Zilker Brewing’s Parks & Rec Pale Ale named for one of Austin’s favorite things

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Zilker Brewing’s newest canned beer was made to highlight Zilker Park’s 100th anniversary.

The name of Zilker Brewing’s latest canned beer suggests that the brewers have a particular fondness for the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation” — but it’s actually a nod to something a little more homegrown.

Urban brewery Zilker Brewing, co-founded by brothers Patrick and Forrest Clark and their friend Marco Rodriguez, is about to release a limited liquid homage to Zilker Park, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. The Parks & Rec Pale Ale is the result of a collaboration between the brewery and the nonprofit Austin Parks Foundation and officially debuts at the Yeti Flagship store on May 25.

A portion of the proceeds from sales of the beer will go toward the Austin Parks Foundation to maintain Zilker Park, “the crown jewel of our parks system,” according to the foundation’s CEO Colin Wallis.

Giving back to a community-oriented organization like the foundation was an easy decision for Rodriguez and the Clarks to make, who “make it a priority to enrich the neighborhood we’re in however we can,” Patrick Clark said. “A big part of Austin is our outdoor spaces. If we can help those stay beautified, that’s a no-brainer for us.”

The brewery has taken its cues from namesake Andrew Zilker, an important figure in Austin’s history who gifted Barton Springs and the surrounding land, formerly part of his 40-acre ranch, to the city to be used as public parkland. He was both a philanthropist and an entrepreneur, but he got his start in Central Texas, as the story goes, with just a few cents in his pocket.

Also significant to the founders of Zilker Brewing is that during his successful career, he had ties to the beverage industry, with an ice-making business and bottling company, using the clean water from Barton Springs itself to make the ice.

The Parks & Rec Pale Ale, light and refreshing but still full of citrusy flavor, is intended to be enjoyed somewhere outside this summer.

Rodriguez, who oversees the brewing program at Zilker Brewing, made the beer with “old-school” hops like Cascade, with Centennial, he said, being the most pronounced in honor of the 100th anniversary of the park. These more established hops have fallen in popularity thanks to newer, more exciting varieties like Mosaic and Citra, which means the former hops’ aromas and flavors are becoming unfamiliar and thus “like new again,” he said.

“It’s a hop formulation we really loved and thought was appropriate for the beer: bright and citrusy, crisp and refreshing, rather than dank and bitter,” Patrick Clark said. “It’s nice when people say they would drink it outside, and they tell you that unsolicited. Because that’s exactly what we were going for — something to be enjoyed outdoors.”

The cans of Parks & Rec Pale Ale — largely designed by the brewery’s design firm Zocalo with a special Zilker Park 100th anniversary commemoration on it — launch during happy hour, 4 to 8 p.m., on May 25, at the Yeti store, 220 S. Congress Ave. Buy a special Zilker Brewing-branded Yeti Colster and you’ll get a free can of the beer. All sales from the Colsters will also be donated to the Austin Parks Foundation.

Zilker Park’s 100th anniversary is a year-long celebration with more things to come. For more information, visit zilker100.com.

Should Texas wine be made with 100 percent Texas-grown grapes?

Miguel Lecuona for American-Statesman. William Chris Vineyards makes wine from 100 percent Texas-grown grapes and supports a House bill that would require all wineries to use state fruit for a Texas label.

Far fewer people now doubt that Texas can make wine on par with California, France and other top winemaking regions of the world. With the reputation of the state’s flourishing wine industry secure, a small but growing group of winemakers believe the next step should be authenticity — a law establishing that wine can only be granted Texas appellation if it’s made from 100 percent Texas-grown grapes.

Others in the industry, including the main organization Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association, are against the proposed bills, House Bill 1514 and Senate Bill 1833, that would seek to make this designation a reality. They argue that the state’s grape growers haven’t yet established they have the yields, year after year, to fully supply the winemakers, especially when vineyards are so often at the mercy of the weather.

But for Chris Brundrett, arguably the biggest proponent of the bill and the co-owner of William Chris Vineyards in Hye, a small town on the road to Fredericksburg, there’s one irrefutable reason to support what he calls greater transparency with Texas wine: because it will lend more significance to the notion of Texas wine, especially to many of the state’s own consumers who expect their wine to have been grown here, too, and not just made or processed here.

