Decades after Evel Knievel achieved the apex of his fame as the quintessential daredevil on a motorcycle, his legacy of encouraging adventure and a fearless spirit is being taken to new heights, thanks in part to one small Austin brewery.
South Austin Brewery’s most popular beer is the light, easy-drinking Evel Ale, packaged in a red, white and blue can emblazoned with stars and the likeness of the late stuntman performing one of his famous risky moves on a motorcycle. Below his image are the words “There’s a little Evel in all of us.”
The brewers working out of a modest warehouse space off South Congress Avenue aren’t just making Evel Ale because they admire his daring — they have the blessing of the Knievel family to call it the official Evel Knievel tribute beer.
So far, Evel Ale, like all other South Austin Brewery beers, remains available primarily in Texas. An ongoing crowdfunding campaign seeking investors, however, is hoping to change that, giving the brewery the means to take the blonde ale national.
“The biggest thing for us with Evel Ale was not realizing what the interest, the demand, the excitement around it would be — not just for Austin but even more so around the country,” South Austin Brewery’s managing partner Martyn Buffler says. “We have people driving in, flying. ‘Can you mail it to me?’ We have to say no.”
On Wefunder.com, one of the sites making it easy for people to invest in small businesses, South Austin Brewery’s funding campaign has raised more than $80,000 from nearly 90 different people since it went live at the end of October. Buffler thinks investing (the contribution can be as small as, although no lower than, $100) is appealing to Knievel’s wide range of fans because they get to have a hand in bringing the tribute beer to them.
No matter how much money the campaign ultimately raises, South Austin Brewery already has plans to expand into Kansas. That might seem like a random choice, but Topeka is the site of an upcoming Evel Knievel museum.
The Evel Knievel Museum, opening early next year at a Harley-Davidson dealership, will be catnip to Knievel fans and is expected to draw them from all over the world. Once they’re in town, they’ll be able to sip on the Evel Ale at a nearby hotel as well as bars and restaurants near the museum.
Evel Ale is also going to make a dive into Nevada next year to help mark the anniversary of Knievel’s famous but failed jump over the water fountains at Caesars Palace in December 1967 — a breathtaking trick that his son, Robbie, successfully pulled off in 1989.
Knievel’s other son, Kelly, is in charge of continuing his father’s brand and legacy through K&K Promotions and helped South Austin Brewery come up with the concept for Evel Ale, a beer, he wrote on the Wefunder campaign page, “truly representative of Evel Knievel and how he lived his life.”
The beer, a light-bodied, 4.7 percent ABV blonde ale, is purposely easy to drink. South Austin Brewery’s brewmaster, Rus Hall, did a lot of tinkering to the recipe to get it just right — making an ale that would appeal “to someone who loved the beers of the ’60s and ’70s but also really can appreciate a good, solid beer today,” he says.
Hall hopes that the Evel Ale will serve as an introduction to South Austin Brewery’s other beers, which don’t have the star power of a celebrity associated with them but are also enjoyable. These include the TPA, a Texas Pale Ale; Kol’Beer, a kolsch; the Six String Saison; and Crossroads, a coffee stout made from the Brazilian beans of South Austin neighbors Casa Brasil.
Each of those cans features South Austin Brewery’s guitar logo, a nod to the brewery’s love of local live music. Evel Ale, however, looks purposely distinctive.
Next year’s expansion could mean those beers also travel beyond Texas to more states. Whether they do depends on the tough beer market, Buffler says, and not on the brewery’s ability to make more: South Austin has a 40-barrel brewhouse and plenty of extra capacity.
“We know there’s a demand for our beer outside of Austin and outside of Texas, so we’re going to build and scale and brew beer to do that. And we’ll continue to sell beer here in Austin,” he says.
He and Hall met the Knievel family through mutual friend Lathan McKay, who assembled the largest collection of Knievel memorabilia in the world and has given much of it to the Topeka museum. Perhaps McKay and the Knievels grasped the international attention that an official Evel beer would get, but South Austin Brewery, Hall says, was blindsided.
“We’ve gotten questions about it all the way from Australia,” he says. “We’ve had people buy the cans and try to sell them on eBay for like $13 a can. And they’re selling.”
Buffler understands the enthusiasm, as part of a generation that “grew up wearing capes and painting our motorcycles and jumping things.” The adoration for the zany daredevil might have waned in following years, but it’s back now in a big way.
“There’s a big $100 million Hollywood movie being talked about re-creating the Evel Knievel story, so the brand has seen a huge resurgence over the past couple of years,” he says. “It’s gotten past the kind of dark area of his life in terms of what people remember him for. Now they’re reconnecting with, ‘Wow, this guy really was an amazing hero, an iconic daredevil.’ Someone worth idolizing.”