More Texas whiskeys, from Yellow Rose Distilling, to add to your collection

In one of my December columns, I suggested a handful of different Texas whiskeys that people could consider as holiday gifts for their loved ones (or, hey, for themselves since that’s such a stressful time of year).

Already, new ones are appearing on local retail shelves, including three from a Houston distillery. I don’t have a good reason this time for you to go out and buy them — but with whiskey, do you really need one?

Yellow Rose Distilling’s Outlaw Bourbon Whiskey has won a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, which is no small feat. Along with Yellow Rose’s two other whiskeys, the bourbon is becoming more available outside of Houston.
Yellow Rose Distilling’s Outlaw Bourbon Whiskey has won a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, which is no small feat.

Yellow Rose Distilling (with a name, let’s be honest, that tugs on the hearts of Texans everywhere) has grown significantly in the six years since it opened as a small-batch operation in Houston. Now, Yellow Rose’s three whiskeys are available in bars and stores statewide, including many in Austin.

The distillery, which was launched by neighbors Troy Smith and Ryan Baird in 2010, was able to expand after moving into a 10,000 sq. ft. production facility in the fall of 2014. Now, Smith, Baird and their business partner Randy Whitaker are planning to release additional spirits beyond the trio of award-winning whiskeys that have proven so successful, according to a press release. Look for them within the next six months.

In the meantime, enjoy these: the Outlaw Bourbon Whiskey, a 100-percent corn recipe with a sweet, full-flavored finish; the limited-release Straight Rye Whiskey with subtle pepper notes; and the Blended Whiskey, with a robust body that makes it ideal for spirit-forward cocktails.

(Only the bourbon, for what it’s worth, has been completely distilled and aged at the distillery. The others have been partially or fully distilled at other places.)

Find the Yellow Rose whiskeys at Spec’s and Twin Liquors, as well as in bars and restaurants like North Italia at the Domain, Shiner’s Saloon and the South Congress Cafe.  For more information, visit yellowrosedistilling.com.

Austin Food & Wine Festival continues focus on wine, cocktails

The fifth Austin Food & Wine Festival kicks off Thursday and runs through Sunday with more swanky food and drink-centric events, including the usual panels and tastings at Auditorium Shores.

Wine expert Vilma Mazaite is returning to the Austin Food & Wine Festival with a talk about Burgundy wines.
Wine expert Vilma Mazaite is returning to the Austin Food & Wine Festival with a talk about Burgundy wines.

Although the focus tends to be on food, there are always panels and events that wet our whistles, too. Here is some of the boozier programming that’s not yet sold out.

Night events

These include Cheers to 130 Years, a pre-festival celebration between the Driskill Hotel and Trefethen Family Vineyards on Wednesday. They will toast to 130 years of hospitality and wine with an intimate dinner. The $300 tickets get diners a multi-course meal made by executive chef Troy Knapp and, in a special one-night return, executive chef David Bull. Each course will be paired with award-winning wines from Trefethen.

There is also the big Taste of Texas event on Friday night. The party will bring in “an all-star lineup of talent from the Texas culinary scene… serving up dishes that reflect their signature style,” according to the festival website. Plus, you’ll be able to sip on drinks from Hendrick’s Gin, Tequila 512 and Stella Artois. Taking place in Republic Square Park, the bash is included in the price of an all-in ticket, which are still available for $625.

Daytime panels

Saturday:

  • Popular Austin Food & Wine Fest panelists Ray Isle and Mark Oldman are returning with more of their expert advice on reds, whites and bubbly wines. Isle, the executive wine editor at Food & Wine magazine, is revealing the secrets of wine pairing, while Oldman, an author and wine columnist for the Food Network, is opening up about how to break the rules of wine and how to drink like a billionaire. Both are good for the wine novice looking to get more in-depth about the beverage.
  • The festival is continuing its focus on alcoholic options beyond wine with a couple of panels about two beloved spirits: tequila and whiskey. “Wild Turkey: A Russell Family Tradition” spotlights the bourbon and rye whiskeys that have been produced from the Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky; before that, “A Noble Pursuit: Tequila Tasting with Casa Noble Tequila” offers an in-depth look at the certified organic spirits.

Sunday:

  • The other dynamic wine duo typically at the Austin Food & Wine Festival is Devon Broglie and Craig Collins, two Austin-based master sommeliers who often collaborate on one festival panel. This year, they’re teaching how you can sample wine like a pro with a blind-tasting class.
  • Another wine expert returning to the fest is Vilma Mazaite, a veteran of Little Nell in Aspen and the shuttered La V in Austin. She’s presenting a talk on “Offbeat Burgundy” for all the French wine lovers present.
  • Two more spirits-related panels (for the second year in a row, I’m wondering where the beer love went) round out the weekend. First up is “Hendrick’s Gin: A Most Curious and Peculiar Cocktail Academy.” Following that one is a talk that diverges slightly from the other offerings by looking at a very different — but common — ingredient in cocktails: bitters. Specifically, “Angostura Bitters: Not So Old-Fashioned.”

