Brewing Pedigree Represents at Far West Austin's Beerburg
Trevor Nearburg puts a burg on it
Entering Beerburg Brewing out in Texas Hill Country, the hand-painted mural above the tap wall and its accompanying chalk-drafted beer menu makes the first suggestion of the afternoon: "Better Together."
Perhaps the signage means that there is a notable theme of fellowship at this backroads southwest Austin brewery, which coincidentally (intentionally, probably) hugs up against two other powerhouse breweries – Jester King and Last Stand – out on Fitzhugh Road, on the border of Travis and Hays counties. "Better Together," indeed, as this area is quickly becoming distinguished as a boozy hotspot for wineries, distilleries, and, yes, breweries.
Beerburg, the most recent of the OPA-designed (Live Oak, Family Business, etc.), chapels to small beer fidelity, begins with its palatial taproom whose predominant feature is the long bank of eight-pane windows beneath a vaulted ceiling that frames a view of authentic Texas countryside. Within that composition is 15-acres of Beerburg's foragable garden landscape whose payload will eventually be coaxed into the brewery's beer and food programs. Alongside the gardens and behind the structure is the brewery's ash juniper-populated biergarten, which itself moonlights as a dog park, toddler run, and mount for brushy hilltop views in the distance. Surely, this is what the Beerburg slogan means.
Flanking the taproom bar is Beerburg's scratch-kitchen to the left and its 10-barrel brewhouse to the right, providing the dividends from all the levers and gears being governed behind the scenes. From the kitchen comes farm-to-table shareables (think tacos, skewers, and sliders) while the brewery's initial lineup of mainstay beers suss out first runs of their pale ale, IPA, and amber ale – classic pairings with a Texas twist on ploughman's lunch. Yes, this must be the inspiration behind "Better Together."
Or perhaps "Better Together" simply refers to Beerburg's origin story where a pair of departed Uncle Billy's brewers in former brewmaster Trevor Nearburg and his recruited lead brewer, Gino Guerrero, carries on the improbable legacy of the expired central Austin brewpub, which featured some of the city's most decorated brewers in Brian "Swifty" Peters, Amos Lowe, Kim Mizner (ABGB), Michael Waters (Skull Mechanix), and Spencer Tielkemeier (formerly of Oasis Texas Brewing Company).
"I had always wanted to own my own place from the very beginning, even as I was interviewing at Uncle Billy's," recalls Nearburg. "What got me into brewing was how much people love being in breweries and how much people loved working in one, so I've always just felt like I wanted to be a bigger part of that."
Nearburg acknowledges that Rick Engel, Uncle Billy's founder, was accommodating to Nearburg with regard to grooming him for the eventuality of opening up his own beer house. "He included me in a lot of management decisions and generally made things open and available to me. It was really nice of him to do that," Nearburg states. "Tim [Schwartz, director of brewing at Real Ale] and Brad [Farbstein, owner, Real Ale] and especially Erik Ogershok [former brewmaster at Real Ale], they all very much mentored me on how to brew. All are legends in the industry [and] those are big shoes to fill. And Michael Waters is killing it over at Skull Mechanix. His beers are so cool. In terms of how we brew IPAs, I say we pull a lot of influence on how he was brewing them at Uncle Billy's: super dry, real light, highly carbonated. We like that."
But as breweries continue to pop up around the city at warp speed, Nearburg indicates that there were several things in his own brewery that he felt he could differentiate from the others. One in particular, he says, is providing a large bierhall that took inspiration from that of ABGB. "They pulled off this great taproom and beautiful bierhall, but there aren't a lot of other places doing that, especially out here in Hill Country. There wasn't that kind of model and I saw a niche there." While the drinkers of Central Texas are positively delirious about outdoor imbibing, oppressive heat and fluky Hill Country thunderstorms can be a total power down when one is trying to get their Sunday Funday on. Nearburg's conclusion is valid: Central Texas beer joints are predicated on good to great weather, but his place will provide for emergency beer drinking.
As for the beer, Nearburg mentions that Beerburg intends to focus on a consistent rotation of seasonals and small batch offerings that not only coordinate their mainstays, but also compliment their ever-evolving menu of food items. "We didn't want to do mainstays, but we'll have at least five," says Nearburg. "I always thought brewing should be a hyperlocal, made-from-scratch endeavor and I wanted the kitchen to be able to adapt to [the rotational beers] we're brewing, so our lineup of beers will be changing all the time. There was a lot of experimental [beer] I was making [while waiting for the brewery to open], and I was reading all these books wanting to use all these plants around us as ingredients and I kept thinking, 'Well, how do I use this?'"
With five proposed core beers – including an IPA, an amber, a pale ale, and an impending stout along with a Mexican lager – Guerrero expressed his desire to ramp up interest levels in Beerburg with experimental baddies like a prickly pear milkshake IPA, a mesquite bean dark ale, and a lemon pale ale that he intends to get to in the summertime. "We do have a small-batch brewing system that I can fire up and produce two barrels of something to see how it sells," suggests Guerrero.
And for a brewery that takes beer as personally as Beerburg, it was important for these two beer-minded experts to knit the local terrain with their beer. "We forage whatever we can find on the land; agarita, juniper, Texas persimmons," notes Guerrero. "We use the roots, the leaves, the stems, the bark; the berries for color. We have big plans for a big garden out here with fruit and nut trees, an apiary and a wildflower field for our bees. Trevor is the herbalist, so he'll be the one foraging."
"The [brewing] books were always saying, 'Consult your local herbalist," explains Nearburg. So he spent nine months learning to become one. "A lot of times [before I took the course] I was just like, I don't know, just throw [the ingredients] in there, but I ended up learning things like the roots hold all of the flavor and color. I learned how to process [the ingredients], whether or not to boil, and how to harvest plants so you don't decimate the population." And yet with Beerburg's sudden popularity after a mere handful of weeks in service, the only yield on its land currently are the electric cars and crossover SUVs of beer fans from Austin.
It really does feel like something special is taking shape at Beerburg, even in a market where brew joints are seemingly mass produced like modern modular homes. "I was getting to the point that through all my stops, I had figured out what I wanted to do and I was ready to do it. I felt like the moment I got into craft beer was really big, but the moment I decided to do this was less big and more of a natural progression," suggests Nearburg.
"This whole message," Nearburg reflects. "Fabian [Rey, Austin-based graphic artist and Beerburg muralist] and I talked forever about it. Our 'Welcome to Beerburg', 'All Are Welcome', 'Better Together' theme was all about wanting to create a brewpub where people could feel how passionate we all are about what we're doing here. It felt like those 'big growth model' breweries were losing a little bit of that sense and I wanted to get that feeling back from when I used to walk into a brewpub and feel like they were saying, 'Come check out what we're doing, it's fucking awesome'. I really think we captured a lot of that spirit in this place."
13476 Fitzhugh Rd.
Thurs.-Fri., 4-9pm; Sat.-Sun., noon-9pm; Mon.- Wed., closed