This past weekend, the Austin Food and Wine Festival delivered quite a punch in the way of celebrating all things savory, from hands-on grilling demos from Fort Worth Chef Tim Love, to day-long fire-pit grilling by a rotation of Texas chefs, including San Antonio’s Jason Dady, Austin’s Jack and Bryce Gilmore, and Aaron Franklin. And serving, ahem, as a nice complement to all this food fanfare was an impressive showcase of Texas’s liquid culture.
Texas wine didn’t make the weekend lineup this year, but the state’s beer and spirits companies were represented in a big way. Saturday’s panel on Texas beer brought together a wide variety of ales and lagers from three of Central Texas’ top breweries, including Hops & Grain, Austin Beerworks, and Jester King Brewery. It was definitely a love-fest all around, as each brewery applauded each other on their growing lists of awards and accolades and were happy to share who some of their favorites breweries were that weren’t present at the event. It was reassuring to see these companies stand together, a bond clearly forged in the aftermath of recent legislative battles to allow breweries to distribute their beers using third-party distributors.
“The last [legislative] session brought us from the nineteen-forties to the seventies,” said Jester King’s owner, Ron Extract, who quickly attributed his statement to originally being said by San Antonio’s Freetail Brewing Company owner Scott Metzger. “The truth is, we have to keep challenging each other to make quality beer here. I’d rather see a bunch of world class breweries doing a lot of different things in Texas than a bunch of mediocre beers getting put out there. That only hurts us as an entire industry.”
On Sunday, David Alan, a.k.a. the Tipsy Texan (and a contributor to Texas Monthly) shook up a few cocktails for a special presentation on Texas spirits. He mixed up a boozy sangria made with Tito’s vodka, as well as a refreshing watermelon mojito made with Treaty Oak rum. Then once everyone felt a little more relaxed, Alan got down to the nitty gritty and shared some advice with the audience, particularly that if people are buying Texas spirits, be mindful of what you’re buying.
“Many, if not most, of the Texas spirits you find on the shelf [from whiskey to vodka] are all hat and no cattle; they’re just fakers,” said Alan referring to the contingent of distilleries in the state who bring in an already-made product from somewhere else and label it with a catchy Texas-inspired name.
“I don’t have a problem with someone being a non-distilling producer,” said Alan. “That’s not a bad thing. But being a non-distilling producer that isn’t honest about the product their selling is a bad thing.”
Beyond Texas-made products, a few Texas-based industry professionals also represented. Sommelier Vilma Mazaite of Austin’s newest hot spot, LaV restaurant presented a lively tasting of wines from women winemakers around the world, and notable master sommeliers Craig Collins and Devon Broglie led an enlightening tasting of six California wines that demystified the misconception that all California wines are both over-oaked and over-ripe and are also too high in alcohol.
“My mom used to say, ‘Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should,’” said Broglie. “We’re seeing California producers who are saying that just because we can get more alcohol or oak in our wines, doesn’t mean we should.”
And a well-deserved nod goes to Food & Wine magazine wine editor Ray Isle (a native Houstonian now living in New York), whose two presentations on great old world and new world wines, and wine pairing 101 helped make the vast world of wine much more approachable. It’s no small feat to pair wines with potato chips. Now we know that salt and vinegar chips and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc work together, as do sea salt chips with a brut Champagne.
Though it’s true there was more than enough to take in from the parade of local, regional and national chefs who demoed and instructed their way through weekend, the Texas-based wine, beer and spirit additions made for a nice pairing.