Art of the Brew returns with one-off beers and artwork

The event that combines art and beer — two undeniable Austin favorites — returns Saturday bigger than ever, with 32 breweries, 38 artists, 6 bands and more.

As Art of the Brew has done in the past, local artists have paired up with breweries like Live Oak Brewing, Black Star Co-op and Community Beer Co. in Dallas, learning the story behind each beer maker and coming up with a corresponding piece of art — whether it’s sculpture, a painting or multimedia work. (This year, performance art is also something we’ll see.)

New this go-round is that some of the breweries have collaborated with the artists to make a special one-off beer available only at Art of the Brew. Event co-organizer Austin Nelsen, who helped to launch this passion project in 2013, said that about 15 of the breweries will be pouring these special suds.

Contributed by Art of the Brew. You can buy these cool branded beer steins at the Art of the Brew or in advance on the website.
Contributed by Art of the Brew. You can buy these cool branded beer steins at the Art of the Brew or in advance on the website.
“We finally achieved our dream of actually getting brewers to collaborate with artists in terms of making one-off collaboration beers,” he said, noting that he and his team were able to make this element of the event happen because of planning much earlier in the year.

Among the breweries providing these one-offs are Pinthouse Pizza, Last Stand Brewing, North by Northwest and the not-yet-opened Brewtorium, a North Austin brewpub.

The Brewtorium and artist Matthew John Winters, whose day job is at the Contemporary Austin, decided to make a saison and incorporate lemon thyme and rose hips, which Winters wanted to forage from the Contemporary’s Laguna Gloria grounds.  Saisons are a specialty of the Brewtorium’s co-founder Chris Rauschuber, Nelsen said, and a favorite beer style of Winters.

And Pinthouse Pizza and artist Emily Cayton have made a dry-hopped White IPA. “She likes wheat beers and Pinthouse kills it with the IPAs. So they mingled their common interests,” he said. “The creativity on the artists’ side is being taken into consideration with the one-off beers.”

Also at Saturday’s Art of the Brew is live music from Sounds Del Mar, Tinnarose, a Giant Dog and other bands. Food will be provided by the Texas Chili Queens, Wholly Cow Burgers, Wunderpig Barbeque and Saigon Le Vendeur.

And if you’d like a VIP pass — or to give an early donation, to help the event remain free — the Art of the Brew website is offering perks, including homemade beer steins from ceramicist Scott Proctor.

The free Art of the Brew is from 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday at Fair Market, 1100 E. Fifth St. For more information, visit

Austin women make Wine Enthusiast’s 40 Under 40 list

Jessica Sanders and her husband, Mike, are preparing to open their second bar in Austin in the spring.
Jessica Sanders, of Drink.Well and Backbeat, was named to Wine Enthusiast’s recently announced 40 Under 40 list.

The publication Wine Enthusiast scoured the country to find the top 40 “tastemakers” who are changing how America drinks — and two local women in Austin’s bustling bar scene made the cut.

Wine Enthusiast published the list yesterday, including a mix of winemakers, distillers, importers, distributors, sommeliers and cicerones. Jessica Sanders, co-owner of Drink.Well and Backbeat along with her husband, Michael, was featured, as was June Rodil, a master sommelier who oversees the wine and beverage program for McGuire Moorman Hospitality Group.

Both of them were highlighted for their love of wine. The magazine, which will hit newstands next week but has the 40 Under 40 list in full online, noted about Sanders that her newest bar, Backbeat, has a much wider selection of drinks than the first one.

“Backbeat boasts room for 100 and a dynamic wine list,” Wine Enthusiast writes. “That includes a champagne program with a rotating selection of grower producers and a ‘break-even bubbles’ program that offers select wines at cost. With a reputation for inventive cocktails that use trendy bases like vermouth and rhum agricole, the two bars are at the top of Austin’s tippling game.”

Rodil is in charge of the beverage programs of McGuire Moorman’s seven restaurants — no small task, as Wine Enthusiast notes.

A seventh (restaurant), June’s, opened this summer,” according to the publication. “‘Yes, I’m pretty embarrassed about the name, but I got outvoted, and now it’s growing on me,’ says Rodil. The namesake bar is a kind of place ‘where you can drink champagne while wearing shorts and flip-flops,’ she says.”

