Bad weather? Head to the W for rainy day drink specials

The W Austin doesn’t want you to sing the rainy day blues.

The downtown hotel is bringing back its happy hour based around the weather. Anytime it’s raining (and at a decent hour for drinking), guests of the W Austin’s Living Room Lounge will get half-priced specialty cocktails.

Stop into the W Austin's Living Room Lounge whenever it's raining and you'll get happy hour pricing on cocktails.
Stop into the W Austin’s Living Room Lounge whenever it’s raining and you’ll get happy hour pricing on cocktails.

That’s not a bad deal at all. Normally, the W Austin’s happy hour, which the hotel calls “Primetime,” runs from 7 to 9 p.m. each weeknight with half-off deals on cocktails and $5 to $9 bar bites like goat cheese artichoke dip and loaded fries. With the May showers special, guests can enjoy happy hour whenever it’s raining, period. The offer is valid through the end of this very wet month.

So when it rains, let them pour.

For more information about the W Austin or the Living Room Lounge, visit www.waustinlivingroom.com.

Barley Swine’s cocktail program keeps it seasonal

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Barley Swine is as faithful to seasonal ingredients in its cocktail menu as the Burnet Road restaurant is with its food menu, so drinks like this one are often changing out in favor of fresher fare.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Barley Swine is as faithful to seasonal ingredients in its cocktail menu as the Burnet Road restaurant is with its food menu, so drinks like this one are often changing out in favor of fresher fare.

When the farm-to-table restaurant from venerated chef Bryce Gilmore moved to Burnet Road earlier this year, one element in the larger space was new: Barley Swine’s cocktail program.

And like the food, it’s kept as seasonal as possible.

Barley Swine hired Robert Stevens as the bar manager last year, and one look at his resume makes it clear why: Stevens hails from Knoxville’s Blackberry Farm, a visionary resort where much of the food is grown within feet of where it is eaten. He’s got the background to know that a cocktail calling for Meyer lemons won’t stick around past March and that if the small garden at the back of the restaurant is growing something for the kitchen, he might be able to use it behind the bar, too.

In today’s American-Statesman, my column about using fresh ingredients in spring cocktails featured Stevens and the Swipe Right, one of Barley Swine’s current cocktails with St. George’s Dry Rye Gin, Herbsaint and a house-made strawberry shrub. (No, no, not one of those stubby plants that tufts out of the ground. A shrub is a vinegar-based concoction that’s deliciously tart and sweet at the same time.)

But the Swipe Right isn’t the only cocktail to seek out right now at the restaurant that’s forever changing up the menus.

Bartender Dustin Bolf is the creator of a couple drinks made from Mexican-based spirits, the Chucho with Chihuahua sotol reposado, pine needle-orange and lime acid and the Mangolada with blanco tequila, mango puree, sangrita and the Brooklyn Summer Ale. At least one of them was inspired by his background; his mom grew up in the Rio Grande Valley.

“I spent some time down there in my early 20s and they had these little candies we used to buy in Mexico that were mango-flavored with tamarind chili powder,” he said. “So (for the Mangolada) we take Texas mangos, tequila, and sangrita (which is a sweet hot sauce-based palette-cleanser from Mexico) and top it with Brooklyn Summer Ale. I’ve made a salt from umoboshi (dried, salted, cured strawberries), dried golden tomato peel and kosher salt. Think shandy meets Michelada.”

Like Stevens, he isn’t afraid to get creative and turn to Barley Swine’s back garden when a customer is looking for something fresh and off-menu.

“We use a lot of things from the garden,” he said. “Sometimes people just want something they’ve never had. I made a cocktail from begonia leaves, gin and ice plant for a customer one time. I use several different flowers for garnish.”

For a look at the current cocktail menu — which you can expect to change out with the availability of seasonal ingredients — visit the Barley Swine website. Have you made your happy hour plans yet?

American Craft Beer Week in Austin, May 2016

Photo by Ralph Barrera / American-Statesman. Try a taproom-only beer at Blue Owl Brewing for American Craft Beer Week.
Photo by Ralph Barrera / American-Statesman. Try a taproom-only beer at Blue Owl Brewing for American Craft Beer Week.

Throughout this week, bars and breweries around the country are celebrating a big occasion in beer: American Craft Beer Week. Austin is no different, with multiple events each day through Sunday this week that will offer lots of good brews and good times.

Here’s a round-up of some of the ones you won’t want to miss, starting with a couple of events today.

