Cocktail bar Backbeat combines Champagne and Beyoncé for holiday events

Knoxy Knox. Backbeat is serving up Beyonce-themed cocktails during the #SLEIGH event in December.
Knoxy Knox. Backbeat is serving up Beyoncé-themed cocktails during the #Sleigh event in December.

South Lamar Boulevard’s sophisticated Backbeat has perfected the recipe for boozy holiday merriment: lots of Champagne and lots of Beyoncé-themed cocktails.

Get bubbly

First up is a Champagne class, as a primer to New Year’s Eve festivities. On Sunday, participants will learn the basics of Champagne production, how it’s different from other styles of sparkling wine and what to look for when purchasing bottles. The $50 tickets include paired light bites and a guided flight of four top-notch champagnes, led by Backbeat’s co-owner, Jessica Sanders. Hang around afterward — the class runs from 5:30 to 7 p.m. — to try classic Champagne cocktails.

#SLEIGH

The second event, recurring throughout the month of December, seamlessly brings together Beyoncé, charitable causes and a celebration of the holiday season. Don’t see how all those tie together? Here’s an introduction to #Sleigh: During the first three Mondays in December (Dec. 5, 12 and 19), Sanders will be joined behind the bar by guest bartenders and celebrity barbacks who will create their own special cocktails along with three recurring ones.

  • Jingle Ladies: Put a Ring on It, with gin, apple brandy, Martine Honeysuckle, Meyer lemon, orgeat, Angostura bitters and Brut Champagne
  • Santa Bey-by, with tequila, mezcal, Campari, blood orange, honey, lime and allspice
  • I’ve Got Hot Sauce in My Daiq, with white rum, passionfruit, coconut, lime and Yellowbird Serrano

Each night, a portion of the proceeds from these cocktails, as well as tips, will go toward a charity that benefits women. Backbeat is donating the money to GirlForward, Austin SafePlace and Texas Women’s Advocacy Project.

Guest bartenders and barbacks at #Sleigh include Madelyn Kay with Vox Table, Travis Tober with Aviation American Gin and David Alan with Patron Spirits. The event runs from 7 to 10 p.m. each of those Mondays, although patrons will also be able to order the regular menu during that time.

Backbeat is located at 1300 S. Lamar Blvd. For more information, visit backbeat-atx.com.

Dripping Springs’ Barber Shop moves brewery to bigger space

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. The Barber Shop is a brewpub in downtown Dripping Springs that's about to celebrate a big milestone.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. The Barber Shop is a brewpub in downtown Dripping Springs that’s about to give up its brewing system to a new brewery concept opening just two doors down.

The owners of a couple boozy businesses in downtown Dripping Springs have found more success with beer than with wine.

In December, the Mercantile Wine & Tapas restaurant on Mercer Street will close to make way for a new brewery and taproom — but John McIntosh and Dave Niemeyer don’t have to worry about buying equipment for it. Instead, they will simply move the brewery system from the Barber Shop, a small brewpub that they also own on Mercer.

The Barber Shop, which celebrated its fifth anniversary early this year, will remain where it is. Cozy, with a lived-in look, the bar gets its name from a previous occupant of the 1920s building.

Two doors down from the Barber Shop, the Mercantile will have its final night of dinner service on Dec. 17. After that, it’ll close and go under renovation to transform into the as-yet-unnamed new brewery and taproom. McIntosh and Niemeyer, the brewers, expect to reopen the space with its changed concept in February 2017.

“Thanks to the support of our Dripping Springs and beer communities, the Barber Shop and our house beer have been more successful than Dave and I would have dreamed almost six years ago when we opened,” McIntosh said in a news release. “We are both passionate about beer and brewing and could not be more excited by this opportunity to bring our house beer into its own space and brand.”

But he and Niemeyer also feel bittersweet about the closing of the Mercantile, which established itself as a purveyor of seasonal small plates paired with wine and beer.

“Beer’s siren call cannot be denied,” he said in the release.

The Barber Shop is located at 207 Mercer St., while the Mercantile is at 211 Mercer St. For more information, visit barbershopbar.com.

Austin Beerworks created beer in honor of Driskill Hotel’s 130th anniversary

Photo by Mark Knight. The Driskill Bar is tapping a special Austin Beerworks brew during the Driskill Hotel's Christmas tree lighting on Nov. 29.
Photo by Mark Knight. The Driskill Bar is tapping a special Austin Beerworks brew during the Driskill Hotel’s Christmas tree lighting on Nov. 29.

Austin’s most storied hotel is celebrating 130 years in business this year — a big milestone that one local brewery, Austin Beerworks, is commemorating with a special brew.

Named after the Driskill Hotel’s founder, Colonel Jesse Driskill, the Cattle Baron Wheatwine is a rich and warming winter beer that goes on tap at the homey Driskill Bar starting today during the annual Christmas tree lighting. The 9.5 percent ABV brew will also be available for tasting at Austin Beerworks’ taproom.

The wheatwine (similar to a barleywine in style but with a heavy portion of wheat malt) was made with the hotel’s founder and his considerable project in mind.

