Thirsty Planet delivers a promis­ing new In­dia pale ale

Austin American-Statesman - - FOOD & LIFE - PA­TRICK BEACH

tammy and Brian Smit­tle of Thirsty Planet Brew­ing Co. had a boy this spring, and now they’ve got a bounc­ing baby beer: Bucket Head In­dia Pale Ale, the new brew­ery’s first of­fer­ing. Some­times a mar­ried cou­ple gets re­ally busy.

If this is a state­ment of pur­pose, Austinarea beer lovers have rea­son to be en­cour­aged. Brian promised his IPA would be a fairly big beer and it is: about 7.25 per­cent al­co­hol with 70 In­ter­na­tional Bit­ter­ing Units. That’s 10 more IBUs than a Dog­fish Head 60. For com­par­i­son, most of your Amer­i­can mass-mar­ket lagers have about 5 to 10 IBUs. That’s why they don’t taste like, um, any­thing at all.

I had my first Bucket Head the other day at the Fly­ing Saucer for, you know, work. There wasn’t much of a head on the pour (Brian says he’s still wait­ing on a car­bon­a­tion tester, and sub­se­quent batches will be more car­bon­ated) but the color was an al­lur­ing am­ber, the nose cit­rusy tart. Conif­er­ous hops dom­i­nate within, but there’s enough of a malt back­bone that it doesn’t feel out of whack and the Cas­cade and Amar­illo hops at the end in­vite you back for an­other sip. Still, if you’re like me and your palate has been ef­fec­tively na­palmed by Stone Ru­ina­tion and the like, this one might strike you as a ses­sion­able IPA.

That first 10-bar­rel batch, which as of this writ­ing was avail­able at the Saucer, Hound­stooth Cof­fee, Black Sheep Lodge and the Draught House, is to be fol­lowed by a full 30-bar­rel batch Brian brewed a cou­ple of weeks ago, which has “lit­er­ally a ton plus 400

pounds of grain.”

He also re­ports it’s a messy recipe, with a 90-minute boil, more time grind­ing the grain, get­ting it in and out of the tank, clean­ing and the like. At the end, the wort — the liq­uid that will be­come beer once the sug­ars fer­ment — is run through a hop­back, a sealed thingy loaded with hops. The think­ing be­hind us­ing a hop­back is that you don’t lose any of the aro­matic com­plex­ity as you would in a boil. There are five dif­fer­ent hops in this IPA: Mag­num, Colum­bus, Sim­coe and the afore­men­tioned Amar­illo and Cas­cade.

“It’s a tough batch to brew, but it’s worth it,” Brian says.

The hop­heads at Beer Ad­vo­cate would seem to agree. The two re­view­ers who’d posted their thoughts by the mid­dle of last week gave it an A+ and a B+.

If the IPA is too stern a style for you, the brew­ery, just off U.S. 290 West, has a wheat and an am­ber on the way. But with Bucket Head, Thirsty Planet is let­ting all the other Austin up­starts know they’re not fool­ing around. Still more on new lo­cal brew­eries: Jester King — which, with its flair for big beers, cheeky hu­mor and brag­gado­cio, is shap­ing up to be the Stone of Cen­tral Texas — de­buted awe­some new com­pany art­work at the first Great Austin Beer Fes­ti­val last month. Also mak­ing an ap­pear­ance were brewer Jef­frey Stuff­ing’s baby girl Laura and wife Am­ber. Stuff­ings re­ports con­struc­tion at the brew­ery — not at all far from Thirsty Planet but in a set­ting more Hill Coun­try ru­ral and less in­dus­trial — is mov­ing along. “Our goal is to mash in by Au­gust 1,” he says. “The build­ing won’t be com­pletely fin­ished, but since a lot of our beers will take sev­eral weeks or months to make, we’d like to get them ag­ing/go­ing through sec­ondary fer­men­ta­tion in the bar­rel now.”

