I Love Austin, TX

Most of my favorite American cities are those that take their food seriously. Quite often, a locale with a vibrant arts scene also plays host to innumerable great restaurants and bars. This is why I love visiting Portland but would never wish a trip to Houston upon anyone. Yet, a few hours to the west of that bland sprawl in Texas’ Gulf Coast sits a town that rivals any when it comes to arts, culture, and food. I had the pleasure of visiting Austin this weekend with my girlfriend Victoria for a quick getaway and spent 48 hours in gastronomic and zymurgical bliss.

We flew in late Friday night, with just enough time to check out Sixth Street, the bar destination of poor college kids, working adults, and tourists alike. The bars lining both sides of street, nearly all of which were leaking live music out of their doors and into my ears, were full to the brim and the closed-off street was bursting with people as well. It was actually a bit too overwhelming and we were tired from the flight so we decided to turn in early to enjoy a full day on Saturday.

The following morning began with a trip to JuiceLand, a small chain of juice bars peppered throughout Austin (and one location in Brooklyn). After a strawberry-banana-peanut butter-chia seed-apple juice smoothie there and an hour wandering around the giant, flagship Whole Foods in the center of town, Victoria and I headed west with our friends who were visiting from Dallas. Fifteen miles down the highway, houses become scarce, trees become abundant, and the ranches of hill country reveal themselves. Out this way lies the best one-two punch of beer and pizza I have experienced in America so far: Jester King Brewery and Pieous pizza.

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These people are about to receive 500 mililiters of beer after 3 hours of waiting in the sun.

My first encounter with Jester King was about four years ago when their beers still made it out to California regularly. I picked up a 750ml bottle because of its artwork and name: Black Metal Imperial Stout. It was (and still is) badass. A year later, Jester King had changed their recipe for this beast of a beer by fermenting it with yeasts native to the ranch the brewery sits on instead of pre-packaged cultures from White Labs or Wyeast. Just after this change took place, I visited Austin and happened to meet the owner of the brewery, Jeffrey Stuffings, who graciously gave me a tour the following day. Jeffrey capped the experience by opening a bottle of a raspberry sour beer called Atrial Rubicite, which instantly blew any framboise or other raspberry beer I’d ever had completely out of the water. It was extremely sour, yes, but what I couldn’t comprehend was how fresh the raspberries tasted. After sitting for months in a barrel and a few weeks or more in a bottle, it seemed like the fruit had just come off the bush.

Fast-forward a couple years and Atrial Rubicite is one of the most sought after beers in the world. Any beer trading forum you view will have at least one post (if not many) with the title “ISO: Atrial; FT: You Name It”. ISO is beer trading shorthand for “in search of” and FT signifies what the poster has “for trade.” People love Atrial Rubicite. And luckily enough, of all the weekends I picked to go to Texas, July 24-26 was the one that the brewery decided to release this year’s batch of their sour nectar. Needless to say, it was packed. My previous visit saw five cars in the parking lot and this one saw north of 500. The line for bottles of Atrial Rubicite was about three hours long. Did I mention it was 95 degrees outside? It’s an outstanding beer, but I wasn’t going to risk heat stroke, a terrible sunburn, and my precious time on a short trip for 500ml for a beer I’ve had before. Yes, it would be an outstanding addition to my cellar but I was happy enough with enjoying it fresh from the tap on that sunny Saturday.

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I forgot to take a picture until I was almost done. It was that good.

The beer pours a beautiful rosy pink color, with a white head of foam that dissipates fairly quickly. From five feet away you can smell the fresh Washington raspberry aroma volatizing and finding its way into the pleasure centers of your brain. The taste is quite tart, though slightly less sour than previous batches, with raspberries front and center. I detected a bit of acetic acid (vinegar) and a tinge of oak, but to a far less extent than the berries. The beer warmed up quickly, given the temperature outside, but it retained all of its desirable characteristics even as it passed 75 degrees. Victoria loved the beer, as did my other two friends, one of whom was a wine drinker skeptical about trying it. After purchasing enough bottles to fill my suitcase, we departed with rumbling stomachs clamoring for pizza.

