The Circle of Beer Life
Sometimes you get to do pretty cool things in life. Sometimes you are required to do things not quite so, cool. I'm going to leave the latter to rest for now and dive into something cool.
This past week I survived the completion of my 35th year on this here planet. It's been a whirlwind of a year for sure. On the entrepreneurial side I finished up a number of major expansion projects at Hops & Grain Brewing and successfully designed, built and began production at new restaurant and brewery in Kerrville, TX called Pint & Plow Brewing. I know, I'm a sucker for the ampersand.
On the personal side I completed my second 1400 Miles journey, riding a bicycle from Austin, TX to Denver, CO spreading the gospel of early prevention and testing to fight the ugliness that is prostate cancer. I was able to find plenty of time to read and had the pleasure of speaking to a number of groups about what I do and joined some of my most respected colleagues on a number of panel presentations discussing the state of craft beer and the culture that surrounds it. My beautiful wife has continued to be the best friend, supporter and role model for hard work and dedication that any person could ever ask for. She is such an incredibly strong woman who handles life with a grace that few will ever achieve. And she does it all with a smile on her face!
The group of people that I'm lucky to call friends has continued to grow over the years and it's been incredibly fun to follow the career paths of each of them. Some have gone from working at breweries in town to starting breweries of their own and others have excelled in areas as diverse as digital media, farming and ranching. We're an eclectic crew to say the least and I couldn't be happier to call this crew friends. The common denominator that brought us together was craft beer. Early on I think all we talked about was beer but now we talk about more grown up topics. You know, the ones that begin with "I was listening to this story on NPR". But, inevitably, the conversation comes back to beer. As it should.
I've had a lot of great fun over the past year and this past weekend was no exception. If you haven't met the man behind the twitter handle @beerevangelist you need to fix that. Jake Maddux has been a close friend of mine for pretty much my entire career in the Austin beer scene. He's a man of character and integrity with a passion for life that is second to none. And he absolutely loves to entertain people over food and drink. I've witnessed this countless times over the past 4 years but the shindiggity that he threw on Sunday at the future home of his new project, The Brewer's Table, was absolutely mind blowing. And it all started with a pig and an idea.
At Hops & Grain Brewing we are lucky to be able to work with a multitude of farmers and ranchers. Some we've met through events celebrating the Urban Farm culture in Austin and others we've met through the symbiotic relationships between brewers, farmers and ranchers. Most breweries in the US give their spent brewing grain to farmers and ranchers to use a feed. As a brewer it's crucial that we get rid of the stuff as quickly as possible and for a rancher it's a nice source of free feed. I'm entertained each time I see a new brewery tout sustainability because they give their grain to ranchers. Come on, we're all doing that and quite frankly if you want to get down to the nuts and bolts of it, feeding spent grain to cattle actually produces a hefty amount of methane (I'll let you figure out how it's produced). Anyhoo, one of the fine folks that picks up our spent grain feeds it to his pigs. And this is where this pig enters the story.
You see, Jake spent a good bit of time running the beverage program at a really cool butcher shop down the street from the brewery called Salt & Time. One of the cooler shops around, Salt & Time has a gigantic glass viewing window just as you enter the space that provides a birds eye view into the butchering process. I was drawn to this place immediately because it reminded me of a brewpub with the open view, inviting customers to feel a part of the process. Our good friends at Salt & Time provided us with a pig from for the festivities, the coolest part of that being that the pig was one from the aforementioned rancher that we work with and thus was fed spent brewing grain from Hops & Grain. Step 1 of the pig and the idea.
Step 2 was presented to me by Jake a number of weeks ago. At H&G we have a somewhat small but growing barrel aging program. In this program we age various beers in both spirit and wine barrels and allow them to mature in oak to impart flavors to the beer that would otherwise not be possible through stainless steel maturation. Over time, some of the barrels begin to leak or otherwise become unfit for liquid and at this point we usually retire them to the garden or use them as decor. But Jake had a new idea, what if we broke one of these oak barrels down and used the wood as fodder for a fire that we would smoke a pig over? "Genius" was my response followed by "I'm in".
So we did just that, gathered together in the morning hours of Sunday and began the process. Jake had constructed the pit when I arrived and had begun a fire to build the coals that would become the heat source for our lovely pig. I brought beer, the oak barrels and a saw and began the deconstruction process. We seasoned the pig once the coals were hot and started the timer, continually adding hot coals produced from our American oak barrels. Some 5-6 hours later it was decided that the pig was ready and was thus removed from the coals. What ensued next was like something out of a movie. By this time in the afternoon we had quite a crowd gathered and quite a few beers had been consumed and I've got to tell you, there are few sights more entertaining than 6 grown men, knives in hand, carving up a pig that was previously fed spent grain from Hops & Grain and then smoked over wood that used to exist as a barrel that aged Hops & Grain beer. This is the stuff that dreams are made of and I don't know that anyone other than Jake Maddux could come up with a concept like this. And the meat was absolutely incredible, perfectly seasoned and perfectly juicy. We ate, we drank, we laughed and later in the evening and in typical fashion I sang George Strait songs as loud as I could.
It was truly a fantastic birthday weekend and celebration that could not have happened without the love and care of my wife Meg and my friend Jake. I'm a lucky guy to be able to make beer for a living in one of the greatest cities in America. I have an incredible group of friends and I can't thank you all enough for your support. I was reminded the other day that my age now rounds up to 40. Some might take this as a negative but the way I see it, you're only as old as you think you are and with creative ideas like the one we hatched up on Sunday, I'm pretty confident that a youthfullness will be following me around for quite some time!