Beloved Michigan beer brand Bell’s Brewery to debut in Texas very soon

Contributed by Easy Tiger. Bell's Brewery is officially launching in Texas the first week of March.
Contributed by Easy Tiger. Bell’s Brewery is officially launching in Texas the first week of March.

UPDATE FEB. 17: Two more places have announced Bell’s Brewery launch events. Via 313 will have four of Bell’s Brewery favorites at the Oak Hill and North Campus locations — the two brick-and-mortar spots — along with a special pizza, the Hat Trick, loaded with three different types of pepperonis. That launch will be from 6 to 9 p.m. March 2.

It’s no surprise the pizza restaurant is supporting Bell’s: Via 313, like Bell’s, is from Michigan.

Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden is launching the same day as Hopfields (see below) with a celebration tied to Fat Tuesday, Feb. 28. The Rainey Street bar will have a whopping nine of Bell’s beers on tap, including the Consecrator Doppelbock, a traditional example of the Old World style. Drink ’em while snacking on boudin balls and beignets as part of the Mardi Gras party from 6 to 9 p.m. that evening.

EARLIER: Texas beer lovers have been salivating since last spring at the announcement that a much-coveted Michigan brewery, Bell’s Brewery, was headed our way. Now, we don’t have to wait too much longer — about another two weeks.

On Feb. 28, Hopfields will be the first bar in Austin to feature the Bell’s lineup. That will include the beer that Bell’s, which is already in 30 other states, has made specifically for the Texas market: an American IPA called Am I Right or Amarillo. According to Bell’s, the hoppy beer marks the first time the brewery has produced “a beer specifically for a new market.”

The beer, as hop aficionados might have guessed, was brewed entirely with Amarillo hops and has “big, bold aromas of citrus and tropical fruit, balanced with a firm malt backbone,” according to Bell’s. The one-off batch of Am I Right or Amarillo is primarily going into 12 oz. six-packs, but a limited number of bars and restaurants, like Hopfields, will also have it on draft.

Hopfields isn’t sure yet what other Bell’s Brewery beers will be available just yet, so keep an eye on social media for updates. But the campus-area pub does plan to have Michigan-inspired food pairings to go along with your pour or flight, as well as free glassware and branded swag.

Another beer bar, Easy Tiger, is also planning a big launch party on March 1. On that day, you’ll be able to purchase a $10 flight with some of Bell’s mainstays brews: Lager of the Lakes, Two Hearted Ale, Porter and Kalamazoo Stout. If you’re one of the first 50 people to buy the flight, you’ll come away with a free swag bag. And if you just want to nurse a can of Two Hearted — another American IPA, this one brewed with 100 percent Centennial hops — you can do that, too.

Easy Tiger’s sister restaurants will have a tap or two of Bell’s beer as well. The ELM Restaurant Group, which owns each of them, is thus launching a Passport promotion. Have the flight at the launch party or the four featured beers individually at Easy Tiger; then, get a stamp at Italic, Irene’s and 24 Diner showing you’ve had their Bell’s beer on draft as well. Once you’ve visited each spot and gotten your Bell’s fix, you will receive a Bell’s shirt, hat and glass.

Got that straight? Italic will be tapping the Amber Ale on March 3, Irene’s will have the Oatsmobile Ale on March 6 and 24 Diner is offering the Amarillo IPA on March 8.

We’ll update this blog with more places that are throwing Bell’s Brewery launch events once we see them.

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Austin’s beer scene named among the best in the nation — but is it the best?

Austin, as we’ve known, has always been a reliable place to find good drinks — especially beer.

That’s becoming true on the national level with USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards: a series of categories, such as “Best Beer Scene,” “Best Brewpub” and “Best Beer Bar,” that were recently announced anew. This year, Austin’s got nominees in all three of the ones listed: the ABGB in the brewpub category, Easy Tiger and Craft Pride in the bar category. Our beer scene as a whole is also getting major love.

The publication needs your help to further refine the choices in each of the categories, whittling them down to (you guessed it) 10 finalists.

Now through March 13, vote on the place you believe is most worthy of the honor. You’re allowed only one vote in this category per day, and you can keep an eye on how your choice is doing by checking out the 10Best leaderboard of each category, which lists all 20 nominated places in the order that people are voting for them.

At the moment, the ABGB is number two in its category, with Easy Tiger at number six and Craft Pride a little farther down in that category at number 18.