For the full list of 40 Under 40 notables, visit

Texas brewers win fight over distribution rights law

Photo by Tyler Malone. Chip McElroy, founder of Live Oak Brewing, fought and won for breweries' distribution rights, along with Peticolas Brewing and Revolver Brewing.
Photo by Tyler Malone. Chip McElroy, founder of Live Oak Brewing, fought and won for breweries to be able to sell their distribution rights, a lawsuit he filed along with Peticolas Brewing and Revolver Brewing.


If 2013’s sweeping legislative changes mostly in favor of Texas’ craft beer industry felt good for brewers, today’s ruling about one of those laws feels pretty sweet, too.

Declaring it unconstitutional, a Texas state judge struck down the law that prohibited brewers from receiving monetary compensation from distributors for their distribution rights. The rule was part of the bundle of 2013 legislation that was otherwise a boon to Texas breweries.

In late 2014, Austin-based Live Oak Brewing and Dallas/Fort Worth-area Peticolas Brewing and Revolver Brewing decided to sue the state in the hopes of regaining the valuable capital they said they can get from selling their distribution rights, which they were able to do prior to 2013.

“My biggest asset, I can’t sell. I have to give it away,” Live Oak Brewing’s owner Chip McElroy said 10 days ago, when the case went to court.

The state argued that the law helped to maintain strict boundaries within the three-tier system. It’s the state’s regulatory system dictating that beer, wine and spirits makers create their products, distributors sell them to retailers or bars and restaurants, and those places, in turn, peddle them to the public.

But lawyers for the breweries countered that the 2013 distribution rule hurt breweries, which “should be able to use the value of their company to help expand it, rather than hand over that value to a distributor for nothing in return,” according to a news release about the ruling today.

“The Texas Constitution prohibits the legislature from passing laws that enrich one business at the expense of another,” Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Matt Miller, who represented the brewers in court, said in the release. “This ruling is a victory for every Texas craft brewery and the customers who love their beer.”

Brewers and their fans are rejoicing this victory right now, but they’re still holding their breaths over two other beer-related cases in Texas courts. Soon, these should also have outcomes.

One involves an issue that brewers pushed for in the 2013 legislative session, to no avail. As a result, Dallas’ Deep Ellum Brewing sued the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission last year to try and get breweries the ability to sell beer to-go from their facilities — something that wineries and distilleries in Texas are both able to do. (Brewpubs, which sell food in addition to beer, can as well.)

And before that lawsuit, Cuvee Coffee decided to go to battle with the TABC over the issue of whether retailers can sell crowlers, which the TABC argues are one-use cans, rather than aluminum growlers, that only manufacturers of beer can sell.

Both cases are expected to be resolved within the next couple of weeks. The results of the beer to-go lawsuit — less so, the crowlers — will affect what the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, the state’s trade group for craft breweries, pushes for during the 2017 legislative session.

Austin’s only Belgian beer bar, Mort Subite, coming soon

When entrepreneur James Leach was itching for a new project to take on, it didn’t take long for him to settle on the concept of a Belgian beer bar that would primarily serve Trappist beers, lambics and other Belgian-made brews.

On Congress Avenue only two doors down from where Gambrinus, Austin’s first Belgian beer bar, once stood for more than 10 years starting in 1979, Leach’s Mort Subite plans to open in mid-September with 80 Belgian beers and the appropriate glassware that goes with each style. He and Mort Subite’s general manager, Nancy Palma, have worked nonstop to make it as authentic to a Belgian bar as possible. As they see it, preserving the legacy of Belgian brews and the culture surrounding them is important.

Contributed by Mort Subite. James Leach and Nancy Palma are opening Austin's only Belgian-focused beer bar at 308 Congress Ave.
Contributed by Mort Subite. James Leach and Nancy Palma are opening Austin’s only Belgian-focused beer bar at 308 Congress Ave.

And they’ve got a lot of good help in carrying out that mission: Leach knows Luc “Bobo” Van Mechelen, the Gambrinus founder and a Belgian ex-pat, as well as a group of Americans who began importing Belgian beer starting in the 1970s through Manneken Brussel Imports and a couple of other Austin-based companies. Manneken Brussel brings Chimay Trappist Ales to the U.S.

