Not far from the University of Texas campus, a different kind of schooling is about to be in session.
The pub Growler USA is officially opening this weekend with 100 taps of craft beer — and a majority of them, about 65 percent, are from Austin or the Hill Country, owner MJ Hurt says.
That’s on purpose, as a way to provide each customer with the kind of beer learning experience that didn’t come so easily when Hurt was first discovering craft beer. She drank Chimay Blue and wanted to branch out to beers of similar style, but no one could give her a solid suggestion other than Blue Moon with a slice of orange.
This branch of Growler USA at 609 W. 29th St. serves to rectify that, offering “a wealth of knowledge” to curious beer drinkers. Each bartender — all of whom are either cicerone-certified beer servers or on their way to earning those credentials — can give customers ready recommendations, which might be necessary given the sheer amount of beer on the tap wall and the half-dozen 65-inch monitors above them with the menu.
“I love the fact that my beer servers can give someone who loves Budweiser something similar in taste and look and then also the whole background behind it,” she says. “We do flights. We do pints. Then we also have the growlers to go, as the name suggests. It’s an education.”
Growler USA, a growing franchise with multiple locations around the country, doesn’t offer any beers in bottles or cans; the focus is on draft-only. Hurt is helping to bring multiple Growler USA locations to fruition because she believes in what the pub is trying to do: spread the gospel of good local beer paired with regionally relevant food.
“We have a wealth and bounty of great breweries here that we want people to enjoy in one place,” she says.
Walk in and you’ll notice the cozy atmosphere, carefully cultivated by very green design: the bar made of repurposed barn wood, the seats rails transformed from old train boxcars, the tabletops salvaged from pressed bamboo.
“And a growler is the best way to save a beer bottle, so we like to say we’re very eco-friendly,” Hurt says.
Although beer is the main focus, the food isn’t just an after-thought. At this location of Growler USA, the menu is intended to be “Austin-centric,” with items like the Capital Cowboy Chili, the Zilker Brisket Salad and the SoLa Mediterranean Platter. The Skillet Mac & Cheese also seemed to be a favorite dinner option at a recent soft opening event.
The menu of pub grub is helping to craft Growler USA’s identity as more than just “a bar where you come in and slam down beers,” Hurt says. “We like to think of ourselves more as a coffee shop than as a bar. I want professors to come in and read a book during their break. I want students to come in and work or relax. Families are welcome. Anybody is welcome who just wants a beer and a relaxed experience.”
After working in the software industry for more than 25 years, Hurt doesn’t see her new role as an entrepreneur opening franchises as a new career. “This is more of a passion. I’m providing a service; I’m not making a living. I’ve done that,” she says.
She knew opening one of the Growler USA locations in Austin, where she’s lived with her family for 8 and a half years, was a priority given locals’ deep love of beer. And she found the perfect spot near campus, in part, she says, because of the parking.
“If someone wants to pick up a growler on their way home from work, they can’t be circling the block forever trying to find a place to park,” she says.
Growler USA offers 32 oz. and 64 oz. growlers that come as both glass and insulated containers. From 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, the grand opening celebration of the new location, every party-goer will receive a free 64 oz. plastic growler to start with. The party will also feature local radio DJ Deb of the Morning X with Jason and Deb on 101X FM, a well-known beer aficionado who plans to give away South by Southwest wristbands.
The pub is opened 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, visit growlerusa.com/craft-beer-pubs/tx-austin-ut/.