Infused mezcal Gem & Bolt hits Austin market with Whisler’s launch

Although mezcal, like tequila, also derives from the agave plant, the resulting smoky spirit is often polarizing for drinkers who prefer tequila’s sweeter, more herbaceous nature — but that’s not the case with a new mezcal called Gem&Bolt.

The mezcal is launching in Austin, its first U.S. market, with a party this evening at Whisler’s and the East Sixth Street bar’s upstairs mezcalaria, Tobalá. And people trying it for the first time will notice that the typical smoky profile is layered with botanical notes, making it an all-around more accessible spirit for sipping on its own or in cocktails.

Those botanical notes come from damiana, a shrub native to Mexico and other parts of Central and South America that herbalists say can have beneficial properties for those who ingest it. For larger-than-life artists AdrinAdrina and Elliott Coon, infusing mezcal with damiana was a no-brainer when they decided making their own brand of mezcal was the right next step for them, as longtime friends and business partners who grew up in a Bohemian outpost in the mountains of Virginia.

AdrinAdrina and Elliott Coon have found a home in Oaxaca, where they have birthed a mezcal brand called Gem & Bolt. The mezcal is infused with an indigenous herb called damiana.
AdrinAdrina and Elliott Coon have found a home in Oaxaca, where they have birthed a mezcal brand called Gem & Bolt. The mezcal is infused with an indigenous herb called damiana.

They chose to infuse the mezcal with damiana not just because of the added complexity that comes from the herb. They also chose it because “medicinal art,” Coon said, has been part of their brand since they opened a speakeasy together in Oakland, California.

But with the infusing, they’re staying true to Mexican tradition, not introducing new methods to making mezcal — adding herbs to the agave spirit has always been done.

“There’s quite a tradition of infusing herbs with mezcal in Oaxaca and the other states where mezcal is legally made,” Coon said. “However, it’s not common to find these in the U.S. The ones in Oaxaca with herbs are the ones you’d find in mezcalarias, which have a bunch of bottles without labels on them and oftentimes came from a neighbor. So a lot of them are self-infused at the bar itself or by someone’s family. They’re old family recipes that haven’t reached the commercial level.”

By bringing Gem&Bolt to the U.S., the artists are introducing a hidden side of Oaxaca, where 80 percent of the world’s mezcal is produced (legally, the spirit can only come from certain parts of Mexico).

But neither AdrinAdrina nor Coon expected they would be in Austin now, spreading the gospel of their beloved spirit. A visit to Oaxaca and its capital city to research mezcal for their Oakland speakeasy a few years ago wasn’t supposed to be permanent.

“We fell in love with the city, the culture, the art and, of course, the mezcal itself,” Coon said. “It really resonated with us. We moved our whole operation from Oakland to Oaxaca and opened our speakeasy in a beautiful abandoned hacienda in downtown Oaxaca. After awhile, we thought we needed our own brand.”

Their speakeasies (the Oaxacan one is also now closed down) had been called Gem&Bolt, a name that especially resonated with the duo when they learned a piece of Zapotec legend explaining the creation of mezcal. Before researching these myths of the Zapotecs — an indigenous civilization that settled present-day Oaxaca some 2,500 years ago — AdrinAdrina and Coon had been worried about calling their mezcal by an English name “and looking like imposters,” Coon said.

Gem & Bolt mezcal is available only in Austin so far, at bars and stores like Whisler's, Odd Duck and Twin Liquors.
Gem & Bolt mezcal is available only in Austin so far, at bars and stores like Whisler’s, Odd Duck and Twin Liquors.

The Zapotec tale would prove to be their vindication, however.

“The origin story says that a lightning bolt struck the agave plants that then produced the fermented juice that locals would later come to distill,” Coon said. “That was really powerful for us because if you cut off the spines of the plant, it looks remarkably like a gem. So that moment when we discovered that lightning hit the gem, essentially, and created mezcal, we thought it was meant to be.”

Another challenge for AdrinAdrina and Coon was convincing the locals that these two American women really weren’t interlopers looking to cash in on a spirit that is finally getting its day in the sun. More mezcal brands than ever are getting imported to the U.S. and around the world, which means that many once small-time producers have to find ways to scale up while maintaining the integrity of their mezcal. It’s a spirit that Mexico fiercely guards.

“It was difficult from the beginning,” Coon said. “We were two white females coming into a world dominated by men and and by Mexicans very protective of a spirit that truly does need protecting. They want to make sure people come in with the right intentions. It took us awhile to be received from that context, but we were and we’ve been welcomed with open arms from other brands.”

