Theology and Beer: Lazarus Brewing Co.

Lazarus Brewing Co. is Spreading the Gospel of Beer

I normally steer clear of religion. A youth spent raised in the Church of Christ and attending a Christian high school sometimes has that effect. However, Lazarus Brewing Co. has a theology that I can get behind. The church of beer. Can I get an Amen! Kneel and give thanks to our Lager. Now stand up. You look silly, and this is a tap room. One of the nicer tap rooms I’ve ever been in I might add. Lazarus Brewing Co. really went all out to create atmosphere. Everything tells a story. The glassware, the names of the beer, the massive stain glass mural depicting the anointing of Jesus by Mary Magdalene. It’s the subtle touches that really make the space.

Stained glass mural depicting Mary Magdalene and Jesus at Lazarus Brewing Co.

I was meeting a small group of people for a brewery crawl and spotted an early bird at the bar. He of course had a beer, but he was also munching on Instagram worthy tacos if I’d ever seen them. Lazarus Brewing Co. is apparently well known for their fish tacos. Another subtle nod to the religious theme? I’d like to assume so.  I ordered a pint of 40 Days & 40 Nights, the IPA on tap. It came in a Stange glass with the brewery’s logo and the words “Share Life” emblazoned on it. The little details are everywhere. The hop aroma was a little light for an IPA, but it was thirst quenching and packed with flavor. An excellent choice for my first ever beer from them.

40 Days & 40 Nights IPA from Lazarus Brewing Co.

The Shackleton EPB was next on my “to drink” list. I’ve always been a fan of bitters, and this one is truly excellent. Hoppy, but not nearly as much as an IPA, and a strong malt backbone. Barely two beers in and I’m already a big fan of Lazarus. I wanted to sample everything, and like the cheapskate I am, I bummed sips from my friends. Naturally, some were better than others, but all at the very least were decent. I enjoyed the Shackleton so much I ordered up a second pint.

Clearly not every beer has a name with allusions to a bible story, but each beer’s name has a story behind it. Shackleton was named after Earnest Shackleton, who was a polar explorer that led three British expeditions to the Antarctic, and one of the principal figures of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. One Eye Rye is lovingly named after a brewer’s girlfriend’s rescue dog. A one-eyed, cranky mutt who is missed dearly. With every purchase of this spicy brew, a 50-cent donation is made to Hard Luck Hounds.

Lazarus Brewing Co. Shackleton EPB

Really the only thing I can nitpick about also happens to be one of my biggest pet peeves in a brewery. No menu boards. You must decide what you want when you get to the front of the line with a printed paper menu. I guess it makes sense when they change their offerings so frequently. Plus, it would get in the way of all the fancy glassware. However, there were spots on the wall that could have accommodated at least a small board. It’s one of my things, okay!

Lazarus Brewing Co. did a nice spin on the crowdfunding craze. They created a “Patron Saint” program. For a donation of $1,000, you are gifted with a handblown goblet that is truly a work of art. Oh, did I forget to mention that you also get free beer for life in said goblet? They’ll even keep it at the brewery for you. The only caveat being that you’re limited to one beer or other beverage per day. Damn TABC regulations. Some beers at Lazarus top out at over 10% ABV, so I say get your money’s worth. On the shelf behind the bar there are several sippy cups mixed in among the artfully crafted goblet. A sticky note with a name and frowny face tells a woeful tale. Shattering a grand has got to sting a bit.

The bar and taps at Lazarus Brewing Company

Seating is abundant at Lazarus Brewing Co. inside and out. Bar stools, high tables, and picnic tables are spaced perfectly and could accommodate almost every churchgoer. If you like the industrial feel of a brewery in a non-descript warehouse, then you should look elsewhere.  Lazarus has style and is difficult to miss. If it seems like I’m gushing, it’s because I am. Other breweries should take note. This is how you build a brand.

Another view of Lazarus Brewing Co. tables

Entrance to the Lazarus Brewing Co taproom from the outside patio

Lazarus Brewing Co. beer glass goblet

Index Fest Review

Free for me, but worth the price of admission

I’m a pretty harsh critic of beer festivals. I expect some bang for my buck. I was stoked when a friend of mine called me the day of Index Fest and gifted me with a free VIP ticket. Do I want to come out and drink free beer and listen to live music? Ummmm, fuck yes I do. Index Fest is the rebranded Untapped Festival series taking place in Texas. The focus on amazing craft beer and talented local artists remains the same though, and there is an increased focus on high-quality food and local art.

Index fest taster glass with Friek Raspberry Sour
Friek Raspberry Sour – Odell Brewing – Sweet, tart, and above all else, tasty

Index fest seemed very well organized. The ticket booth was easy to spot and each line was clearly marked. I had a VIP entry which would have included early access if I’d had the ticket before the day of. Whatever. Beggars can’t be choosers. I cut past dozens of people waiting to get checked in as I strolled down the VIP lines. Girls gave the evil eye to their boyfriends for dragging them to yet another beer festival and being too cheap to spring for VIP treatment.

Once I checked in I was given a wrist band with a chip in it for scanning my beers. No tickets that I had to keep track of and potentially lose. Already off to a good start. I snatched up my commemorative plastic tasting glass and me and my buddy were off. He said I just haaaaad to try the Unfiltered Sculpin at the Ballast Point tent. Excellent first beer. After each sample was a poured, a volunteer scanned my wrist band and notified me how many I had left to try. Very convenient.

