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Austin Beer Week 2012: Ommegang Beer Dinner at Easy Tiger

I’ve had a few beers before from New York’s Brewery Ommegang, but not many. So it was with curiosity and an empty stomach that I entered the hallowed halls of Easy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden on Tuesday night for their Austin Beer Week Ommegang Beer Dinner. It was my second beer dinner at Easy Tiger (my first was in July) so I came expecting an all-stops-out delicious meal designed by chef Andrew Curren with the beer remaining the star. The menu was promising indeed:

The menu, before I smeared it with messy but memorable victuals.

Easy Tiger’s wait staff turned the hospitality up to eleven, bringing my first beer within moments of being seated. That was Ommegang’s Octoberly-named Scythe & Sickle, an ale celebrating the harvest season with barley, oats, wheat and rye in the grain bill. It poured a cloudy orange with an initial tart, acidic aroma that gave way to spicy clove esters and floral notes upon tasting. I had fun trying to pick out all the different grains. The oats gave a creamy texture to the brew, and spicy rye was also evident; but the most distinctive flavor I got was a raisin-currant character typical of Belgian crystal malts like Special B. The beer was accompanied by Easy Tiger’s “Harvest Mix” of popcorn, potato sticks, peanuts and dill: not your father’s party mix.

Beer #0: Scythe & Sickle. Yes, that’s a full glass pour.

Then the real fun began.

First Course: Biere d’Hougoumont with Herbed grits, roasted mushrooms, quail egg, lemon hazelnut gremolata – This limited-edition bière de garde includes French ale yeast and French Strisselspalt hops in the recipe, and was aged on white oak and hard maple. It was light orange in color with a quickly dissipating head and smelled of honey and floral hops. A boozy character like that of simple sugars (honey, or candi sugar?) in the wort was strong on the palate, but no alcohol burn. It balanced well with the earthy mushroom flavor dominating the grits.

Second Course: Goudenhop with Orange-lacquered grilled pork belly, creamed Swiss chard, crispy leeks – Ostensibly a Belgian-style blonde, the beer lived up to its name (meaning “golden hop” in Flemish) with citrusy hops on the nose and palate that slowly gave way to a long-lasting bitterness. It seemed an odd pairing with the nutty creamed chard and rich slab of pork belly that actually melted in my mouth, until I recognized it as a genius combination of opposites. The Goudenhop offered a refreshing lifeline from a dish easy to drown in (albeit happily), like orange juice next to a heaping plate of morning bacon. Folks, it just doesn’t get any better than this.

Third Course: Gnomegang with Pecan-crusted red fish, sweet potato & Granny Smith apple hash, parsley brown butter – A big golden beer with a thick head and aromas of tart fruits and the unoffensive cheese notes of Belgian yeast. It was incredibly full bodied, packed a boozy punch, and would make a great mainstay for a Belgian abbey’s Lenten fast. The rich, oily fish paired very nicely with it, and I’ve never disliked anything with Granny Smith apples in it.

Fourth Course: Art of Darkness with Chuck roast, potatoes, carrots and Art of Darkness bread – This smooth, velvety black ale (I wouldn’t call it a stout; there was no roasted barley character at all) had the hallmark flavors of oats and (I’m guessing) debittered black malt. The beer was good, but I must confess I was more entranced by the wedge of artisan bread on my plate, made with that same beer. I had waited all night to get my hands on some of Easy Tiger’s legendary bread, and its appearance made me a happy man. My apologies to the roast; it was succulent and savory, but I had already given my heart to another.

Fifth Course: Chocolate Indulgence with Pumpkin pie, milk chocolate, candied orange, hazelnuts – The last ale on the menu was as dark as the previous one, and had the roast character its predecessor lacked. More coffee-like than it was chocolatey, it was very good on its own but a little heavy next to a light and flaky specimen of one of my favorite fall desserts. The pie itself was delicious, and thankfully not cloyingly sweet. I loved each on their own but wasn’t crazy about the two together.

Beer #5: Chocolate Indulgence. And another sweet glass for my collection.

But the night wasn’t over yet! Easy Tiger and Ommegang surprised us with a final course: a plate of soft cheese, fennel relish, and another fresh baked bread (EDIT: Nancy’s Camembert from Hudson Valley, fennel marmalade and Pan au Levain roll – a sort of French “sourdough” – thanks Chef Andrew Curren for confirming) accompanied by a flute of Aphrodite lambic. The lambic was sweet and fruity with the color and flavor of raspberry (and just a little pear) all but masking a thread of Brett funk, and was an admirable way to end the night. It went fine with the cheese, but I kept thinking how well it would have paired with the pumpkin pie … though I would hate to have missed out on this latter offering of house bread.