The importers “introduced America’s palates to a greater diversity of flavors,” Palma said. “I think craft beer wouldn’t be what it is today without them importing all these beers from Belgium.”

She and Leach met last year when he was on the hunt for a right-hand and she was looking to drastically change careers, after too long working in finance at a solar energy company. Studying for her cicerone certification to make her an expert in beer, she was introduced to Leach through a mutual friend. For his part, 30-year-old native Austinite Leach was fresh off helping to open the brick-and-mortar version of Lucky’s Puccias, a West Fifth restaurant run by Italian native Luciano Sibilla.

Once that project finalized, (my importer friends) were asking me what was next,” Leach said. “They were like, ‘Well, what if you opened a Belgian bar?’ It was time for Austin to have a Belgian bar again.”

Mort Subite took over a long, narrow space previously occupied by wine bar Cork & Co., just down the street from La Traviata Italian Bistro (which is in the old Gambrinus spot). When Leach secured a seven-year lease from the landlord — the same guy who once took rent from Van Mechelen — he gutted the bar so that it could more accurately reflect the look and feel of a bar in Belgium.

The design took inspiration from Belgian bars, with this 40 ft. mahogany bench, the brick wall, our Euro-style long-tipped faucets. Old World inspiration,” Leach said. “The most important thing is that our beers will be consumed out of very specific glassware, just like it is over there.”

That’s an etiquette many U.S. bars and drinkers already follow — a tall pilsner glass for lager styles; a snifter for bold, dark beers like braggots and imperial stouts, for example — but we don’t adhere to it to the extent that Belgians do, Leach said. Mort Subite will bring that tradition here using “a term that I came up with called ‘glassphemy’: the sacrilegious act of drinking the wrong beer out of the wrong glass.”

There are actually bars in Belgium where if there isn’t a particular glass available for the beer you requested, they’d say, ‘Sorry, you have to wait until people are done drinking out of it,'” Palma said. Although Mort Subite, named after one of those bars, might not be quite so strict, Palma said they are stocking up on glassware to keep up the authenticity.

Both she and Leach have been to Belgium before — Palma as a grad student in the Netherlands — and they understand why Van Mechelen and his friends want to replicate the culture locally. In addition to 80 Belgian beers and a few local ones, Mort Subite will have a small selection of wine and spirits, such as genever, the juniper-flavored liquor of the Netherlands and Belgium. Plus, parked outside in the small courtyard will be a food truck called the Wafel Guys to serve up a mix of savory and sweet Belgian waffles.

“It’ll be an interesting sort of rebirth of the appreciation for Belgian beer; that’s the hope,” Palma said of Mort Subite’s launch in a very locally focused city. “There really hasn’t been a place to showcase Belgian beers here and to showcase how wonderful and nuanced and expressive they can be. And how they can really stand up to some of the cool stuff that American brewers are doing. It’s our homage to the classics and the centuries of brewing Europe has done.”

Mort Subite is located at 308 Congress Ave. and aims to have hours of 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily once it opens softly in September, with a grand opening most likely in early October. For more information, visit

Two Austin bars make Playboy’s Top 50 Bars in the U.S.

Photo by Tom McCarthy Jr. for American-Statesman. Justin Elliott has helped to make the Townsend one of Austin's best bars. According to Playboy, it's also one of the best bars in the U.S.
Photo by Tom McCarthy Jr. for American-Statesman. Justin Elliott has helped to make the Townsend one of Austin’s best bars. According to Playboy, it’s also one of the best bars in the U.S.

It’s the realization, as the Townsend’s beverage director Justin Elliott noted last night on Facebook, “of a dream that until recently I didn’t know I had.”

His bar has made Playboy’s list of the top 50 best bars in the U.S. So has the nearby Small Victory, co-owned by longtime Austin mixologist Josh Loving, after Playboy took nominations from readers, bartenders, writers and industry insiders.

The Townsend and Small Victory, only a couple of blocks from each other downtown, are the only two Austin spots to make the list, which includes venerated watering holes from bigger cities like Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. Houston and Dallas also represented the south in Playboy’s roundup.