Index fest with a view of the main stage
Index Fest was a pretty big festival

Beer, food, music, and art

Thousands of people were in attendance, but it wasn’t overcrowded at all. I never stood in line for more than a few minutes to receive my sample. The volunteers were even great about moving along the Chatty Cathys who wanted to ask about ever subtle nuance of the two-ounce sample they were just given. They don’t work for the brewery dude. They don’t fucking know and they’d really love it if you’d go bother someone else.

Even the food tents were well organized and moved quickly. There were local artist scattered around the festival, but I have to admit they didn’t really register as I walked by. They seemed neat, but not really something I was interested in while slightly besotted.

There were over 80 different breweries present and 250+ beers to try. My wrist band only got me 16 pours though, so I had to be a little picky. I searched high and low for the rarest beers. Barrel aged this and dry hopped that. Seasonals, special releases, and collaborations abounded. As I sipped on my generous pour, tapping my foot to beat of some local band that just came on, I made the best discovery of the night. For $7 I could recharge my wrist band with 10 more samples. Let’s do this shit.

crowd of people watching local Austin band Local Native at Index Fest
Local Natives – an Austin band was the headliner at Index Fest

I didn’t spend a lot of time in the VIP area, but it had a lot of amenities well worth the price of admission. A beer tent that sold full beers, bathrooms, a huge lounging tent, and access to the side of the main stage. I hung around after I’d had my fill of beer just long enough to hear the most popular songs from the headliner before I bailed. I got the ticket for free, but I’d have gladly paid for what was possibly the best value at a beer festival I’ve ever seen.

Index Fest was well organized, had a ton of variety, and was flat out one of the best beer festivals I’ve been to. If you’re lucky enough to live in the Texas, then I highly recommend you attend one of the four more events scheduled for the year. If you don’t live in Texas, well what the fuck are you thinking? Just please don’t move to Austin.

For more details and future festival dates, check out the website.

crowd of people waiting for Austin bats to emerge from the South Congress bridge
Bat watchers on the South Congress Bridge

Tim Bullock: St. Elmo Brewing Co. [Interview]

I was having such a good time with my friends at St. Elmo’s Brewing Co. that it took me a second to realize who the man standing beside our table was. It finally dawned on me that is was Tim Bullock, one of the owners who had graciously agreed to answer a few questions about the brewery and beer I was enjoying so much. It was a typical Winter day in Austin, Texas. So it was 75 degrees and gorgeous out on St. Elmo’s spacious, picnic table filled patio area. Tim and I had to go inside to find a quiet spot.

“Get you a beer?” Tim asked as he was already heading behind the bar. Why yes, I think I’ll have a beer. After pouring me a snifter of Amarillo, their newly released American IPA, Tim spilled his guts about his journey to a guy he’d only met once for 10 seconds and shared three emails with.

Owners St Elmo Brewing Co

TC: How does St. Elmo’s stand out in the increasingly saturated Austin beer scene?

TB: I don’t think Austin is saturated at all. If you compare it to Portland, which is a similar size, they have nearly double the amount of breweries Austin does. There is a long way to go before we even get close to too many breweries here. With St. Elmo’s, my partner Bryan and I really wanted it to be the local neighborhood brewery. We wanted to serve the community right around our area. There aren’t a lot breweries south of downtown that you can walk to, grab a great beer, have a meal, and just relax at. We got incredibly lucky with the space. We looked at probably less than 10 locations before we decided on this location.

TC: You and Bryan both used to be at Austin Beer Works. What made you make the leap from working at an already established, well liked brewery to opening your own?

TB: When I met Bryan, it was clear that we were similar in that we both wanted to acquire skills. We weren’t just working a job. He was a brewer and I was working the bar area in the front of the house. We both learned a lot in our time at ABW, but it got to the point where we wanted to branch out creatively and do our own thing. He and I working together seemed like a natural partnership.

St Elmo Brewing Co. Amarillo

TC: How did you decide on the styles of beers you were going to serve? Is there a fully vetted creative process, or do you basically brew what you like?

TB: More we brew what we like. The recipes are very dialed in for sure, but there’s no official process we go through. Bryan is one of the few brewers I know that still homebrews. Not many people want to put in a 10-hour day then go home and do what they just did all day for fun. That’s really where most of or recipes come from is his home brew batches. That’s why I think we we’re able to produce such quality recipes.

TC: So what does St. Elmo’s look like 5 years from now? Nationwide distribution or are you content with your slice of Austin?

TB: I think we’re content with our slice of Austin. Like I said before, we really want to be your neighborhood brewery, serving the community around us. Of course, we’ll grow and expand more into local markets. You can expect to see us at more taps around Austin, but it isn’t our primary goal.

Beer Sign

As Tim and I were talking, the line behind the bar kept getting longer and longer as several large groups showed up all at once. No doubt my tweet that Fine Pint was there brought everyone out in droves. That, or the amazing beer. 50/50 really. Tim excused himself to help behind the bar, but not before introducing me to his partner, Bryan Winslow, who was cleaning kegs on the brewery floor. Bryan was also nice enough to chat with me for a bit.

TC: I asked Tim this same question, but what is your process for coming up with new beer recipes?

