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Home's A Brewin': Here's a Hophead a Newbie Can Drink With

Phil Vuong's continuing education

By Ivy Le, Fri., June 28, 2013

Home's A Brewin': Here's a Hophead a Newbie Can Drink With
Photo by John Anderson

Phil Vuong has tended bar in Austin for 18 years. The assistant manager at Brew Exchange (706 W. Sixth) is noticeably devoid of pretension, and his humility sticks out in this architectural bar with light tracks on the booths and 72 gleaming taps.

"There's always something to learn, and there's always something new coming out," says Vuong. Seriously, he gives examples: "There's still the brewing process and the different types of malts and hops that I need to learn about.

"I don't see myself as an expert. I see myself as an enthusiast."

One way Vuong keeps learning? "Every Tuesday I have a bottle share with some friends. It's a way to continue my education without having it hit my pocketbook so hard."

He credits his craft beer conversion, back when you could count Texas' breweries on one hand, to these friends, transplants from San Diego, home to Ballast Point and Green Flash breweries. "These people are coming to Austin and bringing along with them the passion for their beers. It's really helped grow the Austin beer scene."

Tim Womac, managing partner of Brew Exchange, hired Vuong a year and a half ago to open and run the bar, which takes a page from the Stock Exchange and prices its beers according to the law of supply and demand. "I've known Phil for years," Womac says. "He's taught me so much about beer."

"People who are more knowledgeable about beer than I am will throw facts at you," Vuong says. "'This scored really well on this list, or this has this kind of hops.' I'll sit down like we are two people who have never tried this beer before.

"I have people say to me, 'I never come in here, because I don't drink beer,' but the beer world has evolved so much," he argues. "Go into a craft beer place – it doesn't have to be Brew Exchange – just go in and have a conversation with the bartender."

More beer education tips from Brew Exchange:

• All Brew Exchange employees read Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher.

• Visit a brewery. Vuong's opening team went to Thirsty Planet.

• Taste beers that are pushing the edge of their styles. "Some people are looking for that gateway beer to push them to the next level," Vuong says. Right now, he's serving those people Southern Tier Live Pale Ale. "It's as close as you can get without being an IPA."

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