This past weekend I stayed in Austin to cover Fun Fun Fun fest -- one of the best rock and indie festivals in the country, and easily the greatest in the state, in my opinion.
But with the music ending at 10 p.m. nightly and ears (and feet ... and back) too fatigued by the end of each day to have much interest in the various official and unofficial after-parties, I also had time to check out a wonderful brewpub, the Black Star Co-op, 7020 Easy Wind Drive in East Austin.
The place opened only a couple of months ago. In fact, house beers from the on-site brewery (overseen by brewer Jeff Young) weren't available yet, and probably wouldn't be for a few more weeks, according to the bartender. But the idea of a community-owned bar, inspired by founder Steven Yarak's visits to a neighborhood-owned café in Belgium, is reason enough for excitement. According to the co-op website, it's the first of its kind in the country.
Even without house-made brews, the tap selection was wonderfully varied, with a heavy emphasis on Austin breweries including Jester King, Independence and 512, as was the impressively extensive bottle selection.
I had the chance to try three Austin brews unavailable in Dallas. First up was (512)'s superb One 2 brandy barrel-aged Belgian strong ale, which was very rich with a nice body and great brandy aroma. It had a sort of brandy-soaked dark-fruit flavor, well-balanced with some fruity notes and a nice hop bite at the finish.
Next, I tried Independence Braggot pale ale, brewed with honey. It was really interesting with a sort of Belgian pale-type flavor and a good earthy hop finish. The honey didn't make it especially sweet, as expected, as it was fermented rather than added at the end.
Ending the night was a Jester King Commercial Suicide, an oak-aged English mild. As intriguing as it sounded, my hopes weren't very high for this one because of three factors: Fairly or not, I tend to think of English (or English-style) ales as a bit on the subtle, less flavorful side; the word "mild" isn't something I consider a selling point; and the beer had only a 3-percent ABV. Yet it proved to be a wonderful malty, dark beer that reminded me of great German bocks, but with a nice woody flavor.
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The shrimp and fried grits I ordered was also excellent, a nice balance of delicate flavors and night-capping grease. The smell of food cooking in the kitchen was wonderful -- I'd guess that most of the food is just as good.
Also refreshing were the prices. Excellent hard-to-find beers, most served in two or three different sized pours, were available from $3.50 to $5.50. Not only that, but the place has a no-tipping policy.
It's not perfect. The place has kind of a sterile vibe, which is partly caused by its location in one of those newfangled glorified loft-and-mini-mall developments, near a Metro rail station. Inexplicably, there was no music playing, and all the hard surfaces meant other people's conversations carried across the room. It felt more like a coffeeshop or Chipotle than a bar.
But if Chipotle had amazing beers priced incredibly low with a no-tipping policy, I'd gladly be a regular.