Tuesday

Avery Sour Flight at Easy Tiger: Sample a flight of four tart brews from Avery Brewing in Colorado for $8: the Avery Lunctis Viribus; the Avery Fortuna; the Avery Dihos Dactylion; and the Avery Oud Floris, a Flanders Oud Bruin. The fun starts at 4:30 p.m.

Austin Beerworks Tap Takeover at Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar: Stop in throughout the day, starting at 11 a.m., for some of Austin Beerworks’ specialty beers, including Sputnik Russian Imperial Stout, the Red Snapper Sour Ale and the Gringo Mexican lager, the brewery’s fifth anniversary beer.

Wednesday

Bishop’s Barrel Beer Dinner at the Dig Pub: This five-course feast features rare beers from Saint Arnold — Bishop’s Barrel brews 7, 8, 10, 11 and 13. The lucky diners will also be able to purchase Bishop’s Barrel 9 (Pumpkinator in bourbon barrels) and 12 (Christmas Ale in sauvignon blanc barrels with cherries and brettanomyces) to take home with them.

Tiny Barrel Release at Blue Owl Brewing: The East Austin brewery is releasing a tasting-room exclusive: a blend of pre-raspberry Dapper Devil, Blue Owl’s Belgian Strong Ale, with the new Saíson Puede, that’s been barrel- aged with the addition of Meyer lemon and pink peppercorn. The beer taps at 3 p.m.

Thursday

The Hops & Grain Experience: The brewery is hosting a first-ever cold brew and brew event, featuring a panel with Hops & Grain founder Josh Hare and three top Austin baristas, as well as six beer styles with added cold brew. The $32.46 ticket gets you a commemorative gold-rimmed tulip glass with the brewery’s new coffee logo.

The new Growler USA is opening in the campus area with 100 taps, primarily of local and Texas beers.
The new Growler USA is hosting a tap takeover with 4th Tap during American Craft Beer Week.

4th Tap Brewing Co-op Tap Takeover at Growler USA: In addition to $1 off all beers at the campus-area pub, there will also be a 4th Tap brewery rep handing out samples and free glassware.

Friday

The Pinthouse Pizza, Hops & Grain and Austin Beerworks Dry-Hopped Kettle-Soured Collaboration. At Pinthouse Pizza South Lamar, try three different kettle-soured beers dry-hopped with various hop combinations that the trio of local breweries have put together and discover which one you like best. The beers all tap starting at 6 p.m.

Kamala Gardens at Waller Creek Pub House: Miss the Whip In’s house beers? The Whip In’s Dipak Topiwala has started a new brewery, Kamala Gardens, and is offering an early taste on Friday evening. Try the Bitterama — a new incarnation of an old Whip In brew.

Saturday

The ABGB’s Ruby Bottle Release: Tour the brewpub while securing your bottle of Ruby, an American sour that is part of the ABGB’s You’ll See, Baby series of sour beers. Reserve your spot for $6; only a limited number of spots are available for the tour, so you’ll want to do it early.

Barrel-Aged Beer Party at Craft Pride. The Rainey Street bar is tapping more than a dozen barrel-aged offerings and releasing bottles from the cellar. Some of the beers not-to-miss at this event include Community Barrel-Aged Legion, Real Ale Lux Aeterna and Buffalo Bayou Red Wine Barrel-Aged Red Velvet. The tapping starts at 1 p.m.; live music starts at 1:30 p.m.

Brewery District Bike Tour. Round out your American Craft Beer Week with this event postponed from the previous week because of rain. You’ll ride to Adelbert’s Brewery before heading to 4th Tap Brewing Co-op and finishing up at Circle Brewing.

Austin Steam Train Beer Flyer with Red Horn. The Cedar Park brewpub is pairing up its beers with a dinner from Greenhouse Craft Food in an unusual venue: aboard a train pulled by a diesel locomotive. It’s a three-hour round trip with limited seating and plenty of fun.

Austin Wine & Cider’s new taproom offers fermented fruit beverages

Austin Wine & Cider is located at 411 E. St. Elmo Rd. Ste. 2, next door to Casa Brasil Coffee.
Austin Wine & Cider is located at 411 E. St. Elmo Rd. Ste. 2, next door to Casa Brasil Coffee.

One South Austin cidery is ready to make a big splash with its roster of fermented fruit beverages.

Austin Wine & Cider, which opened quietly at the end of March along the increasingly boozier St. Elmo Road, has been offering a variety of off-the-wall draft ciders made from apples and other fruits. Owner and founder Mike Allgeier is purposely veering from traditional ciders.

“With this place, I’m looking for drinkability with a little bit of funk. We are in South Austin, after all,” he said.