BW: I like to experiment, but I really focus on recipes that hit styles on the nose. I worked hard to develop our Kolsch recipe. Recipes change over time of course, but we like to provide the same, or as close to the same beer as we came every time.

TC: So a lot of effort goes into reproducing recipes each time.

BW: Yeah absolutely. We like to try new hops that are in season, and I’m constantly tweaking recipes, but consistency is key.

St. Elmo’s Brewing Co. is a damn fine addition to the Austin brewery scene. Tim and Bryan really hit the nail on the head with what they set out to accomplish. Great beer, in a great space, with an amazing food truck, Soursop, permanently parked out back. If you haven’t been out yet, you need to fix that, and quick. If you’re lucky, Bryan might even give you a sample of the new kettle soured raspberry tart he’s working on.

St. Elmo Brewing Co. Patrons

The Problem with Cellaring

Cellaring. I hate the term, but I’ll use it for simplicity. My “cellar” consists of a couple of shelves in my pantry. I have about 10 beers, which I’m sure makes me a filthy casual to a lot of you. Hang on a minute though. This time next year, those 10 beers will have been swapped out and replaced with new ones at least a dozen times. I don’t have the patience or the desire to age a beer long enough that it “peaks”. Beer is meant to be drank…drunk? Consumed. I know some guys that have beers they’re saving for a special occasion, which at this point is nothing short of Bill Murray showing up.

Collins IPA

Maybe it’s my lack of willpower or having zero self-control, but I don’t want to wait years to drink a beer that I was only able to find a single bottle of. Asking me to wait five years to drink a beer would be like asking me to wait till June to open my Christmas presents. It ain’t happening. The longest I think I’ve ever been able to manage was two years, and it was entirely by accident. I found four bottles of Prairie Ale Christmas Bomb in a filing cabinet drawer when I was moving. Once I discovered them, they were chilled and in a glass within days.

I recently waited in line at Jester King for their first spontaneous fermentation release, aptly named Spon. It’s amazing, FYI, but that’s a story for another day. Jester King is located in Austin, Texas and Austinites waited in line the only way they know how. Folding chairs, breakfast tacos, and mimosas. It was a great time and I met some kick ass people that were camped around me waiting to get their allotment. I met a guy who we’ll call Josef. Josef was an interesting, friendly, affable guy. He cracked jokes, shared his beverages, and gladly accepted breakfast tacos. Over the course of the morning, our group got to know each other, like you do. As we went around introducing ourselves, it got to be Josef’s turn. It turns out that Josef is one of the few people that I will allow to say he has a beer cellar without doing air quotes. Josef dedicated an entire room of his Houston home to beer. Going so far as to completely block of a window and adding extra layers of insulation to the walls to keep his shelves upon shelves of beer at the optimal temperature. He took it a step further and showed me the google doc spreadsheet he used to keep track of each and every beer. Josef had a staggering 1,783 bottles of beer in his cellar.

Jester King El Cedro

I understand hobbies, and I understand the joy of collecting, but I just can’t understand such extreme delayed gratification. I suppose it comes down to the thrill of the hunt and having a bigger trophy room than the other guys. Josef was like a proud papa and couldn’t wait to show off his spreadsheet of hundreds of beers and I’ll admit my nipples got hard as I scanned the list. He even tried to offer me a portion of his collection in exchange for my share of the bottles I was standing in line for that day. I declined.

When cellaring, it will always be better tomorrow. Then you might as well wait two days. Heck, make it a week. And so on, and so on. I say, enjoy it now. What are we waiting for exactly? Set up a bottle share and have a tasting. Don’t let anything sit for more than a year. Let’s turn that inventory and actually drink the beer we spend so much money on. Why cellar till tomorrow what you can drink today? To steal shamelessly from the movie Sideways, “the day you open that special bottle, THAT’S the special occasion”. Yes, I know Sideways is a movie about wine, but fuck you.

Tips for Enjoying the Great American Beer Festival

I’ve been to a lot of beer festivals. I mean, A LOT of beer festivals. Honestly, most of them are bullshit. Local breweries with no special releases, poor access to water, limited tastings, and shitty food trucks. Some do it right and are worth the money. The vast majority, however, you’d be better served just going to a bar. Last week, I finally made it to the granddaddy of them all. The Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado. Over 800 breweries present, showcasing over 3500 different beers. If you’re a craft beer enthusiast, you’ve heard of it, you want to go, and you’re jealous as hell right now. I can feel it.

union station

Craft beer enthusiasts must have a certain look, which is news to me honestly. I didn’t even mention the reason for my trip to the information desk. I was just asking how to reach the light rail, but they felt the need to let me know the taproom in Terminal A was having a tap takeover that started in 30 minutes. After telling off the old man, I went in the direction he pointed out and bitched to the bartender. How dare he assume I was a craft beer lover, right?! After a few tasty beers, I decided it was time to actually leave the airport and head to Downtown Denver and the first session of GABF.