They found a fourth-generation master distiller in Oaxaca who was willing to adapt to the more herbal recipe. Each batch, she said, “is carefully regulated to make sure the mezcal is produced with really strict, traditional methods. It’s a highly regulated industry, which we think is beautiful so that this important spirit is preserved.”

And now AdrinAdrina and Coon are taking the U.S. by storm and hoping that Gem&Bolt strikes a chord first in Austin, already a city of mezcal lovers. The party at Whisler’s, kicking off at 8 p.m. tonight, is not-to-miss for a first taste of the mezcal and of the brand as a whole, which both insist is more than about mezcal.

“We’re an art and culture brand celebrating how people drink,” Coon said. “Celebration doesn’t have to be drunken debauchery, and drinking doesn’t have to be either. We like to call alcohol a ‘spirit’ because it creates an ambiance for celebration — opening yourself up to other people.”

For more information, visit gemandbolt.com.

Houndstooth’s nonalcoholic coffee cocktails return for summer

The Centro Americano at the downtown Houndstooth location is the perfect nonalcoholic antidote to the summer heat.
The Centro Americano at the downtown Houndstooth location is the perfect nonalcoholic antidote to the summer heat.

Needing to stay cool and caffeinated during summer scorchers are always a must in Austin, and Houndstooth Coffee has a solution: a specialty drink menu that will be available through Labor Day at both locations.

It’s not the first time Houndstooth, a local purveyor, has offered nonalcoholic coffee cocktails. A couple of summers ago, the downtown shop on Congress Avenue had a small menu that included a Coffee Old Fashioned even non-coffee drinkers might love (which I can attest to because I don’t care for coffee and loved the drink).

These cocktails, as barista Gregory Alford noted at the time, rearticulate “what coffee can do. It’s not for people who walk in and just want a cup of coffee, but if you’re looking for something a little different, this is it.”

They’re also remarkable because though the drinks lack booze, the baristas can add certain ingredients to have them mimic the flavors of our favorite cocktails. That was true of the drinks two years ago, when the espresso in the Coffee Old Fashioned was the substitution for bourbon, while still maintaining the roasted characteristics of coffee.

Both locations, including the one on North Lamar Boulevard, are getting creative with the coffee drinks. And the offerings are different at each, so you’ll have to make sure you stop by both for the various options. According to Houndstooth, these run between $3 and $6.

At the 4200 N. Lamar Blvd. location:

Coffee Julep: A refreshing espresso cocktail modeled after the Kentucky Derby’s ice-topped summer cocktail, with espresso, turbinado simple syrup, mineral water, bruised mint garnish. $6.00.

Carbonated Cascara: Organic muddled ginger and rosewater complement Houndstooth’s sweet, syrupy cold-brewed cascara for a spicy, sweet and floral antidote to the Texas summer ahead. $5.00.

At the 401 Congress Ave. location:

Centro Americano: Light and balanced, spicy and sweet, this espresso cocktail balances Tex and Mex together in a highball glass, featuring espresso, plum preserves, rice milk, and a vanilla and cinnamon honey syrup. Garnished with burnt lemon. $6.00.

The Coffee Pop: Houndstooth’s cold brew concentrate is topped off with half & half, honey and grenadine and completed with a cherry center for a frozen and bite-sized summer delight. $3.00.

For more information, visit houndstoothcoffee.com.

With Liberty Lunch IPA, Independence Brewing tugs at Austin heartstrings

The two co-founders of Independence Brewing, Rob and Amy Cartwright, have been longtime Austinites who remember the city when it was a sleepy college town, with an increasingly thriving live music scene and only a few brewpubs and breweries in the downtown core. So it’s no surprise they continue their Austin-themed beer streak by naming Independence’s latest canned offering the Liberty Lunch IPA.

The Liberty Lunch IPA is Independence Brewing's newest summer seasonal available through September.
The Liberty Lunch IPA is Independence Brewing’s newest summer seasonal available through September.

Liberty Lunch, an iconic music venue from 1975 to 1999, attracted all manner of musicians during its heyday and helped, like the 1970s hangout Armadillo World Headquarters before it, to transform Austin into the “Live Music Capital of the World” that it is today.

And Amy Cartwright hasn’t forgotten it.

“What made Liberty Lunch so special was the people — the owners, staff, and patrons — and their love of great music,” she said in a press release. “Reggae, punk, indie rock, country… Liberty Lunch was the place to see storied musicians like Burning Spear and up-and-coming bands like Nirvana and Ween before they were famous.”

