Bathtub Row Co-op Member Antonio Chavarria checked out Austin's Black Star Co-op recently. Here's his recap of the experience.
It all started with a desire to return to one of my favorite cities in the US: Austin, TX. I figured I could do some mountain biking, enjoy some local food and beer. With haste, I purchased flights and finalized my sleeping accommodations.
As the days passed I pondered what other activities I could do while in Austin. Since we had just opened the Bathtub Row Brewing Co-op it seemed like a great opportunity for an ambassador’s trip to our sister brewery, Black Star Co-op in Austin. Black Star, the first cooperative-based brewery in the US, had been a great example and advisor to us on our path in opening our brewery here in Los Alamos. I wanted to meet with their crew to provide them with some of our schwag as a gesture of gratitude and solidarity.
Fast forward to my arrival in Austin. I stepped out of the airport into humid, rainy weather and hailed a taxi. I spent the entire ride to my host’s house wondering if the rain would affect my biking plans for the weekend. My host and her pups greeted me at my destination and I settled in for the night. As I sat in bed I typed in the address of my accommodations and Black Star for directions. Hmm. 15 miles. I could ride that, I thought, especially on a road bike, and lay down to sleep counting raindrops. Not too long after falling asleep, I woke up in an exasperated state of confusion: had I sent my email reply to Dana, the Business Team Leader of Black Star, to finalize our meeting time? I—HAD—NOT! Gulp. I started up and sent a hurried email, realizing a 2 am phone call would do me no good, in hopes that she would be available. I lay back down and hoped for the best.
Immediately upon waking I swiped my phone open – no email from Dana. Since there was little I could do at this late hour, there was nothing left to do but hope that everything would end up fine. I enjoyed a delicious homemade breakfast; bacon and cold-pressed coffee would be the secret weapons to enduring my 15-mile journey. I let breakfast settle for a bit and glanced outside to verify that the rain had indeed subsided, and it had. All that remained was the calming residual drops falling from the leaves of the trees. I glanced toward my phone and saw its light blinking. Could it be? Yes, it was. Dana was polite and though she was busy, she would make some time to meet. I was happy to get the good news. Lesson learned: be better prepared and double check emails.
Immediately after the good news I scrambled to make sure I had all Bathtub Row shwag in order. I grabbed a raincoat, threw on my shoes, hopped on the bike and made my way north towards the brewery. I assumed I had everything I would need.
The ground was still a bit wet from the rains but luckily not enough to splash back in my face as I rode. The cloudy skies kept the temperature down as I pedaled along. But I have to say, as a native New Mexican, the humidity was brutal. Sweat was my constant state. Luckily being acclimated to the Los Alamos altitude kept me from huffing and puffing the entire ride. I navigated through Austin’s generous bike lanes stopping only to verify my road choices were correct. Near the end of the ride the thought of a cold beer energized my legs and I pedaled faster, despite the muscle burn that was beginning to kick in.
At long last I arrived – short of breath and sweaty. I was greeted by a unique art piece near the patio that reminded me of a misplaced Jacks game piece left by an inebriated giant after a day of drinking. I locked the bike and relaxed outside for a few moments hoping I would begin to cool off. Humidity is a horrible thing. Because the cooling part was not happening I decided an air-conditioned building would probably be a wiser choice. I made my way inside. I walked up to the bar, greeted the server, and inquired if Dana was available. As she was being summoned, I stepped into the bathroom and changed into the more presentable, extra set of clothes I had packed. As I finished changing and pulled my belongings together, I realized I had no way of paying for the delicious beer that had inspired swiftness during my ride to the brewery. Feeling rather defeated, I walked out to meet Dana.
I greeted Dana and presented her the schwag from our brewery. We talked about their location, their governance style and the success they have garnered. But I must admit, it was hard to keep my mind on business when I had no idea how I would be paying for my beer and food. I glanced at the high ceilings admiring the details and the unique feeling of the décor. We walked over to the 10 barrel brewing system installed in a corner of the building and separated from the main dining area by tall glass panels. There is something about well-polished, stainless steel brewery equipment that just tickles the retinas. The smell of malted barley in the air completed the dual-sense invigoration. Dana introduced me to Johnny from the Kitchen Team and Mike the brewer. We took a picture to commemorate the event. Well, several, until we got just the right one.
Dana and Johnny had business to attend to, so they left me with Mike. We chatted about the equipment, their barrel-aged beers, methods of acquiring ingredients, the possibilities of collaborative beers and what I termed the “share-a-keg” reciprocity program. He was very forthcoming with information and receptive to my cooperative ideas. As a quality engineer, I had to inquire about their data tracking systems, recipe record keeping, and QA/QC methods. Overall, it was quite clear that Mike ran a very robust and respectable operation.
We finished the brewery tour and I knew the time for my embarrassing confession was drawing near. Luckily, they offered me a beer on the house. My choice was the Vulcan, a regularly-featured beer described by Black Star as having a “Powerful, piney/citrusy hop profile balanced by a medium rye body.” It also has a 6.7% ABV and 57 IBU. It was right up my alley. The aroma was delicious and the taste was divinely satisfying. Mike had to tend to other business, so off he went. I sat down at the bar and took in the feeling of the place. It nearly felt like home.
As I sat at the bar, the comical sound of my stomach rumblings (which I believed only I was aware of) must have alerted Eric the server to the fact that my 15-mile ride had left me pretty hungry. But I had to fess up; hungry as I was, I had no way of paying for a meal. As I explained my situation, Eric nodded and stood for a brief moment before walking to the kitchen to talk with Johnny. I glanced away and sipped beer as I had made peace with the fact that the liquid bread in my glass would be the only food I would be enjoying before biking the 15 miles back home. Well, at least it was pretty fantastic beer. Before long Eric was back, menu in hand. He told me I could pick whatever I wanted and that I should not worry about paying. At that moment, Black Star suddenly felt like home. With a wide, joyous smile I ordered the roast beef sandwich. It was promptly delivered from the kitchen and was, I have to say, a sandwich of beauty. The ingredients included: 44 Farms bottom round, sharp cheddar, red onion, bibb lettuce, horseradish aioli, and tomato on Easy Tiger sourdough. And the best part? It tasted just as good as it looked, and paired beautifully with the Vulcan I was drinking.
I inhaled the sandwich, and the Vulcan disappeared very shortly thereafter. After a brief conversation with Eric about our brewery and extending him an invite to Los Alamos, I figured it was time to say goodbye. I changed back in to my riding attire, thanked the staff for taking the time to meet with me and for being so generous with both food and drink. I packed up the Black Star shwag Dana offered me and I was off. I stepped out of my air-conditioned haven and was greeted once again by the oppressive humidity. Thankfully, however, there was no sign of rain. Fortune was on my side that day.
Though the ride back was much slower, I never lost my smile. A smile for the delicious sandwich and beer I enjoyed. A smile for the incredible Black Star staff I interacted with while I was there. A smile that meant another trip to Austin will soon be in the works.
And finally, to Dana, Johnny, Mike and Eric, know that when you stop by the “Tub” the beers are on me.
Black Star Co-op
People met with Dana Curtis: Business Team Leader; Johnny Livesay: Kitchen Team; Mike: Beer Team, Eric: Pub Team
7020 Easy Wind Dr, Ste 100
Austin, TX, 78752