Let me tell you, it was a blast! The event was extremely well organized and most of my main beefs with beer festivals absent. There were a few things they could have improved on, but I’d just be picking nits. I love picking nits, but I’ll let it slide this time. The event was founded in 1982, the same year I was born and I choose to believe that is no coincidence. After 34 years, they’ve got it pretty nailed down.

crooked-stave

I was fortunate enough to be able to go to all 4 sessions, so by the end of Saturday, I was a seasoned pro. Should you find yourself in possession of tickets for 2017, here are some tips that might help you out

Download the App

 

The MyGABF app was truly a lifesaver. It contained a list of every brewery and beer location, let you check off the ones you’ve tried, and even type in tasting notes on ones you enjoyed enough to write home about. I didn’t do much rating or typing. My main use of the app was to make a list of the breweries that I just haaaaaaad to try. With 800 breweries present, their definitely needed to be a system. On the app you could look up which section each was in and check out a small map. They grouped some breweries by geographical regions, so if you even wanted to visit the Pacific Northwest for a big beer crawl, with just a little bit of imagination you could pretend you just had the trip of a lifetime.

 

Eat Something

 

It’s a good idea to eat when you’re drinking. Don’t have a huge meal, though. Eat just enough to satisfy you so that you’ll have something on your stomach to soak up some booze. If you have a huge meal, you’ll enjoy that extremely full bloated feeling before you even have your first sip of beer. There is food and snack available at the event if you forget, but they’re expensive and not very good. LOADS of people had pretzel necklaces. So if you’re creative, string together a few bites of hard dough and some string cheese and you’ll be good to go.

black shirt brewing beer sign

Get There Early

 

I hate waiting in line as much as the next guy, but this is one of the few times it’s worth it. The line can get crazy long in a hurry. Being first through the gates is hugely beneficial when you want to sample some of the more popular brews. Lines at booths can be dozens deep in a heartbeat and take a while to get through. Get there first and make a bee line to the breweries you added to your list on the MyGABF app. Once you’ve hit up your must tries, then you can wander around and sample the lesser known, but still amazing, beers.

 

Hydrate

 

Drink water dummy. They only give you an ounce at a time, so it takes a lot of effort to get hammered. Challenge accepted, right? Still, it’s a good idea to take a few sips of water every now and then.  There are tons of hydration stations very clearly marked, so you’re never far away from hangover preventing H20. Okay, it won’t prevent a hangover, but it’ll make it suck less. Plus, it’s a good opportunity to rinse out the 10 beers worth of residue from your tasting glass.

black shirt brewing stage

Choose a section

 

And stick to it. Once you’ve hit up the breweries that were on your wish list, they’re all pretty similar after that. Pick a spot, and work your way down the booths. Drinking for 5 hours and not getting much of a buzz kind of sucks. The only real way to get the warm and fuzzies is to find a section that is a bit less crowded and get several shots in a row from the same brewery. You’ve probably never heard of them, but hey, if you had one IPA, you pretty much wanna try them all. Picking a less busy section will also give you more opportunity to chat up the brewers. Which bring me to my next point.

 

Get your pour and move on

 

70,000 people bought tickets to the GABF this year, and it seems like 60,000 wanted to bend the ear of every single brewer once they got to the front of the line. Hey jackass, I’m losing my buzz here. Get your passion fruit infused mocha IPA and move on. I’m sure if you ever visit the brewers tap room that he’d be more than happy to answer any and all questions you may have. For now, though, you’re really holding up the line.

hopadillo

The Great American Beer Festival is Nirvana for craft beer lovers. There couldn’t be a better city to host it in than Denver. With over 100 breweries and tap rooms, even if you didn’t score tickets to GABF, you still have a shit ton of options. I only hit up a few while I was there. You should warm up your liver after all. Crooked Stave and Black Shirt Brewing were stand outs in my mind.

A few other points to make your trip a bit easier if you ever find yourself in Denver. The Airport is massive. It has several tap rooms inside, so you have options if you need to stop and catch your breath. There is a light rail that runs from the Denver Airport all the way to Union Station downtown. It’s only $9, so save your Uber money and take the train. Union Station is also a popular selfie spot, so be sure to snap off a few before you check into your hotel. Avoid 16th St downtown. It’s a tourist trap lined with trendy shopping and chain restaurants. You should go to the outskirts to find the interesting places.

The Great American Beer Festival is truly THE event for any serious beer enthusiast and is 100% worth going to. Get a group together, book your plane tickets and hotels early, and be ready the nanosecond the tickets go on sale, because they go fast. Other beer festivals should take note, because the GABF is the kind and they do it right.

Beyond the Brewery: Blue Owl Brewing

Blue Owl Brewing is a rising star in the Austin craft beer scene. Located on Cesar Chavez in the trendy East side, this brewery specializes in sour mash beer. A bold choice given that Jester King, which is also located in Austin, was well established as one of the best producers of sour beer before Blue Owl opened their doors. They do an excellent job though. They aren’t competing with Jester King though. They’re doing their own thing and doing it well. Most of their beer is fermented in bright, shiny stainless steel vessels instead of barrel aged. There are definitely barrels stacked against the wall, but they’re more for special releases and are the exception instead of the rule. They realize that if they’re on the East side of Austin, the hipsters wont stand for it if there isn’t some sort of barrel program.

blue-owl-brewing-pint-glass

Parking anywhere on the East side of Austin is always challenging no matter where you’re going. The tap room is a touch on the small side and can be a bit of a mad house during peak hours. Ahhhhh, B.O. and sour beer, a match made in heaven. While their beer is excellent and deserves (and will get) much more attention from me in the future, that isn’t the point of this post. Instead, I wanted to showcase the special events that Blue Owl Brewing puts on. Their Facebook page is filled with tons of activities you can purchase tickets for. My girlfriend and I participated in a class where we learned how to make concrete planters. A $30 ticket got us four samples from the taproom, a pint glass to keep, and all the materials to make our very own concrete planter for succulents. Succulents sold separately.

