Cocktail bar Backbeat now opened on South Lamar Boulevard

The sister bar to Drink.Well, Backbeat was designed by  Jamie Chioco of Chioco Design with a cozy and inviting space in mind.
The sister bar to Drink.Well, Backbeat was designed by Jamie Chioco of Chioco Design with a cozy and inviting space in mind.

The second cocktail bar of husband-and-wife team Michael and Jessica Sanders, Backbeat is now opened and finding its rhythm along a bustling section of South Lamar Boulevard.

Backbeat, sister bar to Drink.Well, was announced last fall as one of the first standalone bars on South Lamar, where so many of the watering holes are tied to restaurants. That status, along with its larger size of 2,200 sq. ft. — including a rooftop patio with views of downtown Austin — gave the Sanders a tall order: to provide a well-defined, well-rounded cocktail menu luring locals in.

That’s exactly what they’ve done with a program that brilliantly divides each of the drinks into three sections: Upbeat, Downbeat and Offbeat.

Upbeat cocktails feature “vibrant spirits, often shaken with citrus, fresh herbs or seasonal fruit,” according to a press release. “Exemplifying the Upbeat spirits is Backbeat’s namesake cocktail, a bright and herbaceous variation of the classic Southside cocktail with gin and fresh-pressed celery juice.”

The Downbeat cocktails, on the other hand, are going to be more booze-forward with more robust flavors and “brooding spirits.” These drinks include the Pick-Up Artist, a bittered bourbon julep in which “the bracing zing of Fernet-Branca is balanced with coffee-infused demerara, cinnamon and a zesty dash of cardamom bitters,” as the menu notes. (The menu, it’s worth noting, is written like poetry for cocktail lovers.)

And the Offbeat cocktails, as you might guess, are going to be the oddballs, the ones that don’t fit cleanly into a category: the dessert drinks and tiki offerings the Sanders couldn’t leave off the menu. One such example is the Neon Jungle, a “smoky and electric mezcal & Jamaican rum swizzle balanced with coconut-washed bianco vermouth, fresh pressed pineapple, lime, island spices and blue curaçao,” according to the menu.

The cocktails at Backbeat include the bright blue Neon Jungle, a tiki drink, and the green-hued Backbeat (left).
The cocktails at Backbeat include the bright blue Neon Jungle, a tiki drink, and the green-hued Backbeat (left).

(The best part of the Neon Jungle is the straw, but it’s well worth the surprise to find out why for yourself.)

Plus, the bar has six craft beers on tap and 10 wines by the glass — and a rotating champagne program that showcases a single grower-producer champagne house at a time, starting with Jean Vesselle.

These can all be enjoyed in a space with warm colors and natural lighting — and that irresistible rooftop deck, of course.

Backbeat also has a menu of small bites, such as chicken liver mousse and a pate melt with house pork, chicken pate and melted gruyere. With so much to offer, the bar is hoping to become South Austin residents’ go-to spot for fun.

“South Lamar has always been an important cultural destination in Austin and, over time, has become a culinary one as well,” Michael Sanders said in the press release. “We are looking forward to Backbeat being a spirited part of this community and the vibrant social scene here.”

Like Drink.Well, Backbeat’s got a big heart, too. The Moon Bridge cocktail on the Upbeat menu, a Japanese whisky highball with verdehlo madeira, spiced tonic and sparkling water, is an homage to Isamu Taniguchi, who single-handedly built the Japanese Garden in the 1960s that’s now preserved at Zilker Botanical Garden. To honor his work, the Sanders are donating a dollar of the proceeds of each Moon Bridge purchase to the Zilker gardens.

Backbeat is opened 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesdays-Fridays and 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. For more information, visit backbeat-atx.com.

South by Southwest’s SouthBites gets boozier

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.

Chef-owner of Michael Sohocki of Restaurant Gwendolyn in San Antonio was a SXSW panelist this year.
Chef-owner of Michael Sohocki of Restaurant Gwendolyn in San Antonio was a SXSW panelist this year.

SXSW: Does technology have a place in the craft culinary world?

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.

SXSW: On-demand services like Favor, Drizly find big business in fast-paced world

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.

SXSW: How to drink smart in the craft beer and whiskey boom

At a beer and whiskey-focused SXSW panel, Austin Beerworks brews will serve as an example of something well-made but still affordable, an increasing rarity in this high-demand market.
At a beer and whiskey-focused SXSW panel, Austin Beerworks brews served as an example of something well-made but still affordable, an increasing rarity in this high-demand market.

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.

SXSW: San Antonio is a hotbed for some of the alcohol industry’s most forward-thinking entrepreneurs

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.

Mañana Coffee & Juice, at South Congress Hotel, opens Tuesday

South by Southwest tourists staying at the South Congress Hotel won’t have to go far starting tomorrow morning to get an energizing breakfast.