Beer #6: The mighty Aphrodite.

Much like schnitzengrubens, them strong Belgian-style beers can wipe you out, especially when taken with good food. By the end of the night I had one foot in brewhound Valhalla, tethered to the mortal plane by robust conversation with several fellow beer geeks in attendance that I had the pleasure to meet that night – including John Rubio of The Beerists podcast and Austin Chronicle beer culture writer Ivy Le and her husband. But bedtime loomed, and before long I emerged from the rathskeller to find my way home, happily smacked down by another spectacular Easy Tiger beer dinner.

You win another round, Easy Tiger. Well done. Name the time, and I’ll be there for the rematch.

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Austin Beer Week 2012 finally begins (for me)

Finally! I get to start celebrating Austin Beer Week in earnest tonight with the Ommegang Beer Dinner at Easy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden. The Real Ale beer dinner at Easy Tiger a few months ago excited my palate (and loosened my typing fingers; I waxed blogtastic about it here and here), so I’m thrilled to be starting my Austin Beer Week festivities there.

If I didn’t already have a reservation at Easy Tiger, though, I’d be starting my Austin Beer Week tonight at my favorite place in town, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. The Alamo has a tradition of multi-course feasts, pairing chef-prepared selections with great beverages and fantastic films (like their annual all-day Lord of the Rings Trilogy Hobbit Feasts: seven courses in twelve hours of movie with the occasional lembas bread intermezzo). Tonight, the Lake Creek location is showing the Indian sci-fi spectacle Endhiran: The Robot (starring Tamil screen legend Rajinikanth and Aishwarya Rai) with a five-course Indian meal paired with five local IPAs. I saw Endhiran at an Alamo screening last year and found it bizarre, hilarious and touching, combining modern sci-fi tropes with classic monster movie hijinks, and yes – lots and lots of Indian musical numbers. If you’re into Bollywood, Kollywood, or just have an open mind for a totally new experience, I highly recommend it.

Speaking of totally new experiences, yesterday I went to Black Star Co-op to try their new cask ale, Molly Moocher: their Double Dee amber(ish) ale cask conditioned on morel mushrooms. I’m sure I’ve had mushrooms in beer before, but must confess that morel mushrooms terrify me, with those shriveled alien-egg-looking caps, fleshy and pitted with shadowy tunnels into deep, Lovecraftian darkness (shudder). But October is right for fright, so I jumped in eagerly. Amazingly, I didn’t lose my soul or sanity to the Great Old Ones. I just … drank mushroom beer. It was well attenuated and had a rich earthiness from the mushrooms, complemented by earthy hop character. High attenuation and low carbonation combined to make the beer come across as a little thin, but that’s not uncommon for cask ales.

The better beer that day at Black Star was Old Sour Dewberry, a sour English old ale that poured a deep ruby red with a roaring fizzy head. It popped on my palate with refreshing, effervescent fruitiness, like an alcoholic cherry soda. It was so good I wish it had come in larger than a 9-oz pour, but it packed a punch and was worth slowly savoring. I’ll be back for that one soon.

But now: looking ahead to Easy Tiger tonight by eating as close to nothing as possible today. I’ll post details on the dinner including my favorite dish, favorite beer and pairing reactions in the next day or two.

Austin Beer Week 2012: Calendar

Austin Beer Week starts in 3 days! Taking place from October 20-28, Austin Beer Week 2012 promises to offer an abundance of tastings, cask tappings, pairing dinners, happy hours and meet-the-brewers-es, and is sure to be a fun time for anyone in Austin who loves good beer.

The calendar of events can be found online here. I’m hoping to catch at least a few of these events and report on them, but there’s no way to make them all. I’m going to Houston for a family reunion on Saturday, so that’s one day out already, but I’ll participate as much as my schedule, my wallet and my body will allow.

Going to any of these events? Comment here, tweet me at @shawnbou21, or email me at zymelord @ gmail.com to tell me how it was! I’ll post my own experiences as the week goes on.

Prosit to all, and see you out there at Austin Beer Week!