“We want to grow this industry and want our consumers to know that if we put Texas on the label, it means as much as Washington or California,” Brundrett said, citing two states with more stringent labeling guidelines.

Like other states besides California, the Texas wine industry currently follows federal labeling regulations. Wines can have an appellation of origin (a geographical indication given to certain products derived from a specific place) if they’re made with a minimum of 75 percent grapes grown in that state. The other 25 percent can come from anywhere.

HB 1514 and its Senate counterpart would seek to change that: to guarantee that wines with a Texas label be made using entirely Texas-grown grapes.

The former bill is currently pending in committee and, with so little time left for the 85th Texas Legislature, might not even be considered on a wider scale. But the passionate feelings on either side — with winemakers straddling both ends of the debate — nonetheless provides insight into the state of the Texas wine industry and whether it’ll be ready in two years, the next legislative session, for a decisive labeling law.

For Brundrett, the problem isn’t that many Texas winemakers still make a lot of their wine with out-of-state grapes — it’s that they aren’t clear about it. That’s something fellow Hye winemaker Benjamin Calais, of Calais Winery and nearby distillery Hye Rum, has also noticed. Both of their wineries make wine with 100 percent Texas-grown grapes and say they have earned loyal customers because of it.

“We’re a minority right now,” Calais said. “A lot of Texas wineries are using 25 to 30 percent of California juice to blend with Texas juice, and when you tell people that, they are unhappy about it. It’s like the craft beer movement, when breweries get sold, and people decide they won’t support those breweries anymore. For wine drinkers, there’s an expectation when you’re visiting a small winery in the Hill Country that the person in front of you is being truthful, and it’s just not always the case.”

Brundrett also said that a stricter labeling law won’t disrupt anyone who still wants to produce wine with out-of-state grapes; they just won’t be able to label it as Texas wine anymore.

“We get a lot of hailstorms and freezes and other weather situations that can damage our grapes, so Texas wineries have the choice not to take the risk of using Texas grapes. We’re not trying to take that away,” Brundrett said. “All the bill does is respect the sense of place of Texas wine.”

But other winemakers — many of them the biggest producers of Texas wine — think more regulation on the industry would stunt the growth of it so early in its development.

Messina Hof, the largest and one of the oldest wineries in the state, makes approximately 60,000 cases of wine a year in comparison to William Chris Vineyards’ 25,000 cases and tries to get as many grapes as possible from Texas. That’s just not always possible, Messina Hof CEO Paul M. Bonarrigo said, citing a loss of 25 percent of the winery’s crop last year due to hail.

The son of the original founders, Paul V. and Merrill Bonarrigo, he is not in support of HB 1514 for reasons beyond the availability of Texas grapes. He sees other issues as more pressing to the Texas wine industry, including new herbicides that he fears are unintentionally killing whole vineyards in the Texas High Plains as they drift in the wind from nearby cotton fields. The Texas High Plains produce a significant number of grapes for wineries around the state, and Bonarrigo sees the herbicides as a real threat to Texas wine.

“Our industry is in a delicate position,” he said. “My concern is that if we focus our energy on something like (HB 1514), we’re going to lose support legislatively on things that are very important for us to survive.”

The Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association, which represents winemakers like Messina Hof and William Chris Vineyards, ultimately opposed the bill as well and wrote a letter to the sponsoring legislator, Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, about its decision made after “considerable discussion” about HB 1514.

“While we appreciate your interest in this issue, we feel that the regulations imposed by your bill would not benefit the industry or consumers at this time,” according to the letter signed by president Dusty Timmons. The association “has formed an internal committee to work on this issue and hopefully over time we will find a reasonable solution that will benefit everyone involved.”

Whether that solution will come in time for another proposed bill in the Texas Legislature in 2019 is still a big question. Brundrett, like other small winemakers who have worked hard to guarantee wines made only from Texas-grown grapes, is already confident the state is ready.

“Growing grapes in Texas is not easy. There are windstorms, hail and late freezes. A lot of uncontrollable variable. But there is so much technology and technique that has taken us out of the dark ages at the same time,” he said. “Now you’re seeing much more consistent crop levels. We’re growing an agriculture product with integrity, and we need this to take the industry to the next level.”

Inaugural Index Fest successfully mingled music, beer and art in Austin

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. The very first Index Fest rocked by combining music, art and craft beer.