Photo by Ralph Barrera / American-Statesman. The South Congress Hotel's latest dining spot, Manana, opens tomorrow.
Photo by Ralph Barrera / American-Statesman. The South Congress Hotel’s latest dining spot, Mañana, opens tomorrow.

The final dining spot in the hotel, which opened last fall, Mañana Coffee and Juice is located in the courtyard with ample bar seating and a large communal table for group meetings. Once it opens tomorrow, it’ll “offer a curated menu of single-origin, direct-trade and local coffee blends from Austin-based roaster Cuvee Coffee” and Kusmi Teas, according to a press release.

“We’re applying that warm Texan hospitality we naturally have in Austin to the specialty coffee shop experience,” general manager Jesse Ryan Hartman said in the release. “We want Mañana to be your neighborhood home base.”

On the menu, diners will find plenty of house-made cold-pressed juices and milks with seasonal fruits and vegetables, as well as a variety of sweets and snack made by Amanda Rockman, the hotel’s executive pastry chef and James Beard Award semifinalist. Rockman’s daily menu will have primarily breakfast and dessert items on it: pastries, croissants, macarons, cookies and tarts.

Mañana Coffee & Juice will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. You don’t have to be a guest of the hotel to stop in, either: Any visitor to one of the South Congress Hotel’s food and beverage places, including the Lobby Bar, Cafe No Se and Central Standard, can take advantage of free valet parking for up to three hours.

Bars and other hangouts that take you far from SXSW

Although today — with rain, the start of South by Southwest and the arrival of President Barack Obama — might be best spent at home, Austinites will eventually want to get outdoors and explore their city.

Just, you know, not during the festival, which runs through next Sunday and takes over much of downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

Want to avoid the crowds and chaos of SXSW, while still getting out and having fun? These bars on the outskirts of Austin are ready to serve you — and the many others flocking from Austin’s core over the next 10 days. The Brass Tap’s owner, Steve Sheets, has even noticed a rise in visitors during the week of the fest, although not enough to keep you from having a good time.

In no particular order:

The Brass Tap, 204 E. Main St., Round Rock. The beer bar’s 60 taps rotate through a variety of beers each week, so you can visit multiple days and will probably find something new to try each time.

Photo by Laura Skelding / American-Statesman. Oasis, TX Brewing's Bowsaw Pils is a draft-only offering at the Lake Travis brewery.
Photo by Laura Skelding / American-Statesman. Want a lake view with your beer? Visit Oasis, Texas Brewing in the Lake Travis area.

Oasis, Texas Brewing and Infamous Brewing, 6550 Comanche Trl. and 4602 Weletka Dr. Turn a weekend afternoon into a Lake Travis beer crawl with a visit to these local breweries. Infamous’ three-year anniversary party is next Saturday, with lots of good beers on tap for the occasion.

Treaty Oak Distilling, 16604 Fitzhugh Rd, Dripping Springs. This Hill Country destination just about has it all: cocktails, food, live music, a play area for the kids, even helicopter tours. This weekend, the distillery is also hosting the inaugural Hill Country Kitetail Fest starting at noon Sunday.

The Growler Bar, 1300 FM 685, Pflugerville. This just-opened craft beer spot from a father-and-son team has more than 50 taps for beers, cold-brew coffee, even wine, and you can stop in quickly to fill up a growler or stay awhile to nurse a pint or flight.

Moontower Saloon, 10212 Manchaca Rd. This dog-friendly hangout in far South Austin promises plenty of seating on an oak-shaded patio. Plus, there are food trucks, a volleyball court and often live music.

Live Oak Brewing, 1615 Crozier Ln., Del Valle. Now opened seven days a week from noon to 8 p.m., the new brewery comes with a beer garden shaded by towering live oak trees. Sit beneath one while sipping on one of Live Oak’s European-style beers, like the tart Berliner Weisse.

Ski Shores, 2905 Pearce Rd. The restaurant’s easygoing atmosphere, juicy burgers and a solid selection of cocktails and local craft beers, as well as lakefront views and a playground for the kids, makes Ski Shores a go-to spot for locals looking for laid-back fun on a huge deck.

Texas Keeper Cider, 12521 Twin Creeks Rd., Manchaca. Starting tomorrow with a grand opening celebration, the far South Austin cidery is ready to welcome visitors to the Texas Keeper taproom, which was renovated out of a historic farmhouse on a scenic 20-acre stretch of ranch land.

Austin Beerworks made an “officially unofficial” beer of SXSW

In true Austin Beerworks style — playful, cheeky and brilliant — the brewery is releasing a limited-edition brew, Festbier, in honor of a certain festival returning to Austin tomorrow for the 30th year.