A taste of local at the Texas Craft Brewers Festival

Fiesta Gardens in East Austin was the hoppiest place in town on October 6 as about two dozen breweries from all over Texas gathered for the annual Texas Craft Brewers Festival, sponsored by the Young Men’s Business League of Austin. Featuring over 115 beers, the event promised to be a carnival of discovery. I walked through the gates holding my tasting glass eagerly, like an explorer taking his first steps on a newly discovered shore with a trusty saber in hand.

The format was a familiar one: a booth from each brewery in attendance (arranged in alphabetical order, wow) offering pours of their most popular and/or most interesting beers. $20 bought admission, a 4 oz. plastic tasting glass and six tickets, with additional tickets available for purchase at two for $3. Most of the pours cost one ticket, with some of the rarer/higher-gravity offerings going for two.

I sprung for the $65 VIP pass. It didn’t come with any additional tickets (bummer), but I did get a T-shirt and imperial pint glass along with noon entry, two hours before everyone else. The early entry was worth it, because the place got nuts at 2:00 when the gates opened to general admission. VIP’s also got a “meet-and-greet” round robin tasting in the main pavilion from 1:00 to 2:00. Brewers and brewery representatives walked around the pavilion with pitchers, pouring samples and answering questions.

I love talking to brewers who have a real passion for brewing. The ones who are visibly energized by talking to kindred spirits. The ones whose eyes light up when asked why they chose one yeast strain over another, or who get excited when you taste something subtle in the beer that they were specifically trying for. They’re the stewards of our community, the true shamans of our tribal craft brew culture. I’d especially like to thank Jeff Stuffings of Jester King Craft Brewery, Diane Rogness of Rogness Brewing Company, Jud Mulherin of Circle Brewing Company and Grant Wood of Revolver Brewing Company for stopping for a few minutes on a busy day to talk to me – one of many admirers clamoring for their time – about their ingredients, their craft, and why they do what they do.

The beers themselves presented a fascinating snapshot of where Texas craft brew is today. Several things became apparent over the course of the day:

  • Sour beer no longer a thing? The event website boasted “at least four sours”. That’s a much smaller number than I would have predicted a year ago, when sours were seemingly the next big wave in craft brewing. But now it seems Texas brewers are looking elsewhere for innovation. Real Ale Scots Gone Wild and Austin Beerworks Einhorn Berliner Weisse were on tap along with some sours from Jester King, but I didn’t see anything on the menu that I hadn’t tried before. I made a beeline to the Jester King booth for what I thought was a new sour – the Viking-inspired Gotlandsdricka – and got a surprise. Jeff Stuffings informed me his Gotlandsdricka was intended to be a modern interpretation, not a historically accurate recreation of the ancient ale, and was clean-fermented with just Saccharomyces cerevisiae. I’m a sucker for anything Nordic, and I liked it a lot, but I’m still curious to taste the sour version they may release in a few months.
  • Flavorings are where it’s at. For a region so rich in German heritage, Texas brewers sure don’t know the meaning of Reinheitsgebot. Spices and fruits abounded. Rogness OST Porter with coffee and coconut and Yogi Amber with chai spice, Thirsty Planet ChiGoatle Amber with peppers, Revolver Blood & Honey Wheat with blood orange zest and spices, and Jester King Gotlandsdricka with sweet gale and juniper all made impressions on me. Even Reinheitsgebot champions Circle Brewing have jumped into the flavor fray with Smokin’ Beech, a refreshing Rauchbier with a bacony character from malt beechwood-smoked according to a traditional Bamberg process that Jud Mulherin described to me in reverent detail.
  • Tea is the new coffee. Coffee porters and stouts remain popular, but Texas brewers are starting to notice coffee’s hot stepsister from across the ocean, with very different takes on the concept. Live Oak poured an Oaktoberfest infused with lapsang souchong China black tea, lending a vegetal smokiness tailored for slow sipping. Jester King poured their kombucha farmhouse ale Buddha’s Brew. Rogness Yogi Amber doesn’t actually have tea in it, but recreates the experience of chai tea in an amber beer with chai spices and unfermentable sugars. Diane Rogness called Yogi “her baby”, and she should be proud of it. I enjoyed drinking it and have thought about it a lot since Saturday.
  • Dallas-Fort Worth is growing. Lakewood Brewing and Revolver Brewing are two names from the Metroplex that seem to have made their Austin debut at the event, alongside DFW stalwarts Deep Ellum and Southern Star. I didn’t get a chance to try Lakewood (sorry!) but Revolver’s Blood & Honey Wheat is a surprisingly complex lawnmower beer with blood orange zest and savory spices. Head brewer Grant Wood invited me to guess which spices he used. I guessed incorrectly, and when I pressed him for the correct answer, he said smiling, “We’ve gotta have some secrets.” Touché.

