Liquid Austin: Three local coffee shops brew up more than just cups of joe

Confession time: I don’t like coffee.

I don’t need it for the caffeine, which has never seemed to work on me, and I survived college just fine without it. But I do love the cozy ambience of coffee shops, especially the ones with boozy options on the menu or at least a good chai tea. So when Radio Coffee & Beer officially opened last month in South Austin with 24 beer taps, it seemed worthy of stopping by — and it was.

Radio is just the latest in a string of local coffee bars that have been placing an almost equal focus on beers as they do coffee. Here are three notable ones (Radio Coffee & Beer among them, of course).

Radio Coffee & Beer

4204 Manchaca Road.

When musician Jack Wilson decided to open a coffee shop with his father, Greg, they planned only limited beer offerings, but Wilson — a veteran of both the coffee and beer scenes in Seattle, where he worked for Hopvine Pub and Victrola Coffee — saw the need for a good beer bar along the stretch of Manchaca Road where Radio now sits. It has 24 taps of largely local beers and cider, such as Austin Beerworks (including their seasonal Karl Kolsch), (512) Brewing and Austin Eastciders. Most will be regulars on the menu; seasonals or special beers like Karl will rotate out every couple of months.

One of those taps also serves Stumptown Coffee’s nitro cold brew, a rare commodity here that Jack Wilson can get because of his connections to the Pacific Northwest, where Stumptown is based. The draft coffee drink (it pours like a nitro stout, with a rich, creamy head), he said, is going fast. “We’re probably selling more of it than anywhere else in the country,” he added with a laugh, noting that Radio doesn’t make iced toddies.

The slightly rustic, wood-lined space has seating both indoors and out and another Veracruz All Natural mobile outpost near the shaded outdoor area. It’s already becoming a neighborhood hangout spot that people can walk to from their homes, Wilson said, with both families “and the Ruta Maya-type crowd strumming guitars” mixed in together.

Soon enough, Radio will probably also attract a live music crowd, as Wilson, a former Flipnotics employee, has brought in several other former Flipnotics employees and plans to bring back Bluegrass Nights on Mondays, a popular residency at the now-closed music venue. He’s also shared stages with the likes of the Lumineers, Ben Kweller and the Head & the Heart in his years touring the country, so “a lot of quieter acoustic acts are coming in,” he said. “I want to curate it because I’ve made a lot of friends on the road, amazing artists who could do great, intimate shows.”

The Brew & Brew

500 San Marcos St. #105.

You can’t really say whether this East Austin spot is a coffee shop that serves beer or a beer bar that serves coffee. At least co-owner Grady Wright hopes you don’t consider the Brew & Brew one or the other. That’s because the goal of the Brew & Brew, also founded by his brother, Matt, and friend Matt Bolick, is to offer both equally, with almost 40 beer taps as well as lattes and mochas made with locally roasted Flat Track Coffee and espressos made with San Francisco beans. Grady Wright tends to handle the beer side of the business and tries to get his hands on rare brews or much-beloved seasonals whenever possible, which means the Brew & Brew has already become one of the destinations in town for beer fanatics to swarm to on notable release dates. (It was one of the first bars, for example, to have Black Star’s beers on draft in May.)

Plus, the Brew & Brew is always in the thick of big unrelated events, including South by Southwest and, right now, the World Cup. Since the start of the international soccer showdown, it’s been showing all the games and having $2 Hops & Grain cans available during each, along with a tapping of a different Greenhouse beer for each USA match.

Buzz Mill Coffee

1505 Town Creek Drive.

If it’s hard to decide what the Brew & Brew is, try labeling the Buzz Mill off East Riverside Drive. Yes, the lumberjack-themed coffee shop sells coffee (with good espresso, I hear). It’s also a bar with a variety of homemade spirit infusions and beers, a music venue with plenty of outdoor and indoor seating, and the location of Blue Ox Barbecue, a food trailer that cooks the meat using Aaron Franklin’s original smoker. And it’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The 10 beer taps and bottled beer selection aren’t always dominated by local breweries because founder Jason Sabala figures you can get those at just about any other bar in town, and anyway, his fascination with lumberjacks and their rough-and-tumble lifestyle means he also has an appreciation for the Pacific Northwest and the beers made there. The Buzz Mill beer options are rotated pretty often.

But perhaps the most interesting liquids being poured at the Buzz Mill are all those infusions. Or elixirs, as the website calls them. The collection started small but has grown large, up to 15 or more at one time. Each spirit is represented in unusual concoctions, everything from sweet potato vanilla bean vodka to papaya tomatillo tequila. No cocktail menu, though — you drink these on the rocks with soda (or all by themselves if you’re feeling brave; just be aware they’re pretty easy sippers).

There’s also cold-brew coffee roasted by Bootleg Supply Co. on draft. Bootleg delivers growlers of the popular, low acidity java outside the cafe as well. Add that to the list of things the Buzz Mill offers.

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