After first insulting our city for loving such things as chicken-s*** bingo and two-step lessons, Playboy goes on to note all the reasons that the Townsend rightly deserves its kudos:

“Located in a landmarked building on Congress Avenue, the Townsend is the opposite of all those other bars Austin has become known for. It has a serious cocktail program, a heck of a lot of chandeliers, its own live-music venue and a hamburger that will melt your face off, which isn’t, by the way, prepared in a food truck.”

Of Small Victory, Playboy writes that the “narrow cocktail den” wasn’t aiming to be something new but, rather, something better. “Loving says he picked out (take a deep breath here) better spirits, better ice, better water, better glassware, better wine, better charcuterie, better straws, better syrups, better bar stools and even better refrigerators than he had seen anywhere else,” writer Alyson Sheppard noted.

Small Victory didn’t open until early this year, but the Townsend, which drew headlines last summer for announcing a guest bartender program that would pay royalties for original cocktails, made the Statesman’s own roundup of Austin’s best new hangouts at the end of last year. Both places are among the best bars in Austin for good drinks, a comfortable ambience and knowledgeable bartenders.

And, if you agree, you can vote for Small Victory and the Townsend to make Playboy’s upcoming “Best 10 New Bars in America.”

For the remainder of August, support your favorite bar by voting for it once a day. (Unfortunately, you can only choose one each day.) The winners of this poll will be announced in Playboy’s November issue. Vote for Small Victory here and for the Townsend here.

Texas wine veteran opens namesake Hill Country winery, Yates

Contributed by Yates. Yates is a new Hill Country winery from a veteran of Texas wine, with a specialty of tempranillo.
Contributed by Yates. Yates is a new Hill Country winery from a veteran of Texas wine, with a specialty of tempranillo.

When the 29-year-old Ron Yates bought Spicewood Vineyards in 2007, he made good on his promise to make it a serious destination for Texas-made Spanish grape varietals like tempranillo — but he’s fulfilling a very different dream with the September opening of Yates, a winery carrying his family name.

A little more than 30 minutes away from Spicewood Vineyards and located along U.S. 290 with other prominent Hill Country wineries, Yates is a 6,000 sq. ft. winery that will be able to process 20,000 cases of wine in its production facility and offer 8 wines by the glass or bottle in the tasting room once it opens next month.

“We’ve learned a lot from our success at Spicewood and will use that experience to create this new, namesake winery with a different focus,” Ron Yates said in a press release.

He noted that while he wants Spicewood Vineyards to continue its focus on “estate-grown Portuguese and Spanish grapes, Yates will make top-notch Rhone, Spanish and Italian-style wines” — while putting an ever-bigger spotlight on Texas-grown tempranillo, the versatile, heat-loving grape that many Texas wine experts, including Yates, say is the varietal that will come to define the state.

“As a specialist in tempranillo,” he plans to plant that grape extensively in the Yates vineyards, along with grapes such as graciano and petite sirah, according to the release. The winery, totaling nearly 16 acres, has plenty of land for estate-grown varietals.

“Texas wine lovers will have a lot to choose from,” he said in the press release.

And for them, he and his winery team from Spicewood Vineyards are planning to make the Yates winery a destination, as so many wineries in the Hill Country have become. The 5,000 sq. ft. tasting room will come “complete with a private room for library wines and cellar for private tastings,” according to the release; in the future, there will also be a pavilion for tastings, wine club meet-ups and other events. A swimming pool will be nearby.

All of it is brand-new. Yates winemaker Todd Crowell was “able to design the winery from the ground up with the exact specifications we want to create the highest quality wines possible,” he said in the release. “We installed the finest state-of-the-art equipment… The result will be excellence in the bottle.”

The new winery is starting with nine wines, including a 2015 Albariño from the Texas High Plains, a 2014 Mourvèdre from the Texas High Plains and a 2014 Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley in California.

Yates is located at 6676 U.S. 290 W., Hye. For more information, visit

How to help Austin food & drink purveyors with Louisiana flood relief

Although the flooding in Louisiana this week hasn’t quite gotten the level of coverage or attention that Hurricane Katrina received, our next-door neighbors are still in need of help to recover from the millions of dollars’ worth of damage — and a few local places want to help.