Wedding Oak Winery opens new location at a farm in Fredericksburg

Photo by Matt McGinnis. Wedding Oak winemaker Penny Adams is planting grapes among the wildflowers at Wildseed Farms, in Fredericksburg, the newest location of the winery.
Photo by Miguel Lecuona. Wedding Oak winemaker Penny Adams is taking care of wine grapes among the wildflowers at Wildseed Farms, in Fredericksburg, the newest location of the winery.

It’s now become a little easier for Texas wine lovers to get their hands on bottles of Wedding Oak Winery, an operation out of San Saba in the northern Hill Country.

Wedding Oak wines, which had been available primarily at the winery and through the Wedding Oak wine club, are also found at a second location of the winery that opened up earlier this week: Wedding Oak at Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg, a town in the heart of Texas wine country.

The new location isn’t just a single tasting room, either — it’s a full-fledged, 4,570 sq. ft. facility complete with a tank and barrel room and vineyards where Wedding Oak winemaker Penny Adams will be able to expand the amount of Hill Country-grown grapes that go into her wines, according to a press release. Most of the winemaking, however, will continue to take place at the San Saba spot.

But that tasting room will certainly be a big draw for tourists traveling west on Highway 290 to visit many of the wineries in Fredericksburg and surrounding small towns. They’ll be able to choose from four different flights of five wines each, or from a total of 13 wines for sipping by the glass or bottle. Plus, although the tasting room has a bar, tourists and locals alike will probably be drawn outside to the covered patio or to the picturesque grounds of Wildseed Farms.

One look at the beauty surrounding Wildseed Farms, a working wildflower farm that has attracted visitors since 1983, and it’s easy to understand why Wedding Oak Winery founder Mike McHenry chose to expand there.

A visit promises “unique wine experiences that are intertwined with 200 acres of lush bluebonnets, poppies, Mexican hats and other wildflowers,” according to the press release. Wildseed Farms also has a sprawling outdoor marketplace and entertainment space, gardens and a gift shop and café.

Another big part of the appeal of Wildseed is that as a working farm, it’s equipped to “plant new vineyards and grape varieties that thrive in Texas,” according to the release. Last year, the first acreage of Albariño grapes began fledgling life there; this year, “additional Tempranillo and Mourvèdre vines will be planted, pushing more deep roots into the incredible soils of the Pedernales River basin.”

Working together, both the farm and the winery will plant up to 35 acres of vines through 2018.

“From the top of the Hill Country appellation in San Saba to the iconic wildflower fields of Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg, it is now easier for people to enjoy a Wedding Oak Winery experience,” McHenry said in the release.

Wildseed Farms is located at 100 Legacy Dr., Fredericksburg. For more information, visit weddingoakwinery.com.

The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas’ wine auction returns April 30

The chance for wine lovers to get their hands on hard-to-find bottles of reds, whites and bubbly wines returns on April 30, when the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas hosts the 31st Annual Rare & Fine Wine Auction.

At the JW Marriott this year, the event — one of the largest auctions of its kind in the U.S. — “will draw more than 350 wine connoisseurs eager to bid on exclusive lots of rare and fine wines,” according to a press release. It’s an important fundraiser of the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas, a nonprofit that turns its passion for good food and drink into a springboard improving the health and well-being of the surrounding community with culinary-related benefits.

Before the auction that starts at 5:30 p.m. on April 30, the foundation is also hosting a couple of other wine-friendly events, including a sold-out kick-off party at Franklin Barbecue on April 28. The other event is a winemaker’s luncheon at Olive & June on April 29, featuring California winemaker Robin Lail and some of her favorite wines from Lail Vineyards. Tickets for the lunch are $80 to $100.

Like last year's auction, The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas' Rare & Fine Wine Auction will have plenty of wines for you to taste and bid on.
Like last year’s auction, The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas’ Rare & Fine Wine Auction will have plenty of wines for you to taste and bid on.

The main event, of course, is the Rare & Fine Wine Auction, with proceeds this year benefiting the local organization Urban Roots. As with past years, the auction is offering lots of desirable wines and related items.

“Live auction lots include exceptionally rare and collectible wines,” among the most coveted of prizes “a duo of rare and extraordinary jeroboams from Lail Vineyards, two bottles of 2013 Harlan Estate and a five-night stay at Brownstreet Cottage in Healdsburg, California,” according to the press release. “In addition, a silent auction will feature lots including collectible wines, winery tours, private wine dinners and more.”

