South Austin’s new hangout Spokesman offers draft beer, coffee and art

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Spokesman serves draft beer out of repurposed bicycle handles, in a nod to one of the co-founders’ love of cycling.

The Yard, the new mixed-use complex built out of old warehouses off South Congress Avenue, is springing to life with new additions this month.

Following in the footsteps of neighboring St. Elmo Brewing at one end of the row are two boozy newcomers at the other end: the Austin Winery, which relocated from the east side of the city, and Spokesman, a coffee shop and beer bar from industry veterans who are finally opening their own space.

The next-door neighbors are planning to have grand opening celebrations later this month, although their doors are open now to offer locals early looks at each. (Here’s what to expect from the Austin Winery.)

Spokesman is the brainchild of C.J. West and Trey Ramirez, who wanted to create a comfortable hangout for the neighborhood that features two of their favorite things. West has helped to open and brew at local breweries like the ABGB and the south location of North by Northwest, while Ramirez developed his love for coffee working at Home Slice and the Brew & Brew.

As a result, Spokesman has opened with nearly two dozen draft beers — primarily local — and a toddy, served in a chilled pint glass sans ice and roasted on-site, that will be the first of many house coffee drinks to come. A few of the taps are also devoted to wine and cider.

Working with coffee for many years, I’ve always wanted to learn how to roast,” Ramirez said. “Getting the control and being able to shape what it tastes like is huge. It can be overwhelming at times, but it can be a lot of fun. And C.J. has been brewing beer for a long time here in town. He’s the other side of it. He’s been pulling in amazing beers from Austin and Texas. So you could say Spokesman is kind of a fusion of both our backgrounds.”

But don’t try to pigeon-hole Spokesman as the place to go solely for beer and coffee. The two co-founders feel strongly that Spokesman — decked out with eye-catching art from local painter Briks, of the Blue Dozen Collective — has more to offer than just drinks.

The name of the coffee bar, for example, comes in part from West’s passion for cycling. Spokesman aims to be “a ride-up shop where you can park your bikes inside and not have to worry about locking them,” Ramirez said, pointing out the vertical metal racks along the front garage-like wall where bicycles can hang. (Another nod to cyclists is the row of tap handles made of colorful bike handles.) 

And then there’s all that wall art.

Walk in and your jaw just might drop at first glance, like mine did, at the larger-than-life figures adorning nearly every available inch of wall space: the plump cat (or is it a raccoon?) with his arms folded, the boombox with dials and two large eyes and lips, the cheerful stork covering the Employees’ Only door leading to the back warehouse. The art is a marvel and so integral to the experience you’ll have at Spokesman.

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. When Spokesman uses its projector to play a show, the screen fits perfectly in the painted screen that local artist Briks created on the back wall.

“To bring Briks onto this project was amazing. I don’t think we could’ve picked anybody else. His art and his sense of humor reflected in his art just made this place come to life,” West said.

He and Ramirez hadn’t expected they’d renovate an old warehouse for their project. They looked for about two years at retail spaces in Austin, none of which were quite right for what they envisioned. Then, West’s friends at St. Elmo Brewing told him about the Yard.

Part of the reason the warehouse works so well is that it’s got lots of extra room to grow into — which, first and foremost, will be used for the expanding coffee program. The goal is to sell bags of roasted beans to go from the shop and to have them in retailers around town as well. But that’s largely phase two, the co-founders said.

In the meantime, Spokesman has a coffee roaster visible to customers in its nook at the back of the shop. Ramirez will continue using it to make the toddy and other upcoming coffee items until Spokesman outgrows it, he said, and needs to move roasting operations to the back warehouse.

We’re starting with just a couple of origins that we’re really excited about,” he said. “We’ve always loved Mexican coffee and African coffee, and we’ve been looking around for coffees that are just right for us and what we want to kind of mix together. The African coffee that we’re doing with our toddy we’re super thumbs-up on.”

West similarly aims to pay careful attention to the draft beer program. He said the taps will rotate out constantly (save for four always-on brews: Real Ale Axis IPA, Live Oak Brewing Gold, Hops & Grain River Beer and Austin Beerworks Peacemaker) and will primarily, but not exclusively, be from area brewers. Austin Beerworks’ limited Grinds My Gears, a hoppy ale with hefeweizen yeast, is only available at the Beerworks taproom and at Spokesman, in a nod to the coffee bar’s bicycling theme.

“We take a lot of pride in the breweries that we feature because for me, personally, this is my contribution to Texas craft brewing,” West said. “I went from the production side to this side. In the brewing industry, everybody wants to be a brewer. It’s like the star quarterback. The lead actress. Everyone wants to do it. But brewers can’t do it alone.”

