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Austin Beerworks plans bigger facility to strengthen local presence

Cans of Austin Beerworks — like the Pearl-Snap Pilsner and the Fire Eagle IPA — have accompanied many a good time, from backyard barbecues to happy hours at a favorite neighborhood bar.

In five years, the brewery has made itself nearly ubiquitous around Austin with its striking 12-ounce cans and draft offerings like the beloved Einhorn, named after the German word for unicorn. Although Austin Beerworks isn’t available outside Travis and Williamson counties, it’s nonetheless large enough to be classified as a regional brewery by craft beer trade group the Brewers Association.

“We’re a regional brewery in one city; we might be the only ones who can say that,” co-founder Michael Graham says.

But at maxed-out capacity, Austin Beerworks can’t expand into new bars or stores or add beers to the mainstay lineup. Graham and the three other co-owners, Michael McGovern, Will Golden and Adam DeBower, have outgrown their current cramped quarters at 3009 Industrial Terrace in far North Austin and, after searching across the city for a bigger facility, have found the perfect one — right next door.

Taking on the redesign of the neighboring warehouse is Michael Hsu, the architect behind the South Congress Hotel, the Lamar Union development and other modern commercial and residential properties around Austin. The upcoming Austin Beerworks space will be more than 15,000 square feet, with 4,900 square feet of that devoted to a tasting room. It’ll give the brewery extra room to brew, experiment with barrel-aging and test for quality control.

“One problem but also great thing for us has been the tasting room right in the middle of the brewery,” Graham says. “It’s hard for us to have it open while we’re in production because someone is always in the way.”

“And people and forklifts don’t mix,” McGovern adds.

As early as this fall — but likely at the beginning of next year — Austin Beerworks will open the dedicated tasting room next door, complete with an outdoor deck. It’ll be open seven days a week. And the current space isn’t going anywhere, either: Graham says it’ll be used for packaging and overflow space.

“We’ll keep the pilot system over there, too,” he says. “If we build (the new brewery) out, we can triple our overall production. It’ll almost be like two breweries working together. We’ll have to get walkie-talkies or something.”

At the moment, though, future plans don’t include getting Austin Beerworks brews outside of the two counties they’re already in. That’s because the brewery remains dedicated to self-distributing, a job that many breweries of that size have long passed on to a third party. The four co-owners find the personal relationships they get from self-distributing so important that they aren’t quite ready to expand their borders with the help of another company.

“I think for the first time, we’ll have more capacity than demand, which gives us the leisure of growing as we need to and doing more experimental stuff,” Graham says. “Doing the things that people have been asking us to do: canning more beers, doing more seasonals, having a bigger barrel-aged program. But getting our beer to places like San Marcos isn’t quite on the radar yet.”

Instead, Austin Beerworks embodies the sort of hyper-local philosophy that Austinites love. The brewery’s four main canned beers; seasonals like Einhorn, a refreshing Berliner Weisse, and Sputnik, a Russian Imperial Stout; and the rotating Heavy Machinery IPA series are found in about a fifth of all area bars and stores and nowhere else.

Then, there’s the taproom, the home of many other Austin Beerworks brews.

To get a sense of what the brewery will offer more widely in a year’s time, once the expansion is complete, stop into Austin Beerworks during the Thursday through Sunday tasting room hours. In the small but colorful rectangle to the right of barrels and brewhouse equipment is a tap wall where Austin Beerworks’ limited brews are available alongside the more common offerings.

The taproom-only beers are made on the 7-barrel pilot system, often by employees whose job description doesn’t include brewing. Austin Beerworks’ off-premise sales manager, Nick Pratt, came up with the recipe for the popular Bloodwork Orange Blood Orange IPA, for example, while cellarman Peder Pedersen brewed up a French-Belgian saison called Bayeaux Road.

Most recently, the packaging manager, Jody Vance, crafted the Gringo de Mayo Mexican Lager just in time for Austin Beerworks’ fifth anniversary party on Saturday.

Giving employees the run of the pilot system has turned out beers the co-founders admit they might not have done themselves — and some of the beers, like the Bloodwork Orange, are so well-received that they’re scaled up and sold outside the taproom. “That one should eventually make its way into our year-round lineup,” McGovern says.

“It’s almost frustrating when they turn out so good,” Graham jokes.

In the coming years, Austin Beerworks plans to make more barrel-aged and sour beers as well, with barrels that have previously housed everything from port to rum and even other beers. And though the brewery will have triple the brewing capacity, Austin Beerworks fans can always count on the tap wall to constantly rotate through pilot batches, keeping the regulars coming back.

“It’s crazy to think how much beer we’re moving in one town,” Graham says.

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