Beer Beautiful Beer
Hops, hefes, bocks and blondes. Wits, Wytchmakers and IPAs. You’ll find them all—and then some—at the Texas Craft Brewers Festival this weekend at the Fiesta Gardens complex in East Austin, with 18 breweries showing of more than 75 beers. Yeah, that’s a lot of beer. But don’t worry, general admittance is from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., so you have six hours to do your very best to taste what you can. (VIP admittance lets you in two hours earlier at noon.)
You’ll see little known breweries, such as No Label and Southern Star Brewing, as well as up and coming names that have started to become the talk of the town, such as Thirsty Planet, Independence Brewing Co., 512 Brewing and Jester King. And just to be clear, you’ll see the Texas big boys out there like Shiner Bock, St. Arnold and Real Ale, but be sure to take a look at what they’re serving. You’ll notice a few things you haven’t yet seen before. Like Morgul Ale from Real Ale, a porter style beer aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels for seven months.
I caught up with a few brewers earlier this week for a few of their thoughts on this weekend’s festival. Not only are they looking to show off a few of their latest brews, but they are also looking forward to the opportunity to try a few others as well. Here’s what Jeffrey Stuffings of Jester King, Kevin Brand of 512 Brewing, and Tim Schwartz or Real Ale had to say.
How do you see the Craft Brewing scene in Texas right now? How has it changed in recent years?
Jeffrey Stuffings (Jester King): The Texas beer scene is becoming much more diverse with new options for beer drinkers, which is a very good thing. We want to see breweries here continue to explore new horizons in beer making and bring new and exciting creations to market. The key down the line will be to see some legislative changes though for beer drinkers to truly have access to a diverse selection of world class beer.
Kevin Brand (512 Brewing): In my opinion, the scene has transitioned from infancy to adolescence in the past 5 years. When I started (512), there were some styles completely missing from the scene (like anything Belgian, a year round IPA, or a big hoppy Pale Ale) and several were under-represented (like the porters, stouts and lagers). Now, with the influx of new breweries, we’re at the stage where most styles are not only represented, but there’s now a healthy choice of varying interpretations of most styles, giving the market much needed diversity and complexity. I think the Texas craft beer scene is comprised of the equivalent of a bunch of teenagers. We’re liable to make and learn from the occasional mistake and willing to switch directions quickly while pushing all the limits, believing the rules (of brewing) really don’t apply to us.
Tim Schwartz (Real Ale): Well, the Texas beer market is definitely evolving, one of the reasons that craft brewers can do what they’re doing now. The average beer drinker is more educated about what’s out there and they’re a little more adventurous about going out and trying different things. 10-15 years ago, that wasn’t the case. It was only in 1994 that we could start having brew pubs. Those had a huge influence on the craft beer scene.
What's important about putting together a festival like this?
Jeffrey Stuffings (Jester King): It's important to let Texas beer drinkers know that they have options and that not every beer is a cheap rice or corn beer from a giant corporation with a massive advertising budget designed to make people think that industrial, light lager is what good beer is supposed to be. People need to know that excellent beer is being made in their own backyard and that it's worthy of support.
Kevin Brand (512 Brewing): A festival like this demonstrates a perfect cross-section of the current state of Texas brewing. It will be obvious from the selection, volume and quality of beer available at this festival that Texas breweries not only know how to produce exceptional beer, we’re actually making beer that is better than a lot of the beer our state has been importing from other regions and countries. This should make it clear to the craft beer consumer, there’s no need to leave Texas when looking for a great beer of just about any style. This festival also opens the eyes of so many (hopefully) who have missed the early stages of the movement and are ready to jump on board.
Tim Schwartz (Real Ale): We haven’t had something like this in years and it’s important to show what the scene is these days. This is a big venue for these guys who are just starting and it’s a great chance to sell a little beer for them too. I think that’s one of the important parts of this festival. It highlights what some of the old guards are doing. Some of this beer you can only find on draft in select bars. It brings all of these beers under one roof to check out the creativity and variety that Texas has to offer now, which has really gone up in the past 5 years.
Do you see the craft brewer community as a collaborative one? Are people generally working to help others out?
Jeffrey Stuffings (Jester King): It's quite collaborative. Collaboration beers are very common among craft breweries. Right now we’re in the midst of a two-part collaboration ourselves with Mikkeller, the Danish gypsy brewer. The first part is a hoppy, session wheat beer called Drinkin’ the Sunbelt. The second part is a farmhouse version of Mikkeller's Beer Geek Brunch, which will be brewed with chipotle peppers, coffee and oak barrel aged with wild yeast and bacteria.
Most craft brewers are willing to help each other out. We're a very small segment of the overall beer market (about 4% nationally), so we have to stick together to survive. There are very powerful corporate interests that want us to go away, so we feel a common bond that leads to mutual help. Many of us have similar artistic visions, so that leads to working together as well.
Kevin Brand (512 Brewing): The brewing community is very collaborative and extremely interested in seeing each other succeed. Since we only represent such a small share of the overall beer market, to grow takes consumer demand, and consumer demand requires good good beer. We’re all involved in helping each other succeed so that when the novice craft beer drinker makes that first “tough” decision to try something new and local, they’re not let down.
Tim Schwartz (Real Ale): This is definitely a collaborative community. When we were just starting out, there were some larger breweries that helped us and we’ve done the same thing for some of the startups by allowing them to come out and see how we do it. We’re continuing that with the Craft Brewers Guild which has a large education component. We really want to bring the knowledge base up for brewers.
What is your advice to someone who wants to set out on their own to establish a craft brewery as a legitimate business?
Jeffrey Stuffings (Jester King): Commit yourself fully and completely. It's not job, it's a way of life. Give away your golf clubs or your favorite seat at the bar, because you won't need them. If you don't have a intense passion and clear artistic vision of what you're looking to accomplish, I wouldn't recommend it.
Kevin Brand (512 Brewing): Pick a niche that’s doing well in other markets and go big. Know your market and plan for three of four times more physical work than you expect. Stay focused on quality and plan to be willing to not release bad beer.
Tim Schwartz (Real Ale): It’s really tough. This is not an easy industry to get into. You’ve got to work really hard and not make any money. You’ll be everything for your production from creating it to becoming a plumber, a janitor, an electrician, because it’s just you. So make sure you’re ready for what you’re getting into. Sometimes it’s just easier to just stick with a regular 9-5 job and just go drink some good beer on your free time.
What beers are you looking forward to spotlighting at this year's festival?
Jeffrey Stuffings (Jester King): We're very excited to release our Farmhouse Table Beer, Das Wunderkind!. It's a 4.5% ABV farmhouse ale that's a blend of young beer and beer that's aged for nearly a year in French oak wine barrels with wild yeast and bacteria. It has a funky, fruity aroma with a tart, lactic flavor.
Kevin Brand (512 Brewing): We’re looking forward to letting people taste a couple of cask (naturally-conditioned) ales: (512) Double IPA and (512) PALE, dry hopped with Apollo hops!
Tim Schwartz (Real Ale): Probably the WT3F. It’s basically a departure from our Devil’s Backbone. It’s a Belgian-style tripel wort. Before it’s fermented we convert it into a tank and ferment it with Brettanomyces bruxellensis, a specific Belgian yeast. It has a little bit more of a wheaty presentation with a lot of different characters than our Devil’s Backbone. The name is a double entendre. It’s unusual to have a beer fermented like this and a lot of brewers are probably thinking we’re crazy to do it. So we used the acronym, WTF and threw a ‘3’ in there to signify the “tripel” style of the beer and we got: WT3F.