Easy Tiger has been nominated for best beer bar in the U.S. the second year in a row. Arianna Auber / American-Statesman.
Easy Tiger has been nominated for best beer bar in the U.S. the second year in a row. Arianna Auber / American-Statesman.

Austin’s overall beer scene is, meanwhile, at the number 11 spot, squaring off against other beer-obsessed cities like Chicago, Asheville and Portland, Oregon. Grand Rapids, Michigan, home of the popular Founders Brewing, is currently in the top spot.

Easy Tiger made the Readers’ Choice list of Best Beer Bar last year as well but ultimately placed out of the top 10.

It’s not hard to figure out why the East Sixth Street beer garden and bakery has been featured on the list again, however, which was put together by a four-person panel of beer experts. As 10Best notes, the 30-tap bar “makes it easy for Austin beer lovers to settle in for a lengthy visit. Picnic tables and large fans in the shady garden contribute to the easygoing atmosphere.”

Although Easy Tiger’s draft wall and bottled and canned brews are a mix of both local and national offerings, the 54-tap Craft Pride is far more niche — precisely why it was added to the running this year. “Craft Pride stands out from the crowd in Austin’s burgeoning beer scene with its policy of Texas-only beers sourced from craft breweries around the state,” according to 10Best.

For the ABGB, getting nominated in 10Best’s Readers Choice Awards is just the latest in a string of accolades for the pizza- and music-loving brewpub. Last year, the ABGB dominated at the Great American Beer Festival, taking home the Large Brewpub of the Year award and other medals.

All three of these sudsy spots also made it into the American-Statesman’s roundup last year of 20 of the best bars in town — a list I found incredibly hard to put together because of many worthy choices. That just goes to show Austin’s place among the cities of 10Best’s Best Beer Scene is well-deserved.

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The final winners of each of the 10Best categories will be announced on March 17. For more information, visit 10best.com/awards/travel/.

Armadillo’s Leap opens second winery tasting room in Fredericksburg

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. From the founders of Pedernales Cellars, Armadillo’s Leap Winery offers a fun tasting room experience at its 290 location, with a gorgeous outdoor patio framed by grapevines. There's now a second location in the heart of Fredericksburg.
Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. From the founders of Pedernales Cellars, Armadillo’s Leap Winery offers a fun tasting room experience at its 290 location, with a gorgeous outdoor patio framed by grapevines. There’s now a second location in the heart of Fredericksburg.

There are now two locations where Texas wine lovers can taste Armadillo’s Leap wines in the Hill Country.

The winery from the owners of Kuhlken Vineyards and Pedernales Cellars — one of the state’s best producers of Texas-friendly grapes like tempranillo — introduced the Armadillo’s Leap label a few years ago as a way to experiment and have a little fun. Since then, it’s grown quickly: A tasting room on U.S. 290, on the road to Fredericksburg, went in business early last year, and now the newest location is throwing a grand opening celebration this weekend.

Located on Main Street in Fredericksburg, it will be another place where people can go to enjoy glasses of wine or pick up bottles to go.

And on Saturday, both locations of Armadillo’s Leap will have popcorn pairings, small bites and snacks to commemorate the arrival of the Main Street spot, which will also be where visitors can pick up bottles of the BFF Blend for 20 percent off and select merchandise for 10 percent off. Stop by either location from 12 to 5 p.m. to celebrate.

Visit the newest location of Armadillo's Leap on Saturday for a grand opening celebration. It's on Main Street in Fredericksburg.
Visit the newest location of Armadillo’s Leap on Saturday for a grand opening celebration. It’s on Main Street in Fredericksburg.

The BFF Blend is a blend of tempranillo, montepulciano and aglianico grapes, delivering notes of fig, chocolate and black tea in a medium body perfect for Texas cuisine like Tex-Mex and barbecue, according to the winery’s tasting notes about the red wine.

Armadillo’s Leap was started by the Osterberg-Kuhlken family, who wanted to give winemaker Dave Kuhlken an outlet for some of his winemaking ideas that didn’t involve tempranillo or viognier, Pedernales Cellars’ two specialties, and also wanted a more dedicated way to offer philanthropy to Central Texas nonprofits and organizations.

That’s the second function of Armadillo’s Leap: $1 of every case of wine sold in the tasting room goes to charity, a different one each year. Last year, the AL Gives program donated $2,000 to Westcave Preserve. This year, that money will benefit Ballet Austin.