“Cattle Baron Wheatwine is inspired by Colonel Jesse Driskill, who 130 years ago ambitiously brought luxury into the Wild West,” William Golden, Austin Beerworks’ head brewer, said in a press release. “Texas Red Wheat gives this beer a full and decadent body, and there’s nothing tame about it. It pairs perfectly with grilled meats, strong cheeses and cowhide chairs.”

You can find out what else it pairs with at the Driskill Hotel’s monthly beer dinner, this time featuring Austin Beerworks’ brews. The four-course Craft Series feast at the 1886 Cafe & Bakery on Dec. 12 will also pair three other beers from the North Austin brewery with cuisine from the Driskilll’s executive chef, Troy Knapp.

“The Driskill has seen and been through much in its 130-year history, but having a beer inspired by the founder is a first for us,” he said in the release.

The hotel’s tree lighting event starts at 6 p.m. today and will showcase seasonal sounds from the Arundel Ensemble String Trio. Lighting the tree this year will be one of the families that the American-Statesman’s Season for Caring campaign is hoping to help: the McGills. To read more about the family and their needs, visit statesman.com/season-for-caring-2016.

Texas brewers remain in fight over distribution rights with TABC appeal

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Austin beer maker Live Oak Brewing has been involved with a case about distribution rights that the state is now appealing.
Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Austin beer maker Live Oak Brewing has been involved with a case about distribution rights that the state is now appealing.

Texas brewers and others in the beer industry have been winning court victories  — most recently, the fight for retailers to use crowlers — but one battle, it seems, is not over yet.

In August, a group of brewers successfully convinced a state district judge that a current Texas law wasn’t constitutional. The law, part of the bundle of 2013 legislation that otherwise advanced the interests of breweries in the state, prohibited them from receiving monetary compensation from distributors for the right to distribute their beers.

Austin-based Live Oak Brewing, along with the Dallas/Fort Worth-area’s Peticolas Brewing and Revolver Brewing, decided to sue the state in 2014 in the hopes of getting the valuable earnings they believed they could get from selling those rights. A judge ultimately sided with them.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, however, has decided to appeal the decision. Now, the case goes to the Third Court of Appeals in Austin.

As before, the state will argue that the law was important in maintaining the three-tier system — Texas’ regulatory system dictating that makers of beer, wine and spirits create their products, distributors sell them to retailers, and those places, in turn, peddle them to the public. Brewers being able to sell their distribution rights, rather than give them away as the law dictated, would be a violation of the system.

That’s not the issue at stake at all, according to the lawyers who represented Live Oak, Peticolas and Revolver in the suit. Instead, they argue that the law unfairly hurts brewers’ ability to grow their businesses.

Institute for Justice senior attorney Matt Miller, the breweries’ attorney, said in a statement after news of TABC’s appeal that they believe the Texas courts will still side with the breweries in a state that has always cherished small business.

“The trial court correctly saw that this law was written by distributors to do one thing: enrich themselves at the expense of craft brewers,” Miller said. “That is unconstitutional, and we are confident the appellate court will agree.”

In August, when the court ruled in favor of Live Oak and the North Texas breweries, Miller noted that the Texas Constitution doesn’t allow the legislature to pass laws “that enrich one business at the expense of another.”

TABC’s public information officer, Chris Porter, declined to comment because of the pending legal matter. The commission is also expected to appeal the ruling of the crowler case and has until Friday to make that appeal.

San Diego’s Coronado Brewing is coming to Texas

Starting this week, Austin beer lovers will start noticing new brews on draft — those of San Diego’s coastal-themed Coronado Brewing.

Contributed by Coronado Brewing Co. Eventually, San Diego-area brewery Coronado Brewing will have cans of beers like the Islander IPA in Austin bars and stores.
Contributed by Coronado Brewing Co. Eventually, San Diego-area brewery Coronado Brewing will have cans of beers like the Islander IPA in Austin bars and stores.

The beers debut at a happy hour at Waller Creek Pub House on Monday evening, followed by two other happy hours at the Brass Tap Domain Tuesday and Little Woodrow’s Southpark Meadows location on Wednesday. These bars will have Coronado’s core offerings available, including the Orange Avenue Wit, Mermaid’s Red, Islander IPA and newcomer Stingray IPA.

Plus, Tuesday’s happy hour at the Brass Tap Domain will also have the only keg of Idiot IPA in Austin.

Although the initial launch features draft-only versions of Coronado beers, the brewery will eventually start selling six-pack cans and 22 oz. specialty bottles. Texas marks the 19th state for Coronado Brewing to expand into, after first opening as a brewpub 20 years ago on the island of Coronado, a resort city in San Diego County. The brewery has grown at a double-digit pace since.

“San Diego and Austin share a lot of similarities when it comes to appreciating the best life has to offer — and doing it your own way — and we think our brand will resonate with Texans,” Brandon Richards, the COO of Coronado Brewing, said in a news release.

Get a first taste of Coronado Brewing in Austin at 6 p.m. today at Waller Creek Pub. The Brass Tap Domain’s event runs from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

For more information, visit coronadobrewing.com.