concrete-planter-mold

The class took place in the brewery itself. While a tour wasn’t exactly included, it was very cool to sit next to pallets of cans and stacks of grain while trying to cut out cardboard and duct tape it together into a mold that wouldn’t spill concrete all over the table. Once that part was done, it was pretty simple to mix together the concrete, pour it into the mold and use a small cup to make the spot for the plant. Yes, it was a very simple project, but everything is enhanced by beer. I give their Little Boss sour session wheat top marks.

concrete planter

Blue Owl Brewing offers much more than planter making classes. They craft their own syrups as additions to their beer and have release parties you can attend, they offer classes in terrarium making, and sponsor Six Pack Showdowns, a panel that discusses all topics beer related. Blue Owl Brewing events make for a date your girlfriend will love you for, plus beer. What more could you really want? Maybe you’ll get lucky and she’ll touch your penis. For info on upcoming events, be sure to check out their Facebook page.

inside mash tun Blue Owl Brewing tee shirts blue owl brewing tanks

Beer Bros: Worse Than Beer Snobs

I’ve begun to notice a disturbing newcomer to brewery tap rooms. I assume they’re new anyways, because you can’t possibly ignore them.Frat boys and douche bags are going to craft beer bars and tap rooms in alarming numbers. I forever dub them, beer bros. You know they type. Never alone, but in large groups, these loud and obnoxious dudes are there to party, and they’re gonna fucking let you know. Lining up at the bar, they demand the attention of every server and make the line back up because it takes forever to find the beer that’s closest to bud light. They aren’t here to sample the breweries seasonals or their favorite local IPA, they’re here to get wasted, and have a good time while doing it. Shouting across the tap room is common, as is far to frequent bursts of laughter and even louder one-up manship stories. Exactly how I wanted to spend my Saturday…

scared beer bros
They must have seen a strong, independent woman

In my opinion, this newcomer to the craft beer scene is worse than the ale hole beer snob. While the beer snob is just as annoying in their own special ways, at least you feel like they belong. Their only true crime was that they took their love of craft beer too far. The beer bro has no intention of ever developing their palate or furthering their appreciation of a fine craft beer. They’re here to drink and fuck bitches, and they’re almost done drinking. “What’s the closest thing to bud light you have,” is their favorite question. Please, oh please, get the fuck out of here. I’ve seen large groups of these douche bags completely change the mood of a tap room in minutes flat. As a former bartender, I found them to be the worst kind of patron, barring those that came into a brewery asking for a cocktail.

The only reason I can fathom that they would even be at a brewery in the first place is cause they’ve heard around campus that it’s what’s cool these days. Women ages 21-34 are one of craft beers fastest growing demographics. So the chance to be trendy and pretend like you might get laid is too good to pass up. So they all pile into their buddies Suburban and take the local brewery taproom by storm.

In my writing, I normally point out what I believe is an issue in the craft beer community, bitch about it a little, then provide what I feel would be a viable solution. This one stumps me though. I’d normally say something like we should try to teach them about beer, how to enjoy it as a hobby and develop their knowledge base. I believe those efforts would be fruitless with these leg day skipping, tank top wearing knuckleheads, though. So what are we to do?

The only real option I can come up with is to beseech the tap room managers and brewery owners. I get that you’re running a business and want to make money, but at least set some standards for your patrons. That group of six guys you don’t want to run off is bugging the piss out of the 30 other people in the tap room. We wouldn’t be upset one bit if you ran them off, in fact, we’d probably be so grateful we’d order another round.

Oasis menu small

I’m guessing I sound a bit unwelcoming right now, and maybe you’re right, but I don’t burst into wine bars and cause a scene when they only have a few beers on tap. A certain amount of conforming to your surroundings is expected, so why should the craft beer industry be any different? It is well beyond the days of being an upstart where any and all were welcome. So why not take the success and start laying out some ground rules? I wouldn’t move to Germany and expect everyone to speak English. It’s perfectly fine to fly your flag, just don’t wave it around and shout in my face using a bull horn.

I’ll even directly address the beer bros here. You are not welcome. Not without a serious attitude change. You aren’t being cute or funny. You’re being a jackass. Ditch the bravado and pretty much all of your friends and maybe we can have a conversation about craft beer. Otherwise, please, oh please, stay at the frat house. Here’s a hint, if you want the closest thing to Bud Light you can find, just go buy Bud Light.

Navigate the Beer Aisle: How to Decide Which Beer to Buy

It’s Friday afternoon and there you are, standing slack jawed in the beer aisle with a bewildered look on your face. Looking up and down, up and down. Pacing back and forth like a pigeon. You’re scared stiff to make a decision about what beer to buy in case you fuck up. You want to try something new, but instead you finally pick up a sixer of the same pale ale you always get. “Hey, it’s locally brewed and canned,” you tell yourself. You always support local. If this sounds familiar, then you’re in good company. It seems every time I go to the beer aisle there is at least half a dozen people wringing their hands about what beer they should get. They all look so pretty and shiny, how do you choose?

All that beer can be daunting. Beers from across the globe and just up the street, lined up for display. Brightly colored cans and labels nearly give you a seizure as you try to locate the style among all the clever names and graphics. No wonder making a decision is hard. It’s the paradox of choice. Too many decisions can make us paralyzed and unable to pick anything. However, this effect can be mitigated with a few simple tricks.