Armadillo’s Leap is located at 6266 U.S. 290 and 134 E. Main Street in Fredericksburg. For more information, visit armadillosleap.com.

Austin Beerworks to host next pop-up of the Brewer’s Table

Photo by Tyler Malone. The Brewer's Table founder Jake Maddux, center, is hosting another pop-up with head brewer Drew Durish and executive chef Zach Hunter at Austin Beerworks.
Photo by Tyler Malone. The Brewer’s Table founder Jake Maddux, center, is hosting another pop-up with head brewer Drew Durish and executive chef Zach Hunter at Austin Beerworks.

The upcoming restaurant-brewery The Brewer’s Table has been hosting pop-ups in Austin and around the country, but those have mainly provided early tastes of what the food will be.

Now, beer lovers can also get a taste of the boozy side of the business.

On Feb. 19, the newly opened Austin Beerworks taproom is playing host to The Brewer’s Table team, which includes owner Jake Maddux, executive chef Zach Hunter (previously of Fixe) and head brewer Drew Durish (formerly of Live Oak Brewing). At the afternoon tasting, they’ll have samples of The Brewer’s Table’s signature beer and a small selection of bar snacks.

The casual event is in contrast to previous pop-ups at local restaurants Franklin Barbecue and Olamaie, which offered full sit-down meals for people to try.

This time, The Brewer’s Table will have free pours of their flagship brew, the Common Lager, designed by Durish but brewed for the pop-up by the Austin Beerworks team. Pair the beer with complimentary bites like beer nuts, made with candied chickpeas, puffed grains and seeds, chile and black lime.

Additional Austin Beerworks beers will also be available for purchase.

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Here’s the full menu of bar bites that Austinites will eventually enjoy at The Brewer’s Table, which is opening this year at 4715 E. Fifth St. Owner Maddux has envisioned the space to have wood-fermented beers and seasonally minded food that will have complementary flavors with the drinks.

  • Beer nuts
  • Smoked fish and cauliflower dip with Meyer lemon, salt and vinegar beer chips
  • Rye cured chicken rillette with root vegetable escabeche and sourdough rye bread
  • Beer grain falafel with farmer’s cheese and hop leaf harissa

The pop-up runs from 1 to 4 p.m. on Feb. 19. To RSVP, visit The Brewer’s Table’s event page on Facebook.

Hi Sign Brewing to open with four beers, including New England IPA

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Hi Sign Brewing is introducing itself to Austin with a pale ale, left, and a blood-orange coffee stout, New England IPA and blonde ale.
Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Hi Sign Brewing is introducing itself to Austin with a pale ale, left, and a blood-orange coffee stout, New England IPA and blonde ale.

Marine Corps veteran Mark Phillippe is about to open the latest Austin brewery thanks in part to the advice of two close friends and mentors who have made careers through the local beverage industry.

He is the founder of Hi Sign Brewing, which will quietly open its doors on Sunday just north of the intersection of Highway 183 and Texas 71 and plans to celebrate a grand opening in mid-March during South by Southwest. The brewery, located in a 6,600 sq. ft. warehouse space including an airy taproom, an automated brewhouse and a private events room, is the result of seven years of Phillippe’s hard work.

After a deployment to Afghanistan and nearly four full years in the military, he needed to find a new career — and decided, after many talks with Tito’s Handmade Vodka founder Tito Beveridge and Sweet Leaf Tea and Deep Eddy Vodka founder Clayton Christopher, that owning a brewery in Austin would bring him the most satisfaction.

“It seemed like a career you were passionate about wasn’t about the money,” he said. “I’d see them and how much they were enjoying their lives, and it was because they’d found something they had a lot of passion for.”

Although Christopher and Beveridge both found their fortunes through vodka, Phillippe is banking on beer because of a love for the fermented beverage that he discovered at his family’s Montana cabin in the early 2000s. He’s enlisted Andrew Shelton, formerly of Revolver Brewing, to take on the head brewer position at Hi Sign Brewing — a job that has so far stretched Shelton’s creative brewing muscles.

Hi Sign is opening with four beers: a blonde ale, a pale ale, a New England IPA and a blood-orange coffee stout made with Café Ubuntu beans roasted by Allegro Coffee.

The New England IPA — a quasi-style of beer marked by hazy, juicy and not-so-bitter characteristics from lots of hops — is relatively new to Austin, providing Hi Sign a niche. In town, IPA master Pinthouse Pizza is the most known for experimenting with them (most notably with the highly sought-after Electric Jellyfish), but Hi Sign is hoping to draw attention to the style as well.

