Nearly seven years have passed since a brewery, Lovejoy's Taproom, could be found in downtown Austin, but that's changing. Two families have teamed up to bring one to a prime part of the city — on Red River Street, just a block from the Austin Convention Center.
Located along a small strip of retail stores tucked into the same building as the convention center's parking garage, the true-to-name Central District Brewing is now open and pouring beer. Notably, however, none of the taps along the copper draft wall currently pour house-made brews — at least not yet. For now, while the brewery waits on a certificate of occupancy from the city, a dozen guest beers from local breweries are available. (Before that certification, Central District Brewing also had to be licensed as a brewpub with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.)
Once the official OK is given, husband-and-wife team Adam and Angela Duley will start producing a roster of rotating house options. Adam is the master brewer for Central District, after having homebrewed for many years, getting his master's in brewing and completing a six-week apprenticeship at the Lost Abbey and Port Brewing in California. From him, don't expect core brews. He'll focus more on seasonal and small-batch beers, Angela said.
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The other pair behind Central District Brewing, Joe and Julie Ballato, might not be in charge of making the beer, but their behind-the-scenes work has proven essential. Julie, for instance, has taken on the financial aspect of the business. Both husbands are keeping their day jobs, so Julie and Angela have stepped in over the past couple of years to help bring the brewery online, a process that has included getting approved by the Austin City Council. (The space is owned by the city.)
Along with general manager Trenten Relles, the four co-founders recognize the importance of their location, which they said could help expose Austinites and tourists alike to the thriving local beer scene.
As such, Central District opened during South by Southwest with Austin beers that, with a couple exceptions like Live Oak's famous Hefeweizen, are hard to find anywhere beyond the facility where they're made. Relles, formerly a brewer at East Austin's Lazarus Brewing, helped to cultivate the opening list of beers.
Angela Duley said she hopes visitors to town can make it to the great breweries in the northern part of Austin, but if not, there’s a pint waiting for them at the taproom not far from Interstate 35.
“We always want to showcase our beer culture here in Austin,” she said.
What that means, Relles said, is beers on draft that are either self-distributed around Austin or that are found only at brewery taprooms. The Brewtorium's Das Daydrinker Helles is on tap, as is Southern Heights' popular Where's My Flannel? English Bitter. Relles hopes to add a lager from the Brewer's Table, and his previous post at Lazarus also means that brewpub could distribute a beer or two beyond its colorful taproom walls. (Both spots only sell their products on site.)
The Duleys and Ballatos — who met through mutual friends 15 years ago, before they were all married with kids — decided to open a brewery after recognizing the role these boozy spaces play in a city.
"Both of our families go to wineries and breweries when we travel, and there's something about that shared experience that we found hard to resist," Angela Duley said. "You can get to know a town by talking to the bartenders that work at its bars, but a brewery is completely different from going to a bar. It's a different dynamic, completely laid-back. ... I feel like each neighborhood needs a brewery. A coffee shop during the day, a brewery in the evening."
Central District brings that kind of spot back to the core of the city, which had headquartered brewpubs such as the Copper Tank in the 1990s. None of those spaces, however, lasted beyond 2012. Since then, many have opened and are flourishing outside downtown.
Now, Central District is just a couple doors down from shops like Texas Reds and Whites, a tasting room that showcases the state's best wines. Central District is also located on the same block where tour buses from companies like AO Tours pick up passengers. So, as you might imagine, all kinds of people walk by and realize a brewery is just a few steps away. Central District wants to offer more than beer once it's fully up and running, Relles said.
"Once house beers come in, we'll still have six to seven taps for guest beers. But we do have room to expand our tap wall. We won't be a Banger's, but we'll also have things like housemade soda," he said, noting that this brewpub's version of soda might come with hops, an essential ingredient in beer.
Look for house beers and other aspects of Central District's beverage program, including those sodas, to launch at or after the grand opening celebration in late May. An exact date is still to be decided. But the Duleys know one thing: They want the beers to debut all at the same time, rather than as each one is brewed.
The official opening celebration will "be like a grand unveiling of our beer," Angela said.
Central District Brewing is located at 417 Red River St. and is open 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 2 p.m. to midnight Fridays, 11 a.m. to midnight Saturdays, and noon to 8 p.m. Sundays. For more information, visit centraldistrictbrewing.com.