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North By Northwest

January, 2000

By Bobby Bush

When last this loathsome beer fiend found himself in Austin, Texas it was late June five years hence. Despite sweltering temperatures that gave new insight to the “it’s the humidity” viewpoint, this college party town proved to be well worth the perspiration. Like Bourbon Street without the strip clubs, Austin mixes music and alcohol into a frenetic, fun holiday every night of the year. Now here we were back again for A2K, a New Year’s Eve street party featuring Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen, the Jimmy Buffett of country music. Naturally, we had time to scout out the local beer scene. Two new brewpubs had joined the fray since our previous visit. One was our first stop of the tour. North By Northwest Restaurant and Brewery opened its doors for business in September 1999. Founded by brewing entrepreneur Davis Tucker, who also established contract brewery Pecan Street and was one of Austin brewpub Coppertank’s original owners, this young brewpub is already up and running strongly.

Named by Davis for the Alfred Hitchcock/Cary Grant thriller “North By Northwest” rather than a take-off on Austin’s fabled music festival South By Southwest, this northern suburban facility also prides itself as a brewing connection to the great beers of the Washington and Oregon. NXNW brings Pacific Northwest beer attitude and beer styles to Texas. No wimpy Lone Star beers here.

Served by a pleasant and informative bartender, we learned the short history of this fledgling operation before our bar stools even started to warm. From a sample tray of six beers, we began with Northern Light, a crisp, pils-like golden ale. Duckabish Amber, creamy and sweet from Belgian malt, followed with equally pleasing results. In that Pacific Northwest style, copper hued Py Jingo Pale Ale was pungently hoppy, while Okanogan Black Ale, actually from the reddish-brown portion of the color spectrum, was silky smooth, lager-like in texture and similar to “ales produced by the Weltenberg Brewery in Northwestern Germany,” as the menu described. The seasonal Holiday Stout started harsh with bitter tannin flavor but mellowed to a dry finish, leaving my tongue warm, wanting more. Only Crooked Creek Black Cherry Ale, made from Northwest black cherries, was not up to par. Its soda pop aroma and thin body left with an unexpected dry termination.

Brewer Don Thompson, who began his professional career at an ahead-of-its-time microbrewery in Plano, Texas back in 1983 (that’s not a misprint), works with a ten barrel brewhouse. Four 30 barrel fermenters and an equal size and number of conditioning tanks assures that there will always be plenty of beer. Except for a bottled non-alcoholic malt beverage, NXNW serves only their own beers.

NXNW, the building, is a work of art. Fermenters behind the bar. Grain elevator outside at the entrance. Wood fired pizza oven with its own oyster bar-like area. (The Green Garden Pizza, with spinach, fennel, zucchini, leeks, basil and feta cheese, is highly recommended). Two fire places. A secluded outdoor patio. The metal, glass, stained wood structure provided its own decor. North By Northwest is a classy place with great food and wonderful beers. We liked it so much we came back two days later for lunch.

Our experience at Waterloo Brewing Company was not nearly as welcoming. With steamy malt aroma in the air, we waited impatiently at this rustic brewpub’s bar. In operation since 1994, they should know how proper service works by now. It took forever, but the sampler tray finally arrived. Most memorable of the six were a nicely hopped Guy Town IPA, well balanced Ed’s Best Bitter and thick Violet Crown Stout, which featured a pronounced roasted and black patent malt profile. We had to walk upstairs to another bar area for a taste of Waterloo’s two cask conditioned ales. In hindsight, we should have started here. The O’Henry’s Porter was creamy with deep roasted flavor and the cask version of Guy Town IPA, frothy from a sparkler nozzle, was hoppier than the downstairs rendition. This was a friendlier drinking, dart and pool playing bar.

Their wall is plastered with four GABF medal, including a ‘99 gold for Grand Cru. If they’d just straightened up the service a bit, Waterloo would be my kinda dive, as it was on my visit five years ago.

The story continues, see The Ginger Man

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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