Tickets for the electrifying evening, which includes a four-course dinner, are available now. Individual tickets are $275; tables start at $2,500.

For more information, including about the beneficiary Urban Roots, visit winefoodfoundation.org.

Alcohol delivery services from apps like Instacart on the rise in Austin

One of the biggest delivery service apps, Instacart, has added a new boozy retail partner to its arsenal — at a time when the number of these apps available in Central Texas is only going up.

Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez for American-Statesman. Total Wine & More just became the latest retail partner for Instacart's booze delivery service.
Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez for American-Statesman. Total Wine & More just became the latest retail partner for Instacart’s booze delivery service.

Instacart is now partnering with liquor store titan Total Wine & More to bring alcohol purchases straight to the doors of customers. The retail delivery service, which has been doing grocery shopping for Austinites since May 2014, first got into booze delivery in November with a partnership with Spec’s Wine, Spirits, and Finer Foods.

But it’s far from the only service that will bring you beer, wine or spirits.

The locally-based BrewDrop was the first alcohol delivery service to hit Central Texas, launching in the spring of 2014. Since then, about a half-dozen others have joined it, including Drizly, Thirstie, Top Shelf and Minibar.

The latest is Lash, a Dallas-based delivery service that will bring customers food from local restaurants and alcohol from local stores in one order. (Customers will pay a $5 delivery fee no matter what, as well as an extra $2 for each additional stop per order.)

With so many of these companies jostling for your business — and lots of questions about whether there’s enough of a demand for them in the first place — it’s only a matter of time before there’s a tipping point. For now, though, on-demand alcohol service seems to be lucrative.

BrewDrop, for instance, has just been acquired by delivery.com for an undisclosed sum.

According to the acquisition announcement, “former BrewDrop users already accustomed to ordering alcohol on-demand with their phones will enjoy an easy transition to delivery.com, where they can order in much the same way from delivery.com’s website” and app. Plus, they’ll be able to order from restaurants, grocery stores and dry cleaners.

On-demand services like these were a topic at South by Southwest last month, when the heads of several of the companies spoke at a panel about the promising future of their business.

The founder of one of Instacart’s competitors, Favor, said during the SXSW panel that he truly believes “the on-demand economy is going to be a key ingredient for cities as we scale and for globalization as a whole.”

At the moment, at least, it’s a thriving one.

New York’s Employees Only cocktail bar to branch into Austin

UPDATE 4/13: The Austin location of Employees Only is going to be downtown, although the exact address won’t be announced until later this fall. One of the partners of the original New York bar, Jason Kosmas, is going to have some help in getting the Austin spot up and running: Austin-based private equity company Penumbral Strategic Ventures LLC, which owns and manages the Townsend, one of the city’s best bars, is stepping in to spearhead the project.

That’s a pretty good sign that Employees Only will be just as solid here as it is in New York. Among the people involved in Penumbral and the Townsend is Justin Elliott, a bartender who has helped transform Austin into the sort of place that Employees Only would want to expand to.

“We’re bringing together an experienced team to keep up the tradition and spirit of Employees Only, but the Austin location will very much have its own unique vibe to reflect the city,” Kosmas said in a news release. “We hope that those who have experienced EO in Manhattan will enjoy the Austin location as much as the original, and also are looking forward to introducing the brand, bar and experience to an entirely new audience.”

EARLIER: One venerated New York City cocktail bar is going global with upcoming locations this year — and Austin is lucky enough to be one of the cities where it’s headed.

Photo by Erick Andia Pomar. New York's popular cocktail bar Employees Only is opening a location in Austin.
Photo by Erick Andia Pomar. New York’s popular cocktail bar Employees Only is opening a location in Austin.

As the New York Times reported today, Employees Only is planning to open in Austin, Singapore and Miami Beach by year’s end. Fans of the original location in the West Village will recognize these outlying bars as part of the brand, according to Times reporter Robert O. Simonson, because they’ll preserve the soul of the New York spot.

“Each will be called Employees Only and reflect the character and design of the original, which is known for its Art Deco décor, undulating bar and white-jacketed bartenders,” Simonson wrote in the article.

Austin’s Employees Only is owned by one of the five partners of the New York bar, and he’s a face that cocktail fans in this city know well: Jason Kosmas. A co-founder of the 86 Co., a spirits producer that hails itself as a business “by bartenders for bartenders,” he’s a current Austin resident who has done guest bartending spots at various local bars and serves as a foremost cocktail expert and educator here.

His Employees Only will open later this fall at a not-yet-determined location, according to the New York Times.

Expect Employees Only traditions, like the “homemade chicken soup dished out free to lingering patrons at closing time,” to continue at the Austin bar.

