There’s no telling when shelter-in-place orders will lift, when bars and restaurants might be able to open again and when society starts, at least a little bit, to go back to normal amid the coronavirus pandemic. But the owners of an upcoming local brewery plan to be ready when it does.
Fitzhugh Brewing is set to open late this summer on the same winding road in the Texas Hill Country where other breweries and alcoholic beverage makers, including Jester King Brewery, Treaty Oak Distilling and, most recently, Beerburg Brewing, are also located. The opening is dependent upon how the pandemic progresses, of course; for now, construction continues on the site at 15435 Fitzhugh Road.
The Smith family — who also own Austin event venue Pecan Springs Ranch — are partnering with PEJ Kitchens, a subsidiary of Poke-E-Jo’s Smokehouse, to open the family-friendly brewpub with on-site dining. Father and daughter Dubb and Kerbey Smith are the principals on the project.
Even as the founders make exciting decisions about branding and the beer program, they recognize they must have contingencies in place, too, in case social distancing mandates stretch on for several more months.
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"At the moment our plan is to open in late summer," Kerbey Smith said. "We're hoping the pandemic will be at bay by then, but as you know, things are changing daily. For now, the only effect the pandemic has is on construction. We were grateful that the construction halt was never in place in Hays County. For now, we are still chugging along with our build."
There was a temporary halt on construction projects in Austin because of the city’s shelter-in-place order last month, until Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s statewide mandate superseded it. On Monday, the city and Travis County announced an extension of their stay-home order until May 8 and also outlined new requirements for construction workers. (These do not apply to workers in Hays County.)
But what’s in the works at Fitzhugh Brewing is a good reminder that we have things to look forward to in the coming months.
Fitzhugh aims to be the sort of brewery where casual beer drinkers and serious aficionados alike can find a pint they’ll enjoy, with "dictionary menus" on hand to explain the various beer styles that will include well-known classics and "forgotten beers" from around the world, according to a news release. Head brewer and partner Nathan Rice, formerly of New Braunfels Brewing, will make everything, from kolsches to Belgian table beers.
"I have plans for beers with origins in Australia, Africa and Eastern Europe," he said in the news release. "These beers are so of a time and place that they're very seldom seen in the U.S. Staying true to our mission of inclusion, we’ll also have brews for all beer lovers" such as a blonde, an IPA and a stout.
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The design of the Fitzhugh taproom is taking cues from Waco’s Magnolia Market, created by HGTV’s "Fixer Upper" couple Chip and Joanna Gaines, with white shiplap walls, antique doors and windows, and a whitewashed brick back splash behind the bar. But there will also be plenty of seating at a beer garden-style outdoor area, with both a covered patio and tables under shaded trees.
The Smiths — who got into the brewery business to create a place where beer novices feel particularly welcome — hope to draw families, too. In addition to a playscape, Fitzhugh Brewing will have two mini-donkeys on-site named Jack and Jenny (though they won’t arrive on the property until the fall).
They are hoping that once the finishing touches on their modern farmhouse-style brewery are complete, there will be customers who can safely venture out. And if not? Fitzhugh will open with a modified, temporary business model that many Austinites are now familiar with — takeout-only.
"If this goes on throughout the summer, which hopefully it won't, then we will get creative and plan to-go beers and food service like other breweries and restaurants," Kerbey Smith said. "It’s not ideal, but it's better than nothing."