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Make room for more craft brews in Austin

Upstarts galore aim to enrich the local craft and microbrewery scene

Patrick Beach

I'm going to go out on a limb and predict 2010 will be the year craft beer breaks big in Austin. By the end of the year, with any luck, you won't have any excuse for not drinking good beer made right here in, as someone on Salon once said, the city that likes to think of itself as Paris in the '20s.

And it's high time, too. Real Ale, (512), Independence and others should welcome the company, with the addition of several new operations hoping to be up and running by summer - prime beer drinking months in this part of the world - or at least the end of this year. Some we've talked about; others we're introducing here. They are: Jester King Craft Brewery, Circle Brewing Co., Hops and Grain, Moonlight Tower Brewing (that one still very much in the idea stage), and, of course, in the comparative elder statesman category, the Black Star Co-Op Pub & Brewery.

The Circle guys, Ben Sabel and Judson Mulherin, have their brewing system on order right now and it should be here later this spring after it's assembled from scratch in China. Sabel reports they're playing with "a wide variety of beers," including a strong Scottish ale, dry Irish stout and a hop bock.

Meanwhile, brothers Jeff and Michael Stuffings are steaming along at Jester King: They're renting a ranch in Southwest Austin - 13005 Fitzhugh Road specifically - from one of their investors and acquiring equipment and a warehouse. The 30-barrel brewhouse - expandable to 40 barrels - is from Newlands Systems of Vancouver, British Columbia, and it should ship in a matter of weeks.

Los Bros Stuffings have also been joined by Jeff's college friend, Joe Madia, who has a background in medicine and science, so he'll likely be helping out in the lab. The plan is to be fully operational on July 1, with two high-gravity and two slightly less crazy beers ready to enjoy. The other day, Jeff brewed a mutant version of his dark Belgian ale, Rex Machina, with walnuts, currants and a serious alcohol by volume of 11 percent. Yow. They're also aiming to put in a canning line.

Another interesting wrinkle: The scenic patch of land may well be used for music and wedding receptions and the like, Jeff said. And the owner has visions of planting some 3,000 olive trees on the property for an olive-oil operation. So if you need a quickie wedding, some beer and olive oil and don't have a lot of time to run around to a bunch of different places, Jester King is one-stop shopping.

We haven't talked about Hops and Grains, the venture by Jeff Russell and Josh Hare, who moved here from Boulder, Colo., where they enjoyed a lot of good beer. Hops and Grains is still in fundraising mode, with about 45 percent of the initial $100,000 they need, and looking to build a brewery somewhere on the east side. The plan is to start small, with a three- to five-barrel pilot brewery to get started as they continue raising more money. Hare said they'll also can some of their beers.

They're also big on sustainability, using local ingredients and generally being a good corporate citizen.

"And we're offering up actual ownership in the business," Hare said. "All our investments will buy you a share of the profits."

Back to canning: Hare sees a lucrative market selling to thirsty tubers on the Guadalupe and Comal rivers, as well as potentially selling at festivals where glass bottles aren't allowed. It could work.

Oh, and they're recycling already: They're making dog treats - "brew biscuits" - out of spent grains. You can already order them at www.hopsandgrain.com . (Look for a very entertaining and thoughtfully written blog while you're there.)

And the beer? They'll be canning a German alt and kolsch. They're also fooling around with a coffee porter, a couple of different sour ales, "some big Belgian doubles and triples, some really hoppy stuff, an IPA and pale ale. Since we both came from Boulder, we have a lot of respect for what Avery is doing."

Couldn't agree more.

Another newcomer - first peeking its head out of the blogosphere all of about a month ago - is Moonlight Tower Brewing, which aims to be Austin's first all-organic brewery, founder Erik Marr being big on that sort of thing and all. Like Hops and Grains, Moonlight is also big on sustainability and leaving a low carbon footprint. Marr recently posted on why he won't be using hops from New Zealand, where the majority of the world's organic bittering flowers are grown: too much jet fuel to get them here. He's aiming to supply the brewery with hops from stateside independent organic growers.

Marr says Moonlight Tower is still in the idea stage; he's putting together a business plan and figuring out where he can get a reliably consistent supply of all-organic ingredients. A database administrator by day, Marr estimates his dream is two to three years away from becoming real.

Finally, let's not forget about Black Star. People have been talking about what's billed as the world's first brewery co-op for four solid years now, but in mid-November they gave tours of the future pub at the Midtown Commons development for something like 500 people. When you get that many people strolling around an empty building imagining where the brewhouse is going to be, that's high anticipation. And this truly has been a real community effort. More important, Alabama transplant Jeff Young is brewing a stable of distinctive but accessible year-round beers and nuttier stuff. Guest taps will emphasize other local breweries . Black Star is shooting to open in June. Founder Steven Yarak said construction documents are complete, they've begun taking bids and jumped into the permitting process. They aim to start construction at the end of the month.

Craft brew back on in Wimberley

Last September we brought you the story of former NFL player Bruce Collie and his multitudinous family, who were downsizing their pub and restaurant into smaller-scale pizzeria and brew pub just a few steps away from the old joint. The move is now complete and they had a soft opening with Collie's red bitter and brown ale on tap to go with some pretty fine New York-style pizza. (They also have a gluten-free crust.) Collie's planning on brewing like a mad man to have a more complete portfolio of his beers - as well as all-natural birch beer, cream soda and ginger ale - in anticipation of a grand opening after Valentine's Day. Check www.brewsterspizza.com for updates. The place is at 9595 RR 12 in Wimberley.

Beer, wine and film at the Alamo

What's become Dogfish Head's annual gift to Austin beer and movie lovers, the Off-Centered Film Festival, returns to the Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek April 16-17. With DFH founder Sam Calagione on hand, it's certainly a high point on my local beer event calendar. But if you're interested in submitting a film - no more than five minutes - here's another date you need to jot down: March 1. That's the submission deadline. Details at www.offcenteredfilmfest.com .

Before that is a screening of "Blood Into Wine," the documentary on Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan's other life, with mentor Eric Glomski, as a winemaker. That's at 7:30 p.m. Feb 19 with a pork-intensive dinner with wine pairings from Arizona Stronghold and Caduceus. Tickets are $55. Check www.drafthouse.com/lakecreek for more.

Small-batch Belgians in San Marcos

Silas Parker, who spent a little time helping out Bruce Collie in Wimberley, is now brewing half-barrel (15 gallon) batches at the Root Cellar Cafe in San Marcos. Parker is not kegging, only bottling in 24-ounce bottles with cage-and-cork tops, and the beer is available to go as well as for on-site enjoyment. Everything's done by hand. The labels are even screen-printed by hand (no digital!) and printed on recycled paper.

"I want to brew a beer that's as small and as potent as San Marcos itself," Parker said. His plan is to have three standard Belgians available at all times, a light blonde, a dubel and trippel - "the standard Belgian formula, the 1-2-3 punch," as well as other stuff.

Update: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect address for Jester King.