For now, Spokesman is open 4 to 10 p.m. on weekdays at 440 E. St. Elmo Rd. A small menu of cafe food is to come. After the grand opening — look for that date to be announced on the coffee bar’s social media accounts — it will be open 7 a.m. to midnight daily.

For more information, visit spokesmancoffee.com.

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Enjoy local beer, like Zilker Brewing’s Murderino, while admiring wall art from local artist Briks, who completely covered Spokesman’s interior with his expressive characters.

You can celebrate Willie Nelson’s birthday with a beer named after him

If you want to toast Willie Nelson on his 84th birthday Saturday, we’ve got just the Texas beer for you: Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling’s Red Headed Stranger, inspired by the singer himself.

The beer is, fittingly, a red IPA and one of the San Antonio brewery’s bottled mainstay beers, which means it won’t be too hard to find this weekend.

04/22/17 Suzanne Cordeiro/ for American-Statesman Willie Nelson performs onstage at the Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels, Texas.

“We figured since hops are a cousin to cannabis that the Red Headed Stranger himself would appreciate a hoppy red IPA,” co-founder Mark McDavid said. “Plus, we love Willie’s music, and we love to honor Texas musicians with our beers.”

Red Headed Stranger has “a strong malt backbone with an assertive bitterness of sticky sweet American hops (Nugget, Zeus, Chinook and Cascade),” according to the brewery. It’s one of the four year-round beers that Ranger Creek makes, including the recently award-winning San Antonio Lager.

You can find a six-pack of Red Headed Stranger at various locations of Spec’s, Total Wine & More, HEB and Central Market. Whip In might also carry some — as well as the new 365 by Whole Foods Market in Cedar Park that opened earlier this week.

Photo by Josh Huskin. Red Headed Stranger is a hoppy tribute to Willie Nelson, who is turning 84 on April 29.

Better yet, the Yeti Flagship on South Congress Avenue is throwing a birthday party for the beloved Texas singer (and delighting our pun-loving hearts by calling it Have a Willie Nice Birthday). The party will feature the Texas Gentlemen on stage singing nothing but Willie tunes. There also will be custom Yeti Flagship bandanas and — you guessed it — Red Headed Stranger pouring at the Barrr.

Have a Willie Nice Birthday runs from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday at 220 S. Congress Ave. For more information, visit haveawillienicebirthday.splashthat.com.

RELATED

6 Austin breweries with outdoor beer gardens for springtime imbibing

Jester King Brewery, located a little outside of town, is one of the most picturesque breweries in the Austin area.

Now that it’s springtime, we want to spend all of our time outdoors, soaking up the sunshine before it gets too hot — in what will sadly be just a short couple of months.

In the meantime, here are a half-dozen Austin-area breweries that will deliver the transcendent outdoor experience so precious to many a beer lover.

Jester King Brewery

13187 Fitzhugh Rd., jesterkingbrewery.com.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the farmhouse brewery in the Texas Hill Country is a veritable oasis, with much of the seating spread underneath the shade of tall leafy trees that are strung with twinkling lights to brighten the night. The surrounding landscape is made all the more meaningful when you realize that Jester King makes beers like the sublime and simple Le Petit Prince with the help of natural features around it, giving it a strong sense of place.

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Oasis, TX Brewing has irresistible views of Lake Travis from its upper-story taproom and patio.

Oasis, Texas Brewing

6550 Comanche Trl., otxbc.com.

OK, technically the Lake Travis-area brewery in the Oasis complex doesn’t have the greenery that surrounds many of these other spots, but it’s got the view: Oasis, Tex Brewing is located on a deck high above the lake and guarantees Instagram-worthy sunset photos that will have you gasping in delight. The beers — such as the juicy Metamodern Session IPA — are also pleasing to the palate and light enough in alcohol that you can have more than one.

Live Oak Brewing

1615 Crozier Ln., Del Valle, liveoakbrewing.com.

The nearly 20-year-old brewery moved from one tiny warehouse space in East Austin at the end of 2015 to a much bigger location built on 22 acres of land near the Colorado River and the local airport. Although there’s plenty of indoor seating in the taproom, you’ll be lured outside on a nice day. The beer garden is nestled, appropriately, underneath a majestic grove of live oaks where you can enjoy the classic Hefeweizen with food truck grub.

Middleton Brewing

101 Oakwood Loop, San Marcos, middletonbrewingtx.com.

When this brewpub south of Austin upgraded to a brewing system 20 times bigger than the previous one, the owners made everything else better, too, by moving into a specially built brewery complete with an expansive patio that has seats in the sun or the shade, depending on your preference. Middleton Brewing is also staffed with dog lovers who often bring their pooches to work with them, and your own furry friends are welcome to run around outside.