Beer Aisle

Have an idea of what you want BEFORE you get to the store

You’re the guy who waits till he gets to the front of the line at the bar to think about what he wants aren’t you? Since you always get the same thing there too, making decisions under pressure might not be your strong suit. Before you get out of your car, take a breath, and actually make a conscious decision about what you want. In the mood for an IPA? Well great, that narrows it down. Now you can focus in on a particular style. The same way you shouldn’t go shopping without a grocery list, choosing a beer without a clear idea of what you want is a no-no.

Might I suggest that you go outside your comfort zone a bit as well. If you always drink IPAs, why not go for a Pilsner instead? Variety is the spice of life, so shake things up a bit. You could even focus in on different styles that blend things you know you already enjoy. Try a hoppy amber ale, or an imperial Pilsner. They might be the gateway into different styles you didn’t know you’d enjoy. If you have a good bottle shop nearby, you could always do the opposite, though. Just choose everything. Fill a six pack with everything that catches your eye and make a do it yourself flight. Why not, right?

Use your smart phone you dummy

Useful for more than just sending dick pics to that girl you’re chatting up on tinder, your phone can actually be in incredible source of information for choosing your next beer. I’m sure you have Untappd installed, but you likely don’t use its full capacity. Have you ever noticed that when you check in a beer it will give you suggestions for others you might enjoy? Just tap the plus sign and they’re added to your wish list. Check your list for beers and hunt them down. Pretend you’re playing Pokemon Go and catch them all.

Did you also know that you can use your phone to check and see what others think about the beer you’re contemplating? Check reviews to see what the masses say. If 50% say it’s a drain pour, then maybe put it back on the shelf and scratch it off the list. Try not to get too caught up in reviews though. If I want to see a movie that gets bad reviews, I usually go with my gut. Finding a critic you generally agree with is also a good tactic. As always, remember to use your functioning brain though.

Ask the staff

Scared of technology? If you are, then human interaction maybe a tall order, but consider actually taking the guy keeping the beer aisle stocked offer when he asks if he can help you with anything. Odds are he knows a good bit about it if hes chosen to spend his days roaming up and down aisles of beer for a living. Here are a few sample questions you might try:

I enjoy [blank]. Do you have any suggestions?

Do you have anything new in?

What is your favorite new beer you’ve tried recently?

Not brain busting stuff for sure, but it can be tough to ask for help sometimes. Maybe it’s a cliché, but I’ve seen women ask for suggestion much more often than men. Don’t be afraid to ask for helps fellas. Odds are the friendly bearded guy in the red polo is more than happy to point you in the right direction. If you go to the same bottle shop often enough to become a regular, you might even build enough cred to have the staff notify you of special releases or if you’re really lucky, hold back a secret stash for you. This is far and away the best way to find some whales, bro.

The beer aisle is massive, and growing larger and growing daily. You’ll never, ever try them all, but it helps to know the landscape. Even if you started at the top left and started working your way to the bottom right, you wouldn’t make it a single case over before they rearranged and you had to start completely over. A few minutes of thoughtful consideration and prep work is all you need to spend less time in the market and actually enjoying a delicious brew. Now just freaking pick something and get the weekend started!

Things Not to do When Introducing Your Friends to Craft Beer

You love craft beer. Duh. Odds are, everyone around you knows this. You talk about beer, take pictures of beer, wear t-shirts from breweries, stand in two hour long lines for bottle releases, home brew, check every beer into Untappd, have a Beer Advocate account, and are a member of no less than 50 craft beer centric Meetup groups. You’re THE beer guy among your friends. Like any passion, you want to share it with those closest to you. There’s a problem, however. Some of you’re closest compatriots, don’t, like, beer… gasp! You’ve tried everything possible to bring them around to your way of thinking. They just aren’t having it. In reality, your tactics are likely the reason for them stubbornly digging in their heels and resisting all of your attempts at getting them to try the beer you just ordered at the local watering hole. Short of ditching them all and finding friends with better taste, what can be done to remedy this situation?

One of the best things about the craft beer industry is how open and friendly it can be. Collaboration and support among breweries is standard, and for the most part, craft beer enthusiasts are inviting of newcomers. All will gladly embrace you in brotherhood and take you under their wing to guide you through the many complexities of craft beer. The often mocked beer snob ale hole certainly does exist, but they’re usually just a caricature of some the worst, although well meaning, enthusiasts traits all rolled into one pretentious shell. The way you go about trying to sway your friends to the dark beer side gives credence to the stereotype though.

It’s important to remember that not everyone shares your passion. Like the time you brought your stamp collection to show and tell, sometimes too much zeal can be off putting (and mockery inducing). Instead of cranking it up to 11, we should all take it down a peg or two. Those new to craft beer are skittish and can be easily frightened. One too many bad experiences and they can scurry back to the comfort of yellow fizzy Macro beer. They might never again venture out of familiar territory if you make any of these critical errors.