Shelton, who arrived most recently from Big Storm Brewing in Florida, had never done one before but researched New England IPAs (also called Northeastern-style IPAs) before drafting a recipe for Hi Sign’s version. The result is a cloudy, tangerine-colored brew that “someone might drink and be like, ‘Is this orange juice?’ In my mind, that means we’ve got a brewer who knows what he’s doing,” Phillippe said.

Although the beer hasn’t proven easy to do because of the amount of hops required to make it, Shelton said he is excited to continue experimenting with the “unique project. How do you come up with new techniques that will keep it hoppy but not lose the flavor, the haziness? It’s going to be fun to work out.”

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Introducing Austin to a true-to-style New England IPA was Phillippe’s idea. So was the blood-orange coffee stout made with lightly roasted Kenyan beans, a caffeinated collaboration with his friend Zane Wilemon. Shelton, however, decided a pale ale in the lineup was a good idea “to have a safe beer. It’s kind of in between the blonde ale and the New England IPA in terms of hoppiness,” he said.

The blonde ale, the first Hi Sign brew, was the result of needing a simple, easy-to-produce beer that would calibrate the new 15-barrel brewhouse system, which has been automated through Siemens technology. Having a system that heavily automated — and able to more easily produce the same good-quality beers over and over again, a consistency that Phillippe has sought from the start — is unusual for such a young brewery, but he believes “keeping the beer consistent” is important.

That’s part of what he has learned is key from the counsel of Beveridge and Christopher, who pushed him to pursue Hi Sign Brewing from the conception of his vision. Both have taught him that it’s OK to fail but that it’s best to “learn enough to be dangerous and then go out and hire the best,” he said.

The brewery gets its name from a sign he would regularly see during visits to his family’s Montana cabin in college, in the small town of Lincoln. Those seemingly innocuous vacations, it turned out, would mark the start of a growing passion for craft beer. The sign just seemed to symbolize the turning point those days served for him, he said.

“Someone had taken a barrel top, a big white barrel top, and some red reflective tape and written the word ‘hi’ on it. And then nailed it to this post. So it acted as a sign marker. So what you’d say is, ‘Turn at the hi sign,'” he said.

Before you turned at the sign, however, you’d make sure you were armed with beer to last you the trip.

“The thing to do up there, 15 years ago and still to this day, is fly into the airport, find a brewery and pick up your five or six growlers of beer for the weekend and then go to your cabin,” he said. “You go fish and hang out. We would be sitting on these little hand-made benches around a bonfire at night and drinking beer out of growlers. That was the first time I could remember drinking an IPA and thinking, ‘Wow, what is this? This is really good beer.'”

Hi Sign Brewing is located at 1201 Old Bastrop Hwy. After this weekend, taproom hours will be 2 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, noon to midnight Fridays-Sundays. For more information, visit facebook.com/hisignbrewing.

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. IPAs generally aren't supposed to be hazy, but a sub-style of the hoppy beer that originated in the Northeast U.S. has made them not only hazy but lacking in bitterness as well. Hi Sign Brewing is introducing one to the Austin market.
Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. IPAs generally aren’t supposed to be hazy, but a sub-style of the hoppy beer that originated in the Northeast U.S. has made them not only hazy but lacking in bitterness as well. Hi Sign Brewing is introducing one to the Austin market.

Tito’s Vodka throws boozy month-long fundraiser to support Amplify Austin

Contributed by Tito's Handmade Vodka. This February, enjoy a vodka cocktail made with Tito's at select bars and restaurants in Central Texas and you'll be helping contribute to a big giving initiative, Amplify Austin.
Contributed by Tito’s Handmade Vodka. This February, enjoy a vodka cocktail made with Tito’s at select bars and restaurants in Central Texas and you’ll be helping contribute to a big giving initiative, Amplify Austin.

Austin’s annual day of online giving is returning at the beginning of March — but in the meantime, local spirits brand Tito’s Handmade Vodka is starting the philanthropy early with cocktails for a cause.

Tito’s has partnered with the nonprofit I Live Here, I Give Here to help raise additional dollars for the organization’s biggest fundraising event, Amplify Austin, which takes place March 2-3 this year. And Tito’s needs your help to give big bucks.

