Earlier this year, a startup called BrewDrop made it possible for locals to get alcohol delivered straight to their front door via an app for Android and iPhone users. Already, there’s about to be two apps for that service.
Drizly is debuting in the Austin market on Thursday in the Barton Springs, downtown, South Congress, Tarrytown, West Campus and Zilker neighborhoods, with the possibility for expansion out of the core part of town, Drizly CEO Nick Rellas said.
Coming to Austin was an easy decision for his company to make. “Austin is an obvious choice because it is full with forward-thinking, tech-savvy people who like to have a good time,” he said. “It is the embodiment of who Drizly is.”
The app that’s already in six other cities around the U.S., including Boston, Chicago and New York, is expanding into Austin through a partnership with Wiggy’s Liquor, “an iconic Austin retailer who has the infrastructure in place to offer reliable deliveries,” Rellas said, as well as a large inventory of beer, wine and spirits. Drizly’s app can offer Austinites more than 1,200 products at the same price that’s paid in-store, and they’re delivered in an estimated 20 to 40 minutes.
As with BrewDrop (to heed state liquor delivery laws), a person from the store, rather than from Drizly, will arrive at your doorstep with your order in that time and check your ID. (And people with fake IDs, beware — Drizly can authenticate them.)
A lot of work went into making Drizly so good at what it does, Rellas said, noting that he and co-founder Justin Robinson “worked hard to learn the business and and figure out a way to legally and responsibly make alcohol delivery a reality.”
In 2012, he and Robinson “were curious why we couldn’t get beer delivered when nearly everything else had become so readily available through technology,” he said. “That casual curiosity quickly evolved into a fascination on why technology hadn’t been able to integrate into regulated industries like alcohol.”
A special promotion will go through the first seven days of Drizly’s launch in Austin. When you place your first order on Drizly from Thursday through Oct. 8, your delivery fee, normally $5, will be waived on your next seven orders. To download, visit your Android or iPhone app store or go to drizly.com.
It’s made from rice. It’s brewed, rather than distilled. And it’s a far more versatile alcoholic beverage than you might give it credit for — capable of taking on a variety of different flavors based on how much the rice is milled and how much alcohol has been added to it.
Sake, originating from Japan, is often called “rice wine,” but because it’s created in part by converting starch to sugar for fermentation, it’s more akin to beer. That’s just one of the facts about the drink to be aware of before World Sake Day on Wednesday. Once just a national event in Japan (Oct. 1 is traditionally the starting date of sake production in the country), it’s now an opportunity to become familiar with one of the lesser known beverages around. Three Austin restaurants can help further your education with sake cocktails and even a sake pairing dinner.
The Japanese restaurant on South Congress Avenue has a handful of sakes that you can sip straight in masu boxes — an easy way to catch all the nuance, from sharp and clean to floral and aromatic, that sake can deliver — but once you recognize some of their defining notes, the seven sake punches show off how sake can complement other cocktail ingredients.
“Sake is subtle like vodka, which makes it very versatile,” Lucky Robot’s Mason Evans said. “So consider the sorts of characteristics in incorporating sake (into cocktails) that you would with vodka. Some of sake’s finer notes can get lost in overpowering ingredients.”
That means you’ve got to know your sake. Evans does. He’s been working with sake for 10 years at Lucky Robot, and his punches are as varied as sake can be. For example, the Green Manalishi (named after a Fleetwood Mac song) starts off sweet, then gets feisty with a pinch of serrano pepper, before finishing with cucumber’s mild bitterness. The Barton Springs, a combination of prosecco and sake, is far more floral, in part thanks to the blueberry puree and lychee (a fragrant fruit native to Asia) mixed in. And the Lebowski, my unexpected favorite, is essentially a sake White Russian, rich and not too sweet.
In honor of Sake Day, Wednesdays now feature an all-day happy hour, with the Lewbowski, Peach Blossom and Green Manalishi available in 33 oz. carafes for $9.
