Category Archives: For the Love of Craft Beer

Live Oak Tour and Tasting Pour

an ode to the humble brewery tour and tastings

By Matt Abendschein

With the news of Live Oak ditching their old digs for a brand new space near the Austin airport, feelings of sorrow rushed through me. ‘Out with the old, in with the new.’ That’s the saying right? With places like Live Oak, I don’t want the new. Give me the old any day of the week.

*Get me the cans of Live Oak though!*

With the explosion of craft beer lately, gone seems to be the humble brewery with tours and tastings. The popular thing nowadays is the fancy new tap room where the brewery sets itself up almost like a bar. When I first got into craft beer, the norm was a brewery tour with glassware. You pay an entrance fee and that gets you a certain amount of pours and a brewery tour usually led by the owner or head brewer. That’s a dime a dozen now. Where did it go? Why has it vanished into the mash tun of emptiness?

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Tara Carr

women in austin beer: interview with tara carr

By Sahara Smith

Welcome to the new Women in Austin Beer series. My first interview is with Tara Carr of Favorite Brands.

The Austin beer community has many faces, and let’s be honest, most of those faces have beards. If Tara Carr is sporting facial hair, she hides it very, very well. For our interview, I asked Tara to meet me at Whip In, an Austin craft beer institution.

When she walked into the room, even though the house was packed, it was impossible not to notice her. Tara is bubbly, warm, and (unlike myself) a natural redhead. I have never seen her without a huge smile on her face. And…

She. Knows. Her. Beer.

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whichcraft beer store’s jody reyes and crew

By Carlos Arellano and Daniel Reifsnider

This Sunday, April 26th the fine folks at WhichCraft Beer Store are celebrating their store’s one year existence by throwing a killer party at Hops & Grain Brewery. You can snag a ticket here, but in the meantime, to celebrate this momentous achievement Carlos decided to sit down with owner and founder of WhichCraft Jody Reyes, along with some of the other crew members and talk about beer, people, and a lot of stuff in-between.

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volunteers: real american beer-oes featuring jason freed

By Carlos Arellano

You know those folks who poured you a fresh beer at your favorite brewery last weekend? Chances are they were probably volunteering that day. Heck, they probably started out as volunteers and got lucky enough to land a full time gig. Some of your favorite beers have been brewed by hard working people who started volunteering at the brewery and moved on up to that dream job. But, is it really a dream job? Most people don’t realize how much hard work goes into making the beverage we hold dear to our hearts. If you’re interested in working at a brewery this series of interviews might encourage you… or make you think twice about taking the difficult challenge. We talked to some of Austin’s finest breweries searching for folks who took this path and tried to shed some light on these real American Heroes Beer-oes.

Rich Homie Jason Freed

Beer Barron Jason Freed of Hops & Grain Brewing (Photograph by Tyler Malone, The Second Shooter)

First up in this series is a dear friend of ours, Jason Freed from Hops & Grain Brewing. If you’ve ever been to the H&G taproom, you’ve probably seen or talked to him. If you haven’t been, what the heck is wrong with you!? Go this weekend and say hi to some of our pals. Jason will be the dude walking around in the Nascar-style H&G hat, waterproof boots and drenched shirt. He’s probably been there that day since before you woke up. Although, to be fair, that describes most of the H&G staff. Let’s get to it!

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Brandon Ade Blacklands Malt

for the love of craft beer – brandon ades of blacklands malt

You’ve all heard of craft beer, but have you heard of craft malt? It’s easy to forget about malted barley with all of the hop craze in America right now. Yet, without malted barley, there would be no beer. It’s the backbone of almost every beer you drink, and one man is bringing malt to the forefront of the ‘support local’ revolution right here in the great state of Texas. His name is Brandon Ade and he’s the brains and operations behind Blacklands Malt right outside of Austin,TX in Leander.

Brandon’s goal is to bring even more local flare into the world of craft beer here in Texas by providing high quality malt to brewers. But it’s not just brewers he’s providing to, it’s bakers, brewers, homebrewers, distilleries, anyone who wants it as he says. ‘You want some? Come and get it.’ Some have already taken notice of his drive for quality malt, like Pinthouse Pizza, creating a Single Malt and Single Hop (SMASH) pale ale using the Pale Moon American Two Row malt. Joe Mohrfeld, head brewer of Pinthouse Pizza, used the classic German decoction method during brewing to really bring out more complexities from the Blacklands Malt. Others that will be using their malt are Jester King, Twisted X and Black Star Co-op. Something tells me you will be seeing his malt being used more and more in the future, bringing a little more terroir into Texas craft beer.

