Austin’s four newest breweries combine beer and community


We’re not quite at the level of beer-loving Fort Collins, Colorado, but Austin is starting to feel like a place where there’s a brewery in just about every neighborhood. Four new breweries have opened in the past few months that make it easier than ever for locals to go out without straying far from their homes.

Indeed, these brewery owners have noticed a trend of hyper-local hangouts: A bulk of their regular customers are people who live nearby. But, of course, anyone is welcome — your leashed dog, your friend from out of town — so no matter where you are, here’s what to know about the latest Austin beer makers.

THE BREWTORIUM BREWERY & KITCHEN

6015 Dillard Circle. Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 2 to 11 p.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. thebrewtorium.com.

Brewtorium co-owner and head brewer Chris Rauschuber has German roots and loves the clean, easy-drinking lagers that German brewers have been making for centuries.

When he and wife Whitney Roberts set out to start their own brewpub, they were hoping to find a building the size of other Austin brewpubs like the ABGB and Pinthouse Pizza. But what they found just off Airport Boulevard was a facility much, much larger — a whopping 15,500 square feet. At first, it felt daunting, but the building was partitioned to create a cavernous main taproom and restaurant, a cozy special events space, a kitchen, a brewery with a 15-barrel system and a beer garden accessible from a marathon-like hallway.

“We didn’t want to go all the way to schnitzel, but we wanted to have some elements of traditional German beer styles and food. And this is kind of set up like a German beer hall, but a modern take on that,” Roberts, Brewtorium’s CEO, said, gesturing to the well-placed decorations around the restaurant — bare-bulb light fixtures, spare floral arrangements in beakers — that help break up the space and create a welcoming atmosphere.

She and Rauschuber, a homebrewer of nearly 13 years, wanted to give the food equal billing with the beer. After all, Roberts said, food paired with just the right kind of beer can create “a holistic experience, triggering something in your brain that you didn’t know could happen.”

To inspire those transcendent moments, they hired Dave Arcos, most recently the sous chef at Hays City Store, to helm the German fusion food program. It’s perhaps best exemplified by the brat stickers dish (six dumplings filled with sauerkraut and bratwurst); other popular items have been the Beer-Belly burger (candied pork belly, melted beer cheese and IPA mustard, among other ingredients) and the menu of flammkuchen, or German-style pizzas.

Certain dishes on the menu come with beer pairing suggestions. The Electric Lederhosen Vienna Lager has been an early hit, but Rauschuber is still adapting to the professional equipment and may continue to make tweaks on others like the upcoming Lightning Wizard Witbier and the aggressively hopped A Beer Named Sue IPA.

For him, it hasn’t quite sunk in yet that Brewtorium — which celebrates its official grand opening April 21— has finally arrived. In some ways, it still feels like the long-gone days when he and Roberts would invite friends over to drink his homebrew.

“We wanted to do a brewpub because of that kind of community focus you get when you combine beer and food. Together, they are more than the sum of their parts,” Roberts said.

ODDWOOD ALES

3108 Manor Road. Hours: 4 to 11 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. oddwoodales.com.

You might feel as though you’ve wandered out of East Austin and straight into a cabin in Marfa when you step into the rustic, wood-and-tile taproom of Oddwood Ales. Former Adelbert’s brewer Taylor Ziebarth and his brother, Brett, opened the brewpub so that Ziebarth could continue to develop his love not just of wood-aged beers but, especially, wood-fermented beers.

These are funky and complex as a result of the wild yeast and bacteria that transform the wort into alcohol and the wood that guarantees a different result from every barrel, no matter if brewers use the same recipes and yeast each time. Wood fermentation often necessitates the extra step of blending the beer, too, to make it more consistent from batch to batch. This kind of fermentation — versus the more common practice of using stainless steel tanks — is a lot less predictable.

That’s partly why Ziebarth loves it. But he also appreciates the control behind making “clean” beers. For that reason, Oddwood has a mix of both American-style wild ales and hoppy pale ales.

“I see it as a left and right brain thing,” Ziebarth said. “I like the artistic freedom and laissez-faire attitude toward wild beer-making. That’s how we got started. When you’re making clean beer, you’re rarely blending this beer with that beer and putting it in a barrel with fruit. But it’s also really good to control all the levers, all the steps.”

The wild side is represented currently with two saisons: Atonal, a blend that features notes of pink grapefruit, melon and salty limes; and Life Skills, a light-in-alcohol blend of saison with a splash of sour beer. Oddwood is also serving tank-produced Wolf Shirt Pale Ale, Shady Knoll Lurker IPA, Exact Science American Lager and Truck Shadow Stout. Even these, Ziebarth said, have “yeast strains you wouldn’t see in a typical beer. I’m a yeast nerd.”

Along with house and guest beers and a small roster of wines, Oddwood employs a chef, Ryan Dunn, to make what he calls bar-style or New Jersey-style pizzas. The pies are characterized by “a super thin cracker crust with a cheese ridge that caramelizes around, so you don’t actually see much of the crust,” Dunn said.

How the crust comes out so thin is a trade secret he and the Ziebarths would prefer to keep. It’s a take on pizza that isn’t so common in Austin.