Finally, the day brought great news to the mead lover in me. I had a chance to speak to Eric Lowe of Meridian Hive Meadery, a new Austin company getting their brewhouse (meadhouse?) assembled currently, and who will hopefully be releasing their first meads in early 2013. There’s a mead gap in Austin, and I welcome them with open arms and a thirsty palate.

Photos of the event are below (including one of your friend and humble narrator in a yellow shirt), courtesy of Roy Moore and Control Images. Thanks to the YMBL and all who made the event what it was.

Roy Moore Photography: TCBF12 &emdash; DSC_0488

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Roy Moore Photography: TCBF12 &emdash; DSC_0507

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Roy Moore Photography: TCBF12 &emdash; DSC_0497

Roy Moore Photography: TCBF12 &emdash; DSC_0491

Roy Moore Photography: TCBF12 &emdash; DSC_0525

Roy Moore Photography: TCBF12 &emdash; DSC_0517

Roy Moore Photography: TCBF12 &emdash; DSC_0518

Fantastic Fest 2012 in review: beer, free beer, and a movie or two

Fantastic Fest 2012 is now a happy week-old memory. I saw 33 films from September 20-27 and emptied more than a few pint glasses. My highlights from the festival are below:

Day 1 – My Fest started with Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie in 3D. But that wasn’t until 6pm, so before the show, I had lunch at Bangers Sausage House & Beer Garden, where I enjoyed two barrel-aged Texas beers: Bourbon Barrel Alt-eration from Hops & Grain, and Real Ale Shipwrecked (aged in Jameson barrels for extra deliciousness) with an antelope and venison merguez sausage in honor of the reanimated pooch. Once I got to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema for the movie, I found myself in the Shiner-sponsored theater, and enjoyed a free Shiner Bock. But my favorite film that day was Antiviral from Canadian director Brandon Cronenberg – son of film legend David Cronenberg (The Fly, Videodrome), and worthy of his father’s directorial legacy.

Day 2 – Two major highlights: The Conspiracy, also from Canada, which I watched with a couple of pale ales: an Austin Beerworks Fire Eagle IPA and a Shiner Wild Hare Pale Ale. Later that night, a friend and I got to the bottom of a pitcher of Real Ale Firemans #4 while watching Dead Sushi, the latest from Japanese director Noboru Iguchi. Iguchi’s shock/splatter/gross-out horror-comedies aren’t for everyone, but I find them great fun; and Dead Sushi is one of the better ones. Before the screening was a live in-theater eating competition between Iguchi, SFX guru Yoshihiro Nishimura and four audience members eating bull penis sushi, duck fetuses and ghost pepper tuna roll. Kudos to them; I couldn’t do it.

Day 3 – A great day. I sipped a Ranger Creek Small Batch #2 saison during Holy Motors by French director Leos Carax, a dense and symbolic film that begs rewatching. Next I saw the brutal yakuza revenge sequel Outrage Beyond by Japan’s Takeshi Kitano (a.k.a. Beat Takeshi), which went well with a Brooklyn East India Pale Ale. I watched an English-language remake of Pusher (the Danish original was the directorial debut of Drive and Bronson director Nicolas Winding Refn) with a Live Oak Oaktoberfest in hand, and I enjoyed another Firemans #4 at midnight during my most anticipated movie of the festival, the kung-fu-steampunk epic Tai Chi 0. All these movies made it into my top fifteen of the fest, and I’m still thinking about that Ranger Creek saison.

Day 4 – Started with my initial pick for best of the fest,  Lee’s Adventure, a Chinese sci-fi film starring Jaycee Chan (son of Jackie) as a slacker-gamer with a disease that randomly slows and speeds his perception of time. China scored again in the evening with the aptly titled Vulgaria, a crude comedy about a Hong Kong softcore porn producer that kept me laughing out loud. At midnight, I saw the awesome British action-comedy Cockneys vs. Zombies, whose title pretty much says it all. I watched that with my favorite beer of the day, a Deschutes Obsidian Stout that was perfect for a midnight show.

Day 5 – The standout film was Black Out, a Dutch crime caper that played like classic Guy Ritchie. Day 5 is usually when I start to get bleary-eyed and need rest; unsurprisingly, I have no beer notes from this day. I recall drinking one or two Fire Eagle IPAs and at least one Hops & Grain Pale Dog Pale Ale.