Friends drinking craft beer

Hand them the craft beer you’re drinking

“Here try this,” you say. “What is it?” Your friend asks, cautiously taking the glass of murky liquid you’ve offered. “It’s a Russian Imperial Stout, one of my favorite beers.” What are you thinking!? That’s an advanced beer right there. If craft beer drinkers leveled up, you’d have reached the cap a long time ago. How can your friend possibly appreciate the subtle nuances of cocoa nibs and hazelnut that are infused in your Russian Imperial Stout aged in first use charred white oak barrels. You’re handing a novice a far too complex beer. It’ll likely overload their palate, make them pull a stupid face and hand it back to you choking. Statements of “How can you drink that?” or “That beer is so heavy” will likely follow. You’ll then roll your eyes, shrug, and mumble “well I like it” over the rim of your glass as you defiantly take a sip. It takes time to develop your palate. The same way you don’t jump into the deep end of the pool on your first day of swim class, you didn’t drink a Triple IPA for your first craft beer. If your friend enjoys Miller Light, then why would you think they’d enjoy your advanced beer? A far better idea would be to make a suggestion that would ease them into more flavorful beer. A gateway beer. Something better than a Macro, but still on the light end of the spectrum. Use all that knowledge you’ve acquired and give an honest to goodness thoughtful suggestion.

The golf pro at a local country club is a good example of a professional slowly easing a newbie into a competent back swing. When he’s not banging your wife, he’s giving her methodical instruction in easy to understand chunks. It’s your job to do the same, minus the banging of people’s wives part. Take it slow, start with the basics, and provide guidance when necessary. Above all else, be encouraging. They’ll get there if you just give them time and don’t scare them off.

Make fun of the beer they’re drinking

Almost all of us started out drinking Macro beers. You didn’t know what you were doing, much like when you lost your virginity. Over time, and through questionable encounters, you developed your repertoire. The problem is, you’ve forgotten just how far you’ve come, stud. You no longer tremble nervously every time you bring a new beer home. You’ve been around the block and your number is in the hundreds, you slut. Instead of being a gentle guiding hand, you showed up as the enemy and mocked your friend’s choice of beer. Comparing it to water is a great way to turn them off towards wanting to try anything you suggest.

It’s our instinct to try and protect our identity. If someone doesn’t like something that we do, we feel the need to defend it. Almost as if their lackluster feelings about one of our our most intense hobbies is a personal affront to who we are at our core. Just remember, it goes both ways. The natural human instinct is to lash out. Belittling someone else or their choices is the quickest way to put ourselves back in the drivers seat and protect our fragile psyche. The flip side is, you lashing out only injures the other persons ego, so they must reciprocate by developing the opinion that you’re stupid, so everything you love and hold dear must be stupid as well. Especially your stupid craft beer. Just like you don’t listen to your parents when they tried to tell you Liberal Arts might be the best option for a degree. It’s not a phase mom! You just don’t understand me! Instead of belittling their choices, maybe try a more accepting approach. All beer has it’s place, and given the right set of circumstances, even yellow fizzy beer can be damn refreshing. After all, who likes to listen to someone who criticizes them all the time.

Over complicating it

At the end of the day, it’s just beer. Blasphemy I know, but not everyone will like craft beer, and that’s just science. Using terms they don’t understand, talking about proper tasting techniques, and the benefits of cellaring can overwhelm the fledgling beer drinker. If you come off as a know it all, then people will likely not care to listen to what you have to say on the subject, regardless of how right you may be. You have to approach someone on their level. It would have terrified you if the doctor had given the technical name of the STD you had. Instead, he dumbed it down, spoke in layman’s terms and a shot of penicillin cleared it right up. Keep it simple and as basic as possible. Use words like tart, bitter, earthy, or nutty. Pull deep from that fount of knowledge you’re so proud of.

Lucky Lab Beer Flight

A beer flight is an excellent way to expose some to craft beer while simultaneously showing them just how varied it can be, even among the same style. Order them a flight and choose several of the same style, blonde ales, for instance. This way, they can try a sampling of beers, all fairly similar, while seeing that a beer is not a beer is not a beer. It’s entirely possible to hate one beer of a particular style and love another. Slow and steady wins the race, after all.

They’re your friends for a reason. Somewhere along the line you developed a rapport. Try not to get so caught up in trying to convince them and share a simple conversation of likes and interests. Ask them what they like and try to find a beer you think they genuinely enjoy. If in the end, they never quite come around, then so be it. You’ll still be friends, and lord knows you need all you can get.

Averie Swanson: Jester King Brewery’s Jester Queen [Interview]

The peaceful farmland where Jester King Brewery is located is in stark contrast to the bee hive of activity going on inside the converted barn brewery and tap room. Bottles are being filled, boxes packaged for storage, and on the loading dock a forklift is being repaired. Despite being up to her eyeballs in work, Averie Swanson was kind enough to take a few minutes to answer some questions about herself, the current state of Jester King Brewery, and its future.

Averie Swanson Jester King

TC: How would you describe Jester King Brewery and its place in the craft beer industry these days?

AS: That’s an interesting question. The craft beer world is definitely expanding at an insane rate. There is a finite number of styles that people recognize, so it’s difficult to think outside the box. There is a niche in the craft beer world of mixed culture fermentation, so experimentation using many organisms at the same time is what is exciting for us. I would say that we’re a bit more experimental in the ingredients we used. We don’t really brew to style by any means. We brew what we like.

TC: So you’re not really worried about trends and chasing what’s popular.

