When brothers Noah and Josh Lit were hosting a soft opening of Batch Craft Beer and Kolaches — a beer bar and kolache shop in East Austin — adding a brewery to the business was the last thing on their minds. A far-off next phase, they figured.
But at that friends and family night two years ago was John Snyder, a home brewer who liked to take his beers around to share with people. They tasted his Flanders red ale and realized his raw skill was worth accelerating their timeline in a major way.
"Once we tried his beers, we were like, ’Hey, wanna do this? It’s probably going to take us a year and a half, but let’s lock it in.’ And he was super excited about it," Josh Lit says. "I would say it’s as much his brewery as anyone else’s."
Across Batch’s parking lot is the brewery with nearly floor-to-ceiling windows where daytime visitors pulling up can often see the long-bearded Snyder at work.
At Batch Brewery, he tends to make beers with a culinary twist. The grand opening menu of Batch’s house brews included a dry table beer that could almost be mistaken for pineapple juice, sans the sweetness. Another opening option was cranberry-colored, thanks to the addition of cabernet sauvignon grapes — co-fermented with the beer — and lavender, hibiscus and rose hips. Like the table beer, it lacks both sweetness and funk.
Both of these and a few others that people were able to try over the course of Batch’s grand opening celebration last weekend came from the clean side of the brewery. But on the other side of those massive windows revealing the stainless steel tanks inside is a roll-up door leading to what the Lit brothers and Snyder call "the bug room" because of the mixed culture fermentation taking place.
It’s a work in progress, though barrels and a row of secondhand grundy tanks hint at what it’ll become: a place where tart, funky ales like the original Flanders red that started it all will be made (grundy tanks are older storage tanks, made in the 1950s and ’60s). Sour versions of the beer and wine hybrid series — called Galaxies Collide — slowly ferment in the grundies from the Copper Tank, a now-defunct Austin brewpub from the 1990s.
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"Longtime picture of this room?" Snyder says. "It’s going to have puncheons (large wooden barrels) that can move in front of that door. They’ll be open-top so we can spontaneously ferment stuff. Maybe one or two foeders (large vessels used for fermentation). Then a brite tank (where beer is carbonated) and 30 to 40 more barrels (for aging). They should all fit in here pretty easily."
In the meantime, the main "clean" side of the brewery, housing a 3 1/2 barrel system, provides the bulk of the house beers on tap at Batch. Snyder says he gets his inspiration for them from all the cooking he loves to do — his beers don’t tend to be your standard pale ales and pilsners.
"Anytime I’m at the grocery store, I’ll go to the bulk spice section and see what they have, although every bulk spice they have, it’s probably at my house at this point just because I like to experiment," he says. "Sometimes I’ll make food just based off one ingredient that I’ve never used before. Exploring all that stuff has led me to realize what balancing is — it’s a lot of give and take. You research that ingredient and find out its parameters, and then you put it with other things."
When he worked at Jester King Brewery before becoming a professional brewer at Batch, he would bring in random fruits for staff members to try. Once, he says, he went to Central Market and bought one of every apple variety sold. Over the course of the week, he ate more than 40 apples, he says, to see "the differences in their skins and the color and flavor and whatnot. It’s just curiosity that drives what I do."
He says he finally overcame impostor syndrome — the sense he didn’t belong at the helm of a brewery like Batch — at Jester King’s Funk ’n’ Sour Fest last month. Several of the other makers offering samples of their drinks and dishes came back for second and third pours of Batch’s Urwagwa.
The name denotes an African style of beer made from the fermentation of mashed bananas. Snyder pureed the fruit and also added sorghum, millet and banana peels, the latter two as sources of wild yeast. The resulting gluten-free beer is unusual, "kind of mezcal-meets-sake-meets-bananas," Josh says.
It’s one of only a couple beers that have been bottled at Batch so far, with label artwork from Noah Lit’s wife, Laura, and it’s particularly emblematic of the kinds of beers Snyder and the Lits want to produce. (A limited number of bottles of Urwagwa were available at the grand opening weekend. Josh says it’s their goal to make it again and again, selling it in Batch’s bottle shop.)
Batch Brewery will also offer plenty of the heavily hopped hazy IPAs that now dominate tap walls around the country. There was one on the opening menu, in fact — the citrusy Cottonmouth — and the Lits hope to keep an IPA, the Cottonmouth or not, on an otherwise rotating list all the time.
"We like crazy weird beers, but we also really like IPAs. So we’re going to try and always have an IPA around," Noah says.
The culinary-inspired ales, however, remain Snyder’s bread and butter. The brothers think his particular preference toward those brews are in line with what they want to sell at Batch, which celebrated two years in business this fall.
"He makes this jasmine brett pale ale. One of his first beers that I fell in love with," Josh says. "Jasmine tea, brettanomyces and some hops. Very funky, tea-forward, and kind of the vision was, ’We want to make beer like that.’ We’re a coffee shop and a bakery, so we should make beer that’s tea beer, fruit beer, wine beer. Beers that go with what we make in the kitchen."
Batch is at 3220 Manor Road. For more information, visit batchatx.com.