As we reported yesterday, an Austin food truck called Baton Creole is sending 100 percent of the profits from $8 gumbo sold to Louisiana flood relief. But a couple of area distilleries and breweries also want to contribute.

Photo from Treaty Oak's Facebook page. Enjoy a frozen drink and lunch at Treaty Oak Distilling to help benefit Louisiana flood relief.
Photo from Treaty Oak’s Facebook page. Enjoy a frozen drink and lunch at Treaty Oak Distilling to help benefit Louisiana flood relief.
Treaty Oak Distilling and the nearby Revolution Spirits, both off Fitzhugh Road near Dripping Springs, are donating much-needed items to flood victims with the help of Rally Texas for Baton Rouge. Throughout this weekend, both booze producers will have their doors open to accept goods like paper towels, pet food, hand sanitizer and nonperishable food and snacks. Check out their Facebook pages to see the full list of requested items.

Additionally, Treaty Oak is also taking a page out of Baton Creole’s book and offering a couple of food and drink specials on the menu whose profits will go toward “the over 130,000 people that have been left homeless by the recent flooding in Louisiana,” Treaty Oak noted in the Facebook post. “First, we are donating profits from our two Louisiana-themed specials. The Ca c’cest Bon Punch is served frozen and made with vodka, bourbon, clarified milk, spiced black tea and fresh citrus. Our food special is buttermilk beignets with andouille sausage, pecan praline and Tabasco honey. Plus, we’ll be donating funds from the sales of our new housemade sweet or spicy jerkies.”

Both distilleries have covered areas that will keep you out of the rain. 

A local brewpub is also helping out. Pinthouse Pizza on South Lamar is hosting a Louisiana Flood Relief Pint Night starting at 11 a.m. tomorrow, with 100 percent of the proceeds from the Flood Relief IPA going toward the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.

See other places that are doing their part to help? Let us know in the comments. We’ll update this post throughout the day with additional spots when we hear about them.

Austin Beerworks about to start canning seasonal brews

Austin Beerworks has long been fielding requests for seasonals like Einhorn and Sputnik to get canned, but putting the smaller-batch beer into cans was never a reality — until recently.

With the coming expansion of the North Austin brewery, which locals should expect early next year, Austin Beerworks has been expecting an increased brewing capacity that will allow for canned seasonals. Two of them, thanks to a couple of local partnerships, are coming out as early as September: the Bloodwork Orange IPA and Montecore, an Oktoberfest beer.

Co-founder Michael Graham said he and the other co-owners, Michael McGovern, Adam DeBower and Will Golden, were originally prepared to wait until the bigger brewery is up and running before releasing the seasonal beers in cans. But after the Alamo Drafthouse approached them about the Bloodwork Orange and Easy Tiger about the Montecore, they decided to make a one-time batch of each to put in cans.

Like Austin Beerworks’ four mainstay brews, both the Bloodwork Orange and the Montecore cans were designed by Helms Workshop, a local designer that has earned raves for the brewery’s clean branding and design. The firm, along with Austin Beerworks’ social media accounts, yesterday provided a sneak peek of some of the cans — including two of the upcoming seasonals — revealing that they’re just as striking and eye-catching as the flagship cans.

“We wanted something that was definitely Austin Beerworks but strayed a little from our year-round core-four design,” Graham said about the new cans. “Those designs are so simple and pristine, but for these, we wanted something a little more fun and loud and attention-grabbing. A little more indicative of the seasonals, the limited-release stuff where we have fun as brewers. We wanted the design to reflect that.”

Photo by Helms Workshop. The Austin Beerworks Bloodwork Orange IPA is releasing in a one-time capacity in September.
Photo by Helms Workshop. The Austin Beerworks Bloodwork Orange IPA is releasing in a one-time capacity in September.

Each of the seasonal cans are decorated with tiny images in bold colors, such as orange slices and bowler hats on the Bloodwork Orange packaging. Those serve as a way of “telling the story of the beer inside it. The cans reflect the history and personality of each seasonal,” he said.