She and the Independence Brewing team wanted to create a beer paying homage to Austin’s love of music — similarly to what they did with the Austin Amber, whose can design features a theater marquee in a nod to the Alamo Drafthouse — and “Liberty Lunch was our inspiration,” she said in the release. “Diverse, creative, and welcoming, it represented what we love most about music’s power to inspire people and bring people together.”

The result of their boozy tribute is an easy-drinking, 5.5 percent ABV beer, an IPA with “luscious stone fruit and tropical hop flavors,” according to the press release. The Liberty Lunch IPA, available in the next few months in 6-pack cans and on draft in major Texas cities, could become Austinites’ drink of summer.

Sip on it while listening to your favorite artist live. And for those wanting a more musical return of the storied venue, check out the ABGB on Saturday, when the brewpub is hosting “I Still Miss Liberty Lunch” with a variety of acts who played there back in the day. Liberty Lunch’s original owners will be hosting an auction of Liberty Lunch memorabilia at the event.

For more information about the Liberty Lunch IPA, visit independencebrewing.com. And for more about the Liberty Lunch reunion on Saturday, keep an eye out for the Statesman’s music writer Peter Blackstock’s piece in Austin360 on Friday.

Hops & Grain cans a new year-round beer, plans for San Marcos facility

Photo by Ralph Barrera / American-Statesman. Hops & Grain will start selling coffee, shifting taproom hours to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. The beer lineup is also changing.
Photo by Ralph Barrera / American-Statesman. Hops & Grain’s East Austin taproom will one day be joined by another taproom in San Marcos.

Another Hops & Grain beer is going into year-round cans, available later this month: the 78702 kölsch-style beer, named after the close-knit and supportive neighborhood surrounding the brewery.

The homage to the east side of Austin, where Hops & Grain has successfully been making beer and drawing in legions of locals since 2011, comes at a pinnacle time for the ever-growing brewery — it has just launched an investment campaign for a new brewing facility that will open in the heart of San Marcos. Here’s some information about both pieces of the brewery’s big news.

#canthekölsch

The 78702 will start showing up in Austin bars and stores on June 27, but it's on draft now.
The 78702 will start showing up in Austin bars and stores on June 27, but it’s on draft now.

Less than a year after Hops & Grain made A Pale Mosaic, an American-style IPA, one of its canned mainstays beers, the East Austin brewery is doing the same with the kölsch, the sort of German-style ale that Hops & Grain owner Josh Hare and his brewers excel at making. It’s going into bright yellow, green and white cans that will hit local bars and stores on June 27, in time for the Fourth of July holiday next month.

And in the meantime, it’s on draft at the brewery taproom and in a couple of other area watering holes, including the Brew & Brew for this “Kolsch Explosion” event at 6 p.m. tonight.

It’s partly thanks to the pleas of loyal fans (namely, Mike Lambert of the Beerists podcast) that the kölsch has been canned. The kölsch had originally been a limited draft-only offering, but now the hashtag Lambert and others used to persuade Hops & Grain, #canthekölsch, is front and center on the packaging.

Ultimately, though, Hare wants to pay tribute to the many other Austinites who live in the Hops & Grain zip code.

“A big part of my hope for Hops & Grain when I opened it was to showcase the neighborhood I lived in, and I always loved how loyal people in 78702 is to their community,” he said. “I wanted to be a positively contributing member, so everything from how we dispose of our waste to how we interact with our neighbors, all of that is about wanting to be a good member of the community… We’ve been committed to the ’02, as we call it. So (naming) it was just a fun way to let people know where our commitments lie and where we come from and showing our pride.”

When you start noticing the cans on shelves, look to the skies around Austin — Hare is launching a corresponding billboard campaign all over town to let locals unfamiliar with the Hops & Grain brand know that it exists.

“Our goals in growth, in a lot of ways, mirror a lot of what (Austin) Beerworks does; I think that’s partially why we’re such good friends,” he said, referring to the North Austin brewery’s expansion plans. “Our commitment is to go deeper into Austin, but we have no desire to go far and wide beyond that.”

Onward to San Marcos

But one area where Hops & Grain does want to expand into, in a big way, is the college town of San Marcos, where a new brewery and taproom will be housed and powered 100 percent by wind energy, as per Hare’s focus on sustainability.

The new facility, which is going under construction in the next few months and then opened for business within a year, doesn’t have a location officially locked down yet. But Hare does have extensive plans for how he will fund the project: with the help of investors who can contribute $100 to $10,000 and will receive double their investment amount. He’s not asking for help from venture capitalists rolling in dough; he’s started a crowd-funding campaign that anybody with the money can contribute to — and already, it’s seeing some big bucks.