At the other end of town, Ben Sa­bel and Jud­son Mulherin un­packed their brew­house and moved it into their site at 2340 Braker Lane. Hav­ing taken pos­ses­sion of their New­lands brew­house, South Austin Brew­ing’s Jor­dan Weeks and Caleb Cran­ford are “in full in­ven­tory and con­struc­tion mode” at their fa­cil­ity on St. Elmo Road. South Austin’s flag­ship beers will be Bel­gian-style golden ale, a dubbel, a quad and one made with prickly pear and hibis­cus tea. Josh Hare at Hops & Grain, which is still in fundrais­ing mode, has been play­ing around with styles in­clud­ing Amer­i­can pale ale and a Cal­i­for­nia com­mon.

The new­est player is Scott Hovey of Adel­bert’s Brew­ery, which is alive and brew­ing on Face­book and nail­ing down a lo­ca­tion in North Austin. Named for Hovey’s late brother, Hovey’s up­start is look­ing to spe­cial­ize in pres­ti­gious but “not too snooty” Bel­gian ales. Hovey, who spent 20 years in semi­con­duc­tor sales and started brew­ing when his wife got him a kit about three years ago, hopes to be mov­ing beer out the door some­time next year.

And Black Star Co-Op, the world’s first co­op­er­a­tively owned brew pub, has posted its menu — in­clud­ing some­thing omi­nously called “tofu pop­corn” — at black­ eat. They’re on track to open in late sum­mer, which, this be­ing Austin, could be Thanks­giv­ing. As we first dis­cussed in Liq­uid Austin, ex­plo­sive beer news broke just days be­fore July 4 when Zy­murgy, a mag­a­zine largely for home brew­ers, re­leased its read­ers’ list of the 50 best beers avail­able in Amer­ica. Fort Worth’s Rahr & Sons won by a bleedin’ land­slide. Fully 12 of the top 50 came from Rahr, in­clud­ing Ugly Pug, Win­ter Warmer and Iron This­tle. Be­fore this, the brew­ery was best known for hav­ing its roof col­lapse in a win­ter storm — which pretty much halted op­er­a­tions for four months. Fritz Rahr, un­der­stand­ably just a bit ex­cited to see the poll re­sults, is­sued a state­ment re­lat­ing to that mishap on the com­pany’s web­site:

“This is ex­actly the kind of sup­port that keeps us go­ing, de­spite this year’s roof col­lapse. We’re poised for an­other great year with big plans for Rahr’s fu­ture, and I think we’ll be suc­cess­ful as long as our fan base re­mains our lit­mus test.”

Noth­ing against them, and ac­knowl­edg­ing that they’ve won more than their share of awards and such in the past, and though they’re nice guys and I’m happy for them, some­thing about this is a tad rem­i­nis­cent of that bal­lot box in 1948 down in Jim Wells County.

Read­ers out­voted lav­ishly lauded and welld­is­tributed heavy hit­ters such as Stone, Dog­fish Head, Rus­sian River and Sierra Ne­vada to fa­vor Rahr? Re­ally? And why are so many Rahr beers clus­tered to­gether? Five of their beers, for in­stance, are tied for 31st place.

This is a brew­ery that just a few years ago was very close to go­ing un­der. Rahr was forced to lay off most of his work­ers and brew him­self, with the aid of lo­cal fans/vol­un­teers/home brew­ers, be­fore Tony Formby came in as an eq­uity part­ner.

The story doesn’t say much about method­ol­ogy. The sole cri­te­rion was that the beer had to be avail­able some­where in the United States.

Jamie Brunner, Rahr’s cre­ative di­rec­tor, chalked the win up to the brew­ery’s nu­mer­ous and zeal­ous sup­port­ers, some of whom helped keep the place alive work­ing as vol­un­teers a few years back. When you’ve staffed the bot­tling line for a brew­ery you love, push­ing “send” on a com­puter key­board prob­a­bly doesn’t seem like all that much work. Zy­murgy edi­tor Jill Keller, who also wrote the piece, said in an e-mail that “It is likely that Rahr pro­motes the poll to their cus­tomers. ... In the fu­ture, we will be us­ing an on­line sur­vey form for sub­mit­ting votes.”

In­ci­den­tally, the beer that got the most votes was Rus­sian River’s Pliny the Elder, which, ha ha, you can’t get in Texas.

Pa­trick Beach Amer­i­cAn-StAteS­mAn

Tammy and Brian Smit­tle, own­ers of Thirsty Planet, have wheat and am­ber brews on the way.

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