The growing Fitzhugh Road "libations trail" is a fun and enlightening destination for enthusiasts of craft brews and spirits, now boasting two new stops thanks to the recent opening of the Treaty Oak Ranch and the reopening of the Argus Cidery tasting room. If you still haven't visited the breweries, wineries, and distilleries along this winding Southwest Austin road, put this easy day trip on your weekend to-do list.
Jester King Brewery, a Fitzhugh Road pioneer, specializes in craft-brewed farmhouse style beers. Fans of the trending sour beer style will find a paradise here, thanks to their naturally fermented seasonal offerings, many re-fermented with ingredients such as Texas blackberries, peaches, figs, and locally grown herbs. The extremely experimental brews are as intriguing as their names and labels. Core offerings such as the Wytchmaker rye IPA, Black Metal imperial stout, and the refreshing Le Petit Prince farmhouse ale are available year-round, while others may have limited releases. Visit soon to taste the newly tapped 2015 Estival Dichotomous farmhouse ale re-fermented with Texas melons.
If you wish to learn more about the brewing and fermenting process, take one of the hourly tours conducted by the brewery's owners. Although extremely popular, Jester King has an ample family-friendly space with picnic tables under the trees. Be warned that the enticing smells from adjacent Stanley's Farmhouse Pizza will likely make you walk downhill to order a wood-fired pie to pair with your beer selections.
As you proceed up the road, make sure you heed the signs pointing towards Pauls Valley Road, where you will find the small, unassuming industrial park that houses three more stops along the libations trail: Argus Cidery, Last Stand Brewing Company, and Revolution Spirits. After closing the tasting room for nearly a year, Argus Cidery's owner Wes Mickel decided to reopen it again in mid-September.
"Since we closed the tasting room to make space for more production, our fans have consistently asked about reopening. We are pleased that we are now in a place where we can finally open it up in a second iteration," says Mickel.
Although it now shares space with fermenting tanks, there is still plenty of room to enjoy a glass in the shade and ask questions of the expert staff. Plus, the incoming cooler weather will make it possible to enjoy the newly revamped, cozy outdoor area. All of Argus' offerings are available at the tasting room including the delightful tepache and both flavors of fermentables. Recently, the team added three new tasting room-only drinks to the lineup: Ginger Agave, made from amber agave nectar fermented with ginger and spices, which gives it a hint of cola; a dry peach cider; and Barrel 17, a still apple cider.
A few doors down is a relative newcomer to the local craft brewery movement. Founded in 2013, Last Stand Brewing is housed in a huge wood barn with an adjacent beer garden under large oaks. Last Stand is producing four year-round beers — Belgian pale ale, pale ale, IPA, and coffee porter — as well as four rotating selections that include perfect beer garden styles like weissbier and a farmhouse ale. Last Stand also brews limited run dry-hopped variations of regular production beers, as well as a single barrel series which uses freshly drained Donner-Peltier LA1 whiskey barrels. On the weekend of our visit we enjoyed a smoky, barrel-aged imperial stout. Thanks to demand and growth, an addition is currently being built and should be ready later in the fall.
Directly across the parking lot is Revolution Spirits, the small-batch distillery that makes Austin Reserve Gin. The popular liquor is produced from a base of neutral spirits (made from Missouri corn) infused with juniper berries, grapefruit peel, rosemary, lavender, lemongrass, and pink peppercorns. The result is a gin with a heavy floral bouquet and an aftertaste of spice that has made it a popular choice at area bars and has also earned it a bronze medal from the American Distilling Institute during the eighth annual Judging of Craft American Spirits. At the tasting room, the staff made us feel right at home while explaining the unique distillation process and letting us sample the newest addition, Cafecito, a strong coffee liqueur made with freshly roasted, cold-brewed Cuvee Coffee.
Last but certainly not least on the Fitzhugh trail is the newly opened Treaty Oak Ranch, maker of Treaty Oak Rum, Waterloo Gin, and Starlite Vodka, among others. The new location, a 30-acre property, is a major departure from the company's early days in a cramped North Austin warehouse. With the new state-of-the-art distillery, Treaty Oak can increase production allowing the company to continue expanding into a national market. The ranch is shaping itself into a fabulous destination for family fun, special events, and educational outings.
At the front of the property, a bottle house greets visitors with samples and bottles from the whole line of spirits to take home alongside a variety of shrubs, syrups, and bar tools to make your favorite cocktails. Currently, the rickhouse serves as a bar where guests can enjoy a number of cocktails on tap, from your basic gin and tonics to esoteric blends, among barrels of resting spirits. Our favorites during our last visit were the Ol' Smokey, made with Waterloo Antique Gin and smoked citrus syrup; the Madagascar Libre, a take on the classic rum drink that substitutes vanilla soda for the cola; and the outstandingly refreshing Queen's Park Swizzle, made with Treaty Oak Rum. All sodas and syrups are house-made by Creative Director Matt Moody.
Directly behind it, the distillery holds the bottling line as well as new equipment for the upcoming beer brewing venture. Still in the works is a restaurant bar that, according to Treaty Oak's founder Daniel Barnes, will feature contemporary takes on classic Texas cuisine made with as many local products as possible.
"We want to highlight the Mexican and German roots of Texas cuisine," says Barnes. "So for instance, instead of a chicken-fried steak we will serve a schnitzel. At first, we wanted to make it a fine-dining destination, but as the property has evolved, we decided to keep it more casual and family-friendly, to stay in tune with the rest of the development."
The dog-friendly space has separate playgrounds for kids and adults alike, a stage for live music, a bonfire ring, and a food truck serving amazing duck tacos and other tasty treats. Plans are afoot to build a series of cabins so guests who revel until late can safely spend the night.
We can't wait to see how the Fitzhugh Road libations trail continues to develop to offer even more fun destinations for Austin's food and drink enthusiasts.