A veteran with a Purple Heart after years in the military, he had traveled extensively through Europe during his time in the service — trying beverages not far from where they were made — and was disappointed to return in the late 1990s to a city with “few local products that I wanted to drink,” he said. “There was a very limited selection of craft beer, no ciders and a small amount of wine. So I started making them myself.”

He’s had a long time and a lot of help to perfect the hobby that friends and family began to urge him to turn into a business. Although he self-taught himself how to homebrew at first, he began reaching out to people in the industry: Austin Homebrew Supply, Real Ale Brewing and Black Star Co-op when it first opened as a revolutionary concept in 2010.

He also got involved with South Austin Brewery — located in the same set of St. Elmo Road warehouses where Allgeier’s Austin Wine & Cider is now.

But unlike his brewery mentors, he didn’t stick with making beer.

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. The Austin Wine & Cider tasting room is open on weekends, offering visitors four different ciders to try.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. The Austin Wine & Cider tasting room is open on weekends, offering visitors four different ciders to try.

“I worked my way into ciders, meads, Texas-grown fruit wines,” he said. “They’re a very similar process to brewing. I liked making the ciders because… I could apply my brewing experience to blend the two worlds.”

Although the ciders now feature apples primarily from Washington and Canada, he tries to use Texas ingredients when he can. Two of the ciders on tap at the Austin Wine & Cider tasting room are made with Texas-grown grapefruit and lime, in addition to the apples: the Puckering Pomelo Cider and the Smashed Lime Cider. They’ll rotate out as Allgeier comes up with new recipes.

“I want to use cool fruits from Texas that aren’t used a whole lot, like fig and kumquat,” he said.

The other two ciders on draft are Austin Wine & Cider mainstays. The She’ll be Apples cider is a good introduction to Allgeier’s particular style because with apples as the solo fruit, it’s as straightforward as he gets. Not too sweet and not too dry, it’s an easy-drinking and balanced expression of what good cider should taste like.

But that’s not the most popular one. The one he pours for visitors most often on weekends, when the tasting room is opened, is the Hefe Apfel Cider, an unfiltered German-style cider that will appeal to beer devotees: Allgeier crafted it to taste like a hefeweizen, albeit without the grains that give the wheat beer such a distinct flavor.

“It has hops and spices and yeast, but everything else is just fermented fruit juice,” he said. “It’s about as close as we can get to a hefeweizen without having any grain product, which is something we can’t have because we’re licensed as a winery. Notice the lovely smell from the hefeweizen yeast.”

In addition to the four ciders on tap, the tasting room in the modest Austin Wine & Cider space offers, on many weekends, live music and game nights with Cards Against Humanity. Right now, it’s the best place to find these ciders, although they’re slowly going on draft in area bars. Allgeier’s goal is to get them into cans one day as well.

“Apple is just good to cook with, to make ciders with, even if you’re flavoring it with something else like blueberry,” he said.

Austin Wine & Cider, at 411 E. St. Elmo Rd. Ste. 2, is opened 4 to 11 p.m. Fridays and 2 to 11 p.m. Saturdays. For more information, visit the Facebook page.

Two Austin-area breweries, IronSight and Bindlestick, are closing

Even an industry as lucrative as craft beer has its limits — and two local breweries in Leander and Cedar Park have discovered that hard truth in the past month.

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Bindlestick Brewing is open every Friday evening in Leander for tours and tastings of each of the four beers.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. For fans of Bindlestick beers, May 21 will be their last chance to drink them.

According to their Facebook pages, IronSight Brewers, which had taken over the old Twisted X Brewing space last summer, and Bindlestick Brewing, which opened last February as Leander’s first brewery, are folding in light of tough circumstances.

All, we have reached an unfortunate point and will be closing the doors on Bindlestick Brewing Co,” a Facebook event page for Bindlestick’s farewell blowout party announced yesterday. “We want to thank everyone who became part of our lives and the business. From all the volunteers, the regular faces, and our retail customers who gave us a chance. We have made new friends and have so many great memories there is not even a place to begin.”

Bindlestick’s final brewery party will be on May 21 and will be fans’ chance to “pick up some memorabilia to help recall all the fun moments we had,” according to the Facebook post. Visit Bindlestick from 12 to 5 p.m. at 1309 Leander Dr. #504.

Fans of the Cedar Park-located IronSight have gotten no such closure, however. The brewery shut down without fanfare last month — with the tentative promise that it might return once “we find a new home with a new name,” according to IronSight’s Facebook page, which is now called “Brewery formally known as Iron-Sight.”