Hi Sign Brewing has just officially opened, but it’s already got a patio with pretty wooded views.

Hi Sign Brewing

1201 Bastrop Hwy., hisignbrewing.com.

Not far from Live Oak Brewing, one of Austin’s youngest breweries has a modest acre of outdoor space to play with but has already made the most of it — Hi Sign Brewing’s recent grand opening celebration had a crawfish boil and a disc golf tournament out there. Visitors to Hi Sign, sipping on beers like the juice-like New England IPA, can hang out on the deck or in the tree-lined yard beyond where lights have been strung and tables set out.

Treaty Oak Brewing & Distilling

16604 Fitzhugh Rd., Dripping Springs, treatyoakdistilling.com.

Off the same road as Jester King but much closer to Dripping Springs, this “brewstillery” ranch just about has it all: live music, food, play areas for the kids, plenty of outdoor seating both in the sun and in the shade and, perhaps best of all, a variety of beers and cocktails depending upon what you’re craving. (The distillery added a brewing program that launched at the end of last year.) With so much on offer, you’ll find it hard to leave the scenic serenity that pervades Treaty Oak.

Multimillion dollar expansion underway for Banger’s on Rainey Street

Contributed by Maker Architects. Banger’s will be comprised of three buildings starting next year.

An expansion of the popular Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden will add an extra 15,000 sq. ft. of dining, lounge, event and performance space and give it one of the largest draft systems in Texas.

The new building, being constructed starting today, is located at 81.5 Rainey Street, just north of the current set of brick-red bungalows in what had previously been a staff parking lot. Banger’s is aiming for a March 2018 opening (in time for SXSW) of the additional location and assures customers the construction won’t affect operations at the current bar, according to a press release.

Once it opens, Banger’s will be able to greatly expand what it’s able to offer with food, drink and entertainment.

http://players.brightcove.net/1418563061/r1tnyC4Q_default/index.html?videoId=2226767695001

One of the most exciting changes for beer lovers will be the second custom 101-tap draft system that will mean the Rainey Street bar will have a total of 207 taps — nearly the largest amount in Texas and one of the largest in the world. There will also be a special beer cellar to age and store rare and small-batch brews.

But Banger’s owner Ben Siegel is perhaps most excited about the expansion of the food program.

“We’ve spent about three years designing this project, and I’m very proud of where we landed. This expansion allows us to not only grow our existing business, but also expand the experience that we offer to our customers, both now and well into the future,” Siegel said in the press release.  “More than anything, this expansion is going to allow us to do a lot more cool stuff in the world of cooking, curing, roasting and smoking whole animals and their various parts.”

That’s because the new building will have a smokehouse and a full meat processing facility, as well as a basement vegetable fermentation and pickling area, among other additional amenities.

For more information, visit bangersaustin.com.

This post has been updated to clarify that the new Banger’s draft system is one of the largest in the state. 

Real Ale among the 50 top producing craft breweries in the U.S.

Photo by Deborah Cannon / American-Statesman. Real Ale’s Firemans #4, left, is easily the brewery’s most sold beer in Texas, allowing it to branch out and offer a wide range of beers.

Real Ale Brewing, in the Texas Hill Country, was named 49th on a list of the top producing 50 craft breweries in the U.S. — a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that Real Ale, turning 21 next month, still produces beers for 100 percent distribution in Texas.

The Brewers Association, the trade group that represents the country’s small and independent breweries, released the list yesterday with numbers based on beer sales volume: how much beer each of the producers sell each year.

Also representing Texas on the list is Gambrinus, the producer of Shiner beers, at number five. Oskar Blues Brewery, which has an Austin operation that opened last year in addition to breweries in Colorado and North Carolina, rounded out the top 10.

But Real Ale, remarkably, is only one of two breweries on the list that distributes only to its home state. That’s a purposeful decision for owner Brad Farbstein, who said in an American-Statesman article last year about the brewery’s 20th anniversary that Texas still provides “more opportunities for us to expand. It’s not the way every brewer does it, but we do it the way we feel is the right way.”

The brewery’s Firemans #4, a blonde ale, accounts for a good 60 percent of its total output, which last year was about 61,000 barrels of beer annually.

Next month, Real Ale plans to launch its long-awaited line of spirits, called Real Spirits, as well as celebrate its 21st anniversary with (but what else?) a birthday kegger. Tickets for the party are on sale now and include four beers, a raffle ticket for a custom Real Ale kegerator, and access to a day of live music and food at the brewery.

For more information, visit realalebrewing.com.

Six Austin bars with serene outdoor patios

Here are several of Austin’s myriad patio bars to choose from depending on what part of town you’re at  — and what kind of outdoor experience you’re seeking.