A new sake cocktail will debut at Uchiko just in time for World Sake Day — and bar manager Nic Vascocu decided to get a little experimental with the sake itself, smoking it and steeping charred applewood chips in the sake for 12 hours. The fall cocktail also has lemon juice, maple syrup and apple bitters, but it’s the smoked quality of the sake complementing tart apple in a savory balancing act that you’ll notice most.
The Uchiko staff is careful in selecting sake for both cocktails and straight sipping. Owner Tyson Cole noted that you don’t have to choose a high-grade sake, one with rice that’s been brewed to a very fine polish, to enjoy it.
“As long as it tastes good, that’s all that matters,” he said. “You need a good gateway choice because I think people are intimidated by sake.”
Another easy way to try sake is to pair it with food. And why wouldn’t you do that at Uchiko, where the cocktails are often influenced by the cuisine? Cole said it’s “one of the best pairing beverages. It’s less acidic than wine, it’s very clean and it lets the food shine by standing in the background, without disappearing.”
Although this Japanese restaurant, located in the Hill Country Galleria, might be a bit far from the Austin core, it’s well worth the drive out to Bee Caves to explore the selection of sake that owner Shawn McClain prides himself on carrying. He spent a few years living and working in bars in Japan and said that though beer and soju, a vodka-like Korean liquor, were most popular there, he tended to prefer sake. “I’d be working from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. and then drink ’til noon,” he said with a smile.
And at his restaurant here, which attempts to bring alive the culture and food he misses after being away for so long, you won’t find any sake cocktails for a reason. Many natives of Japan don’t drink sake mixed with anything, and anyway, he said, “I want people to really taste sake since it’s such a relative mystery to some.”
He poured me a few small shots and explained that like beer, sake comes in different types all primarily based on the polish of the rice and whether alcohol has been distilled into it, a choice that some brewers make to help extract flavor and aroma. Plus, sake “really starts opening up at room temperature” — which means that like Evans and Cole, he doesn’t recommend hot sake even though that’s often how people drink it.
Tadashi will be hosting a seven-course sake dinner featuring fresh fish and seasonal delicacies in celebration of World Sake Day. Among the courses that will be carefully paired with sake are Pork Belly Kushiyaki, Texas Poke and Japanese cobbler, all new to the restaurant’s seasonal menu. The dinner will be on Monday, Sept. 29 at 6:30 p.m.
The few miles’ stretch where Jester King Brewery, Solaro Estate Winery and Argus Cidery draw thirsty fans is getting another boozy neighbor by the end of the year: Treaty Oak Distilling is opening an 8,000 square foot distillery on ranch land in Dripping Springs not far from them.
Although it’ll immediately double production on Treaty Oak’s handful of spirits — and then, once a large continuous column still is installed in about 10 months, be able to produce 15 times the amount of current production levels — the distillery is not all that Treaty Oak plans to house on the Ghost Hill Ranch acreage at Ranch Road 12 and Fitzhugh. Accompanying the distillery will be a cocktail house and a gift shop and, in later phases of the big expansion project, a brewery and a set of 10 to 12 cottages.
“The focus of what we’re looking to do is not just market our spirits, but to provide an experience to people,” Treaty Oak owner and distiller Daniel Barnes said.
Education is a crucial part of that experience. Barnes said he and the Treaty Oak staff came up with the concept of the cocktail house, as well as regular cooking and cocktail classes, as a way to get people comfortable with making drinks at home.
“Sure, it’s great to try spirits straight, but that’s most likely not how people will drink them at home,” he said. “So we want to show that our bourbon’s high rye content makes it great for an Old-Fashioned. That kind of thing. We want you to learn not just how the spirit is made, but how you can use the spirit.”
Therefore, the bartenders at the cocktail house will not only serve drinks made with Treaty Oak’s rum, vodka, gin and whiskey offerings, but show people how to make those cocktails, both classics and innovative ones alike.
And the classes, Barnes said, will get even more in-depth and hands-on. Taught by Treaty Oak staff and other culinary and cocktail experts in Central Texas (David Alan as an instructor is a very good bet), they’ll be as varied as “learning different knife methods you can get trained on in culinary school to making the best chicken fried steak,” Barnes said. “On the cocktail side, we’ll have hands-on whiskey tasting classes, as well as how to make different whiskey cocktails. Some will be in the distillery, some will eventually be in the brewery, some will be outside, some in the cocktail house . The venue will change in accordance to what the class is.”
