Among the coronavirus pandemic’s challenges: International travel isn’t much of an option. However, a couple of craft breweries tucked into a single space about 30 minutes outside of Austin cater to guests still yearning for the flavor of exploration.
Father/son duo David and Andrew Rentschler started Georgetown-based Rentsch Brewery in 2015. "After I turned 21, we both were into craft beer," Andrew Rentschler says. "We started home brewing, and it escalated with the amount of equipment. I was finishing up college, and we decided this is something we wanted to pursue and take it to the next level."
Studying abroad in Germany sparked something in Rentschler.
"I spent a lot of time in beer gardens," he says. "So, that was a big inspiration into the development of the community. I liked the community of the beer garden, with people coming together. I love the German-inspired beers."
After he returned to the U.S., Andrew looked up the syllabuses from different brewing schools and bought the books they mentioned, in order to boost his beer-making knowledge. What initially started as a small pub setup slowly grew into Rentsch Brewery's large facility today.
"I grew up in Georgetown, and when we started, there weren’t any breweries here," Rentschler says. "We knew the community really well. We knew we could fit in really well."
The Rentschlers launched their brewery with a hefeweizen, the classic German-style wheat beer. "My goal was to make a beer that my mom liked, and she loves it," Andrew says. "It’s a real crowd-pleaser. It’s easygoing, approachable, has enough flavor, but not too much. It’s good to drink whenever it’s cold or hot outside and goes well with food. It’s really an all-around type of beer."
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The Rentsch team eventually befriended Strange Land Brewery founders Adam Blumenshein and Timothy Klatt. Based in West Lake Hills starting in 2014, the Strange Land team had decided it was time to move, and earlier this year, they set up shop in Georgetown, sharing Rentsch’s recently expanded space.
"Rentsch had a tremendous facility with lots of excess capacity, and we felt our beer offerings fit a niche that they did not have," Blumenshein says. "They really focused on German beers. We’re really focused on the Belgians, British, and really the obscure — keeping Austin strange."
Blumenshein and Klatt, Strange Land’s brewer, have had long discussions about what they felt was missing in the Austin market. Blumenshein says, "Repeatedly, it was always these weird, barrel-aged, funky, obscure things that we got known for."
A win-win: Strange Land found a home in Georgetown, and Rentsch’s taproom diversified its beer offerings.
"If somebody comes into Rentsch, they’ll literally have a beer for every person — for the person that says they don’t like craft beer to the person who says they only like high-end Belgians or barrel-aged things," Blumenshein says.
Like most breweries, Rentsch and Strange Land have had to roll with the punches of the pandemic.
Amid initial pandemic closures this spring, bars — as well as brewery, winery and distillery taprooms — were forced to close. When Gov. Greg Abbott began reopening the Texas economy in phases, he allowed those establishments to resume operations over Memorial Day weekend.
COVID-19 hospitalizations soon surged, and Abbott again shuttered those drinking establishments, but he allowed restaurants to remain open at reduced capacity.
Blumenshein says the team doesn’t want to come across as "brash" in a pandemic, but they feel slighted (and they think other craft breweries share the feeling) that restaurants were still allowed to stay open and serve drinks late into the night. He says it feels like a punishment to keep breweries like theirs closed to guests while other businesses make "huge margins" off of selling their drinks.
"We’re local. We make the stuff here. I don’t even know where Chili’s or Applebee’s corporate office is. Is Texas Roadhouse even a Texas company?" he says with a laugh. "So, how about we focus on Texas? (The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission) is a Texas regulatory agency. We are Texas facilities, and I would love to see them take a focus on keeping Texas jobs, Texas revenue, and keep customer experiences intact here in Texas."
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Bars technically remain closed under Abbott’s order. But in recent weeks, several drinking establishments have reopened by adding food to their operations. TABC eased some restrictions to help such businesses raise their total revenue from food above 51%, which is the threshold needed to qualify for a food and beverage permit.
The Rentsch facility is currently open to visitors, with food options. Food trucks were a staple there even before COVID-19 hit, and the brewery also has partnered with a local company to offer tacos prepped off-site and then warmed up at Rentsch.
"For a long time, we were the only brewery here in the Georgetown area," Blumenshein says. "Georgetown really has no large patio to go to besides us. Shutting us down isn’t just shutting down one brewery, it’s shutting down the only large brewery in Georgetown with a big patio."
The breweries also have gotten creative in other ways. New beer releases are underway at the shared taproom that currently has 20 staple and seasonal offerings. One of Strange Land’s upcoming fall releases is the Super Scotch Ale, made with Texas wildflower honey, oats and high-end scotch beer. The brewery has taken the same concept of a bomber beer that’s typically in a bottle and reinvented it as a premium can, at $8 for a six-pack. It’s an autumnal pick-me-up for people who love whiskey and beer together, with a light body and the taste of a dram of straight Scotch. Guests also will find an array of wine, sake and whiskey barrel-aged beers available as draft offerings on site.
Both Rentsch and Strange Land create drinks with Georgetown’s palate in mind. "We’re not just local. We’re hyper-local. We’re neighborhood local," Blumenshein says. "We have the outdoor patio, the food trucks, plenty of parking and very affordable craft beer."
The beers "aren’t things I just want to see if somebody can stomach," he says. "We’re trying to make things that Georgetown would love."