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The Ginger Man

January, 2000

By Bobby Bush

Eighty-two draught beers. Thatís what I counted, though I may have missed a few because the long wall behind the bar was a bit cluttered with intriguingly decorated tap handles from beers brewed next door and around the world. But 82, give or take, is a huge selection, so whoís to quibble over a few. The original Ginger Man was founded in Houston in 1985. The other three siblings in this quartet of taprooms, each called The Ginger Man, are individually located in New York City, Dallas and, the subject of this beer adventure, Austin, Texas. Thatís where the draft/draught (letís not get into that discussion) beer menu, not to mention around 200 bottled choices, caught my attention.

For some unknown reason, maybe itís the summer heat though this visit occurred in the dead of winter, many Austin bars and brewpubs refuse to open their doors until 4:00. So, caught between the brewpubs that are open for lunch and those that wait until late afternoon, we chose The Ginger Man, earthy and friendly, to rest our heels.... and quench our thirst. This being the holiday season, we stuck to seasonals, choosing two Texas beers. Austin micro Live Oaks Liberator Dopplebock, available in 1999 and 1998 vintages (a wine term- there has to be a better word for beer), was thick, malty and strong, while Houston micro St. Arnoldís Christmas Ale was medium bodied and high in alcohol with an indistinguishable spice bill. There were four other St. Arnoldís beers on tap, as well as three from Yellow Rose brewing, a San Antonio micro. Local micro Celis Brewing was also well represented, as was Hoegaarten, the Belgian brewery where Piere Celis made Wit beer famous years before relocating to Austin. With no intention to name them all, some of the more notable names on The Ginger Manís wall were Abita, Bass, Pyramid, Guinness, Paulaner, Bellhaven, Brains, Youngís, Fosters, Budweiser and, of course, Shiner Bock. St. Arnoldís Amber was on cask for the asking.

Beer friendly isnít the word. While I normally prefer brewpubs to pubs, multi-tap rooms like The Ginger Man offer the opportunity to traverse the world from a bar stool. A beer festival in a different package. Iíll probably be taking that ride more often. See for yourself at www.gingermanpub.com.

Ah, the magic hour arrived, we stepped next door to Bitter End Bistro & Brewery, where brewer Tim Schwartz just happened to be there to walk us through his line-up. EZ Wheat, a filtered American version, was medium bodied and served with a lemon wedge. Crisp and clean, itís Timís best seller. Bat City Lager, named for a colony of Mexican Freetail Bats that inhabit the underside of Congress Street Bridge, was a wonderful, fully balanced lager done Vienna style. Aberdeen Amber was malty sweet, while Austin Pale Ale worked the hoppy side of the scale, close to a delicious IPA. Jarrett Brown Ale, a seasonal, was a subtly hoppy American brown. Deep red/brown, Bitter End Oatmeal Stout, a smooth cream ale with layers of sweet darkness, played counterpoint to the special Millennium Imperial Stout, a potent, complex brew given extra conditioning. Last on the list, Bullethead Barleywine, at 10% abv, was a fine sipping beer designed, as Schwartz described it, to have the ďmalt of Foghorn and hops of Bigfoot,Ē barleywines from Anchor and Sierra Nevada, respectively.

There usually are two cask conditioned beers at the bar, but those taps were dry. However, brewer Tim took us next door to Bitter Endís B-Side, a bar with a living room setting, where we sampled his cask ESB. Served at 45 degrees, this English-style ale was fruity and inviting with a mellow hops approach. We talked of his 1999 GABF bronze for Prescottís Wee Heavy in the Strong Scotch Ale category- the same recipe had taken gold the year before- and Schwartzís only fruit beer, a summer seasonal Peach Beer made with dripping, over-ripe peaches.

An interesting addition to the more formal Bitter End, this cozy, oddly shaped and strangely decorated B-Side bar has been opened since 1997, three years after the brewpub started. So even if youíre not up for a tasty meal like Spit-Roasted Chicken, Capellini, Chicken Scaloppine, Bitter End Burger or a BBQ Shrimp Pizza, Bitter End has a place for you. Find more info at www.sprg.com.

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

© Bobby Bush

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