Through Feb. 28, participating bars and restaurants in the area will be offering cocktails made with Tito’s Handmade Vodka. One dollar from each of these drinks will be donated to Amplify Austin, and the big-hearted Tito’s brand then plans to match that donated amount up to $10,000. Ultimately, that means Tito’s boozy initiative will give up to $20,000.

These funds will go toward Amplify Austin’s Stretch Fund, which “is spread evenly on a pro-rated level to all 700+ participating nonprofits. The more funds that these nonprofits raise on their own, the larger the portion of the stretch fund they receive,” according to a PR representative with I Live Here, I Give Here.

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The organization launched Amplify Austin to increase philanthropic efforts in Central Texas. Anyone can give by going to amplifyatx.org from 6 p.m. March 2 to 6 p.m. March 3, finding their chosen nonprofit and donating through an online form on the site. This year, I Live Here, I Give Here is hoping to raise more than $9 million for more than 700 nonprofits in seven Central Texas counties, including Travis, Hays, Williamson and Burnet.

Tito’s Handmade Vodka has supported Amplify Austin in the past — though not nearly so extensively — and has also given money to flood relief efforts and other causes, such as Emancipet.

Here’s the list of participating bars and restaurants where you can enjoy a Tito’s drink. (Note: This list isn’t comprehensive.)

  • FoxHole Culinary Tavern
  • Grove Wine Bar & Kitchen (at downtown location only)
  • Lustre Pearl East
  • Moontower Saloon
  • Reale’s Italian Café
  • Red Shed Tavern
  • Spider House Café & Ballroom
  • Tap 24
  • Third Base (at all 3 Austin locations)
  • Trackside
  • Waterloo Icehouse (at 360/Capital of Texas Highway location only)
  • Zelicks Icehouse (in San Marcos)

Eight Austin coffee shops join nationwide fundraiser for the ACLU

Ralph Barrera / American-Statesman. Houndstooth Coffee is one of the participating coffee shops in Sprudge's nationwide fundraiser for the ACLU.
Ralph Barrera / American-Statesman. Houndstooth Coffee is one of the participating coffee shops in Sprudge’s nationwide fundraiser for the ACLU.

A handful of local coffee shops have stepped forward to participate in a fundraiser for the American Civil Liberties Union — a nonprofit that has received a record number of donations since President Donald Trump’s executive order last week severely restricting immigration from seven predominately Muslim countries.

The fundraiser has been organized by Sprudge, a publication that ordinarily writes about coffee and the caffeinated culture surrounding it.

Austin coffee shops taking part in it are Fleet Coffee Co., Epoch Coffee, the Wright Bros. Brew & Brew, Caffe Medici, Vintage Heart Coffee, Houndstooth Coffee, Once Over Coffee Bar and Figure 8 Coffee Purveyors. Each one will donate a portion of their profits today through Sunday to the ACLU. In addition to those funds, Sprudge has announced that it will match the first $500 that each of 26 participating coffee brands raise, Fleet among them.

“We are honored to be a part of a nationwide fundraiser for the ACLU this weekend, February 3-5,” Fleet Coffee wrote on Instagram. Twenty percent “of all revenue will be donated to this great cause. On top of that, we will have a jar available to collect additional donations.”

Each of the coffee shops might be doing something a little different to help.

Once Over Coffee on South First Street, for instance, is also contributing 20 percent of all weekend sales to the campaign, while Caffe Medici — which has five locations around the city — is donating 20 percent of sales from all of their shops on Sunday to Refugee Services of Texas-Austin, “which helps welcome and support people who are coming to our state,” as the coffee company noted on Instagram.

Then there’s Houndstooth, located in both Austin and Dallas, which is matching the first $1,000 in donations at each cafe. At the Brew & Brew, located in East Austin, order a filter or iced coffee if you want your money to benefit the ACLU. And at Vintage Heart on East Seventh Street, 5 percent of all drink sales are being donated.

But these local coffee purveyors aren’t the only ones contributing to the cause. Since Sprudge organized the fundraiser earlier this week, more than 175 coffee brands and more than 400 cafes around the United States have decided to participate in it.

The publication said in its announcement of the nationwide fundraiser that it does not normally get involved in political matters. That changed last week with President Trump’s executive order.

“We believe that the current executive order banning refugees from the United States and immigration from 7 majority Muslim nations is illegal, immoral, and fundamentally un-American,” Sprudge wrote. “Like a hot mug of drip coffee spilled on a crisp white apron, these actions are a dark stain on our national conscience, and as Americans, we feel compelled to stand up against them.”