The first rays of the incoming summer sun were blisteringly hot at times, but the beer, at least, was good and cold at the debut of Index Fest this weekend.

Also coming to Houston, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Dallas throughout this year, the festival is a slightly spruced-up version of the now-defunct Untapped Fest — offering games, art installations and a small roster of food vendors in addition to the usual focus on music and craft beer.

But make no mistake: Index Fest still kept the spotlight squarely on the latter two, with brewery booths scattered across the lawn and parking lot in front of the Austin American-Statesman and a large stage erected in one corner for live performances from Austin City Limits Music Fest veterans Local Natives of Los Angeles, as well as electronica duo Frenship, indie-rockers Grizfolk, local stage-spectacle Calliope Musicals and DJ Mark Markus.

The setup of the festival kept those there for the music partitioned, for the most part, from those drinking beer out of 2 oz. taster glasses. I can’t say how the music was — I was not an active listener as I made my way down the lines of brewery booths with friends — but I appreciated that sound levels from the stage never reached an overwhelming level.

Implementing electronic wristbands that kept track of how many pours each person had gotten of beer (tickets allowed for a certain number, though you could purchase more) was also smart and efficient.

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Fredericksburg’s Altstadt Brewery launched only a couple of months ago, so Index Fest was likely many beer lovers’ introduction to its light, easy-drinking beers.

Here are some of the standout beers from the festival, many of which are available in larger quantities around town.

From Austin:

  • Pinthouse Pizza’s Zappy Squid IPA (which was exciting to try for the first time in part because I’d just published a story about the brewpub’s stellar IPA program)
  • Hops & Grain’s Pellets & Powder IPA
  • Independence Brewing’s Illustrated Man Dark Sour
  • North by Northwest’s Mr. Rogers Imperial Pale Lager

From Texas and around the country:

  • Peticolas’ Velvet Hammer Imperial Red Ale
  • Firestone Walker’s Luponic Distortion, a rotating hop series
  • Jolly Pumpkin’s No Ka Oi Wild Ale
  • BrainDead Brewing’s Idle Playthings Belgian Golden Strong Ale

Isla, the sister bar to Peche, has now closed in Austin’s Warehouse District

Laura Skelding / American-Statesman. Isla, once home to Caribbean-style cocktails, is closing down.

Once a rum bar and restaurant serving up Caribbean-style food to patrons, Isla made the switch late last year to Peruvian cuisine and cocktails but couldn’t seem to find its groove. The sister spot to French-focused Peche announced this morning on social media that Isla has closed.

The announcement came through Chef Julio-Cesar Flórez, a Peruvian native who helped the restaurant redirect its culinary program to the flavors of South America.

“Isla closed,” he wrote in a Facebook post that was then re-posted on Isla’s Facebook and Instagram. “It was my pleasure and honor to bring Peruvian food of this quality to this city. I hope to do it again soon, it has always been my mission, and I know I won a lot of hearts during this short period.”

Owner Rob Pate, who opened the city’s first absinthe bar with Peche, took over the short-lived Pleasant Storage Room next door to Peche in late 2014, when the rum bar styled after a popular Cuban watering hole abruptly closed. He decided not to change the focus of Isla from its former incarnation, creating a menu of tropical drinks and food.

Isla became the place to go for almost exclusively tiki-style cocktails paired with island fare. It then transitioned to more of a Caribbean cantina until Flórez’ Peruvian influence. And for Pate, through all of his project’s changes, Isla remained a special place because of the people who worked there to make it what it needed to be.

“It is never an easy thing to close something that so many people have put a great deal of effort into,” he said in an emailed statement. “We were blessed at Isla to have a great core of employees, and I think that is what hurts the most. We will take a couple of weeks to figure out our next step and go from there.”

Isla’s last day was Sunday, when it hosted a final brunch.

The Austin Winery celebrates move to South Austin with grand opening party

Contributed by the Austin Winery. The Austin Winery’s new location is finally open and will celebrate with an all-day party this weekend.

The Austin Winery will continue to be an urban destination with its move south to the mixed-use industrial complex called the Yard, where St. Elmo Brewing, Spokesman Coffee and others like a forthcoming whiskey distillery are also situated.

