That's the beer talking: A session with Beertown Austin
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 08.31.11
My audience with the mayor of Beertown Austin started with a Twitter exchange surrounding the tallboy can of worms I opened talking first about Jester King Black Metal Stout, then about Pearl Snap from Austin BeerWorks. @BeerTownAustin offered that I should stay in my lane, that beer people weren’t out there pretending to be food critics and that I should leave such things to the experts. Four false starts and a few deep breaths later, I replied that I’d been brewing my own beer longer than some people in the conversation had been legal drinking age. Yes, I played the “in my day” card. A sure way to put any debate to sleep.
Chris Troutman of Beertown Austin took the high road and asked if I’d tried Black Metal since the time I’d mentioned it in a review of Barley Swine, either on draft or in the bottle. Sounded reasonable enough, and so we met at the Draught House in the middle of a New Belgium glass promotion Tuesday that gave the place an air of Oktoberfest and the crowd to match.
I can tell you that Jester King Black Metal Stout tastes different on draft than it did from the bottle at Barley Swine, and it changed even in the glass as it warmed up under the misters at the Draught House’s standup rail. Troutman enunciated more of the subtleties than I could. This was a time for me to keep my mouth shut and my mind open.
Beertown Austin’s support of local brewers is a matter of public record, and Troutman talked to me about the philosophy that drives the site: In an environment where commercial brewers have the brand power and market reach of Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, local brewers deserve the benefit of the doubt — at the very least a measure of grace as they move Austin in the direction of progressive beer cities like Portland.
That’s not the same as a free pass. Troutman challenged me to treat beer the same way I would a restaurant review, that given the variables involved with making a living product, I owe it to my audience to try a beer more than once and in different circumstances before I offer endorsement or damnation. That means bottle and draft, maybe, at different places, because tap protocols, storage, temperatures and clean lines are all factors over which a beermaker has little control. It’s a standard I already apply to wine. When a glass or a bottle is a victim of poor storage or bad temperatures or careless service, the house gets the blame rather than the label. Beer deserves the same respect as wine in the hands of people who care about it. That’s a chorus I’ll join no matter who’s singing it:
Fair enough. We drank a toast to that, and to fighting the impulse to send our first flamethrower responses into the social media stream when we get called out for something we’ve written. Cheers.
Also: Given the new protocol, I can’t talk about ABW’s Black Thunder schwarzbier after just one glass with Troutman. Except to say it’s on draft with more than 30 Texas beers in the front row of taps at the Draught House, and the front row isn’t a bad place to start.
(Photo by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)