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4th Tap beer on draft at Black Star Co-op

Arianna Auber

Next year, Black Star Co-op won’t be the only cooperative in town producing good beer. When 4th Tap finally opens its doors in late 2014, it’ll be not just the first purely worker-owned production brewery in Austin or Texas — it’ll be the first of its kind in the U.S., too.

In the meantime, Black Star, a trailblazer in its own right with its hybrid member-owners model, is helping the guys behind 4th Tap hone some of the beer recipes they’re hoping to turn into 4th Tap mainstays someday. First up is the Zephyr Pale Ale, being tapped today, a crisp and dry offering with orange peel, coriander and Cascade hops.

While they’re calling it the first collaboration among co-op brewers, it’s not technically that, Black Star’s head brewer Jeff Young said, noting that 4th Tap doesn’t yet have a brewery license. “We’re just testing out their recipes to get them ready right out of the gate,” he said. “It can be hard to get a brewery up and running, with lots of little things to consider, and this will make the process a little easier.”

“Look at it as great cooperation from cooperatives,” Chris Hamjey, one of the 4th Tap founders and a current brewer at Black Star, quipped.

When he and the five other 4th Tap founders started getting serious about opening a brewery cooperative (which seemed like the best choice, Hamjey said, since none of them were particularly rich and liked the cooperation model), they pored a lot of research into seeing what it would take. They went through a training program at Cooperation Texas, an Austin nonprofit that helps to foster the creation of co-ops in town. They also consulted with some Canadian production brewery cooperatives. While the U.S. has none, Canada has seven.

Plus, Hamjey has learned a lot in his year-and-a-half at Black Star, where he first started as an assistant cellar worker. He’s since brewed the most recent batches of High Esteem and the Cantankerous Dockhand, one of the dark “irrational” beers Black Star occasionally has on tap.

It’s actually beer like the Cantankerous Dockhand that inspired 4th Tap’s name and overall vision. “We noticed at most brewpubs, you’ve got your pale ale, a pilsner or blonde, and an IPA,” Hamjey said. “Then there’s that amazing seasonal we would want to drink year-round. That 4th tap embodies what we want to do, our philosophy. We want to always offer great experimental beer.”

He said that for the most part, none of the 4th Tap beers they have planned so far are one certain style. He’s excited about their gluten-free beer that they’ve dubbed the Texas Ale because its ingredients will all be locally sourced. That brew might get tapped at Black Star sometime in the spring.

For now, the six 4th Tap guys, all homebrewers who thought up the co-op idea after noticing they were making a lot of beer for friends’ weddings and other celebrations, are trying to secure a spot in North Austin around the Austin Beerworks, Adelbert’s and Circle Brewing area.