AS: I would say not. I mean, we work with fruit and sour beer which are both very popular, but we aren’t making it because it’s popular. The culture we use makes this type of beer and it’s what we enjoy drinking. Just kind of not necessarily following the status quo and being creative and making beers using interesting ingredients

TC: What are you most excited about what Jester King Brewery is doing right now?

AS: I would say our spontaneous fermentation program. This past winter we completed our first season of spontaneous brewing. We do pretty traditional production for Lambic style beer, although we’d never call it Lambic out of respect for the tradition and the people that are making it. We blended our first five blends at the beginning at the year using beer that we’ve been fermenting for up to three years. I’m excited to get consumer feedback and from my peers in the industry. We’ve put a lot of work and time into making these beers so it’s exciting to have these concepts come to fruition.

TC: So it’s been a very long process from start to finish. How long ago did you start this program?

AS: We brewed our first beer four years ago. And now we’re finally bottling and it will be ready soon for people to enjoy.

TC: Jester King is really focused on only releasing quality product. I saw on your blog recently that a beer was recently pulled from the market after release because one of the owners didn’t believe is was up to the quality that you’re known for. If it’s not good enough, you won’t sell it.

AS: Yeah, that’s precisely the thing! We’ve got a little bit of a luxury in that we can wait a while. We aren’t trying to push through a lot of beer. We’re very small so we don’t need to push out a lot of volume to sustain ourselves. It’s an exercise in patience for sure.

TC: Is being a woman in the industry a little uncommon? Was it a boy’s club or were you accepted right away?

AS: There are definitely less women that men in production but more women are getting into it. I wouldn’t say that I’ve had too many issues feeling comfortable in the industry. I work hard and others I work with see that and respect it. Other industry peers see that and recognize it. I wouldn’t say that gender is a huge issue in the craft beer industry. People contact me fairly regularly and I take issue when I get asked “what challenges have you had to overcome as a woman?” I don’t really want to talk about the issues I’ve had to encounter as a woman I encounter many issues, but it’s become a human. I feel like it perpetuates this mentality that “oh you’re a woman you’ve must have encountered things, let’s talk about it?” It’s a hard industry to get into period. End of story.

TC: Do you think that you have different ideas because you’re a woman or does gender have any bearing?

AS: I don’t know. It’s a good question. Obviously I can’t divorce myself from being a woman and the social and cultural conditioning that I have undergone as a female in the US. I try not to focus on that and I think it’s a free and equal opportunity.

Jester King Brewery

Craft beer is this amazing intersection of art, science, and people.

TC: How do you want to make your mark on the craft beer industry.

AS: I think that I will forever be evolving in my role. I plan on being in this industry a very long time. Craft beer is this amazing intersection of art, science, and people. I’ve never been the most artistic individual, nor am I a scientist. I’m definitely a people person. I love people and that’s really what drives me in this industry. Continuing to be inspired by other people and really strengthening those personal ties between those working in the industry. I also really love the educational aspect of it all. There’s so much to learn in the industry. I do informal classes at the brewery and around town which I really enjoy. I see myself moving towards doing more educational type things.

TC: So definitely an ambassador type role.

AS: Yeah, absolutely. The craft beer industry has a lot of potential for progressive social change as well as legislative change. I love all of it and want to learn more and share more.

TC: So what do you think are some trends in the craft beer industry that you would like to see go away.

AS: There’s a time and place for every style of beer, so I don’t have a lot of issue with that. There is a lot of pressure to produce and crank out as much beer as possible and haphazardly throwing together a lot of ingredients in the recipe and not giving their beer enough time to mature and integrate. I think that will wind up be an issue for a lot of breweries. Truly, I don’t think that the market is going to slow down anytime soon, and that’s awesome. It also means that a lot of breweries are going to have to increase the quality of their products. It’s Darwinism. You need to stay relevant and good at what you’re doing. Anyone can find the money to open a brewery. It’s not a difficult thing, but not everyone can exercise the patience or has the passion.

TC: Just do a few homebrew kits and get the bug to open a brewery.

AS: Exactly. A lot of people do that. I think that we will eventually see breweries shutting down for that reason.

TC: How did you get started in the craft beer industry?

AS: I have a biology degree from University of Houston and moved to Austin in 2011. I applied for a few different grad programs and didn’t get into the one I really wanted and was more relieved than disappointed. I had been homebrewing for awhile and had a bunch of free time and thought why not give it a shot. Jester King was the first brewery in Austin that got back to me. So I came out for a Black Metal packaging day and I think we were out here until 3 AM. After that I was hooked. I came out as often as they would let me and six months into volunteering I asked for a full time apprenticeship and six months later I was hired on full time. That was about two years ago I was promoted to Production Manager. It doesn’t happen like that for everyone so I’m definitely very grateful. I got lucky ya know.

The map is not the territory.

TC: If you wanted to impart one piece of knowledge to someone that doesn’t really know anything about craft beer, what would it be?

AS: I would try to explain to them to have an open mind. Approach life and beer with a sense of awe. If you have certain expectations for things then you’ll never really be able to experience it in all of its glory. The map is not the territory. So don’t go into an experience with any expectations. It’s just beer. At the end of the day it’s just a simple pleasure. It tastes good and gets you hanging out with your friends, but don’t make it to be more than it is.

TC: Don’t worry about your tasting notes and checking into Untappd.

AS: Yeah! Whales are great, but the conversation you have with your friends while you’re enjoying those beers are really the most important part.