Day 6 – My evening film was Vanishing Waves, a sci-fi thinker from Lithuania. There’s always at least one quiet, sterile and cerebral sci-fi film at the Fest every year, and whatever it is usually ends up in my top ten. This was no exception, and it inspired me to dig up and finish an incomplete short story I drafted last year (hooray for inspiration!). I watched it with a Thirsty Planet Buckethead IPA.

Day 7 – The penultimate night of the Fest brought me Hellfjord, by far the most fun I had all week. A new series from from a team of brilliant Norwegians (including writer Tommy Wirkola, director Patrik Syversen and writer-stars Zahid Ali and Stig Frode Henriksen) whose combined resume includes the zom-com Dead Snow and the geek comedy You Said What?, Hellfjord touted itself as Twin Peaks-meets-Hot Fuzz, and that’s pretty spot on. The complete first season screened – seven episodes – and I simply could not stop laughing during the entire three and a half hours. “Brilliant” doesn’t begin to describe this series. It was my definitive Best of the Fest. I’m counting the months until it may someday be released on American DVD, and if you have any sense of humor at all, you should look for it too. I also finished off another pitcher of Firemans #4 (with help) and had a spectacular barbecue chicken pizza with jalapenos before heading to the Hellfjord Norwegian Party at the Highball, where friends and I donned Viking helmets and drank Austin Beerworks Black Thunder Schwarzbier with samples of lutefisk and other pickled Nordic delicacies. And the mighty Thor smiled down upon us.

Day 8 – Somewhat anticlimactic after Day 7, but started with the poignant, entertaining Canadian drama I Declare War, about kids playing a game of war that skirts dangerously close to the real thing. After a couple of underwhelming afternoon screenings, I ended the day with a few complimentary Shiner Wild Hare Pale Ales at the Closing Night Party at the Austin American Legion hall.

So there you have it. Seven days have passed and I’m already looking forward to next year’s Fantastic Fest. There’s a reason we call it “geek Christmas” in my house. It’s a time to celebrate film, storytelling, inspiration, good friends, good food and good beer. And these are a few of my favorite things.

Fantastic Fest: The most wonderful time of the year

Fantastic Fest 2012 starts today in Austin! Billed as “a film festival with all the boring parts cut out”, it’s eight days of weird and unique films from all around the world. Horror, action, science fiction, fantasy and offbeat comedy will show in abundance.

When I’m not blogging, brewing or working at my day job, I write for the very small screen and work in independent film production with Blue Goggles Films (see the latest episode of our series De-Pixelated here, co-written by me). So great film on a budget is a passion of mine, and Fantastic Fest is my Christmas. I look forward to it every year the way some people look forward to the World Series, E3, or a major political convention. In fact, it is like a major political convention: full of deeply opinionated people exchanging passionate debate after nights of minimal – or no – sleep … but instead of arguing about the economy or health care, they’re discussing Dogme 95 or the most effective use of the Wilhelm scream in a Spanish-language film since 1996.

It’s not technically a beer event, but it does take place at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, so there’s beer and food available for purchase at every screening, and lots of parties with free drinks at night. So beer is a big part of the festival for me, because I love pairing beer with a good film as much as with a good meal. I’m hoping the Alamo has a lot of interesting stuff on tap to keep the libations as exciting as the entertainment.

I usually see about 30 films during the 8-day festival. My original idea was to do “Fantastic Fest in 30 Beers”: a different beer for every film I see. But I realized 30 pints in 8 days is going to be hard on my wallet, and I really want to enjoy some high-gravity brews if possible without falling asleep during my midnight screenings.

So I won’t try to force a beer for every showing. But I will be drinking some interesting stuff throughout the week, and seeing some fantastic films. I’ll write about both as often as I can. I’ll also be tweeting about the films and the festival as it happens – check out my Twitter feed @shawnbou21 to see my updates.

Chaos reigns!

The Buddha and the King

On a beautiful, cool Saturday afternoon wedged between days of thunderstorms, Jester King Craft Brewery released their new Buddha’s Brew ale during their weekly open house. Beer hipsters (and garden variety hipsters) descended on the brewery for a turnout that scuttlebutt suggests was the biggest the brewery has ever seen on a “non-event” Saturday.

