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Each March, the population of Austin, Texas, swells as more than 70,000 enthusiastic visitors arrive ahead of the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) conference. The influential confab focuses on film, music, technology and innovation, and is a draw for upwardly mobile millennials.
Like most of the U.S. population, SXSW attendees like to drink. Although millennials comprise only 25 percent of the adult population over 21 years of age, they account for a third of all beer and spirit sales in the U.S., and 40 percent of wine sales. When they imbibe, Millennials prefer craft beer and spirits to traditional brands like Budweiser and Jim Beam — and it makes Austin's growing craft beverage scene an ideal destination.
For those willing to venture off the beaten path to avoid the inevitable SXSW crowds that will fill pubs on 6th Street to capacity, and beyond, CNBC took a look at a few of the more popular craft brew establishments in Austin. Some are barely a year old, but they are a sure draw for those on the hunt for high quality craft liquor during the conference.
Still Austin operates under the guiding philosophy of "grain to glass," meaning their whiskeys are made on-site, and completely from scratch using all Texas grains, including some that have not been used in whiskey since before Prohibition. The operation currently markets 3 "new-make" (just off the still, and ready for ageing) whiskeys: Signature New Make whiskey (92 Proof), Mother Pepper (an 80 Proof blend of 3 different peppers), and Daydreamer (an 80 Proof citrus). Visitors can enjoy Still Austin Whiskey Co.'s tasting room between Thursday – Sunday of each week.
Opened in 2017, Family Brewing has roots in Texas and Hollywood: Dallas native and co-owner Jensen Eckles has been the star of the CW Network's "Supernatural" since 2005. Under the guidance of head brewer Nate Seale, Family Business produces a variety of beers, including Hamilton Pale, Fox Rye Lager, and Cosmic Cowboy IPA. Open between Wednesday and Sunday, the 15-acre grounds also boast a playground, live music areas, and food trucks like Jep's Southern Roots, a food trailer owned by Jep Robertson of the famous Duck Dynasty Robertson clan.
After Englishman Ed Gibson relocated to Austin, he felt homesick for classic, British cider and decided to make his own. Austin Eastcider combines traditional, English cider-making with innovative ingredients in their six primary ciders: Original Dry, Texas Honey, Hopped, Blood Orange, Pineapple and Ruby Red Grapefruit. Limited-run, small batch ciders are available in the tap-room. Coinciding with SxSW 2018, Austin Eastciders will introduce two barrel-aged, small batch ciders and a Cuvee Cold Brew Cider.
Friends and Allies produces uniquely Texas beers steeped in West Coast brewing techniques. Their logo – a wolf inside the silhouette of a bear – reflects a dual-state, California-Texas outlook. Founded in 2015, Friends and Allies markets and distributes four core brews: Noisy Cricket Session IPA, Urban Chicken Saison, Fresh Coast IPA, and Springdale White Ale – to retail outlets throughout Texas. In addition, they always keep at least 10 different brews on rotation.
Founded by three Military veterans who met during an Executive MBA Program at the University of Texas, Desert Door Texas Sotol is the only U.S. manufacturer of this classic southwestern spirit. Although well-known in Mexico, Sotol is unfamiliar to most Americans, and that's something Co-Owners Brent Looby, Judson Kauffman, and Ryan Campbell aim to change. The new venture held its grand opening in November, 2017, and is already receiving requests from around the USA.
The official slogan of the city of Austin may be "Keep Austin Weird," but the founders of Strange Land Brewery want to make it strange, instead. Strange Land produces frothy, sessionable beers with names like Austinite, Ploughshare, Alemannia, Entire, and Pink Flamingo IPA, all available in retail outlets. Strange Land maintains a menu of 14 beers in their tasting room (including the main five). "Firkin' Friday" happens each Friday between 5-9 pm, where visitors can sample limited release and seasonal beers, all on draft.
Open since December 2016, co-owner and head brewer Bryan Winslow learned his craft after several years with another successful, local brewery in Austin. Together with co-owner and Tasting Room Manager Tim Bullock, the pair strive to achieve high levels of quality and variety, which include about a dozen different beers. St Elmo's offerings are only available on-site at their tasting room, with popular brews like Carl, a German-style Kolsch; Chico, a pale ale; Angus, a dry stout; and Ned, a Flanders-style red ale.