I hit town with a mission already in mind: deliver San Diego Craft Beer to someone in Austin. I don’t work in the industry, but I believe in the ability of people who care about more than themselves to make an important difference in communities. And my experience is that craft brewers tend to be in that category. So when I had the idea to ask some San Diego brewers to give me beer to share, it was great to hear so many willing to do so. Our first day in Austin was really outstanding. Here’s how it went…
I landed in the Austin airport and was greeted by this
I spent a lot of time asking the Austinites what defined Austin, but even if you don’t agree with the the city’s version as told by this photo, it was impressive to see an airport that understood the importance of this question. Austin is the place you go for live music and phenomenal barbecue. And even if it is many other things, this is the message you get moments after you get off the airplane and it permeates your very first experiences with the city. Unlike many people, I was having my first exposure to this city with an eye towards what the city thought of itself. I care about how cities develop. So exploring this question was important to me.
Quick aside: On the plane I got into a fascinating conversation about what moves people from one company to the next. About what matters in attracting companies and talented young people to a region to work. My plane neighbor – who was as packed into her tiny seat as I was into mine – worked for a company that had an office in San Diego and one in Austin (in addition to some international offices). It was beyond interesting to talk about what matters most to companies thinking about real expansion. This is relevant at the moment because Austin is growing in ways that very few cities in the US can appreciate and in ways that are attracting the highest paid, most talented young people. I listened to this high-powered executive talk about attracting new talent and deciding where to site the next major international corporate office and it was incredible to hear that the university was NOT the biggest factor in that decision. As a result of chatting with her, I think perhaps San Diego needs to focus on attracting a diverse set of businesses across a given industry and NOT on building the best industry if the goal is attracting the type of long-term businesses that will make a meaningful difference in San Diego’s economy. The conversation was a great way to spend a few hours on a plane.
Okay, back to the trip…
I landed and started firing off tweets to find the Car2Go lot. Car2Go is this service that lets you essentially rent a tiny little car by the minute. It took a little doing because the shuttle to the right lot isn’t obvious when you get to the ground transportation – but one of the attendants pointed me in generally the right direction and I was whisked away to the lot. Getting in the Car2Go was flawless and 20 minutes later (or about $10, plus a one-time airport fee of $7.50) I was at my vacation rental
I put the vacation rental photo in so that I could mention that if you are going to Austin, I think Flint Rock Property Management might be God’s gift to rentals. Seriously. Not only did they have a freakin’ mobile app with all your check-in and pass code and wifi type information, they built their own website – Stay like a local Austin – to help you get around. And just in case that wasn’t enough, I happened to mention my affinity for craft beer and…wait for it…
Yep, they actually bought several local Texas craft beers and left them in my fridge. Seriously?!? Who does that? It’s a good message actually about partnerships that San Diego Brewers could develop to help visitors experience the 87 breweries and tremendous quality in our San Diego region.
Having dropped off the luggage, it was off to my first destination: Austin Beer Works.
I’d connected with one of the owners of ABW via Facebook and offered to bring a handful of San Diego Craft Beers to share with he and his team. So I called up several of my friends and got to work. Shawn DeWitt of Coronado Brewing Company, recent winner of best Brewmaster at the World Beer Cup, contributed a collaboration with Cigar City in Tampa. The Jurata Baltic Porter is something everyone ought to try at least once. Ian Wendlandt, a friend who keeps interesting things happening at Stone Brewing Co., gave me a bottle of Stochasticity project (Grapefruit Slam) and Stone IRS. Jim Crute, a PhD-trained scientist and owner of Lightning Brewery gave me one of the few pilsners I’ll drink (Elemental) along with an Amber and a Hefe, Mike Sardina gave me one of my favorite beers right now, the Harlot at Societe Brewing in a growler, the guys at Mike Hess Brewing gave me their own gold medal-winning Habitus along with our personal household favorite of their beers the Grazias (a cream ale) and top 10 worldwide brewer in 2013 Modern Times Beer all-everything brewer Derek Freese gave me freshly canned Blazing World (one of my other favorite beers right now).