To keep hydrated during South by Southwest, find these cans of Austin Beerworks Festbier at downtown bars.
Throughout the week starting tomorro, find these cans of Austin Beerworks Festbier at downtown bars.

The playful, cheeky and brilliant part? It’s not the official beer of South by Southwest, a title already claimed by fest sponsor Bud Light. That’s why Austin Beerworks is careful to call Festbier the “officially unofficial beer of March 11-20.”

Only available starting tomorrow through March 20, the light-bodied lager will be at downtown bars in 16 oz. tallboy cans, designed in collaboration with Helms Workshop, Austin Beerworks’ go-to designer. At 4.5 percent, the sessionable brew will keep locals and tourists alike hydrated and refreshed, without feeling the alcohol right away.

According to the brewery, Festbier has been made with “some of our favorite new hop varieties — Jaryllo and Saphir.  Light additions provide just enough character to keep the beer interesting while remaining supremely drinkable. It’s great with breakfast tacos, lunch tacos, dinner tacos and any music you might hear in between.”

If you come across the cans this week, share them on social media with the hashtag #ABWFestbier.

Hooch launches during SXSW as cocktail subscription app

The storm of exciting new apps debuting at South by Southwest is about to thunder through Austin — and one of them will be immediately beneficial for locals who might need to temper the SXSW madness with a drink.

The Hooch app teams up with area bars to provide locals with free cocktails, helping them to discover new places to hang out.
The Hooch app teams up with area bars to provide locals with free cocktails, helping them to discover new places to hang out.

Hooch, a members-only cocktail app based in New York City, is bringing its boozy services to town starting Friday. If you subscribe to the app as a member — paying $9.99 per month or $99 per year — you’ll be able to get one free cocktail per day at participating bars. The app is teaming up with places like Indian Roller in South Austin and the Old School Bar & Grill on Sixth Street at first, although this initial list of bars will grow.

The goal of Hooch, created by nightlife veteran Aleksey Kernes, tech industry expert Lin Dai and digital marketing entrepreneur Jared Christopherson, is “to be a subscription app that buys a round of drinks each day at some of the top cocktail bars, elite lounges and premier restaurants in New York City, Los Angeles and now Austin… creating a ‘cool’ club for stylish sippers in the know. Hooch introduces its members to new places to see-and-be-seen and buys a round.”

That’s an intriguing concept, although it depends largely on the places where a Hooch drink is available. In any case, you probably won’t have any problems getting someone to tell you more about it during the festival next week: Hooch will be at several events throughout SXSW, including a dance party called Loose Control 8 that runs from Monday through March 20.

Here’s the initial list of participating venues:

For more information, visit the Hooch website at hooch.co.

Little City Coffee Roasters returns as beloved Austin brand

From Little City Coffee Roasters' Facebook page. The newly launched Little City brand features coffee blends like Congress, full of smooth caramel and milk chocolate notes.
From Little City Coffee Roasters’ Facebook page. The newly launched Little City brand features coffee blends like Congress, full of smooth caramel and milk chocolate notes.

The Little City Cafe was a favorite for office workers, coffee nerds and readers in need of a nook back when Congress Avenue was much sleepier than it is today.

Although the downtown cafe shuttered in 2011, after a nearly 20-year run, the coffee brand has returned this year with five different global blends that are in stores now. The owner of another Austin coffee brand, Casa Brasil, Joel Shuler stepped up the year Little City Cafe closed to buy the iconic brand and keep it flourishing. It’s not a shop any longer, but the same quality coffees are available for home coffee drinkers.

“We are excited to finally be able to bring these coffees back into the hands of the people who loved Little City Coffee by making them available on the shelves of retailers and coffee shops,” Shuler said in a press release. “We’re also looking forward to bringing these incredible coffees that are easy to drink and easy to find to a whole new group of people.”

With the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign last year, “Little City’s small team of local java lovers began traveling to origin countries” — from Guatemala to Brazil to Myanmar — to find some of the world’s best beans and bring them back to roast in small batches, according to the release.

One of the roasters has been involved with Little City all along.

Eric Detablan, who worked as a barista and a cook at Little City starting in 1998 until its close, has made sure the relaunch of the brand maintains its old spirit and flavor.

“I love that we are bringing back not just the bean, but the energy,” Detablan, who’s since become a popular local roaster, said in the release. “Little City brought together all types of different cultures into one melting pot in Austin.”

The five Little City blends all have names, for the most part, that hearken back to Austin and Texas as a whole: Congress, Slacker, Messenger, Republic and Violet Crown. These, along with seasonal micro-lots, are now available at the two Central Market locations, Wheatsville Co-op, Hyde Park Market and other grocery stores; they’re also being served at restaurants that include Bribery Bakery, Counter Café and Juniper, according to the release. Keep an eye out for more locations coming soon.

For more information, visit www.littlecity.com.