Blue Owl Brewing, the first brewery to exclusively make, distribute, and sell sour-mash beers in the United Sates, is now open — and it's right here in Austin.
The idea for this unique brewery comes from Jeff Young and Suzy Shaffer, alums of Black Star Co-op. "As many ideas do, this one developed over beers. It was a pretty simple formation: I wanted to start a business and Jeff was ready to start brewing on his own," Shaffer tells CultureMap.
The budding Blue Owl Brewing's initial lineup includes a starter pack of beers: Spirit Animal pale ale, Little Boss session wheat, Professor Black cherry stout, and Van Dayum! red ale. The difference between Blue Owl's beers and your typical ales is the sour taste, a coveted beer flavor that is rare and hard to achieve on a commercial level.
For non-beer nerds, a sour beer (typically one of the Belgian variety) is a brew that intentionally retains its sourness from the fermenting stage. The term "sour mash" refers to a specific fermenting process that is usually used in making liquors like bourbon, but in this case is used on beer. "Sour mashing is a brewing technique that uses naturally occurring bacteria and yeast found on the grain to produce acidity and tartness into the resulting beer," explains Young.
Young has created a unique and more efficient method of sour mashing. The Blue Owl team can't share too much without giving away trade secrets, but Young was able to give us a quick rundown of the process.
"Blue Owl does only sour-mashed beer and we have therefore designed the entire brewery around the sour-mashing process," says Young. "I designed a specialized piece of equipment, the MIU (Modular Inoculation Unit, pronounced "mew"), that efficiently and consistently uses grain to sour our beers."
In addition to spearheading the sour-mash trend in the U.S., the Blue Owl crew is also one of the forerunners of the urban brewery trend here in Austin. The space is nestled in an industrial park on East Cesar Chavez Street, and hopes to serve as an accessible hangout spot. "The idea that folks can visit a brewery that is bikeable, even walkable, is very appealing to us. We enjoy being part of a bustling community and sharing our process with our neighbors," says Shaffer.
The tasting room is already open, and regular hours have launched. A grand opening celebration, complete with brewery tours, is scheduled for Friday, November 13.
Canning operations at Blue Owl Brewing are also in full swing. Keep an eye out for Blue Owl on the shelves in early November if "all goes well," says Shaffer. Whole Foods Market, H-E-B, and Specs are big-name distributors that have signed up to carry the beers, in addition to Whip In, Quickie Pickie, WhichCraft, and even Jester King Brewery. Six-packs will be priced around $10.
Until then, you can swing by the tasting room or grab a growler at Whole Foods Market or Black Star Co-op.
The tasting room at Blue Owl Brewing is open Wednesday and Thursday from 5 to 10 pm, Saturday from noon to 10 pm, and Sunday from noon to 5 pm.