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Sopressata decided to meat in the middle.

Okay, maybe they weren’t clamoring for pizza, but we were hungry and I was keen on introducing my three companions to Pieous, home to some of the most authentic Neapolitan pizza I’ve had this side of the Atlantic Ocean. We arrived in the wake of other beer enthusiasts who had made the three-mile trek to Pieous, despite the existence of a perfectly fine pizza establishment on the same parcel of ranch that Jester King inhabits. Evidently they also were in the know. I ordered one of the most popular pizzas, the Fat Queen, which is topped with pepperoni, sopressata, and Italian sausage. Normally, a pie that loaded with meat would be a greasy, salty mess with a jumble of flavors that become difficult to differentiate—not here. The spiciness of the sopressata heightened rather than masked the fennel flavor of the house-made sausage and made the savory notes of the pepperoni more pronounced. The sweetness from the crushed tomatoes did not detract from the subtle sweetness of the fresh mozzarella and the bed of sourdough crust that the ingredients all sat upon was perfectly cooked, with bubbles that had blackened beautifully and an edge that was delightfully chewy.

As if this were not enough (and it certainly was), I insisted that we also split a pastrami plate. When the owners took over the space two and a half years ago, there was an old, high-quality smoker that they could not get rid of, no matter how unrelated it was to their idea of perfect Neapolitan pizza. Keeping it in the restaurant proved to be a brilliant move, because the pastrami they make in it is some of the best I’ve ever had. It has black crust on the exterior, but comes thinly sliced and ready to melt in your mouth instantly, like a hybrid of a smoked brisket and pride of a Jewish deli. The platter it came on also had pickled onions, two types of mustard, sourdough bread, and a pickle. All of these were quite tasty but after trying a bit of each, I decided to eat the pastrami all by itself and I’m sure I made the right call.

After a lazy afternoon spent napping and digesting, we all met up with friends, old and new, on Rainey Street—the de facto row for gastropubs, hip restaurants, and new condos. Our first stop was Clive Bar, which seemed (not unlike other bars on the block) to have been converted from a bungalow-style house into a bar with a large outdoor patio. At the back corner of the patio was a small building which looked like a small church from the old West, but it served mescal instead of the good word. On a warm Austin night, it was the perfect place to throw back a mescal mule, chat with friends, and soak in the ambience of the coolest city in Texas.

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We will be back soon!

To finish the night, I brought as many people as would listen to me down the street to Craft Pride, a bar that only serves craft beer brewed in the Lone Star State. I had a few fine offerings, but none compared to the Yellow Rose IPA from Lone Pint Brewery. I had heard about this beer, forgotten about it, and ordered it after far too much deliberation looking at the big board. It had a fine citrusy aroma and extremely clean taste full of grapefruit, pear, and honey. I sought it out the next day at a bottle shop to no avail, but will soon be asking a friend in Texas to ship bottles my way.

I could hardly believe how much great food and drink we had packed into a single, scorching day in the heart of Texas, but we pulled it off and went to sleep happy. Our second and final day in Austin was much more relaxed and involved a homemade breakfast of chicken and waffles, a trip to the Barton Springs creek, and Victoria’s first experience with queso—the dip that epitomizes Tex-Mex cuisine. Two days was not nearly enough time to explore everything Austin has to offer. With hundreds of great local restaurants and innumerable food trailers, the capital of Texas has a rich food culture, which I fully intend to explore on repeat visits.


What’s your favorite part of Austin? Where should I eat on my next trip (other than Franklin BBQ, because, obviously)?

 

Gose and Gueuze: What they Are, and Which to Choose

As sour beers become more and more prevalent in the craft beer community, folks might have started to notice them popping up on tap lists to a point that could almost be called mainstream. If you see some of these styles, they may not be as self-explanatory as say, a brown ale or imperial coffee stout. Two such styles that are similar in name, color, and alcohol are gose and gueuze (sometimes spelled geuze). They’re both sour and originate in Europe, so let’s do a bit more to differentiate them.