In a nutshell, what is the process of malting? (i.e What would you say, ya do here?, little Office Space humor)

Well our website goes in to pretty good detail about the process of malting, but in very simple terms, I grow enzymes. The job of a maltster is not to grow a plant, but to develop natural enzymes within the grain that will later be taken advantage of by brewers to convert starches to sugar. It is in fact a constant struggle in malting to limit the vegetative growth of the plant as too much leads to waste and undesirable by-products.

What is unique about what we do is that we are the only malthouse in Texas “growing” these enzymes. Our vision has always been to bring the production of malt back to a local level and give the brewing, distilling, and baking industries a quality malt Texans can be proud to use. That includes not just the local production of malt but the sourcing of barley and wheat from Texas. In order to get a true ground to glass experience you have to start with the regional growth of barley, which is the life blood of the business. As I’m sure you’ve heard before, “No barley, no beer”.

The 3 major steps of malting are steeping (soak the grain in water), germination (allow time to grow), and kilning (stop growth by drying). But what do I really do most of the time? Clean grain, Clean equipment, shovel 1000s of pounds of malt by hand, clean the production area, and constantly obsess over temperature, humidity, and moisture levels. Occasionally I’ll actually bag some malt and sell it too. Did I mention cleaning?

Do you think malt ever gets jealous of all the hop hype? Do you think people will ever go gaga over SRM like they did with IBU?

Hops can keep the sex appeal, malt is confident in the background. In all seriousness, the malting business has been such a faceless industry for so long I think it is taken for granted the challenges involved with sourcing barley and producing a quality malt. Part of that veil is due to the industrialization of malt over the last century where barley is grown in only a handful of regions in the world and malted in a few giant malthouses. In short, it is not very accessible. When was the last time you visited a farm to go strolling through a field of barley?

One of the reasons hops has taken the spotlight is in part due to the production of hops in new regions of the world, namely the Americas. As new varieties were developed in the United States, coupled with reinvigorated enthusiasm in homebrewing and craft brewing, hops became accessible to the general public in a way barley and malt has yet to do. People understand more of hops, where they are grown, how they are grown, and how to use them. Hops are traditionally and largely classified by where they are grown, and that is a very key point. They have locality to them and that drives interest and engagement because people like to talk about where something comes from. But how many people know where the barley used to make their malt was grown?

While I don’t think malt will ever need that level of rock star attention hops is receiving right now, I do believe as small malthouses begin to crop up across the country and drive the local growth of barley in non-traditional areas more and more attention will be given to where malt comes from.  Education and visibility into malting will naturally drive a focus on the local sourcing of ingredients. And that is important for all ingredients in beer, not just malt. What I care about more than stealing the spotlight from hops is shining a brighter light on the sourcing of all ingredients and where they are grown. It can only enhance our experience and enjoyment of beer to have locally sourced ingredients and I believe that is the next great leap forward in brewing and distilling.

  1. What do you hope to achieve with being a local maltster?

Simple. I want to grow barley in Texas and make a variety of great malts. And I want that malt to be available to anyone looking for a sustainable, locally produced malt. I’d also like to feed my family and keep the lights on as well.

Are you primarily a maltster for breweries? Do you anticipate expanding to sell to distilleries as well?

I’m a maltster for everyone. I’ve already sold to homebrewers, commercial breweries, and distilleries. You want some? Come and get it.

And last, but definitely not least, what does craft beer mean to you?

Community. Beer is what I enjoy with my friends and family and what often brings us together. And now that my livelihood is connected with the beer industry it means profoundly more to me. One of my goals of starting this business has been to use it as a vehicle to bring my community of friends and family together and support the growth of the people around me.

I live and breathe malt every day and can talk about it for hours. But you know what really excites me right now? We are in the early planning phases of establishing the first community garden in Leander right next to the malthouse, fed by the waste water we produce. Instead of just flushing perfectly usable water down the drain we can use it to fuel fruit and vegetable plots. Sounds funny that of all things a garden is what gets me jazzed, but giveback and the cohesion of community are just some of the things a community garden will help foster. Beer has made all of that possible, in the most indirect of ways, but in the end if I can give something back to the people I love then I owe it to the community building power of beer.

