshein believe, imbues it with more flavor that wouldn’t otherwise be present.
And boy, is the IPA flavorful — and done in true Strange Land fashion.
“The Strange Land Flamingo IPA blends Old and New World flavors (through) classic malts and bittering hops with excessive amounts of floral and citrus dry-hopping,” the founders said.
They dry-hopped the beer using TripelPearl, Simcoe and Citra hops. The resulting brew “balances malt body with hop bitterness, flavor and aroma with a striking nose of citrus, pineapple and floral notes, plus flavors of melon and hop resin,” according to the brewery.
Strange Land decided to pay homage to the previous tenant at Bee Caves Road and Highway 360, the Pots & Plants Garden Center that closed in 2010 after 25 years in business. The store would frequently cover the lawn nearby in pink flamingo statues visible from the highway. Occasionally, Hat Creek Burger Co., in front of Strange Land at that corner, brings out the flamingos, and now it’s the brewery’s turn.
The flock will fly again (or at least look perfectly pink) at the IPA release party on Saturday, which runs from 5 to 10 p.m. and costs $25-$1,000. Buy a ticket in advance to guarantee entry to the party. Additional beers include IPA Watermelon — which will be served in an actual watermelon — and Peach Pilz, Hibiscus Honey Saison and Sour Wit.