The new ale is a collaboration between Jester King and Austin kombucha company Buddha’s Brew. It’s Jester King’s first beer fermented entirely in oak. The wheat ale wort was pitched with bacteria and fermented in the barrel, then aged for nine months before blending it with Buddha’s Brew Classic Flavor Kombucha. Buddha’s Brew was also on location Saturday giving out free kombucha by the sample and cup. I’ve been a fan of their kombucha for years, so I was excited about the collaboration.

I haven’t been to Jester King in several months, so I was surprised to find a new system in place for the beer tasting. In the old system, $10 bought you a tulip glass and three full pours of whatever you wanted. Now, for $10 you get a card listing the day’s menu with a check box next to each of the 7 beers available:

One ticket to paradise, with a kombucha to go.

The bartenders poured 5.5 oz of whatever you ordered and marked the box next to it on the card. If you tried them all, it would equate to a little over two pints of beer and a keepsake glass for $10. So it’s not the steal it used to be, but it’s still a great value, especially if you can get there early enough to go back through the (very long) line 7 times during the 3-hour window they’re open. Even though this new system effectively raises the price per ounce over the previous system, it encourages beer flights instead of pounding pints as quickly as possible. The limited-release selections du jour are thus available to more attendees, and fewer frat boys are stumbling around drunk from too many Black Metals. I’m not sure if the new system was just for this event or if this is how they do it every week now, but I’m a fan of it in theory … if they can get the line moving a little faster.

I started with Buddha’s Brew, the hot new starlet on the set. It was straw-colored with little head and smelled like a Berliner Weisse: lactic, light and wheaty, though I was hoping for more fruitiness on the nose. It tasted like a Berliner Weisse too. Tart, refreshing and wheaty with some vinegar notes and a pleasant mouth-puckering tartness. My only complaint was that it was less complex than I expected. The kombucha didn’t add much flavor; no fruitiness, no earthiness. Nor any oakiness or vanilla from the barrel aging. It could have been any sour wheat ale, albeit a well-made one. Note that I would gladly drink it again if there weren’t more interesting beers available.

From there it was only natural that I ease into Bonnie the Rare, Jester King’s Berliner Weisse, for comparison’s sake. (It’s all for science. I swear.) Bonnie came from a bottle and had the same wheat/straw color as Buddha but was clearer. It had a lot more going on, too. It smelled of bright sour fruits and spice: sour apple, lemon pepper, grains of paradise. It tasted like an übertart lemon-lime soda with a spicy astringency and a hint of blue cheese on the back end. Dry, but not puckering. From the same ballpark as Buddha’s Brew perhaps, but Bonnie played the game better; more interesting and complex overall. If faced with a choice between the two at a bar, I’d order Bonnie, hands down.

My third pour was Mad Meg, an organic bière de provision – a high-alcohol continental style intended for extended aging. At 9.6% ABV, it was a step up from my earlier tastings but smooth enough not to be a shock. It poured a handsome red-orange I attribute to Cara-Munich malt, but I enjoyed thinking of it as an “albino amber”. The aroma was mouth-watering: floral hops and a rich mandarin-like citrus with noticeable alcohol. The flavor didn’t disappoint, either, delivering piney hop bitterness at the start and boozy, bready malt on the finish with no alcohol burn. It was smooth and brilliantly balanced, easy to drink on a fall afternoon or warm enough for a cool night.

I made my way through the tastings leisurely and only got three in my 90 minutes there, but it was well worth the price of admission. Between beers I cleansed my palate with lots of free kombucha from the Buddha’s Brew tent (thanks!). Peach and Pineapple-Super Greens flavors were on tap and delicious.

I left happy (alcohol + probiotics, mmm mmm good!) and inspired. I’ve been thinking about homebrewing kombucha for a long time, and I might start soon using some Buddha’s Brew dregs to culture a starter SCOBY. Someday I actually hope to have draft kombucha in the kegerator for those non-beer occasions. I’m not sure I’ll ever use it in a beer myself, but who knows? And I toast Jester King for their innovation. After all, that’s what supporting local business is all about.

Wouldn’t it be nice?

Interesting news from the Texas Craft Brewers Guild today: a study published on the state of craft brewing in Texas, and where it could be in a few years. Where it could be, that is, if legislative reforms can be passed in the coming years to allow Texas craft brewers to sell packaged goods directly to the public in their tasting rooms, and to allow brewpubs to sell draft and packaged beer off premises.

