As South by Southwest’s series of food panels, SouthBites, grows bigger every year, so does the side of SouthBites that explores a very different sort of maker from the chefs who commonly populate the panels: distillers, winemakers and brewers, even a coffee purveyor or two.
That’s a sign of the festival’s increasing devotion to culinary-related topics, but it’s also clear that something else is happening: SXSW is becoming a destination for beverage makers, in the same way that it has been for tech industry insiders, musicians, and film fans and critics, albeit on a much smaller level.
The interactive portion of SXSW is, at the end of the day, all about sharing big ideas, and the beverage producers who were in panels from Friday through Monday this week have plenty of those; at heart, they are entrepreneurs peddling their passions.
Here’s a look at four of the boozier SXSW panels.
Alex Vallis, digital director of Food & Wine magazine; Darren Case, owner and distiller of Round Turn Distilling; Ian Brand, owner and winemaker of Le P’tit Paysan; and Michael Sohocki, owner and chef of Restaurant Gwendolyn and Kimura in San Antonio, all discussed whether farm-to-table food and small-batch beverages like gin and wine can be considered craft if they’re made with the use of increasingly high-tech systems.
The conclusion? As long as the technology is making their products better — without sacrificing all of the qualities that separate them from their mass-produced equivalents — it’s got a role in today’s food and beverage-making. Finding that balance, of course, is the tricky part.
Benjamin Doherty, co-founder and COO of Favor; Cory Rellas, co-founder and COO of Drizly; Jess Beck, co-founder and COO of Alfred; and Jordan Metzner, CEO of Washio, talked about the benefits of having their services at your beck-and-call to make life easier. Rellas’ Drizly, for example, which came to Austin a couple of years ago, helps you get alcohol delivered straight to your door, without having to leave your house.
Ultimately, their on-demand businesses aren’t going to be for everybody — people who don’t have the extra income to pay for service fees, for example — but there’s no doubt they’ll have plenty of other customers in this age of instant gratification.
Emma Janzen, Imbibe’s digital content editor; Jason Kosmas, co-founder of the 86 Co.; Michael Graham, Austin Beerworks co-founder; and Tom Thornton, section editor at CultureMap offered advice to drinkers who want to know how to find good deals in the liquor store and the bar now that beers and whiskey brands are increasingly marked up, with demand for them at an all-time high.
They offered lists of breweries and whiskey companies who keep their well-made products affordable. Additionally, they shared their thoughts on what the bar scene will look like in the coming years, with increasingly more people developing sophisticated palates. Sour beers, rums and lower-alcohol options like vermouth are going to become the hot commodities.
This panel featuring Boyan Kalusevic, co-founder and distiller at Dorcol Distilling; Cathy Tarasovic, partner at Shrub Drinks; Manny Carral, co-founder of Revolucion Coffee + Juice; and Ryan Salts, co-founder & director of Break Fast & Launch, was supposed to be a how-to on carving out a niche business in a competitive market, but all four panelists hail from San Antonio and noted that the city has been a clear factor in their success.
“San Antonio was a great opportunity for entrepreneurship,” Carral said about his coffee and juice bar, a concept that didn’t exist when it first opened. “I know who my customers are, all within a two-to-three block radius.”
He’s finding that his business has plenty of room to grow, in part because it’s fulfilling a health and fitness need for San Antonio residents.
Likewise, Kalusevic — whose distillery, the producer of Kinsman Rakia, recently acquired a brewery license for their HighWheel Beerworks project — has found a home in the city. He and his business partner built out Dorcol in a southern part of San Antonio that is like “what East Austin was 15 years ago.” Dorcol Distilling is helping to turn that area into a bustling, up-and-coming city center with an arts district.
Keep an eye on our southern neighbors. Austin isn’t the only Texas city that knows how to brew up a good beverage.