The Ziebarths are hoping the overall project is something special — with Taylor Ziebarth’s beers, Brett Ziebarth’s artwork on the walls and their interior designer mom’s influence on the taproom. It features 10 different types of wood, from the French oak floors to the foraged driftwood tap handles.

“We weren’t trying to be so gung-ho on the wood, but it naturally happened. We are Oddwood Ales, after all,” Taylor Ziebarth said.

SKULL MECHANIX BREWING

1005 E. St. Elmo Road, Building 2. Hours: 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 3 p.m. to midnight Thursday and Friday, 1 p.m. to midnight Saturday and 1 to 10 p.m. Sunday. skullmechanix.com.

The founder of this South Austin brewery was driving home from St. Elmo Brewing during a storm when he spotted a “For Lease” sign down the road — an observation that he said now is kismet. He had been visiting St. Elmo’s location at the Yard to see about opening a brewery there, too, and decided against it. But it was the right place to be: The thunderstorm forced him to pull over, just in front of a building where the landlord was hoping a brewery would become the new tenant.

Now, Jeff Willis has opened Skull Mechanix Brewing as an open, airy hangout with lights strung from the ceiling, long benched seating and a hip, edgy aesthetic illustrated partly by the skull-shaped tap handles and Skull Mechanix’s large logo on a back wall. Willis, who majored in marketing and computer science at St. Edward’s University, wanted the brewery to stand out in Austin’s bustling beer scene while making it clear it’s no biker bar.

With a background in the service industry for more than 25 years, Willis found his love for beer in particular managing the Warehouse District bar the Ginger Man before moving to Fort Collins and opening a place of his own, the lauded Tap & Handle, in 2012. All 74 taps of beer rotated regularly, and Willis made sure to offer a variety of styles at all times. He sold the bar to come back to Texas.

“I like to have a really balanced (draft) wall, and one thing I wasn’t seeing was beers low in alcohol and high in flavor,” he said. So for Skull Mechanix, “I was looking for really high quality, approachable, working-class, stuff you can drink more than one of. I told Michael (Waters, the head brewer) to go at it. … We wanted to see how this car could drive.”

Waters, formerly of Uncle Billy’s, Independence Brewing and Real Ale Brewing, has made a range of brews, all his recipes, with the 15-barrel system — beers like Rock of Ages Pilsner, Gully Cat IPA and Best Bitter, an English bitter ale. The former two beers are named for local tattoo shops. Waters, Willis said, is head-to-toe tattooed with Rock of Ages ink, and Willis has been a longtime friend of Gully Cat owner Mike Terrell.

Visitors can stop into Skull Mechanix on their way home from work to wait out rush hour; Interstate 35 is visible from the front windows. Then, they can take home a crowler for later.

“We were very excited to get this building because you can literally see the traffic on 35. Would you rather be out there or sit here with a beer and watch it go by?” Willis said.

SOUTHERN HEIGHTS BREWING CO.

6014 Techni Center Drive #2-101. Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and noon to 7 p.m. Sunday. southernheightsbrewing.com.

Talk about a bootstrap operation. By the time this far East Austin brewpub opened in November, one of the owners, Chris Rich, was a class away from becoming a master electrician. He and co-owner Austin Russell traded off the considerable job of transforming a large warehouse into a bright, modern taproom and brewery, often on their own and with their own money — many times, Russell worked days and Rich took the night shift.

Their hard work paid off. About a month in, Austin Beer Guide gave Southern Heights Brewing the Best New Brewery/Brewpub award, and people flocked to try beers like the tropical-forward Tahitian Dreamin’ IPA and the low-ABV Where’s My Flannel Pub Ale. The latter perhaps best showcases both guys’ down-to-earth philosophy about the beers they want to make: unfussy, balanced styles that might not be flashy but are very well-made.

Where’s My Flannel “is lower alcohol, kind of malty, kind of crisp. It’s just a beer in the best way possible,” Russell said, noting that the pub ale (also known as a mild ale or an ordinary bitter) might be one of the few beers people see again and again on the tap wall.

“But I don’t know what we’ll call it in the summertime. Maybe Where’s My Flip Flops?” Rich joked.

At Southern Heights, the beer menu is rotational. There aren’t any mainstays that you’ll see all the time but, rather, beers that reappear in accordance with the season.

Have a pint at one of the long wooden tables in the ombré-accented taproom, separated from the 15-barrel brewhouse in part by two repurposed shipping containers. If you look like you’re enjoying yourself there or at additional seating behind the bar, you’ll have fulfilled Rich and Russell’s mission, the whole reason Russell was inspired to quit his corporate job at Dell in the first place (Rich still works there).

During a 2009 work trip to Fort Collins, they saw how happy everyone was at breweries like Odell Brewing, and they wanted to replicate that here.

“When (Texas) laws changed in 2013, people started building taprooms separate from the brewery, but I liked going to the O.G. Austin Beerworks and hanging out among the tanks,” Russell said. “So we built the best of both worlds — a bar you want to hang out at but also this open area behind it. People gravitate toward here. They know they’re in a brewery. It feels good.”



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