It was fun bringing the beers, though it turned out the owner I contacted was a little less available than when he first responded. In fairness, they did have a brewery to run, a state Senator to prepare for and a 3rd Anniversary birthday celebration to get geared up for. Being on vacation I just rolled with it and enjoyed the many little experiences I had sitting at the bar. I had a great conversation with the bar manager, a pleasant dude named Tim in a great shirt (pictured below), and another employee named Katie who put us on to Big Mama Red at Austin Beer Garden Company (more later on that). And it turns out, Austin Beerworks used the same graphic artist as our friends at Modern Times, which was a cool side note.
We pulled up to the location, which was moderately hard to find given the lack of signage, but made it inside to let the sharing of beverage begin.
Nevertheless, despite a couple hiccups, I did enjoy the trip and this would become the first in a long line of hospitable experiences in the city of Austin. Adam, one of the co-founders and (I think) a tradesman at heart, spent the most time with us. He answered the question I would repeat to several people who call Austin home this weekend – putting aside the tourist magazines, what is the heart of Austin? He told me the people of Austin, really from Austin, were friendly and authentic. Amen. My kinda place. We took this photo to memorialize our stay
That’s the English IPA in the foreground, and I highly recommend you give it a try if ever hanging about in Austin. We had a few tastes of ABW’s various beers and then made our way. My favorite ABW beer was the English IPA. Not like any of the very hoppy IPAs I know and love, but smooth and mellow in a way I can’t describe well. I ended up asking Adam about whether they had issues with access to capital for growth (not so much) and lots of questions about life as a brewer. Suffice it to say, life in Austin brewing appears different from life in San Diego only in the respects that it is WAY more expensive in San Diego (price of land didn’t even come up) and Austin is part of a state-wide brewers’ guild, no Austin-specific guild exists. A great start to our trek. After trying small (2 oz) samples of Black Thunder (a schwarzbier) and a few other ABW specials, we packed ourselves back in the tiny Car2Go and headed for Austin Beer Garden Company.
For those of you familiar with San Diego, ABGB is what might result if the Casbah, San Diego Public Market and Tiger Tiger had a love child. An outdoor space, a live music venue and a diverse beer selection coupled with a decent range of food options gave us a good snapshot into this part of Austin life. Our primary bartender was a charming woman from South Carolina who would’ve fit right in next to a tattoo parlor in South Park (in San Diego) given her ink and easy demeanor. She treated us well, answered all my questions, and poured a nice Big Mama Red for us to enjoy. She definitely got an A-plus for service and knowledge, and it was a bonus that she put up with my unending need to know what she thought of Austin.
ABGB brewed its own beer, which wasn’t bad (and the Big Mama Red was actually pretty good). We spent a fair amount of time inside at the bar, which looked like this
After we finished up at the garden we decided to retire to our rental – a condo in the Bouldin Creek community just south of downtown. I won’t say much more about the Flint Rock folks or having lucked out and found an ideal spot to serve as home base. Suffice it to say it was everything our crew could have wanted to help facilitate a quality weekend.
Our stop at Hotel San Jose in the South Congress neighborhood was a fun dalliance (a great blog on SoCo HERE). Not much to tell, as we had a drink, relaxed outside, chatted a bit and left. But the area looked cool and I managed to get a couple good photos.
After our stop off at Hotel San Jose it was time to search out dinner. We ended up with this
Torchy’s was not my favorite. I had learned about the somewhat secret In-n-Out-esque off menu tacos, which looked by the descriptions like they’d be delicious (MENU). I got these
Sadly, they were not delicious. This wasn’t a service kind of spot so that was a non issue, but the food just frankly wasn’t that good and the tortillas were, well, unfortunate. I had lots of good food in Austin and look forward to going back. But if you are from any part of the country that serves fresh tortillas (and all that typically comes with fresh tortillas), then you can happily skip Torchy’s. That said, I was with friends, it was outside on a nice Austin night at a trailer park eatery and so it could have been much, much worse. We wrapped up the evening with the arrival of two more friends, enjoyed a really pleasant Austin spring evening and then got ready to experience the fun Austin had in store. A solid first day. Thanks for stopping by. Click here to return to the index or here for Day two.