Recently announced as the Distiller of the Year by the MicroLiquor Spirit Awards, Treaty Oak has been releasing spirits since 2007, starting first with rum but quickly running the gamut, with currently seven different award-winning spirits on the market, including aged versions of the Waterloo Gin and Treaty Oak rum, as well as a blended bourbon called Red-Handed that Barnes said is going fast. Opening up a much larger distillery, now that Texas law has changed to allow on-site sales and consumption, is a natural next step “to help us to keep up with production as we grow to a more national brand,” he said.
Going into brewing also makes sense for Barnes, who was an avid homebrewer. But don’t expect to be trying Treaty Oak beers anytime soon — that’s in the next phase of expansion, once brewing permits are in. Even farther out in the future are the cottages that Treaty Oak wants to add so that people visiting “Jester King and Solaro and the other great places in our general area,” he said, have a place to stay for a weekend trip.
What visitors to the distillery can expect shortly after it opens by the end of this year is a line of small-batch whiskeys, all made with various mash bills, barrels and aging times, that will only be available at Treaty Oak — as if there needed to be an extra reason to visit.
For many Austinites, the beginning of fall heralds the arrival of big festivals like Austin City Limits Fest, Austin Film Fest and Texas Book Fest. For craft beer fans, it means counting down to (and preparing for) a whole week’s worth of beer events at the end of October. Although Austin Beer Week is still a good month away, this coming weekend seems to be a bit of a crash course in what’s to come, with a solid roster of Oktoberfest celebrations, Texas’ biggest craft beer festival and more. Here’s a round-up.
Banger’s Oktoberfest. The third year of Oktoberfest at this Rainey Street bar might be the most ambitious Oktoberfest celebration around, with a full 10 days left of scheduled events. The fun includes — in addition to the requisite beer, of course — live music, Oktoberfest-inspired food specials, and games such as hammerschlagen (I’m not sure what that is, either), human pinball, chicken shit bingo and stein races. But let’s go back to the beer. Each week, the bar is featuring a different local brewery (Thursday and Friday will be all about Live Oak, whereas Saturday and Sunday highlight Hops & Grain), along with a bunch of German beers. Banger’s will carry on with Oktoberfest through Oct. 5. 11 a.m. Thursday-Sunday. 79 & 81 Rainey St. bangersaustin.com.
The Brew & Brew’s 1st Anniversary Party. The owners of this equal parts coffee shop and beer bar on the east side of town have been stocking up on both draft and canned beers for this celebration on Thursday evening, so they’ll have lots of solid options to choose from, including Real Ale Scots Gone Wild, Prairie Cherry Funk and Hops & Grain Wet Hop. There will also be music by Punctum Records that starts at 7 p.m. And just in case you aren’t done commemorating one year of the Brew & Brew after only one night, other events there this weekend include Friday’s Rare Beer, Rare Blends night. Co-owner Grady Wright will pour pairs of beers left over from the heavy-hitting tap list into each other, producing intriguing results. 6 p.m. Thursday. 500 San Marcos St. Ste. 105. www.facebook.com/thebrewandbrew.
Jester King’s Aurelian Lure release. The second batch of Jester King’s barrel-aged wild beer refermented with apricots (the first blend was released during the last Austin Beer Week) will go on sale, one bottle per customer per day, starting when the brewery opens on Friday afternoon. There will be more bottles of this release available than the recent Fen Tao, but there is also a new policy in the works ensuring that people stick to the bottle limit: “We will be applying a small, inconspicuous mark to each purchaser’s wrist in semi-permanent ink,” said Jester King’s blog. “We’d prefer not to have to do this, but unfortunately the number of people who snuck through the line multiple times (sometimes wearing a disguise!) at our recent Fēn táo bottle release was quite significant.” 4 p.m. Friday. 13187 Fitzhugh Rd. jesterkingbrewery.com.