Ron Extract of Jester King

for the love of craft beer – ron extract part deux

Awhile back I posted a Q&A session with Ron Extract, brewer of Jester King Craft Brewery. As much as I liked it, I wasn’t quite pleased with the questions I asked. Solution? Ask more! So for your reading pleasure, part deux of the Ron Extract Q&A session. Cheers!

What does craft beer mean to you?

“Craft Beer” has become a bit of a loaded term, as it tends to get used so broadly as to encompass everything that isn’t mainstream American lagers.  Even mainstream European lagers and mass-produced American beers in anything that might vaguely be considered “specialty” styles often get lumped in with “craft”, which I think weakens the meaning of the term to the point that I tend not to use it when talking about our beers, even though it’s in our name.  Instead, I tend to use the term “artisan beer” which I think still implies a smaller scale, and a slower, more hands on approach that’s about producing the best beer possible rather than the most beer possible–the brewing world’s answer to slow food.

Your brewery seems to have ‘taken off’ since you opened. What do you think has made you so successful and popular in Austin?

When we were first getting started, a lot of people both inside and outside the industry tried to tell us that if we wanted to be successful in Texas, our core lineup should consist of something like a Weissbier, a Red, a Blonde, a Bock, and an IPA, but we felt that there were already plenty of options in those categories, while there were other types of beer that we found a lot more exciting and that weren’t available at all in this market.  Rather than trying to brew what other people supposedly wanted, we set out to brew beers that we loved, and to continue fine tuning them until we felt that they were the best possible expressions of what we intended them to be.  We didn’t know whether we’d find enough people in Texas who shared our tastes to sell what we could make here, but we hoped that, given the relatively small amount of beer that we were able to make, we’d find enough people somewhere.  We were very fortunate and very pleased to find a much greater local interest in what we were doing than we’d initially anticipated.  I’m sure that some of that stems from our doing some things that are a little outside the norm, and some of it is directly attributable to Josh Cockrell’s amazing label art, but I’d also like to think that the quality of the beers themselves is good enough to entice at least a small critical mass of consumers to revisit them often and to want to check out what else we have to offer.

What makes a session beer so great? Do you think it’s more difficult to create a flavorful session beer (i.e Le Petit Prince)?

I’m a big fan not only of good beer, but also of traditional pub culture.  I like spending time chatting with friends and strangers alike in a congenial atmosphere while enjoying some tasty brew.  The point of session beer is that it makes it possible to do this for several hours without becoming incapacitated in the process.  It also allows those who really appreciate beer as a beverage, rather than a vehicle to intoxication, to enjoy it as such.  Flavorful session beers are among the most difficult beers to brew, though, in that they’re entirely reliant on subtlety and nuance, and if anything goes wrong, there’s nothing there to cover it up.

Collaboration beers are a very popular thing right now, which you’ve gotten into with Mikkeller a couple of times. Would you want to see more of that around Austin in the future (i.e local brewers collaborating)?

Collaborations can be great when two or more brewers are able to work together to execute a shared vision, but I’ve also seen collaborations fail when they lack that shared vision.  Two breweries whose approaches aren’t necessarily compatible can easily end up making a collaboration beer that’s not as good as either would have made on their own.  So I guess my answer is that I’d always like to see more great beer available in our local market, and to the extent that brewer collaborations result in more great beer, I’d love to see them.

What’s your favorite Jester King beer so far?

That’s really difficult to answer, in that I tend to look at each of our beers as occupying a unique role within our portfolio, and I tend to appreciate each of them in somewhat different contexts.  I’m not sure how to weigh my love of a beer like Le Petit Prince, that’s pretty much my go to beverage of choice, against my love of Boxer’s Revenge, which I look at as much more of a rare and special treat.  I guess my gut instinct is to say that my “favorite” beer would be the one that I’d reach for the most, which would definitely be Le Petit Prince, though once we start brewing our farmhouse versions of Commercial Suicide and Drink’in the Sunbelt, which we plan to have ready later this spring, it could have competition.

Ron Extract of Jester King

for the love of craft beer – ron extract of jester king brewery – part 1

Today’s For the Love of Craft Beer is featuring one of the jokers over at Jester King Craft Brewery, Ron Extract. I haven’t gotten a chance to meet Ron, but he seems like a great guy who’s passionate about what he’s doing. If you haven’t had any of Jester King’s beers, I highly recommend trying one. They have two of their beers bottled and ready to purchase in stores (Wytchmaker Rye IPA and Black Metal Imperial Stout) and the rest are on draft at various bars and restaurants. They seem to specialize in balanced and flavorful ‘session’ beers, paying particular attention to the yeast they use. So, without further ado, here’s Ron Extract.

