Orf Brewing finally arrives, making ‘hybrid’ ales in East Austin

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Chris Orf is slowly getting kegs of his beers to local bars and will open the tasting room of Orf Brewing very soon. His brewery has been a long time coming.

Chris Orf might have the smallest professional brewing system in town, but that hasn’t stopped him from opening Orf Brewing after 11 years of dreaming and planning.

The former homebrewer, comedy writer and chemistry teacher wanted to start a brewery since moving to Austin in 2006 and seeing the potential for his own operation. Although there are far more breweries now than there were then, he believes he’s maintained a niche by offering what he calls hybrid ales — beers that don’t stay true to style — and pairing them with live comedy shows in Orf Brewing’s modest taproom at Burleson Road and East Ben White Boulevard.

“That’s why I say ‘creativity in ale forms,’” Orf said, pointing to the pun on his branded Orf Brewing T-shirt. “That’s my goal, to be part of that community of both beer brewers and entertainment comedy. Combine them so that you can enjoy my beer while you’re having a good time at maybe my show or somebody else’s show.”

For now, he’s just wanting to introduce locals to his beers. The four that he makes are slowly going on draft at bars and restaurants like Craft Pride, Tamale House East and the Whip In, and they’ll also be available when he opens the Orf Brewing taproom for the first time on May 20 for tours and tastings.

Orf said he’s lucky to have gotten the 1,500 sq. ft. warehouse for his brewery — they can be hard to come by in Austin nowadays, and his has plenty of room for growth. He acquired it more than two years ago, demolished the interior (which formerly housed a very illegal hotel) and rebuilt it into a brewing facility. Although he’s had help from friends, he’s done most of it all by himself.

“This is pretty much a one-man DIY operation,” he said. “I’ve been working on this idea for years and years and finally just started doing it for real, slowly as it goes, because when there’s one person and no money, it’s just what you have to do.”

He brews using a 55-gallon system, which is “really, really sweet for a homebrewer and really, really tiny for a professional brewer,” he said, and has bootstrapped together other aspects of the beer-making process that require technology he hasn’t been able to afford yet. He’s hoping for investors who will help him purchase a bigger system and better equipment.

In the meantime, the former University of Texas chemistry instructor — who said he gets joking comparisons all the time to Walter White in “Breaking Bad” as a result — continues to spread the gospel of hybrid beers. He started making beers purposely off-style after growing tired of the likes of pilsners, hefeweizens and pale ales. Orf Brewing take elements from these and other styles and combines them to make beers that he said aren’t quite like anything else on the market.

Here’s what he has to say about each of the four Orf beers.

  • Salutation Ale: “I would consider this one, a golden ale, to be my flagship. It’s got the grains of a pilsner, the hops of an American pale ale, and the yeast of a German kolsch. So it’s not quite any of them but somewhere in between.”
  • Honey Roast: “Honey Roast is exactly what it sounds like: I wanted something not as sweet as an amber but not as smoky and toast-filled as a black schwarzbier or black IPA. So this has a little bit of roasted barley and a little bit of honey, and it’s somewhere in between the two styles.”
  • Hoprocker India Irish Red Ale: “Hoprocker is my response to IPAs getting more and more bitter. I can’t handle this peel-the-enamel-off-your-teeth bitterness. And I like Irish reds. So I took an Irish red and hopped it like an IPA, giving it the malt body of the red with the hops of an IPA. It comes out a little more malty than an IPA does, but it’s a lot more hoppy than a typical red.”
  • Oocheemama Asian White Ale: “This is the one getting the most attention because it’s the most distinct. Oocheemama is what I call an Asian white ale because it’s a hybrid of a Belgian white and an Asian or Thai rice lager, specifically spiced to go with Asian food, like sushi. It’s got wheat and rice in the grain bill (usually you get one or the other), and then I spiced it. Instead of spicing it like a Belgian wit, which is usually coriander and orange peel, stuff like that, I used a little bit of orange peel, nutmeg, a bunch of ginger, and then I dry-hopped it, for lack of a better term, with jasmine flower petals. “

He got the idea for Oocheemama, he said, after talking to a former beer buyer for Uchi, who was frustrated about not being able to find a beer that would pair with Uchi cuisine.

With the Oocheemama, he found one. Its use of a dry English ale yeast mixed with a Belgian-style wheat beer and Asian-style spices makes the beer perhaps the best example of the sort of hybrid beers that Orf likes to make, but you won’t particularly notice the science when appreciating the art: the alluring aroma of the jasmine flowers followed by the earthy, sweet and spicy flavors of the other ingredients.

“Because it’s a lighter-than-normal wheat beer, that kind of lets the spices come through in a way that pairs really well with the food,” Orf said, noting that he hopes to have it at the Whip In so that people can enjoy it with Indian cuisine.

Orf Brewing will be open 1 to 6 p.m. May 20 at 4700 Burleson Rd., F. For more information, visit orfbrewing.com/home.

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Orf Brewing has a small beer garden outside, tucked around a massive oak tree that owner Chris Orf estimates is 250 to 300 years old.

This post has been corrected to reflect the beer buyer who helped to inspire the creation of Oocheemama.

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