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Bahl Hornin’ indeed

Gose (pronounced as either “goes” or “go-suh”) is a German style of beer brewed with about 60 percent wheat malt and the addition of coriander and salt. It should have pleasant citrus tartness that originates from the lactobacillus bacteria that is added to the beer (naturally or purposely inoculated) before the boil happens. This style nearly died out in the 20th Century, but thankfully gained a second wind in the past few years due to the popularity of sour beers. While it’s not necessarily easy to brew, it is far less time-consuming than most sours, which often require months of aging in wooden barrels. Thus, more breweries are willing to brew a gose as a way to foray into the world of sours without a significant initial investment. My first encounter with the style was Anderson Valley’s The Kimmie, the Yink, and the Holy Gose, and to date, is still my favorite (although I did pick up a bottle of Sante Adairius’ gose last time I was there that I need to drink…). A quick note on the name: Boonville, CA is not only home to Anderson Valley Brewing Company, but also an extremely specific regional dialect called Boontling. In this dialect, “kimmie” means man or father and “yink” is a boy or son, so I’ll let you put two and two together.

Not pictured: Cantillon

With apologies to Miller High Life, the true champagne of beers is gueuze. It demonstrates some of the highest levels of craftsmanship in the brewing industry and takes years to make. Gueuze is a blend of spontaneously fermented sour beers called lambics, which have been aged from one to four years. Spontaneous fermentation occurs when the brewer leaves the wort (unfermented beer) out in the open overnight in a koelschip (say: coolship), which allows all of the bacteria, yeasts, and microbes to fall into it and begin the fermentation process. The beer is then put into barrels where it sits for either one, two, three, or sometimes four years. The brewer or blender, as sometimes it is a separate job, chooses the ratio of each vintage to go into the final blend, which is called gueuze. The result is a sour, layered beer with flavors ranging from mushrooms to grape must to peaches to oak. Be forewarned though, the beer usually carries a strong Brettanomyces aroma, which smells like a horse blanket or sweaty socks. Enough exposure removes the negative connotations of this aroma and clues you in to the amazing flavors that are likely to follow. The most well-known and arguably the best producer of gueuze is Cantillon, in Brussels, but a few other breweries do outstanding beers as well. Drie Fonteinen, Tilquin, and Hanssens each make gueuzes that hold up nicely to the beers of Jean Van Roy, the master of brewing and blending at Cantillon.

In a slight bit of prevarication from the title of this post, I’m not actually going to tell you which to choose, but hopefully you now have a better understanding of these two similar-at-first-glance-but-not-really beer styles. So, go forth and drink sour beer!

The Epic Bottleshare

Last month, I attended a special bottle share fundraiser at Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach in support of one of the bar’s regulars, Mike Murray, and his family as he battles brain cancer. It was an event co-hosted by the owners of Beachwood and Stearns Liquor, a popular bottle shop in Long Beach. Gabe Gordon and Danny Dib, the proprietors of each establishment respectively, donated bottles from their own cellars and raffled off other rare bottles of beer and whiskey. Two sessions were held for three hours each and attendees were encouraged to bring their own bottles to share.

Straight Outta Alpine

I went to the second session and, figuring that most people would be bringing high ABV beers and sours (i.e. the beers that cellar the best) to share, came with a fresh growler of Underneath the Pine, the newest Pale Ale from Cellarmaker Brewing in San Francisco. I walked in and grabbed one of the dozens of clean glasses waiting to be filled with three hours of non-stop beer. Before I could even ask how the event was going to work, a bottle of Alpine Chez Monus was opened and flowing into any glass pointed in its direction. I’d never had any of Alpine’s sours but had heard nothing but glowing reviews about them and was blown away. Chez Monus (say “shame on us”) is a sour Belgian-style ale with white peaches and apricots added and aged in wine barrels. The aroma and flavor of the stone fruit leapt out of my glass and set the bar extremely high for the rest of the night. In fact, the next beer to be poured (for me, at least; there were many bottles being opened and poured concurrently) was a Cantillon Kriek. I generally consider Cantillon to be the greatest brewery in the world, or at least the best sour house, but from my initial take on the back-to-back offerings, I actually preferred the homespun sour from San Diego over the beer from Brussels.

