In search of inspiration, artist Fernando Muñoz recently ventured outside of his studio and tried something he had never done before. He helped to create a beer.
That beer, a dark lager called Three Strangers, was brewed in collaboration with Thirsty Planet as the official beer of the East Austin Studio Tour. A limited-time offering, it will be available both weekends of the event, which starts Saturday. Muñoz is a curator serving as studio resident at art complex Canopy, a central location on the tour. His illustration also adorns the beer's packaging.
Three Strangers is part of Thirsty Planet’s Brite Tank series — yearly collaborations with various other makers around Austin, from visual artists like the Chilean-born Muñoz to comedians and musicians. This year, the second of the artist initiative, doubled as a partnership with EAST’s producer, art organization Big Medium.
Muñoz met up with Thirsty Planet brewer Tyrell Elliott in the months leading up to EAST for several planning sessions — tasting beers to figure out a recipe — before they spent all day at the South Austin brewery producing what they ultimately named Three Strangers.
"For me, because I had never brewed before, everything was a discovery. It was a lot of fun," Muñoz said.
The process also was an adventure for Elliott, because he could pilot the production of the beer from start to finish. A film school graduate, he has found a very different means of expression through beer-making. Elliott joined the brewing team at Thirsty Planet several years ago, after finding a knack for it through a homebrewing kit, and never looked back.
"With beer, I get to be creative in a way I thought I never could be, and this project especially, which went beyond recipe creation and name creation," he said. "It’s definitely the coolest project I've done so far. There was this creative freedom to, from scratch, design a recipe with someone else's input that was really fulfilling."
Elliott started putting together the recipe after finding out that Muñoz liked dark beers, lagers and hop-forward beers. He decided to combine all three. (The only limitation Elliott had to follow: making sure the beer was versatile enough to appeal to the wide array of people exploring artist studios and galleries throughout EAST’s two weekends.)
Three Strangers is a chestnut-colored mash-up of a Vienna lager and a Mexican lager, which Thirsty Planet nicknamed a "Vienna Cerveza." There's also some extra hoppiness thrown in, too.
During research, Elliott realized that cross of styles is a nod to history: Austrians moved by the thousands to Mexico in the mid-1800s, bringing with them recipes that would come to define the brewing culture of the region. Over time, those recipes were tweaked to add one key ingredient plentiful in Mexico — corn. Thus, the Mexican-style lager was born.
These days, Mexican lager has become so popular that many U.S. brewers, including several in Austin, have come up with their own versions. Three Strangers technically isn’t a Mexican lager, though. It’s a little too dark and a little too hoppy, although it does have flaked corn.
The beer is hard to pin to a particular category. The name of the beer (Muñoz’s idea) and the detail-rich package design (featuring three distinct eyes) nod to that.
"It’s not your typical dark beer and not your typical lager. We wanted it to have a certain level of hoppiness," he said. "So there are different aspects to the beer that you would not expect would come together as they do."
Or, as the announcement about the beer put it: "The appearance and taste are having a conversation with you, thus, Three Strangers."
Thirsty Planet’s Brite Tank series has proven such a hit that a whole new series specifically for EAST artists may come from it.
"Going forward, it'll be a competition where the artists submit their idea and we pick a winner, and they get to brew a beer with us," Elliott said.
In the meantime, people can try Three Strangers at Canopy during both weekends of EAST, along with Thirsty Planet staple Thirsty Goat Amber. Elliott will serve the beer during one of those days, and Muñoz’ work also is a stop on the tour, No. 280, within Canopy. You’ll notice that some of his paintings resemble the label art of Three Strangers, which also is available in bottles at select H-E-B locations around Austin.
There’s no doubt that his "Three Strangers" work is related to beer, however — look closely, and you can see hops, brewing tanks and other key details tucked around the heavily patterned illustration. The brewing process was integrated into the piece, Muñoz said.
This post has been corrected to reflect the Three Strangers’ recipe has flaked corn.