Beer and food have always been intrinsically linked—and most beer lovers will tell you one always tastes better with the other—but at The Brewer’s Table in Austin, owner Jake Maddux aimed for an experience that would go beyond pairings.
The idea for The Brewer’s Table came to him in 2013 while waiting for food at Austin’s famous Franklin Barbecue. “[Aaron Franklin] had just been awarded a major accolade, and the line was around the block. I had just had my last brewing job and was sitting behind the restaurant at what was essentially a chef’s table—a semi-exclusive part of a restaurant where industry insiders were often invited to sit,” Maddux recalls. “We beer guys tend to have our most exclusive experience hanging around stainless tanks and beer taps, so I wanted to offer a unique and exclusive experience for our industry. If restaurants have a Chef’s Table, I wanted to have THE Brewer’s Table.”
The new brewpub, which was one of our places to watch in the 2017 edition of The Imbibe 75, recently opened in East Austin with Maddux at the helm and head brewer Drew Durish (formerly of Live Oak Brewing) and chef Zach Hunter (formerly of Fixe) collaborating closely to seamlessly weave together drinks and food. Using spent grain, hops and malts in his cooking, Hunter also looks to the history of beer and brewing regions for inspiration, and of the six rotating house beers, half feature some kind of culinary crossover (think sweet tea, corn and beets). “Leading up to opening, Drew and I had spent time cooking and brewing together, learning each other’s craft,” says chef Hunter. The collaboration allows each individual to find new inspirations that might not otherwise arise when working in a bubble. “For example, we are taking spent grain from the brewery, drying it and using as flour in dishes, and the forthcoming lager Beets by Drew incorporates several varieties of mint and a wallop of roasted beets which was inspiration for the Smoked Beet Pastrami featured on the larder board. We’re cross-utilizing ingredients which ultimately helps us eliminate waste but also put out food and beer that are extremely complementary and take the pairing experience to the next level.”
If restaurants have a Chef’s Table, I wanted to have THE Brewer’s Table.
Wood and open fire are also integrated into both sides of production. Instead of a traditional oven, the kitchen features a 7-foot custom wood-fired grill with racks that can easily swap out for cooking meat or veggies, and the house beer is fermented in custom American oak foeders that are fitted with coolships for open fermentation. Made by Foeder Crafters in St. Louis, this style of large wooden vat was originally used to make wine, but these days many breweries use them to make sour beers. Durish bucks both trends and makes the house lagers in the vessels. “We’re fully aware of the challenge of producing clean beers in wood, but it wouldn’t be fun if it was easy,” he says, adding that the different toast levels of the wood can contribute notes of coconut, caramel, biscuit, coffee, vanilla, and tannins that deepen the flavor of the lager backbone. “As the wood intensity abates with time, the oxygen ingress will be the dominant source of flavor development in the foeders. That gradual oxidation creates mellower hop character and a marriage of malt flavors that can create sherry-like notes. Plus, as the oak character fades this opens the door for us to add different wood back into the barrel, with the addition of toasted grapewood medallions or cyprus branches. The sky’s the limit!”
In addition to the culinary-inspired house beers, Durish makes a flagship Common Lager and other traditional styles. Twenty-six guest beers and four wines will also be available on draft in addition to the house beers, and beverage director Brandy Compton has assembled a seasonal cocktail menu. When looking at all the pieces of the program and how they fit together, Maddux hopes that locals and visitors feel welcome in the space. “I couldn’t be happier with how we are executing a unique and special way to experience the relationship between beer and food,” Maddux says. “Ingredients, methods and byproducts passing from one to the other creates some magical possibilities and showcases the core point of TBT: that beer and food not only pair together perfectly but they’re the same thing. A chef and a brewer are one in the same.”
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