In just the day or so since announcing the new location, Hops & Grain has met its funding goal, with 156 investors raising $196,555. That’s an impressive feat but not surprising for anyone who knows Hare, a young, health-minded entrepreneur with business savvy and a deep love of beer.

“Since Day 1 our goal has been to craft high quality beers that tell a compelling story and go beyond our customers’ expectations,” Hops & Grain’s funding campaign on wefunder.com notes. “We operate a full time on-site laboratory and craft some of the most exciting and innovative beers in Texas in pursuit of this goal — efforts we plan to double in San Marcos. And our customers love us: we’ve had 100% year over year growth in our first location since 2011.”

The San Marcos space will brew all of Hops & Grain’s current beers, from the 78702 to the Pale Dog, which was moved to a seasonal beer last year because of production constraints. But that’s the idea behind the second location: Hops & Grain will be able to double capacity with a 20,000 barrel brewhouse and bring back some of the beers that its current facility doesn’t have the ability to make.

It’s also sure to attract a variety of new fans, being so close to Texas State University and in the thick of a young, fast-growing town. And like the 78702 part of Austin, Hare intends to make the new Hops & Grain brewery part of the San Marcos community.

“With that commitment to community, we’re incredibly excited to be able to raise funds for the next phase of our growth through this crowdfunding platform,” according to the funding campaign. “Enabling anyone interested to invest in our company, not just the wealthiest investors, is incredibly gratifying and truly encapsulates our company culture.”

How to enjoy National Rosé Day in Austin

In celebration of an important national wine holiday, Backbeat is having a variety of ros specials Thursday through Sunday.
In celebration of an important national wine holiday, Backbeat is having a variety of rosé specials Thursday through Sunday.

In just a few short years, rosé wines have reached an exalted status thanks to their accessibility — fresh and light like a white wine, with the structure and complexity, in many cases, of a cool red. As a result, some of the world’s best winemakers are making them, guaranteeing that Saturday’s National Rosé Day is going to be fun indeed. Take it as the chance to try some wines you’ve never had before.

Celebrate this day of rosé either by going out to a bar like South Lamar Boulevard’s Backbeat, which is having rosé specials just for the occasion, or by staying in and cozying up to one of the tasty new bottles being released this season. Either way, you’ll be seeing the world through rose-colored glasses by the end.

Rosé all day with Backbeat

The cocktail bar from the Drink.Well founders is starting the majority of rosé specials today, and they’ll be available through Sunday. These include

  • $6 Rosé Vermouth Highballs (with Cocchi Rosa Vermouth, sparkling soda and Grapefruit)
  • 20% off full bottles of rosé
  • Tasting flight of Backbeat’s extended house rosé list for $20 (four 2 oz. tasting pours)
  • Expanded rosé wine list (with glasses ranging from $9 to $12 each) that includes
    • Portell Sparkling Rosé Cava from Sarra, Spain
    • La Galope 100% Comte Rosé from Normandy, France
    • Messanges 100% Cabernet Franc Rosé from Chinon in the Loire Valley, France
    • Olivares Grenache/Minastrell Blend Rosé from Jumila, Spain
  • Plus, normal oyster service will come with a special shallot and sparkling rosé mignonette

On Saturday only, the bar will also have a Break Even Bubbles special featuring Egly Ouriet Grand Brut Rosé by the glass (normally, it’s a bottle-only offering). Relish it; only one glass per person will be available at $20.70 to give as many rosé lovers as possible the chance to try the rare wine.

Drink pink at home

Photo by Miguel Lecuona. William Chris Vineyards is hosting the first Texas Wine Revolution event showcasing the best of Texas rosés on July 10.
Photo by Miguel Lecuona. William Chris Vineyards is hosting the first Texas Wine Revolution event showcasing the best of Texas rosés on July 10.

If you’d rather feel rosy on the comfort of your couch, you’ve got plenty of bottles to choose from. Here are a couple of recommendations with local and Texas ties:

  • Llano Estacado 2015 Signature Rosé: One of Texas’ oldest and largest wineries, in Lubbock, has made a Rhone-style rosé with 28 percent Mourvedre, 27 percent Cinsault, 23 percent Grenache, 17 percent Syrah and 5 percent Carignan. According to the winery, it “truly reflects our West Texas terroir… fruity, aromatic, food-friendly or enjoyed on its own on a hot Texas summer afternoon.”
  • Love and Hope Rosé: Texas chef Tim Love — who Austinites will know through his downtown restaurant Lonesome Dove — teamed up with California winemaker Austin Hope to produce this bright and refreshing rosé made with Mourvèdre, Grenache and Syrah grapes. With a bright fruit aroma and notes of tart cherry and tangy tropical fruits, it’s a wine you won’t be able to put down.
  • Messina Hof Texas Rosé Sparkling Wine: If you prefer your wine with some bubbles, Messina Hof has released this 2015 vintage as the winery’s first sparkling wine to contain 100 percent Texas grapes (specifically the Blanc du Bois varietal, which is good at creating fresh, versatile wine). According to the winery, the rosé “explodes with delicious red cherry flavor on top of hints of green apple and peach.”
  • William Chris Vineyards 2015 Cinsault Rosé: The Hill Country winery is organizing a rosé-centric wine festival in July called the Texas Wine Revolution, so it’s fair to say William Chris has an appreciation for a good pink wine. This one, the winery says, showcases notes of bright berries and cream; you’ll notice “fresh orange, strawberry, and raspberry on the palate with a soft, seductive mouthfeel that Cinsault gives so distinctly.”

Tickets for September’s Texas Craft Brewers Fest now on sale

Save the date for the state’s largest craft beer festival focusing solely on Texas-made beer: Texas Craft Brewers Fest returns on Sept. 24 with more than 65 breweries pouring their sudsy wares.

Photo by Tyler Malone. The Texas Craft Brewers Festival on Saturday has some exciting new additions on tap, including brewers' talks throughout the afternoon.
Photo by Tyler Malone. The Texas Craft Brewers Festival returns this year on Sept. 24.

Tickets for the festival are now on sale at three levels: VIP for $75, general admission for $30 (an early-bird rate that expires on July 15) and designated driver for $10.

The $75 VIP ticket price might seem a little steep, but it’s a good deal for serious beer fans. They’ll get access to Fiesta Gardens, the location of the fest, two hours early, with “quality mingle time” with some of the brewers in store during that time. VIP tickets also come with a commemorative T-shirt and souvenir glassware.

Both VIP and general admission ticket holders will get 8 beer sample tickets — and plenty of time to roam the grounds, discovering new beers and breweries that might not be available in their city.

“Once again, we are excited to bring Texas craft brewers and Texas craft beer fans together in Austin for our unique celebration,” Charles Vallhonrat, the executive director of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, the organization in charge of the festival, said in a press release. “The Texas Craft Brewers Festival is one of a kind because it really is the brewers’ festival. With nearly 200 operating and in-planning brewery members, the Texas Craft Brewers Guild is the leading advocate for Texas craft beer.”

For the second year running, part of the proceeds from festival sales are going toward a good cause. The House That Beer Built, a collaboration between local breweries and the Austin branch of Habitat for Humanity, “aims to raise $85,000 to build a new home for a deserving Austin family,” according to the release.

For more information, visit texascraftbrewersfestival.org.

Austin-area breweries dominate Thrillist’s ranking of best breweries in Texas

A handful of Texas beer professionals weighed in on some of the state’s best breweries for a Thrillist article — and, no surprise, have given lots of love to beer makers in the capital city.

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Live Oak Brewing was recently ranked one of Texas' top breweries, according to a Thrillist piece.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Live Oak Brewing was recently ranked one of Texas’ top breweries, according to a Thrillist piece.

In fact, Austin-area breweries take the top three spots on the list, with Live Oak Brewing at number three, Jester King Brewery at number two and the Blanco-located Real Ale Brewing at number one. Austin Beerworks and Hops & Grain also grace the ranking.

“With young guns busting out the gates with freshness, and old-school breweries upping their games, there has never been a better time for craft beer in Texas,” Thrillist writers Brooke Viggiano and Mike Cortez start the article with. “So we asked a panel of professional beer connoisseurs to weigh in on exactly who’s the best in town, errr, in state.”

These rankings were compiled after Thrillist received each of the experts’ 10 top choices, tallying all of the answers for a concrete list. The experts came from Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio and included the likes of Courtney Strange, the beer buyer at the Rainey Street bar Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden.

“The competition was tough, with heavy hitters like (512) Brewing, Lakewood Brewing, and Southern Star just barely missing out, but that only further speaks to Texas’ incredible roster of brewers,” the article noted.

As good as many of them are, it seems to be no contest that Real Ale Brewing took the top spot.

“This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Hill Country brewer’s entry into the Texas craft beer game,” Viggiano and Cortez write. “Or maybe we should say, the domination of the Texas craft beer game… Its long history shows through a solid lineup of classics and more recent exploratory numbers including sours and barrel-aged brews using rare ingredients.”

Do you agree with this list? Add your opinion to the comments.