Oktoberfest at Easy Tiger. Easy Tiger’s first big Oktoberfest celebration even includes a collaboration beer that the beer bar and bake shop has done with Austin Beerworks, called Montecore. But that’s not the only beer that will be featured — Oktoberfest draft selections include Left Hand Oktoberfest, Ommegang Scythe and Sickle and Live Oak Oaktoberfest. Expect special German-style foods for the two-day event as well. One such offering is an Oktoberfest board that has knackwurst with curry ketchup, griddled onions and sauerkraut and much more. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Free. 709 E. Sixth St. 512-614-4972, www.facebook.com/EasyTigerATX.
AustOberfest. Dust off your lederhosen and dirndls — it’s time for Austin’s version of Oktoberfest. The authentic celebration of all things German will bring you all the beer and sausage you could want, along with bowling, live music and dancing, and other fun activities. The German-style sausages will be provided from some of Central Texas’ top meat purveyors, including La Barbecue, Micklethwait Craft Meats and Hoover’s Cooking, and German beers will be available from award-winning breweries like Paulaner and Hacker Pschorr. Expect the live music to range from polka to honky tonk to big band. The sausage tasting will go through 5 p.m., while everything else will last until 11 p.m. 1 p.m. Saturday. $40 in advance, $50 at the door. Scholz Garten, 1607 San Jacinto Blvd. www.austoberfest.com .
Texas Craft Brewers Festival. I’ll have a preview of the festival in Friday’s Austin360 with beer recommendations, so be sure to check out the longer piece then. In the meantime, know that it’s probably Texas’ biggest beer event; this year’s will feature almost 150 beers from 57 Texas breweries and brewpubs. 2 p.m. Saturday. $10-$25. Fiesta Gardens, 2101 Jesse E. Segovia St. texascraftbrewersfestival.org.
And in case you’re more of a cocktail drinker: Imbibe Magazine and exceptional craft cocktail bar Half Step will host a pig roast on Saturday. And you know there will be drinks. Bar owner Chris Bostick and his crew will serve four Aviation Gin cocktails, including a classic gin and tonic, along with the whole pig and homemade sides. Tickets for the event, which runs from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Rainey Street bar, cost $25 in advance, $30 at the door, and can be purchased online at imbibehalfstep.bpt.me. — Matthew Odam
With their wine merchant business, Craig Mayer and Daniel Kelada believe they are fulfilling an important need for the Texas wine industry as it continues to grow and find fans both in the state and beyond.
Vinovium Partners, helmed by entrepreneur Mayer, provides a variety of services for wineries and stores and restaurants carrying Texas wines.
As négociants — a French term that describes wine merchants who purchase wine at any point in the production process, from vineyard to bottle, and sell the final product under their own label or brand — Mayer and Kelada source wines from some of Texas’ top wineries, such as William Chris Wines, Hye Meadow, Flat Creek and others, with the goal of bringing Texas wines to the market in new ways. They maintain strong relationships with these wineries, Mayer said; sometimes the wine is even made for them by a specific Texas winemaker, and it’s then showcased as part of the Texas Winemaker Series.
Under the Vinovium Selection label, some of the wines they procure (“the best yet discovered Texas wines,” according to Kelada) go into bottles in limited batches; others are kegged.
That’s the other key component of Vinovium: kegging wine to keep it fresh longer and potentially reduce the cost of a glass to the consumer. The kegs are available for retailers like Whole Foods and for consumers throwing parties or wine clubs.
“The wine industry is developing so much, to the point that it needs marketing and merchant services and needs experts in those services,” Kelada said. “Vinovium fulfills the merchant side. We are hoping to spread Texas wine to the world.”
As Mayer noted, he and Kelada, a sommelier and wine educator and the company’s vice president of sales, have no interest in growing grapes and making wine. They only want to make it easier to bring Texas wine to anyone who might want it. “Our goal is to identify the best wines being produced in the state that are not currently being distributed, consolidate them and bring them to buyers in a professional and honest way,” the Vinovium website reads.
Because they’re négociants, they can also be importers and exporters, distributors, blenders, and much more. It’s an age-old profession, Kelada said, that Vinovium has brought to the Hill Country.