Founded by three young entrepreneurs — CEO Ross McLauchlan, VP and winemaker Cooper Anderson, and chief of operations Matthew Smith — the winery is officially open in its new location and wants to celebrate with you tomorrow at a grand opening party.

There, the small food menu with light bites like meats and cheeses is debuting for the first time, as well as new releases of some of the winery’s staple wines: Euphoria, Work Horse, Quarter Horse and Rosé. Bottles will be 15 percent off all day.

McLauchlan is excited to expose more locals to the Austin Winery with a more central location and has made sure that visitors have plenty to explore. The Austin Winery has a barrel room, a tasting room, a mezzanine and even an on-site kitchen that will allow the winery to play host to guest chefs and supper clubs.

“There will be much more room, so it’ll be nice to have an expanded presence and options for people to relax, engage and enjoy the space,” he said last year, when the winery was still in the process of constructing the new facility. “Wine is great on its own, but it’s always better when paired with other things, whether that’s food, music or shopping.”

The bigger space has big benefits in other ways, too: being able to produce up to 20,000 cases per year of wine.

Tomorrow’s celebration will run from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Regular tasting room hours are 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays and 12 to 7 p.m. Sundays, during which there will often be live music, DJ sets, food trucks on weekends, trivia nights and trunk shows. The Austin Winery also has plans for a set of wine classes for both novices and professionals.

The Austin Winery is located at 440A E. St. Elmo Rd. For more information, visit theaustinwinery.com.

Austin brewpub Pinthouse Pizza to open third location in Round Rock

After finding a niche in Austin as a family-friendly brewpub selling beer and pizza, Pinthouse Pizza is moving a little north of the city for its newest location in Round Rock. Construction will start this summer at a plot of land at Old Settlers and Interstate 35.

It might take longer to get this third brewpub up and running because Pinthouse is starting from the ground up, erecting an entirely new building rather than simply retrofitting an existing one, as with the first two on Burnet Road and South Lamar Boulevard. The team behind Pinthouse, which includes Director of Brewing Operations Joe Morhfeld, is excited to put their stamp on the project from the start.

“We’ll have more space to do what we want,” he said.

Deborah Cannon / American-Statesman. Pinthouse Pizza will be making many more beers at an upcoming Round Rock location.

And why Round Rock? The town is appealing because it’s become an outpost of other Austin chains like Hopdoddy and the site of new restaurants from established Austin chefs like Jack Gilmore, who opened Salt Traders Coastal Cooking there last year to strong reviews.

“It just kind of made sense for us to move there, looking at the other restaurants around there and how they’re doing and the demographic,” Mohrfeld said. “With the population shift and everything, it seemed like a natural fit for us. And there’s still open land that we were able to grab.”

For his part, Mohrfeld plans to approach the brewing program there in the same way he has the other two: offering new and different beers at it with Pinthouse’s indelible balanced style.

“You’ll never find Man O’ War (Pinthouse Burnet’s flagship beer) at the south location, just like you won’t find Electric Jellyfish (Pinthouse Lamar’s flagship beer) at the north location,” Jacob Passey, head brewer at the South Lamar brewpub, said. “We might make similar beers with some crossover recipes, but for the most part, if you always go south and you want to go north, we want you to be able to try new beers. Or vice versa.”

That will be the case at Round Rock: Morhfeld is considering making Training Bines, another Pinthouse IPA, the flagship at Round Rock. People at the Burnet pub have already gotten to try it, as he and the brewers work to perfect it.

“It’s same thing we did with Lamar,” the second Pinthouse location to open, he said. “We had been working on a lot of the beers for Lamar for a year plus leading up to it. We just took the stuff that worked and took it down there. So it’s not like we’re starting completely fresh. We’re able to incubate the beers at the two locations and see what works.”

One thing you can count on at the Round Rock spot: lots more exciting IPAs, Pinthouse’s specialty style. The brewpub was founded in 2012 and quickly established itself as the place to go for fresh takes on the beloved beer.

For more information about Pinthouse Pizza, visit pinthousepizza.com.

In Texas Senate, craft brewers fight for off-premise sales, try to ward off taproom tax

Kyser Lough for American-Statesman. Texas breweries with financial backing from other larger breweries, like Independence Brewing, pictured here, might have to pay distributors for every beer they sell in their taprooms under a proposed law making its way through the Senate.