Lavaca Street Bar opens in World of Beer’s old South Lamar location

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. The new Lavaca Street Bar has plenty of seating, as well as a couple of basketball hoops in one corner.
Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. The new Lavaca Street Bar has plenty of seating, as well as a couple of basketball hoops in one corner.

Lavaca Street Bar now has three locations in key sections of the city: downtown, in the Domain Northside’s Rock Rose entertainment district and, as of Monday, on South Lamar Boulevard.

The bar from locally based FBR Management — the owners of other popular Austin spots like Star Bar, the Rattle Inn and Mean Eyed Cat — has moved into the old World of Beer location, a chain with 50 taps and more than 500 bottles, that despite its supply of beer couldn’t quite find a following here.

But Lavaca Street Bar may prove to be more successful, having clearly found a formula that works: good beer and cocktails, TVs playing sports games and bites from Chef Ralph Gilmore’s Turf ‘n Surf Po’Boys.

The opening tap list includes FBR’s collaboration with Last Stand Brewing. The Ale Pastor was, as the name suggests, inspired by a taco. Other beers include Hops & Grain A Pale Mosaic, Avery Brewing White Rascal and Thirsty Planet Thirsty Goat.

At 3121 S. Lamar Blvd., the new Lavaca Street Bar is opened from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. on weekends. Once the staff adjusts, it’ll be opened every day at 11 a.m. like the other two locations.

For more information, visit lavacastreet.com.

In Texas, crowlers ruled legal after Cuvee Coffee, TABC court battle

Cuvee Coffee Bar is the only bar in Austin serving beer to go in crowlers. But the TABC is mandating the crowler system has to go.
Cuvee Coffee Bar went to court to bring back its crowler machine, pictured here, after TABC said that crowlers are for brewpubs’ use only. The retailer won its fight this month.

Less than a week after Real Ale Brewing successfully resolved a trademark dispute, another beer battle being fought in Texas courts has also had a happy ending — at least for now.

Crowlers, according to the Texas judge who heard the case between Cuvee Coffee Bar and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, aren’t getting canned after all.

Although the TABC alleged that retailers like Cuvee Coffee using crowlers “constituted canning,” which only breweries and brewpubs are legally able to do, Texas Administrative Law Judge John Beeler found that “the evidence failed to prove any of the allegations, and therefore (he) recommends that no action be taken against” Cuvee Coffee or its founder, Mike McKim, according to court documents.

The ruling, made Nov. 17, means the TABC can’t prohibit bars and restaurants from filling crowlers — 32 oz. aluminum growlers that look like supersized cans — for customers.

McKim, who decided to go to court against the TABC after the agency confiscated his crowler machine last year, celebrated the victory with supporters last night but worried this morning that getting his crowler machine back won’t be so easy.

“In theory, what it means is that the TABC’s accusations, all the charges they brought against us, the judge doesn’t agree with at all,” McKim said in a phone interview. “It means that crowlers are no different than growlers. The downside is that the TABC’s lawyer got in touch with mine (‘craft beer lawyer’ Angel Tomasino) and said they are going to file exceptions to this.”

The TABC’s public information officer, Chris Porter, said the agency is examining the judge’s ruling and evaluating whether to file an exception.

If that’s what TABC decides to do, it has a deadline of Dec. 2 to protest the judge’s ruling, and even if the judge again strikes down the agency’s argument, McKim said he doesn’t know when he’s going to actually be able to sell crowlers again. He’s hopeful, however, that the return of the Texas legislature in January means updated codes and laws protecting retailers’ use of crowlers aren’t far away.

“We’ve already started the lobbying process,” he said. “We won’t let them drag their feet. They took us to court, they lost, and they should give us the crowlers back and let all bars serve them.”

He has taken on crowlers as his cause for more than principle. Crowlers have proven to be more lucrative than growlers at selling beer to go, at least at his business; as a result of Cuvee Coffee not having a crowler machine, McKim said that the bar has a lost a substantial amount of revenue. On East Sixth Street, the bar sold 1,000 crowlers in six months but only 16 growler fills in the 14 months since TABC took away the crowler machine. That’s a pretty decisive clue, he said, that customers just don’t use growlers as much.

Growlers — glass, stainless steel or ceramic containers many businesses use to sell beer for off-site consumption — come in 32 and 64 oz. sizes, and they’re more bulky and unwieldy than the large cans termed as crowlers. Crowlers are also seen as favorable for reasons that cans are: because they prevent light from spoiling the beer, keep the beer fresher for a longer period of time and can be recycled, though they are one-use unlike growlers. (Oskar Blues, which now has a location in Austin, first invented the crowler.)

Despite McKim’s apprehension over what TABC might decide to do in light of the ruling, he’s optimistic overall about the Texas beer industry after other court battles have yielded victories for the people in it.

“With the Live Oak, Peticolas and Revolver win and pending litigation with Deep Ellum, we’re seeing a shift in the attitude of the courts,” he said. “I think it’s great for all of these outdated, non-specific alcohol codes that are left open for 10 different people to interpret 10 different ways. I think it’s great for the craft beer industry in Texas.”