Eventually, Vinovium (a Latin word that means “wine road” and hails from Mayer’s days as an archaeologist excavating a Roman fort in England called Binchester) plans to open a tasting room in a new facility so that people can try the various wines in one space. In the meantime, look for the wine at places like Whole Foods in the Hill Country Galleria, the Whip In and Dai Due, as well as area farmers markets. Mayer and Kelada are expecting that number of stores and restaurants to grow.
Although the négociant side of Vinovium Partners is a service that’s been around for quite some time in more developed wine regions, including France, the kegged component is a newer trend, and one that’s probably here to stay as a solution for what happens when restaurants sell wines in bottles.
In opened bottles, wine can stay fresh for only a few days — so what happens when a wine bar pops the cork on a bottle of Riesling for a customer who has only a couple of glasses, and no one else orders the Riesling in the next few days? It gets thrown out, Mayer said, noting that about 30 percent of wine gets wasted when restaurants offer a wine-by-the-glass option. The wine that isn’t sold becomes an expense for customers, he said, who often pay higher prices for wine by the glass than they might have to if none of it went to waste.
Vinovium’s alternative is a KeyKeg, entirely recyclable, that can keep wine fresh for six months if tapped and a full year if left untapped. One keg equals 26 bottles.
“We see kegged wine as a trend validated by its efficiency and common sense,” Kelada said.
They aren’t the only ones who recognize the benefit of kegging certain beverages. I recently published an in-depth piece on kegged cocktails, which are gaining steam of their own in local restaurants and bars.
Although it’s too late now to join the ride, it’s not too late to donate to the cause.
Davis Tucker of North by Northwest is once again leading the two-week journey on bicycle from Austin to Denver to help raise awareness of prostate cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in American men. The ride, called 1400 Miles to mark the distance between the two cities, is not quite a week in — and the riders, most of them local brewers or brewery employees like Tucker, are still seeking donations. All money raised will be split between Pints for Prostates and the Prostate Conditions Education Council.
Tucker, Josh Hare of Hops and Grain, Todd Ewing of Odell Brewing and Jim Sampson of Twisted X, as well as Bryce Randle and Stephen Bontempo, are hosting community rides and beer events throughout the remaining week through New Mexico and Denver. They’ll be in Albuquerque tomorrow, in Salida, Colo. on Wednesday, and in the Lyons/Boulder area Sept. 27. The final stretch is in Denver on Sept. 28, where most will remain in town for the Great American Beer Festival that kicks off on Oct. 2. (It’s no coincidence that Tucker, who first came up with the idea for the 1400 Miles trek last year in honor of NXNW’s brewmaster Don Thompson’s recovery from prostate cancer, has timed the ride to finish up just before GABF.)
Each community bike ride and beer event along the way will also feature a much larger means of transportation: NXNW’s Beerliner Bus, a 1974 refurbished bus with four beer taps, three video screens and a commercial kitchen used to cook up beer-inspired food.
Hare has been keeping Austinites up-to-date on their progress through daily blog posts on the Hops and Grain website. His post today seems to sum up the 1400 Miles ride pretty accurately: “We’re raising money for a fantastic cause every step of the way, bringing up the awkward conversation that is prostate health with a bunch of guys that we’ve never met before. Makes the miles seem a little less rough when, at the end of the day, we’re riding for something bigger than ourselves.”
Just after the doors to Austin Eastciders’ long-awaited urban cidery open at an old railroad station in late October, the cider makers will send out limited numbers of a new release using a rare American heirloom apple. Small Batch No. 1, coming out in Texas stores Nov. 3, is the first in a series of small batch ciders that Austin Eastciders is making to experiment with these hard-to-get apples and with barrel-aging.
Founder Ed Gibson wanted to make a couple of single-varietal ciders with the heirloom apples that pre-Prohibition cider all contained, so Small Batch No. 1 features Winesap apples, which were “used in some of the finest ciders made in America” during cider’s heyday just before Prohibition, according to a press release. During that time, the Eastciders press release said, cider was the most popular drink in the U.S.