Texas is the only state in the U.S. that doesn’t allow its breweries to sell beer directly to consumers for their enjoyment off-site. Texas also ranks 46th in breweries per capita.

Those two facts were repeated often during a morning Senate committee hearing in which a number of people involved in the brewing industry — brewers and distributors alike — voiced their thoughts on Senate Bill 1217 and Senate Bill 2083, two craft beer-focused bills with very different aims.

SB 1217 would allow breweries to join Texas wineries, distilleries and brewpubs in selling their products for off-premise consumption, while SB 2083, the companion bill to House Bill 3287, would seek to limit breweries that grow beyond a certain size or become owned by a larger beer company. To sell beer in their taprooms, these breweries (which include Austin’s Oskar Blues and Independence Brewing) might have to first sell the beer to their distributor and buy it back.

The Texas House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly this weekend not to legalize taproom beer purchases for off-site consumption and also voted in favor of the limitations on larger breweries, those making 225,000 barrels or more of beer per year.

Proponents of the latter bill, namely distributors through the trade groups Beer Alliance of Texas and Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, argue that it prevents large multinational breweries from “gobbling up” Texas’ small craft breweries and having “access to multiple taprooms across the state,” Rick Donnelly, representing the Beer Alliance, said during the committee hearing this morning.

That would be in violation of the three-tier system, Keith Strama, counsel for the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, added in later testimony, a system that “has allowed for an incredibly competitive marketplace and allows smalls breweries to thrive in a way that other commodities can’t do because of the inability to get to market without a distribution tier.”

In that way, SB 2083 protects small craft breweries in the state, according to the bill’s author, State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo.

But that’s not how the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, the organization representing these brewers, or the Texas Association of Manufacturers, the organization representing the state’s small businesses, see it. Both came out against SB 2083 at the hearing, along with numerous brewers, including Chip McElroy of Live Oak Brewing and Amy Cartwright of Independence Brewing, one of the directly affected breweries.

They argue that SB 2083 and the already-passed HB 3287 — which at the moment directly affect only a small number of brewers, mainly those owned by larger breweries like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors — would discourage investors and limit their businesses’ growth.

Josh Hare, owner of Hops & Grain Brewing and board chairman of the guild, spoke out against the proposed payment larger breweries would have to make to distributors for their taproom beers, calling it a tax. His brewery is in the process of opening a new location in San Marcos.

“If we exceed the collective 225,000 barrel limit, we would be forced then to sell our beer to a wholesaler, buy it back to sell in our tasting room, and it would dramatically cut into our margins and ultimate profitability. I would also like to emphasize here that the beer would never leave our brewery. It would just be paper moving around,” he said. “The wholesaler would place a dock bump tax on that transaction, receiving payment for no added value to what we’re doing on-site.”

Sweeping 2013 legislation allowed, among other things, for production breweries to sell up to 5,000 barrels of beer to consumers for on-site consumption. Breweries aren’t asking for that number to increase but do want to be able to also sell a six-pack to a customer to take home. That’s where SB 1217, from State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, comes in.

The bill restricts monthly purchases to 576 fl. oz. per consumer, the equivalent of two cases of beer. Brewers are in support of it; distributors are not.

“Data from other states shows that off-premise sales leads to more brewery openings, more beer tourism and more retail sales across every tier,” Michael Graham, co-founder of Austin Beerworks, said.

Donnelly, representing a wholesalers’ group, did not outright discuss why the group is against the bill but pointed out the issue of off-premise sales will be resolved in court because of an ongoing suit Deep Ellum Brewing, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, has raised against the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

The question of taprooms selling beer to-go “involves some intricate points of federal law, including commerce clause issues, equal protection clause issues, but it also strikes at the very core of the 21st Amendment of the United States Constitution,” Donnelly said, referencing the amendment that repealed Prohibition and gave the states total control over alcoholic beverages.

State Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, asked for clarification about the amendment — how allowing Texas breweries to sell beer to-go, something 49 other states do in some capacity, would “strike at the core” of the U.S. Constitution.

“We repealed Prohibition and extended the right of every state to regulate our alcohol,” Donnelly said in reply.

“Right. And so we’re the only state that doesn’t allow this, though, right?” Estes said of off-premise sales.

“That is correct, but that’s a policy decision made by you as a legislature,” Donnelly said.

Neither of the bills have moved out of committee yet.