It was at that time that I realized I was in for an absolutely outrageous night of trying some of the finest beers ever brewed. After all, my first two were rated 100 and 97 on BeerAdvocate respectively and there was a long way to go. I tried my best to write down tasting notes and talk about the beers that I was trying, but they were being opened so frequently it was hard to keep up. Here are a few of the beers I tried: DeGarde Poppy Van Ambre, Cisco’s Cranberry Woods, Jester King’s World’s Worst Twin, Horal’s Oude Geuze Mega Blend, Firestone Walker Abacus (back from when it was still called Abacus), Firestone Walker 11th Anniversary Ale, Rare Barrel’s Map of the Sun, Russian River’s Beatification, Russian River’s Framboise for a Cure, Cascade’s Sang Royal, The Bruery’s Chocolate Rain, Cantillon’s Iris, Drie Fonteinen’s Golden Blend Geuze, and The Alchemist’s Heady Topper. There were more that I tried and don’t quite remember and a few other standouts that deserve extra attention.

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Seemed nice to me…

I’ve been wanting to try anything from the Maine Beer Company for a while now and got my wish that night. There was a bottle of their Mean Old Tom, a stout aged on vanilla beans, which drinks easily but has the flavor of a beer with twice the alcohol. It was sweet, roasty, chocolatey and perfectly balanced, and made me want to book a trip to New England. Another offering from the land of the Red Sox came from the Boston Beer Company, better known as the brewers of Sam Adams. Gabe, the owner of Beachwood, prepared flights of Utopias, the beer that is so over-the-top in every way that it’s not really beer anymore. The flight consisted of the 2009, 2012, and 2013 releases of the 28% ABV “beer” that’s released in miniatures copper pot stills at well over $100 a bottle. If you think of it as beer, it’s pretty awful. There’s no carbonation, way too much alcohol, and borderline offensive aromas if you sniff it like you would a beer. Treated like a hard alcohol, however, it becomes delightful. With lighter intakes of the aroma, the drink is sweet and slightly floral. The flavor is incredibly complex, with notes of dried fruit, oak, spices, and molasses all swirling around in the glass. After drinking the flight, I needed a glass of water and a Kern River Session IPA to act as a palate cleanser.IMG_4911

The growler I brought was divvied up in dozens of four-ounce pours, which zoomed around the room on serving trays held by the wait staff. I was pleased to see that so many people would be able to enjoy my contribution to the night and one whiff of the delectably piney notes of the pale ale confirmed that I would enjoy it as well. Cellarmaker brews excellent beers, but none better than their pale ales. They craft easy-drinking beers that burst with hop flavor and aroma, and Underneath the Pine is no exception. It combines pine and tropical fruit aromas by using two dual-purpose hops, Mosaic and Citra, a pine-forward hop, Centennial, and a juicy, tropical fruit hop, Motueka. These combine to be exactly the flavors I enjoy most when drinking a Pale Ale or IPA.

After this, and knowing I had work in the morning, I slowed down considerably and took the time to slowly sip some of the barleywines I had passed over during my sour beer frenzy earlier on in the night. At this time, the raffle started and two of my friends happened to win six items between them, including a Westvleteren XII and Ballast Point’s nearly-impossible-to-find Devil’s Share Single Malt whiskey. I looked around and saw that everyone else seemed to have the same contented expressions on their faces that I was wearing. It seemed we had all reached beer nirvana. It’s a state of mind that I believe we should all strive to achieve.

 


Even if you missed the share, you can still donate directly to the account set up to help Mike and his family here.