The Facebook page alludes to a falling-out between Robert Chaney, the co-founder of IronSight, with a business partner. Chaney, according to the brewery page, “has a new vision for something awesome and we are working hard to get the ball rolling on it.”

These are the first Austin-area breweries to close up shop since last year’s abrupt end to Kamala Brewing at the Whip In. (Another version, Kamala Gardens, is in the works at another location.) Other Texas breweries have also been bidding adieu in the past year, a testament to how the industry — despite the amount of support and camaraderie surrounding it — can be a tough place to work. Fort Bend Brewing in Missouri City and Firewheel Brewing in Rockwall have been among the closures.

But don’t worry: The number of U.S. breweries opening (last year’s total: 620) far exceeds the number of them closing (last year’s total: 68), as this Brewers Association post notes.

Barrow Brewing becomes first brewery in Bell County

A 50 minute drive north of Austin on Interstate 35, Salado is a small town full of artists and other creative souls that, until recently, didn’t have a brewery of its own — and didn’t have the laws to make one possible. But Barrow Brewing founders Graydon and KD Hill worked to change that and are ready to celebrate the grand opening of their brewery next month.

Photo contributed by Barrow Brewing. The beautiful new taproom of Barrow Brewing, in Salado, is opened Thursdays-Sundays every week.
Photo by Ellen Mote. The beautiful new taproom of Barrow Brewing, in Salado, is opened Thursdays-Sundays every week.

Already, the couple is seeing how much their beers are in high demand, the gratifying result of a lot of sweat and tears and support from their close-knit community.

The Hills’ battle to open Barrow Brewing, named after Graydon’s long Texas lineage, has been harder than most.

They didn’t just have to deal with the usual permitting and renovating of a space that many brewery founders have to handle on the road to opening. They also had to petition Salado — a village of some 2,000 residents — to change an existing law that permitted the sale of alcohol only in places making at least 50 percent of their profits from food.

“We petitioned and got on the ballot,” KD Hill said. “And 784 people voted yes. That was a huge moment. We actually named one of our beers after that, the 784 Belgian Wit. We knew when the election passed that people were going to support the brewery; we weren’t completely out of our minds for working that hard to make it happen.”

Her husband, Graydon, had been a commercial airline pilot whose hobby of homebrewing became a passion he couldn’t shake. He and KD had moved to Salado in 2011 and noticed that the town, comprised of potters, glass-blowers and other people following their dreams, lacked a brewery.

“Being in Salado, we felt it was the perfect place for it,” she said.

Once KD was on-board with Graydon’s big career move — which she said was at first “a scary, scary change” — she found that Salado’s creative residents served as motivation for going through with the brewery.

“We found a group of people who we feel are our tribe,” she said. “We’re surrounded by people who are pursuing their dreams, who are just all-out going for it. It’s hard not to want to be a part of that.”

Salado’s artisans have already proven to be helpful collaborators as well. Now that the year of renovating an old granary is over and the brewery has quietly opened for weekend tours and tastings, the Hills are putting the finishing touches on Barrow Brewing: filling it up with German biergarten tables salvaged from nearby Round Top, keeping the long-leaf pine bar where the beer is served cleaned and shiny, and waiting on the special snifter glasses from a neighboring glassworks company. A local potter is also making them growlers.

“You’re getting a full experience when you come here. You’re getting craft handmade glassware with our beer made just yards away,” KD Hill said.

Barrow Brewing’s beers include the Evil Catfish IPA, named after a local legend, and the Ski Boat Blonde, named after the family-heirloom boat that Graydon inherited from his father and proposed to KD on. The blonde ale has been the most popular, KD said, because “we still have a Budweiser crowd around us.”

There’s also the Tipsy Vicar Stout, named after “our local homebrewer Episcopalian priest. He’s been a big supporter, so we were excited to name one after him. He has a good recipe for an ESB (Extra Special Bitter) that we’re talking about scaling up,” she said.

And in June, she and Graydon also hope to release the Ginger Rye, a small-batch offering that will come out just in time for Father’s Day.

Although these beers are only available in the taproom right now, the Hills have a canning line installed and hope to start sending their beers out in cans soon to local bars and stores. But don’t expect Barrow beers in Austin: As Bell County’s only brewery, Barrow is going to have its hands full supplying the big market of Fort Hood.

In the meantime, KD Hill hopes people will drive up to check out the brewery and Salado as a whole.