The other cans revealed on Helms’ website include Austin Beerworks’ Heisenberg Kristallweizen and the Battle Axe Imperial Red Ale. Eventually, Graham said, all seasonals will go into cans, a lineup that also includes Einhorn, a refreshing summer Berliner Weisse, and Sputnik, a wintertime Russian Imperial Stout. Each one has already gotten the Helms treatment, although Austin Beerworks isn’t ready to reveal those cans yet.

Christian Helms, owner of the design firm, has gone on to craft the branding of other breweries and booze makers since helping Austin Beerworks launch the original cans, but he still loves working on the North Austin brewery’s new projects.

“Seasonals were a chance to push the envelope in a different direction, crafting something with wit and a sense of humor while maintaining a big impact on the shelf,” he said.

Austin Beerworks is rolling out the Bloodwork Orange IPA in local bars and retailers on Sept. 5, while the Montecore doesn’t come out until Sept. 19, two days after Easy Tiger’s annual Oktoberfest party. (The beer bar has collaborated with Austin Beerworks on the Montecore in the past and wanted to offer it first again.) The Bloodwork Orange will be available at the Alamo Drafthouse, which is doing events around Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” film in September.

There will be about 600 cases of each in Austin. Once those run out, Austin Beerworks isn’t releasing further batches until next year.

“We found a way to cram in two additional fermenters midway through this year, which gave us more breathing room to make the Bloodwork Orange IPA and the Montecore,” Graham said. He and the other Austin Beerworks owners, however, look forward to having more room next door, which so far is “on target timing-wise and on budget.”

Dulce Vida Tequila adds line of flavored tequilas in rebranding move

Photo by Julia Keim. Dulce Vida Grapefruit, Blanco at 80 proof and Dulce Vida Lime are new additions to the relaunching tequila brand.
Photo by Julia Keim. Dulce Vida Grapefruit, Blanco at 80 proof and Dulce Vida Lime are new additions to the relaunching tequila brand.

Not long after former Deep Eddy Vodka executives purchased Dulce Vida Tequila, the Austin-based tequila company is already launching two new lines of tequila — including one that will introduce two flavored spirits.

Dulce Vida, which made waves in the tequila industry by producing all-organic, 100-proof tequilas, is releasing a blanco, reposado and añejo at a lower 80 proof, to invite a wider range of drinkers to the organic products. But most notably, Dulce Vida now has two fruit-infused blanco tequilas as well: one made with lime, the other with grapefruit, two of the most common flavors in tequila cocktails.

Flavored tequila has never taken off as a spirits category before, but Milestone Brands’ CEO Eric Dopkins — whose newly formed spirits company scooped up Dulce Vida in the spring, followed by Tennessee’s American Born Moonshine — aims to change that. He and business partner Chad Auler, also formerly of Deep Eddy and now Milestone’s president, believe they know what consumers want.

Obviously, with our experience at Deep Eddy using real fruit and doing things differently, our mission was to reinvent flavored spirits,” Dopkins said. “We feel that can also be applied to other categories, not just vodka… This is really a breakthrough, a disrupter. As cocktail-ready tequila, it’s very good straight, good on the rocks, good with simple mixers. ” 

He and Dulce Vida are very clear that the lime and grapefruit-infused tequilas follow the strict guidelines the Mexican government has laid out dictating what tequila can be. Even with the fruity additions, both are still considered tequila, “not a prepared cocktail or a liqueur,” Dopkins said.

And they are also, as a result of Mexico’s regulations, surprisingly low-calorie.

“Tequila is so regulated that you can’t just add whatever ingredients you want,” he said. “They limit you with sugar content and what you can put in it to still call it tequila. Because of that, there are not a lot of additives here. The net result is a lower carb, lower calorie tequila: 66 calories. That’s lower than a Michelob Ultra.”

The decreased amount of sugar in the Dulce Vida Lime and Dulce Vida Grapefruit is only a boon to the taste because the tequilas incorporate both of the fruity flavors without being overly sweet. They also maintain the flavor of Dulce Vida’s Los Altos highlands agave, slightly floral and fruity itself, that complements lime and grapefruit so well in margaritas and palomas.