Wondering where to whet your whistle? Check out the Austin360 Boozery Guide

Deck Nine Observatory Bar at Boiler Nine

800 W. Cesar Chavez St., boilernine.com.

The upstairs bar at Boiler Nine Bar & Grill, the centerpiece restaurant of La Corsha Hospitality Group’s dining project in the historic Seaholm Power Plant, has reopened just in time for the fest. It’ll be very similar to what you might remember of the open-air patio — with nothing less than panoramic views of the surrounding downtown — albeit with a new food and cocktail menu.

La Corsha beverage director Jason Stevens, along with executive chef Jason Stude, have created fare with “beachy, coastal flavors”: bar snacks like yellowtail crudo and cumin tostadas and cocktails that include frozen rum and tequila drinks, tropical highballs and more. You’ll still be able to “booze your own adventure” with them, and deck favorites like the Negroni and the Old Fashioned have remained on the menu.

“What I’m trying to do is not use the word ‘tropical’ with the menu to avoid the impression of a tiki bar, but you will find tropical spices like guava in the drinks and also deeper, darker flavors of hibiscus, allspice, things like that from Mexico and Jamaica: a variety of baking spices that is common in the cuisine there,” Stevens said, referring to the new Red Macaw as an example.

The Red Macaw, with grapefruit, hibiscus blossom and island spices, in addition to your choice of blanco tequila, light rum or vodka, is exactly the sort of bright, beachy beverage you’ll want to be drinking.

As one of Austin’s best bars, Deck Nine won’t disappoint.

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Deck Nine Observatory Bar is reopening after a winter break just in time for SXSW.

Where’s the party at? Here’s your guide to the best unofficial parties at SXSW 2017

Backbeat

1300 S. Lamar Blvd., backbeat-atx.com.

The husband-and-wife owners of this bar and North Loop’s cozy Drink.Well have established Backbeat as the trendy cocktail spot you want to be at on important holidays like Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve, thanks to an upstairs patio area that offers clear views of downtown and those holidays’ fireworks.

Backbeat is far enough away from downtown that you can relax with a cocktail in hand (might we suggest the eponymous Backbeat, with celery cordial, lemon, Génépy des Alpes and your choice of gin, vodka or tequila) while still being tantalizingly close enough to feel the energy.

Corner at the J.W. Marriott

110 E. Second St., cornerrestaurantaustin.com.

Pull up a seat at the square Patio Bar outside of the J.W. Marriott’s Corner restaurant. The bar menu tends to focus on two of Texas’ most beloved drinks — tequila cocktails and local craft beer — so it’s also the right place to be if you’re introducing an out-of-towner to what Austin does best.

Easy Tiger

709 E. Sixth St., easytigeraustin.com.

When you walk in through the bake shop, the alluring smell of freshly made bread will probably give you an appetite. Good thing, too, because there’s nothing more relaxing than sitting in the outdoor beer garden and enjoying a pretzel with beer cheese or a house-made sausage. Wash down the grub with a beer — Easy Tiger balances local and national offerings, with current ones including new-to-Texas Bell’s Brewery — and then line up for a game of ping-pong as Waller Creek gurgles serenely below.

Tamir Kalifa / American-Statesman. Yeti’s bar manager
Isaac Coronado is just one member of the staff at the South Congress Avenue space ready to serve you a cold canned beer.

The Barrrr at Yeti

220 S. Congress Ave., yeti.com/flagship

Yeti’s flagship store and accompanying indoor/outdoor bar just opened on prime real estate off Lady Bird Lake. Yeti will peddles canned beers from local brewery stalwarts, such as Independence Brewing, Austin Beerworks and Hops & Grain, that you can keep cold in one of their Yeti Colsters (see what they’re doing there?).

Plus, views of South Congress Avenue near the bridge — a prime people-watching corner — from several outward-facing seats at the bar are hard to beat.

Lazarus Brewing

1902 E. Sixth St., lazarusbrewing.com.

Street tacos? Fresh coffee? Beer made just yards from where it pours from the taps? Plenty of indoor and outdoor seating? Since it opened at the end of last year, Lazarus Brewing has proved to be practically a religious experience for people in East Austin who regularly frequent the brewpub: in the morning for their coffee fix, in the evening for an indulgent pint.

Newcomers are also going to discover this colorful joint, where they’ll be able to try beers like Despereaux, a French saison with notes of cloves and coriander, and Holy Mother of God, an aptly named barleywine pouring at a robust 11.2 percent ABV. Drink a pint while you’re seated outside in the shaded courtyard that tends to draw a breeze or two.

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Enjoy a taco and a beer, like the Jolted Phoenix Coffee Golden Ale, on Lazarus Brewing’s outdoor patio if you want to relax during SXSW.

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/.