Friday, June 5, 2015

Festival of Brites at Zilker Brewing

[Note: This post was originally published by The Austin Chronicle on June 5, 2015]


The Austin beer scene is not very good at being dull. Of late, Austinites with discerning craft beer palates have been on an incredible streak of bankrolling at least a half-dozen new breweries. Over on the Eastside in particular, brewery taprooms have ascended from the pasture of warehouse blight like remembrance poppies.
Forrest Clark, one of three co-founders of Zilker Brewing Company, is pretty clear that there is no intricate strategy to enjoying their offerings. "We were inspired by the flavor complexity of American hops and Belgian yeast together," he notes. "Combined with our high-quality malts, you get a highly [satisfying] finish to our beers."
Soundtracked by the foot traffic of hipster-Sixth, the flit of bikes, and the dive bar murmur, Zilker enjoys a very rare attribute for Austin breweries: the ability to engage the street life of its surrounding neighborhood. While many local breweries set up shop on the edges of Austin, Zilker took a cue from the boutique breweries of Portland, Asheville, and San Francisco that cater to the walkability and bikeability of an entertainment district.
"It was important for us to engage the neighborhood in a way that would be supported by the people around us every day," Clark states, "and it was important to have this neighborhood feel with all of our equipment exposed [to the public]. We always wanted to be able to debut our beer at our own brewery first so we could be the face of our beer, and people could get to know us before they tasted our beer anywhere else."
PHOTO BY JOHN ANDERSON






Zilker Brewing's taproom, with brite tanks out in the open, demonstrates exactly that transparency. Brew kettles serve as the brain of this taproom, separated from its speculators by a bloodstream of revolving patronage entering and exiting the heart of Zilker's bar chamber. On the surface, everything at Zilker appears to be not only sustainable, but downright thriving.
Zilker debuted with a set of core beers: an ESB (Extra Special Bitter), a well-balanced, meandering version of the traditionally toasty and fruity British ale; a honey saison which uses 50 pounds of Round Rock honey during the fermentation cycle to enhance its bouquet; and an IPA which utilizes a specific yeast strain to mimic a fruity ester aroma that can almost be perceived as an additional hop. It is certainly a lo-fi version of the typical American IPA, but is equipped with a thoughtful nuance that keeps it very interesting and thoroughly enjoyable.
Recently, Zilker added a pale ale to their lineup with plans to release a coffee milk stout and a Belgian imperial rye IPA. As per the custom of Austin's beermakers, the brewery also expects to offer their approachably lower-alcohol offerings by the can sometime in the future. Perhaps to be enjoyed in a rather large city park.
"We've been [in Austin for] 20 years," Clark refers to himself and his co-founding brother Patrick, along with head brewer Marco Rodriguez, "and have been homebrewing since 2008. It took us eight to 10 years to find a Belgian yeast strain we really liked. It took us 14 months to find the right location for our brewery. We stuck with it because we had the passion for brewing beer, but it also took a ton of perseverance and a lot of luck as well."