According to the study, craft beer is a fast-growing industry in Texas. It could grow even faster than currently projected if small craft breweries and brewpubs weren't shackled by antiquated – we're talking the era of Prohibition repeal here – regulations positing a strictly enforced three-tier distribution system. This system favors industrial lager manufacturers and bigger out-of-state craft breweries with bigger distribution contracts, and makes it harder for smaller local brewing outfits to break in. They just don't have the market power to woo these independent distributors, who aren't in the business of gambling on new and untested products.

Those of us who live in the state and who follow the local beer scene are familiar with the difficulties faced by Texas breweries because of the current system and how incredibly unfair it is, especially since Texas wineries are allowed to sell directly to the public and build brand awareness, unlike breweries (and yes, their product contains on average twice as much alcohol by volume). Texas beer nerds are also aware of the ongoing struggle to advocate for more modern legislation through efforts such as last year's doomed-by-committee bills HB 602 and HB 660. Some Texas craft breweries and even distributors have joined the fight via lawsuits. But nothing has worked.

Will a study by an (admittedly biased) interested association on the economic potential of this growing industry be the thing that makes the Texas state legislature realize they're missing out on a golden opportunity in taxes here? Perhaps, though I won't hold my breath. But I'm of the opinion that any amount of publicity about this issue is good, and optimism never hurt anyone. There's always the 2013 Texas legislative session.

Someday we'll get there, and we'll look back on this era with sadness and embarrassment at how foolish we were, how blindly we let the interests of big business win out over those of Texas business owners and Texas customers. But until the sunrise on that bright, shining beacon of a day, we'll just wait. And hope.

The Jester just got bester

As of this past Tuesday, Jester King Craft Brewery in Austin is now certified organic by the USDA, according to this press release on their website.

To quote the release:

The first of our beers to carry certified organic labeling will be this year’s version of Drink’in the Sunbelt Hoppy Wheat Beer, followed by our next batches of Mad Meg Farmhouse Provision Ale and Boxer’s Revenge Barrel-Aged Wild Ale. Le Petit Prince Farmhouse Table Beer, Noble King Hoppy Farmhouse Ale, Wytchmaker Farmhouse Rye IPA, Das Wunderkind! Sour Saison, and Bonnie the Rare Berliner Weisse also received full organic certification and will be labeled as such once we run through our current stock of labels. Black Metal Farmhouse Imperial Stout, which is over 70% organic, but uses a small amount of non-organic specialty malt, has been certified “Made with Organic Ingredients” and will carry the Texas Department of Agriculture seal, the next time labels are printed.

Although I may be more organic than some, I’m not really hung up on the organic lifestyle and organic foods. Sure, I belong to a local organic CSA called Johnson’s Backyard Garden. I don’t eat at major fast food chains (or any major restaurant chain at all if I can avoid it, which I usually can – thanks, Austin!). I try not to buy packaged foods with a lot of ingredients I can’t pronounce, but that’s a long way from organic. When it comes to my own brewing, I don’t add a lot of funky chemicals if I can help it – brewing water salts and acids to keep my mash pH down are generally the extent; I don’t spend the extra dough for organic malts and hops. In other words, whether food or drink, I keep it simple for anything I can control, and I don’t sweat the other stuff too much.

But who wouldn’t want to know that the ingredients that go into the beer they drink is of the best quality possible? Whether that means organic, or locally sourced, or whatever your personal hobbyhorse is, the fact that they bother at all means that they have a commitment to quality ingredients: that they care what they put into the beer they sell. That they’re not just here for the craft beer fad, and that they want to establish (and strengthen) their identity in the ever-more-crowded local Austin beer scene.

And that is great news, and a reminder of why I love the folks at Jester King so much. As far as I’m concerned, one of the best breweries in town just got better. I like to think that each of the best local breweries in Central Texas has a knack for something (see recent post here for my thoughts on the awesome power of Live Oak Brewing to replicate classic German styles). I always thought Jester King’s knack was simply to bring European-style farmhouse ales to a market otherwise lacking in them. But now Jester King appears to be doing more: with this gesture, they’ve demonstrated they want to be a leader in quality and innovation in all ways (including taking on the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission late last year over some silly beer labeling and distribution laws) in the Austin craft beer community. If there’s a battle commencing between great beer and mediocre beer, Jester King appears to want to be in the vanguard … they may not have been the first, but they seem determined to jump into the lead.

So prosit to Jester King! I’m glad they’re here.