“The bar is going to be shaped the same, function the same,” Kosmas said in the article. “It’s kind of a machine. It’s a proven animal. Messing with it is not in anybody’s interest. And the energy it creates is very important.”

Check back at this blog for more updates about Employees Only later this week.

Uncle Billy’s to commemorate 10-year anniversary with week of events

Photo by Matt McGinnis. Uncle Billy's came up with the recipe for Black Hop Down along with the Alamo Drafthouse and NXNW. Try it for National IPA Day.
Photo by Matt McGinnis. Celebrate Uncle Billy’s 10th anniversary with the Uncle Billy’s staff starting next Saturday, when the brewpub is kicking off a week of anniversary events.

Although Uncle Billy’s Brewery and Smokehouse remains a small neighborhood brewpub, it’s grown a lot in the 10 years since entrepreneur Rick Engel founded it on Barton Springs Road.

So much so that cans of the Lazy Day Lager are going to be in 130 HEB locations statewide. The crisp golden brew is one of Uncle Billy’s most popular, Engel says. The brewpub launched it, along with the Barton Springs Pale Ale and the previously canned Green Room IPA, in cans last summer following a redesign that updated the brand.

Now, Uncle Billy’s is celebrating a new milestone: 10 years of being opened, making it “one of the oldest brewpubs in the state,” Engel says.

The beer-and-barbecue spot is celebrating with a variety of events starting on April 16, when the 10th anniversary festivities kick off with a “Crafternoon Crawfish Boil.” There will also be a Barton Springs Full Moon Swim on April 22 and a Puppy Porter Palooza on April 23.

The founder of Uncle Billy's, Rick Engel, is excited to attend some of his brewpub's anniversary events, including the Puppy Palooza on April 23.
The founder of Uncle Billy’s, Rick Engel, is excited to attend some of his brewpub’s anniversary events, including the Puppy Palooza on April 23.

Engel is well-aware his brewpub wouldn’t be where it is today if it hadn’t been for the big legislative changes in 2013 that, among other things, granted brewpubs the right to distribute beyond their walls. Before that, Uncle Billy’s beers had only been available for drinking there.

“Now you can go to Whole Foods or HEB or Randall’s, Twin Liquors and Spec’s, to get Uncle Billy’s,” Engel says. “It has expanded our reach and ability to get more people drinking our beer. Distribution has been the main key for growth.”

Of course, the Barton Springs brewpub, with multiple bars, outdoor patio seating and a large outdoor music stage decked out with a colorful illustration of Uncle Billy himself (the venerated Austin resident William Barton, whose love of Barton Springs in the 1800s got the watering hole named after him), remains the heart of the brand, something Engel wouldn’t change. He wants it to continue as the “one-off, iconic neighborhood brewery that it was really designed to be,” he says.

The brewpub will be the only place where locals can try Uncle Billy’s special 10th anniversary beer during the two weeks of festivities. It’s a 9 percent ABV double IPA made with 10 different kinds of hops. Head brewer Trevor Nearburg decided to make such a robust hoppy beer because Uncle Billy’s customers tend to gravitate toward big IPAs, according to a press release.

Here’s the full list of anniversary events that start April 16 and run through April 23.

  • Crafternoon Crawfish Boil, 12 p.m. April 16. Spicy crawdads with cold craft beer. No further description necessary.
  • Brunch of Firkins, 12, 2 and 4 p.m. April 17. Specialty beers galore at this firkin tapping, which will be serenaded with live music from Daniel Eyes & the Vibes as part of the KUTX Live Music Series.
  • Fresh Can Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 18. Start your week with a new experience and help can the Greem Room IPA. You’ll have the chance to purchase brand-new six-packs at a good price.
  • Anniversary Pint Night, April 19. Pint prices are rolling back to what they were in 2006, the year Uncle Billy’s opened — $2.50. They’ll be at this steal of a cost every Tuesday until May 10.
  • We Smoke the Good Stuff, 11 a.m. to close April 20. Uncle Billy’s sly 4/20 joke is this deal on 10 percent off all smoked meats.
  • Honky Tonk Happy Hour, 6:30 to 8 p.m. April 21. Uncle Billy’s Thursday evening live music happy hours are kicking off for the season with specials on pints of beer.
  • Barton Springs Full Moon Swim, sundown April 22. Meet at the brewpub for a bit of pre-gaming and return again after the swim to relax with specials on Barton Springs Pale Ale.
  • Puppy Porter Palooza, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 23. Bring your dog to the patio and you’ll receive a four-pack of Gypsy Dubbel Coffee Porter. You can also take advantage of brunch specials on Bloody Marys and mimosas.

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/UncleBillys.