“We want to make the brewery a community space,” she said. “This is where they can gather, bring their kids, eat from the food truck onsite. Make it a second living room. We feel strongly about the community of Salado; we’ve made true, true friends with people we would never have made friends with in a big city or in another small town because the town of Salado is so, so eclectic. We want people to make friends when they come to the taproom.”

Barrow Brewing’s grand opening party is a good opportunity to visit. It’ll kick off with a ribbon cutting at noon on June 4 and will have food trucks, games, giveaways and a Barrow-branded pint glass for the first 500 customers.

The brewery is located at 108 Royal St. in Salado and opened 4 to 10 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 12 to 10 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 6 p.m. Sundays. For more information, visit barrowbrewing.com.

Meet the Official Drink of Austin bar teams

Photo by Whit Preston. Geraldine's offers locals and hotel guests alike the chance to dine and drink as live music plays.
Photo by Whit Preston. Geraldine’s offers locals and hotel guests alike the chance to dine and drink as live music plays. It’s one of the bars participating in Official Drink of Austin.

In some ways, the Official Drink of Austin competition serves as an unofficial look at the current best bars in Austin. The competition, which returns on Thursday as a benefit for the Austin Food & Wine Alliance, shows off some underrated places, too, that cocktail lovers should have on their radar.

This year’s bar teams hail from Juliet, Juniper, Freedmen’s, Drink.Well, Backbeat, Geraldine’s, Central Standard Kitchen & Bar, and District Kitchen + Cocktails. Of them, Drink.Well is the only veteran.

Taking place at Fair Market this year, on 1100 E. Fifth Street, the Official Drink of Austin allows attendees to sample the various cocktails vying for the Official Drink of Austin title — along with food from local restaurants, to keep the tipsiness at bay. Last year’s winner came from Garage’s Chauncy James, whose Indian Paintbrush drink with Dripping Springs Vodka ultimately won over the voters and judges.

Here’s a look at this year’s participants.

Drink.Well: This North Loop cocktail bar from husband-and-wife team Michael and Jessica Sanders is not only the one bar of the bunch with previous Official Drink of Austin experience; it’s also the oldest one, with the exception of District Kitchen + Cocktails, by a few years. Couple that experience with consistently exceptional drinks and Drink.Well’s got an edge over the competition.

Like sister bar Drink.Well, Backbeat offers well-made cocktails and food, some of which will be on special during happy hour.
Like sister bar Drink.Well, Backbeat offers well-made cocktails and food.

Backbeat: The Sanders might have a hard time cheering on their favorites — they also own Backbeat, which opened a couple months ago on South Lamar Boulevard. Like its sister bar, Backbeat is all about well-made drinks and bar food that pairs with them, but with a rooftop patio offering views of downtown Austin, its funky melody is not likely to be confused with Drink.Well’s.

Juliet: This beautifully designed Italian restaurant on Barton Springs Road might have made missteps with its cuisine, but those problems have never extended to the cocktail program, which was strong from the start with Italian-centric spirits and liqueurs and even a whole roster of Negroni variations. Beverage director Jeramy Campbell recently produced a spring cocktail menu as tasty and nuanced as ever.

Juniper: Another Italian restaurant, this charming east side spot has carved out its own distinct niche. The cocktail list is small but runs the gamut on spirits used — with everything from pisco to aquavit.

Geraldine’s: The Hotel Van Zandt’s fourth-floor restaurant fulfills this town’s love for live music in more ways than one. While local artists play onstage, locals and hotel guests alike are able to sip on music-themed cocktails like the Willie’s Cup, with rye whiskey, sage leaves and hemp-seed milk and adorned with a telltale red bandana. Geraldine’s regular tributes to Austin’s favorite things make it a natural choice for the Official Drink of Austin.

Freedmen’s: A barbecue restaurant with a stellar cocktail list might seem like a strange combination — but not if you’ve ever dined at this campus-area smokehouse and beer garden located in a historic building. There, you can try drinks that have a touch of smoke themselves, like the Pimm’s Cup-like Garden Party on the current menu.

Central Standard Kitchen & Bar: Another hotel restaurant has made the cut, this time from the South Congress Hotel. The drinks from this strikingly designed spot are straight-forward and elegant, such as the Congress Sour with Old Overholt Rye, Fonseca Port, egg and lemon.

District Kitchen + Cocktails: Although it’s the only restaurant in the Official Drink of Austin lineup not located centrally, don’t let its suburbs status fool you. The Circle C spot has a solid cocktail program that both gets creative and goes back to the classics.

The Official Drink of Austin is $55 in advance, $65 at the door. Tickets are available on the Austin Food & Wine Alliance website.