Those two cocktails are the main reasons that Dopkins and Auler, in charge of the product development, chose lime and grapefruit to start with. (They’ve got another flavor in the works but aren’t ready to reveal it yet.)

Not too often can you drink tequila straight out of the bottle and get that balance,” Dopkins said. “Usually you’re going to get that pucker, that harshness. Here, you’re getting a nice balance, fruit in the front, and a nice finish. That’s part of our whole concept, to break people into the tequila category and show consumers you can have fruit-infused tequila. It can really change how you drink tequila.”

The other new line of Dulce Vida Tequila, at 80 proof, is similarly important to the brand. But for fans of the original 100-proof options, don’t worry — those aren’t going away. The 80-proof tequilas are meant to supplement the existing ones, drawing in more tequila converts. They are also cheaper.

That’s our whole mission, to make the brand much more affordable and approachable. We think we’re over-delivering on quality,” Dopkins said. 

He and Auler sold Deep Eddy Vodka last year to Kentucky’s Heaven Hill brands for an undisclosed sum. As the fastest growing spirits brand in the country, Deep Eddy has proven the entrepreneurs’ capability — they know how to strike liquid gold.

Real Ale in legal battle with Fireman’s Brew over beer name

Photo by 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 beers.
Photo by 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 beers.

One of the Austin area’s biggest beer makers is battling with a California brewery in court after its arrival into Texas earlier this summer.

Real Ale Brewing, which makes one of Texas’ most popular and well-known craft beers, Firemans #4, sued Los Angeles-based Fireman’s Brew in Texas federal court last week for infringing on its trademark rights, according to the lawsuit. Fireman’s Brew is a name remarkably similar to Firemans #4, which Real Ale believes “in commerce is confusingly similar to Real Ale’s Firemans” mark. Fireman’s Brew also has a red logo, the same color as Firemans #4 packaging.

And one of the beers that Fireman’s Brew is now selling — or has plans to sell — in all the major cities in Texas, including Austin, Dallas and Houston, is being marketed as a blonde ale, the same style as Firemans #4. Real Ale is seeking to have the court prevent Fireman’s Brew from offering its beers in the state.

“Defendant’s infringing use of Real Ale’s Firemans mark has caused confusion, mistake and/or deception and caused the public to believe that the products offered by (the) defendant are the same as those of Real Ale,” according to the lawsuit.

The text of the lawsuit notes that Real Ale learned of Fireman’s Brew’s arrival in June, sending a cease-and-desist letter to the brewery “to withdraw from the Texas market. But instead of taking Real Ale’s letter seriously,” the lawyers for Fireman’s Brew “sought to dispute Real Ale’s 14 years of Firemans branding.” When Real Ale sent back proof of having held the trademark since 2002, when Firemans 4 first went to market, the Blanco brewery did not hear back from the defendants, as the complaint notes.

Real Ale, classified as one of the state’s few regional breweries with more than 61,000 barrels of beer per year, plans to continue selling its beer exclusively in Texas. Fireman’s Brew, according to the complaint, was founded 9 years after Real Ale.

These 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.

Earlier this year, a lawsuit between Austin’s Oasis, Texas Brewing and Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing was resolved over the beer name “Slow Ride,” which Oasis has been using for its pale ale and New Belgium had been hoping to use nationwide for its session IPA. Although Oasis is able to continue use of the name in Texas — the only state where it currently distributes — New Belgium has the rights to the name everywhere else.

This case of trademark infringement is a little different. New Belgium still sells the session IPA in Texas, calling it by the beer style rather than the clever name, but if Real Ale is able to win its lawsuit, Fireman’s Brew will be unable to sell its portfolio of beers here. The brewery, founded by two California firemen, offers an amber ale and a German-style double bock in addition to the pilsner-style lager mentioned in Real Ale’s complaint. The Fireman’s Brew beers are called the Redhead, the Brunette and the Blonde, respectively.

Fireman’s Brew declined to comment for this story.

“Real Ale Brewing Co., a family owned Texas brewery, has spent more than a decade developing and promoting the Firemans brand throughout Texas,” Real Ale owner Brad Farbstein said in an official statement. “We have every intention to preserve the integrity of our brands under the protection of the law.”