A lot of the heirloom varieties like Winesap aren’t cultivated for many of today’s ciders, primarily because they aren’t as prolific as they used to be. But an 1895 catalog for a nursery in Hyde Park (then the largest nursery west of the Mississippi River) offered Winesap trees for sale to Austinites, “noting their value for cider making,” the press release said. Gibson discovered that a small amount of these trees are still being grown in Texas’ High Plains region, and he was eager to use the apples they bore.
“It’s fascinating unearthing these celebrated old varieties, some of which are now virtually extinct, and rediscovering all these unique, long-lost flavors from the golden age of cider,” Gibson said.
What are the flavors you’ll taste in the Small Batch No. 1? It’s a very different sort of cider from Austin Eastciders’ two mainstays, Gold Top and Original. Gibson said the Winesap cider has “a strange and lovely cotton candy aroma and a surprising savory note to the taste. It’s citrusy and salty, almost reminiscent of a margarita, with a punchy acidity and a nice, dry finish.”
If that doesn’t sound much like the cider you’re used to drinking, that’s because Small Batch No. 1, he added, is very similar to the ciders of the early 1900s. “I’ve never had a cider quite like it,” he said.
Only 100 cases of Small Batch No. 1 will be distributed to stores, starting with a release party on Oct. 29 at East End Wines. In the coming months, the cidery has plans to make more small batch ciders, including a single-varietal with Arkansas Black heirloom apples and ones aged in bourbon and rum barrels — and they’ll all be created in the East Austin cidery that Gibson has been trying to open for quite some time now.
Austin Eastciders will officially open on Oct. 25 with a big celebration followed by several events during Austin Beer Week. The first public tour of the cidery, at 979 Springdale Rd., will give visitors a chance to see how cider is made. For more information about the opening or the small batch ciders, visit www.austineastciders.com.
Perhaps the most intriguing detail about the fall arrival of Blue Owl Brewing, an eastside venture from former Black Star Co-Op employees Jeff Young and Suzy Shaffer, is that the beers — which have names and can designs displayed beautifully (and tantalizingly) on the brewery’s Facebook page — will all be sour mashed, making Blue Owl the first brewery in the country to focus solely on that approach.
Sour mashing is a process that distillers use to produce most bourbon, but it’s also sometimes a technique for brewers to make sour beers without the long amount of time that brewing those types of beers typically requires. As Young and Shaffer noted on Blue Owl’s press page, “it’s a non-traditional approach to producing highly approachable beer.”
The brewing version of sour mashing results in “tart, fruit-forward beers that closely mimic their native style,” the press page said. In other words, a sour-mashed wheat beer still closely resembles a wheat beer, even though one part of the brewing process is altered to allow for some sourness to come through.
Essentially, the wort (the malty liquid extracted from the mash) is left in with some grains for up to several days after the mash, allowing bacteria naturally found in the grain to consume some of the sugars in the wort. That produces lactic acid, and that’s where the sourness comes from.
So Blue Owl’s brews will be “tart from the start, instead of being aged over years, often with the addition of fruit,” Young and Shaffer said in the press page. “(Sour-mashed beers) yield a highly consistent, straightforward product that can be easily reproduced, unlike barrel-aged sours that are by nature unpredictable.”
The two co-founders — who are currently getting the brewery on East Cesar Chavez ready to open — have tapped into this distinctive process for a reason. They believe their brewery is opening just at the cusp of a heyday for sour beers.
This style, they said, might be going the way of IPAs: sourness as a flavor is now a sought-after beer quality, rather like bitterness, which was itself once undesirable. Currently similar to the sorts of sessionable beers Blue Owl will produce are Austin Beerworks Einhorn and New Belgium Snapshot.
Blue Owl has four beers in the works. There’s Little Boss, a sour session wheat (Berliner Weisse); Spirit Animal, a sour pale ale; Professor Black, a sour cherry stout; and Van Dayum!, a sour amber.
These will be canned from the start. Beer lovers will have the chance to try them at the brewery’s on-site tasting room, as well at local bars and restaurants.
For updates — including an exact opening date — visit the Facebook page or blueowlbrewing.com. The brewery will be located at 2400 East Cesar Chavez St.