Austin SXSW – Music, Interactive, Craft Beer (well it should be)

Wasn’t long ago that Austin was known mostly for these guys:

One of nature's most freakishly astounding shows

Congress Ave Bats

I’ve stood on that bridge at dusk under the million or so bats as they flutter, dive, and swirl about before heading off into the night sky.  Sinewy tendrils of winged death.  It’s a wonder a few dozen onlookers don’t stroke out at the sight of them every sunset.  Fortunately for a few bat fans in the know, there’s a world class craft beer bar just a few blocks from that bridge.  An easy walk for even those still jittery  from the hellishly Hitchcockian yet spectacular display.

I’m a strong believer in the separation of Church and State.  I’m also a strong believer in really illogical segues and that was a particularly fine example.  Anyway, I believe that separation should extend beyond religion and politics to include work and play.  I practice what I preach by carrying an iPhone and a BlackBerry – one for work, one for play.  I’ll leave it to you to figure out which one’s for which.  On rare occasions though, work and play intersect.  I’m fortunate to speak at an annual national conference in Austin where Higher Education, Health Care, and other industry executives come to hear me discuss topics from the BlackBerry side of the divide.  There, I gave it away.

So the first time I visited about the only things I knew about Austin were those bats and the Bell Tower on the campus of the University of Texas.  34 years after the Boomtown Rats song I still don’t like Mondays.  Unless its a Monday night in Austin at the Ginger Man.

Liquid Gold & Hammered Copper

Every Handle Offers a Worthy Brew

I’d heard of this bar only in passing and knew there were a few of them in Texas.  I’d targeted it for a visit the Saturday I arrived for the conference in 2009.  The first session wan’t until the following morning so I had the afternoon for some Texas craft beer research.  After a nearly mile long walk in 102 degree heat in search of a Radio Shack for a new laptop charger to replace the one comfortably resting in NJ (being an industry expert doesn’t mean I’m not also a knucklehead – the two aren’t mutually exclusive), I finally hit the Ginger Man.  I might have happily accepted a Bud Light Lime after the hike (not really) but once I saw the hammered copper wall with 50-something taps I knew I wouldn’t have to settle for anything.  Just about every handle was devoted to craft beer.  Quite a few local offerings as well.  I settled in with a Live Oak Hefewiezen and my love affair with Texas craft beer began.  I’ve been back to the Ginger Man a few times since then and can honestly say it’s one of my top 5 favorite craft beer bars anywhere.  My beers are constantly getting hit on there.  Seems that almost everyone that walks in is tied to craft beer in some way.  It’s a hangout for local brewers and craft beer fans from far and near.  The bartenders are all knowledgable, friendly, and attentive.

So I developed a real respect for Texas craft beer during my first visit to the Ginger Man in ’09 but it wasn’t until the next year that I recognized just how vibrant the Austin craft beer culture was.  Understandable to a degree because so few Austin breweries distribute outside of the local region (none of them make it out to Jersey – yet another knock).  These guys are turning out some legitimate world class brews:

  • (512) Brewing – their Pecan Porter is outstanding
  • Live Oak – nobody brews a better Hefewiezen (seriously)
  • Jester King
  • Austin Beerworks
  • South Austin Brewing
  • Independence Brewing
  • Circle Brewing

The Ginger Man was very close to our conference hotel up until 2011 when it moved to the new conference center on the UT campus.  Nice place.  Just down the street from the Bell Tower but not from my top 5 research spot.  Thanks to the play phone and the magic of Google Maps, I located a potential target just 4 or 5 blocks away.  Mind you, those 4-5 blocks would be uphill and its still 102 degrees and humid so it better be worth the trip.  Duck & Dog Pub.  First thought: stupid name.  Probably not worth the trip.  Nothing else nearby and I don’t have car so I’m pretty much stuck with it.  About a block away I spotted the sign and approached what appeared to be a not-too-well maintained large dark shack behind it.  Second thought: this place is a dump.  Not going in.  After all, I’m Jewish and I’m in Texas.  Not a good combination to begin with.  Then I went in.

Surprised to see this one pop up here

Alaskan IPA at Duck & Dog Pub (complete with Aurora Borealis)

Next thought: what is a British pub doing in the middle of Texas and why are there Alaskan Brewing tap handles over there?  That last question was pretty easy – they were attached to kegs of Alaskan IPA and Alaskan Summer Ale.  The only other place I’d ever seen Alaskan brews on tap was at a bar in SeaTac Airport.  That made sense.  Alaskans in Austin? Not so much.  But the beers were excellent.  The atmosphere ridiculously casual and the fried pickles spectacularly addictive (though not nearly as good as the Wicked Pickles at Oak Creek Brewery in Sedona, AZ).  You’d never confuse this place with the Ginger Man.  Not nearly as many taps but still plenty of good local and not so local offerings.  Final thought: I was wrong.

Austin may still be known for its bats, SXSW, Austin City Limits, 6th Street (and that W Daughter’s exploits), but it’s solidly on the craft beer radar and the ping is growing louder and hoppier.  Oh, and its still got this:

All things considered its really not all that wierd

The Shirt Says it All

Cheers!

What did I miss?  Who did I offend?  Let me know in the comments……

The Evolving of a Craft Beer Geek (or “How I’ve Learned to be More Tolerant”)

Craft Beer with a View

Craft Beer with a View

About four and a half years ago I wrote and posted a not so short essay describing my journey to craft beer geekdom.  Soon after that I stopped blogging (despite the fact that one of my craft beer idols, Greg Koch of Stone Brewing, actually took the time to read it and posted a complimentary comment).  Plenty of good reasons got in the way of my writing (some less than good ones snuck in there as well) but my “research” and enjoyment of craft beer, the industry and, more importantly, the people involved with it continued.

Now that I’ve started blogging again I thought it would be a good idea (and maybe fun) to go back and re-read the Crafting of a Craft Beer Geek post to see if anything has changed since I wrote it.  Do I still agree with it?  Are the points or observations still valid?  What did I miss?  What’s Next?

One thing occurred to me right away.  I did miss something.  I had to have missed a lot of somethings to have written that whole thing all by myself (which I’m pretty sure I did).  I know I attended and participated in the birth of all three of our children so at least I didn’t miss any of that.  Lesson learned: only write posts that don’t require 2 bombers or other large format bottles to get through.  With that in mind, here are a few look-back observations and updates to that infamous post:

  • I must have thought I was going to win a prize for the longest sentence and longest average sentence.  James Joyce would have been proud.  My high school English teachers would have fainted.  My college creative composition professor is still at the front of the class doing an adaptation of Ben Stein’s “Beuller….Beuller…?”
  • I’m up to about 1,500 craft beers tasted and about 750 reviewed (still slacking there)
  • Anchor Steam still has a place in my craft beer fridge.  Fat tire not so much.
  • I finally made the pilrgimage  to Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens.
  • That grown up version of the “safe tree” is still in Scottsdale/Sedona though the forest of safe trees now includes Papago Brewing, Four Peaks, Old Town Tavern, The Yard House & Stone Rose at the Princess.
  • I finally began home brewing with Honey Badger IPA as chronicled in New Jersey Monthly Magazine.

Most importantly, I’ve found that I was right about my parting observation back then.  It’s still not about the beer.  It’s about the craft beer people like the group at Just The Booze Dancing and the people that make up the vibrant craft beer culture (fans, writers, brewers, bar owners) in places like Philly, Austin, San Diego, Asheville & the next great craft beer scene, wherever that might be.

Oh, and if you do plan to click over and read the original post, have a Stone Double Bastard in hand.

Cheers!