Although the tiny West Texas town of Alpine is a long six-hour drive from Austin, the owner of Alpine’s Big Bend Brewing Co. has deep ties to Texas’ capital city — so much so that he’s eager to bring his beer here.
Steve Anderson’s brewery doesn’t have the capacity at the moment to brew enough for Austin’s larger market, but he’s planning to get Big Bend brews into local bars and stores this summer. In the meantime, get a first taste of two of Big Bend’s core beers, the Tejas Lager and La Frontera IPA, at a South by Southwest music showcase that Big Bend is co-sponsoring at Stay Gold on Friday from noon to 7 p.m.
There, you might have a chance to talk with Anderson, a veritable legend of Austin’s brewing scene. He was at the forefront of it since 1993, when Texas law changed to allow for brewpubs largely thanks to the efforts of his friend Billy Forrester, who hired him as brewmaster for Waterloo Brewing, Austin’s very first brewpub.
“We were just a little ahead of our time,” Anderson said, crediting the newness of the concept of locally made craft beer and the inexperience of the people trying to sell it as the reasons why Waterloo closed in 2001, just like all of Austin’s other original brewpubs. (The only local brewpub from the 1990s that’s still open today is North by Northwest, which celebrated 15 years in business last year by opening a second location off Slaughter Lane.)
Once Waterloo closed, Anderson moved over to Live Oak Brewing and stayed there for 11 years — until the call of the country drew him west to Alpine, where he and his wife had been regularly visiting since the late 1990s. That’s where he decided to open his latest brewery, Big Bend Brewing, in 2012.
“I like the quiet serenity and the calmness and the really laid-back atmosphere of a small town in the middle of nowhere. It’s really romantic,” Anderson said.
Alpine’s so removed from big cities, in fact, that a New York-based beer publication dubbed Big Bend Brewing the most remote brewery in all of America, including Alaska and Hawaii. It’s a distinction Anderson and the brewing staff aren’t afraid to tout, not least because the brewery’s location certainly doesn’t stop it from attracting a lot of visitors, many stopping in while on a trip to Marfa, which is about 20 minutes away, or to Big Bend National Park.
With no breweries nearby (the nearest one isn’t even in Texas: according to the Brew York blog, the Wellhead Brewpub in New Mexico is 227 miles away), Big Bend Brewing’s goal is to serve a solid range of staple beers, Anderson said.
“What we’re doing is because there’s nothing else out here,” he said. “In a sophisticated market like Austin, you have to do something extreme to stand out. We’re not in that situation, although we’ve been doing some fun experimental things, such as a peppermint porter for Valentine’s Day. But our base beers are generally what people want.”
In addition to the Tejas Lager and La Frontera IPA, the 30-barrel brewhouse at Big Bend Brewing also makes the Big Bend Hefeweizen; 22 Porter, the brewery’s current top-seller; and Terlingua Gold, a golden ale.
The IPA and the porter both come from original Waterloo recipes. The IPA in particular is a blast from the past, Anderson said, because it’s “very hoppy but it has a strong malt backbone. Kind of like what IPAs tasted like 20 years ago before people started going overboard on the hops.”
He’s been wanting to bring Big Bend beers into Austin but has to wait for a slight brewery expansion to up capacity. “We are having the nice problem of not being able to push out enough,” he said.
Big Bend Brewing at South by Southwest
What: A sneak peek (ahem, sneak taste) of Big Bend Brewing’s Tejas Lager and La Frontera IPA.
When: 12 to 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Stay Gold, 1910 E. Cesar Chavez St.
Cost: Free. Plus, no RSVP needed.