(512) Brewing – spoiler alert: barrels and more barrels.
Traveling solo with no real agenda is a dream. I will say this, though, I have learned a few things. First, you have to get over your fear of the selfie, otherwise there is no proof you were even on vacation. Second, pack for the forecasted low temps, not just the high ones.
My morning was a bust – I ventured north of UT campus for some shopping at a place called 26 Doors. I am sorry to report that behind over half of those doors were vacant spaces. It was a bit sad. Good thing the gelato place was still there, considering it was 24 degrees.
I stayed warm for the most part, and took comfort in the fact that my day would include some serious beer.
During my Fermentation Cycle pub crawl, I ran into Dan, a rep for (512) Brewing Company and he agreed to let me crash a brew day to snap some photos and sample beer.
Like most breweries, the place is a bit of a trick to find. In this case, I followed the gathering of birds chowing on the bins of spent grain.
I was greeted warmly, though, as I walked into the brewhouse quite awkwardly to see several people hard at work. I met up with Nate Seale, head brewer, who graciously took some time out of his day, including training a new brewer, to show me around.
(512) Brewing has been around since 2008, a bit longer than many other Texas breweries, and their experience shows. With four year-round beers and a diverse offering of seasonals and limited releases, (512) has become a staple on draft around Texas.
One of their seasonal offerings, the Pecan Porter, was so popular, in fact, that it is now available year-round and has even become their most popular brew.
(512) specializes in Belgian and English style beers, but they have recently taken the reins off and put much time and effort into their barrel program.
I enjoyed hearing Nate speak passionately about everything from acquiring the barrels themselves, to struggling with how to filter the beer once aged. While they used to use Maker’s Mark barrels, they have recently been sourcing elsewhere due to the fact that the Maker’s barrels recently changed, lending a less intense flavor. It is this attention to detail that contributes to the success of the brewery.
(512) also recently purchased two foeders (below) – giant barrels that allow for fermentation and aging of much larger batches.
At the time of my visit the barrels were filled with many different beers including their Whiskey Barrel Aged Double Pecan Porter. The beer is a powerful combination of flavors with potent contributions from locally grown roasted pecans and whiskey oak barrels.
Sours are also contained in the vessels as Nate likes to experiment with different inoculations. Some of the beer continues to ferment in the barrels, but for the most part it is mostly an an aging process. I asked about the airlocks seen in some of the barrels – the staff checks on the beer periodically to avoid explosions or other mishaps. The barrel room is clearly a well-oiled machine and seems to be the pride of (512) right now.
One of the foeders contains a peach wheat sour beer that is nearing the end of its fermentation and aging. I’m surely hoping this one makes it into bottles so I can sweet talk someone into shipping me one.
Bottling is rare at (512) and is only reserved for special releases. Kegging is serious business, though, and kegs are distributed throughout Austin and beyond.
Nate and I did some tasting after longingly staring at the aging beer. I enjoyed the Wit, a bright yellow, cloudy beer brimming with wheaty notes and characteristic Belgian yeast flavors. It is brewed quite traditionally with grapefruit peel and coriander. The malt bill includes both malted and unmalted wheat, adding depth of flavor.
I especially enjoyed the Cascabelle Cream Stout, a rich and creamy beer made with unfermentable lactose and 20lbs of Guajillo peppers for a slow afterburn.
In contrast to other hot pepper beers, the heat is quite subtle but the flavor is very intense.
The current seasonal, which was tapped the day before my visit, is an intensely hoppy Black IPA: “Brewed with organic 2-row, organic Crystal 60 and Blackprinz, a huskless black malt that gives this beer it’s black color with notes of coffee and chicory without any tannic bitterness. The hop additions are many and generous, featuring Apollo, Horizon, and Simcoe, clocking the beer in at 70 IBU. Over 10 pounds per batch of Chinook hops are added directly to the fermenter yielding a resiny herbal and spicy aroma.” -(512)
I had never heard of huskless malt before but the effect worked – no off-putting tannic notes to be found.
Thanks especially to Nate, Sam, and Dan.