 

Old Favorites and New at the 2012 Off-Centered Film Fest

This weekend saw the annual return of Dogfish Head Brewery’s Sam Calagione to Austin for the fifth anniversary of the Off-Centered Film Fest, a three-day celebration of craft beer and film in partnership with the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. This year’s programming was all western-themed, and I attended two of the four events: Thursday’s Blazing Saddles Quote-Along Beer Party Rolling Roadshow, and Friday’s Once Upon a Time in the West Dogfish Head Beer Feast.

On Thursday, attendees gathered at Republic Square Park downtown to watch Mel Brooks’ classic western spoof Blazing Saddles outdoors on a giant portable screen. Cap guns were handed out and free beans were provided by the bowlful. The audience was encouraged (nay, compelled) to shout their favorite lines as they were spoken on screen. Most importantly, though, over a dozen area breweries (and Dogfish Head) set up booths and iced down the jockey boxes to let us sample some of the rarest brews the Central Texas craft beer scene has to offer (complete list here). The pours were $3 each, and not huge; but proceeds benefited the Texas Craft Brewers Guild and frankly, most of the beers were in the 8-12% ABV range, so no one complained. I tasted seven, and five stood out as being truly fantastic:

  • Jester King Craft Brewery/Mikkeller Beer Geek Rodeo
  • South Austin Brewing Saison D’Austin
  • Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling Strawberry Milk Stout
  • Thirsty Planet Brewing Jittery Monk Smoked Coffee Dubbel
  • Real Ale Brewing WT3F Mysterium Verum

As for the movie, well, it’s Blazing frickin’ Saddles. To say that I’m a fan is like saying Bismarck is a herring. It’s like saying William J. LePetomane has questionable acumen as a governor. It’s one of the most often quoted movies in this house, and ranks just behind the original Star Wars trilogy and just ahead of the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the number of times we’ve purchased it (once on VHS, twice on DVD, and twice on Blu-Ray). To see it again on the big screen while quoting along, shooting caps at the screen, and sampling exciting new local beers was a fun twist on an old favorite, and a heady rush. (That’s Hedley!)

The new experience and the old were reversed on Friday, when I went to the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar to see a film I hadn’t seen before while drinking some familiar (but spectacular) beers. The film was Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti western Once Upon a Time in the West, and was accompanied by a six-course Italian meal prepared by Alamo Executive Chef John Bullington and a paired flight of eight Dogfish Head beers selected by Sam Calagione (full menu here). The food was absolutely delicious, as I’ve come to expect from Alamo feasts. And although I had tasted most of the beers before – or at least previous years’ versions of them – many of Delaware-based Dogfish Head’s top-shelf offerings are hard to come by in Texas, so I always welcome a chance to drink them again.

Ta Henket is a recent favorite of mine in Dogfish Head’s catalog, and I hope it sticks around. Bitches Brew is a thing of beauty, and I was thrilled to get my hand on only my third glass of it since it came out in 2010. But my favorite beers of the night were two I hadn’t tried before: the 2010 Olde School Barley Wine, and a barrel-aged 2010 Burton Baton. Burton Baton is a perennial seasonal offering, but this version of it had a funky Brett-like character that surprised and really impressed me. I asked Sam during the Q&A session whether they had intentionally exposed the beer to any wild bugs during fermentation; no, he said, but he noticed and liked the wild character as well, and pointed out that these kinds of unpredictable results are common when barrel aging due to microbes residing in the porous wood. Intentional or not, I’d love to see more of this kind of thing from Dogfish Head, and will drive my happy ass all the way to Delaware if I have to.

Meanwhile, the Olde School Barley Wine was my favorite pairing of the night, with cured duck breast, fig and gorgonzola on a pinenut crisp with balsamic vinaigrette. My favorite dish on its own was the lamb meatballs and gnocchi served with a delicious but not quite as perfectly paired 2011 Immort Ale.

The Leone film was incredible, and I learned why friends have been telling me to watch it. It’s joined the short list of films I’ve seen that are very near perfect. From the beautiful composition to the sparse but perfectly sufficient dialogue to the haunting score by Ennio Morricone, not to mention excellent performances by Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards and a chilling Henry Fonda, Once Upon a Time in the West is an absolute must-see for anyone who loves, or wants to learn to love, the western genre.

Although I missed out on the Fest’s other two events, I enjoyed the ones I made it to and look forward to next year. Here’s hoping that Dogfish Head and the Alamo Drafthouse continue their collaboration. It’s a great time for anyone who loves good beer, great food, or awesome films … and for someone like me who loves all three, it’s yet another reason to be glad to be in Austin.