What got you into brewing craft beer?

I learned about homebrewing from some customers at a pub in England where I worked one summer during college.  When I got back to the States, my roommates and I gave it a shot, and then I kept brewing pretty regularly throughout college and grad school, where I also tended bar at the campus pub.  After leaving school, not knowing exactly what I wanted to do next but figuring that it would be beer related, I took the short course at Siebel, and then helped out for a while at a keg-only production brewery and a couple of BOP’s in Chicago before moving on to other areas of the craft beer business.  I liked brewing, but at that point, there were limited opportunities, and even if I were able to find a job someplace that I actually wanted to live, it was unlikely to offer much of an opportunity to exercise the sort of creativity that had gotten me into brewing in the first place.  Instead, I focused my energies on getting the word out about some of the great beers that were already being made in various corners of the globe, and helping to get those products to customers who could appreciate them.  After some time in the retail and wholesale tiers, I ended up with Shelton Brothers Importers, where I spent about 7.5 years, before we opened Jester King.  There, I had the opportunity to work very closely with authentic artisan brewers from around the world, gaining even more appreciation for their passion and skill.  I saw a sense of refinement and nuance in the approach of many of the brewers with whom I worked, which I hadn’t really seen to the same extent in a lot of their American counterparts.  The results, I felt, and still feel, justify the cost of shipping these products halfway around the world so that we could enjoy them closer to home.  At the same time, though, I also felt that if there were more authentic artisan brewers closer to home who embraced the European approach, importing would no longer be quite as necessary.

When we moved to Texas for my girlfriend’s job, I wasn’t sure exactly what it would mean for my career, since the exorbitant licensing fees that all brewers, including foreign brewers, are required to pay are pretty prohibitive for the vast majority of small, artisan breweries that Shelton Brothers represents.  At first, I’d looked at doing something on the distribution side of the business, but then, through those connections, I was lucky enough to meet Mike & Jeff, who were already pretty far along with their plans for Jester King.  The fact that they were pretty strongly influenced by many of the breweries that I’d been working with and were planning on building one based on the same basic concepts and principles made it a great fit. After working together somewhat informally for a few months, we joined forces.

To answer your original question, I guess the biggest motivating force behind Jester King and behind our brewing the types of beers that we’ve set out to brew may be our knowledge of what’s out there in the world, beyond our reach here in Texas, and our desire to join that worldwide community of artisan brewers, learning from those who came before us, but at the same time, offering our own original contributions.

Do you think that craft beer is inviting, or daunting to people just getting into it? If daunting, how can we all help to ensure everybody is able to enjoy and understand craft beer?

In some ways, both.  A big part of the initial attraction for me was the diversity of flavor, color, texture, etc… that I’d started to discover in what, before then, I’d thought of as a fairly simple and straightforward category.  I wanted to understand what made each new beer unique, and in some ways, I think the fact that the category is so broad makes understanding those differences a little easier than understanding, say, the differences among wines.  But then the fact that the category is so broad also tends to lead rather naturally to the desire to break it down into hard and fast categories, which many enthusiasts seems to do a bit overzealously, and in many cases, authoritatively, but often not as appropriately or accurately as they’d like to believe.  This can be a real turnoff to many newcomers.  Along with this, the somewhat reactionary favoring of “extreme”, over-the-top beers, by a lot of American brewers and craft beer drinkers, as opposed to those that are a little more subtle and balanced, and the tendency of the “beer press” to close ranks around anything that might remotely be regarded as falling into the broad category of craft beer, and deeming all of it great, can make it very difficult for initiates to gain their footing and get a sense of what, for me, the category is really all about.

Do you prefer draught, cask, or bottle conditioned beers? (this is a fun topic to get into since all three have advantages and disadvantages, but many have strong opinions on what is ‘best’)

It depends on the beer.  Overall, my favorite beer drinking experience is probably cask, or German Antich kegs (which are also dispensed via gravity, but usually with more carbonation and less sediment than their English counterparts).  Some beers work best in the bottle, though.  I personally, prefer the bottle-conditioned versions of both Black Metal and Wytchmaker to their keg equivalents, but then, with that said, when I’m out, I normally order draught.  For our part, we’re actually trying to move away from standard kegs somewhat, and do as much as we can with bottles and casks.  We just feel like natural carbonation suits our beers better.