Austin's Bitter End
By Dave Kelley
It's hard to feel sorry for Tim Schwartz when even he
laughs at his biggest complaint. "We've been blanked at the GABF," grouses
Schwartz, the head brewer at the Bitter End, over a pint of his Modulator
Dopplebock, "which is kind of disappointing. We've always gotten great
response, and it's always good to go and get that great feedback, but no
medals." Then he laughs, saying "Then again, Celis hasn't won the gold for
Belgian White, and it's their style, so we're in good company."
Good company indeed. Since taking the reins of the Bitter End's
brewery side in February of 1995, Schwartz has built a reputation for
producing consistently outstanding beers. And in '98, his GABF shutout
ended when the Bitter End's Prescott Wee Heavy scored a Gold Medal for
Strong Scotch Ale.
A longtime homebrewer, Schwartz's professional career started
almost on a whim, and turned into a baptism by fire. "I was getting ready
to go to grad school," Schwartz recalled, "and I knew there was a part-time
and a full-time position opening up here, so just for the hell of it I came
down and applied, thinking I'd probably get the half-time scrub job. I'd
always wanted to see if I'd enjoy doing the brewing at a brewpub or
microbrewery, so I thought I'd get it out of my system before I went to
grad school, basically. But instead of getting the scrubbing job, I got the
full-time assistant brewer job, and three-and-a-half months later I became
the head brewer. It happened a lot faster than I'd expected. It was a very
intense little training -- I got thrown right into it."
He hit the ground running, and hasn't missed a step yet. Schwartz
and his right hand, Stephen Tidwell, concentrate on brewing traditional
styles, with traditional ingredients such as imported English malt and East
Kent hops for their Bitter End Bitter. And according to Schwartz, that's
just the tip of the iceberg. "We do decoction mashing," he pointed out.
"When we do the pilsner, we do a double-decoction mash. The last set of
lagers we did were 100 percent Weyermann German malt. The next Poindexter Pils we
brew, which will be out in the spring, we're going to use some Czech malt
that's being brought in by (St. Patrick's of Texas). It's supposed to be
from the same maltster that does the Pilsner Urquell malts, so that should
That Poindexter Pils, based on a recipe that Tidwell created during
his homebrewing days, will be found on the Bitter End rotating tap, which
features a new specialty or seasonal brew every two or three weeks,
year-round. The rotating tap's 20-25 new brews each year are Schwartz and
Tidwell's license to "get crazy." Over a recent period, Bitter End regulars
got to taste a Belgian trippel, a Helles, a steam beer, Modulator double
bock, an IPA, a strong Scotch ale, and, in celebration of the birth of
Schwartz's son, Zachary, "Zach's Pale Ale," a super-hopped brew.
Along with the rotating tap, the Bitter End has six house beers and
at least one true cask ale always available. E-Z Wheat is a basic American
wheat with 20% malted wheat and lightly hopped, meant to be an intro-type
beer. Aberdeen Amber is a "big-gravity Scottish ale," but NOT a strong
Scotch ale, with a strong malt character that features Hugh Baird's
peat-smoked malt for a hint of single-malt smokiness. Bitter End Bitter is
an 1053 OG English ESB that's always being adjusted as Schwartz and Tidwell
search for the elusive "perfect" balance of malt and hop character. Austin
Pale Ale is a highly hopped American pale in the Sierra Nevada mode. The
Hill Country Honeymead started as a specialty beer, but has been promoted
to "regular" status, made from two-thirds local honey and one-third malt, and is often
enhanced by the use of real fruit in the brewing process. The regular "dark
beer" tap rotates between the Sledgehammer Stout, an Irish-style dry stout;
Sledgehammer Express, which uses eight pounds of fresh-ground espresso
beans in every seven-barrel batch; and the Hammerhead Porter, a traditional
English porter with a smoked character.
The brewing takes place in the Bitter End's "thrown-together"
system. The brew kettle is a 10-barrel, Bohemian Systems unit, matched with
a mash tun that's a dairy vessel that has been copper clad. The
fermentation and cold-aging tanks are Porter-Lancaster, "Grundy" tanks,
English serving tanks, that have to be disassembled and hand-scrubbed after
each brew, making for a very labor-intensive brewing process. The cask ales
are served via imported beer engines that draw from a dedicated cooler
right behind the bar, giving the Bitter End the ability to serve "three or
four" cask-conditioned beers at any given time.
Outstanding food is a trademark of all the restaurants in Bitter
End owner Reed Clemons' San Gabriel Restaurant Group. SGRG Executive Chef
Emmett Fox has been called one of the premiere chefs in Texas, and his
touch can be seen at the Bitter End. Complementing Schwartz's beers -- which
are the only beers available at the brewpub, although there is an extensive
wine list and a full liquor bar -- are Chef de Cuisine Kathryn Mathis'
creations, which are every bit as noteworthy as the beers. Appetizers such
as the Charcuterie Taster, with duck liver pate, beer sausage, BBQ pork
with braised cabbage, and a homemade pretzel, are designed to enhance and
be enhanced by beer. As a result, grilled entrees are the stars of the
menu, with Grilled Pork and Beef Tenderloin, Grilled Lamb Loin, and Grilled
Yellowfin Tuna most prominent.
Obviously, as Schwartz said, "Steve (Tidwell) and I are still way
into brewing. We've been doing it three years, we're way into it, and we
don't cut corners on this stuff." It shows, and as he poured himself
another pint of Modulator Dopplebock, Schwartz wasn't complaining a bit.
-- The Bitter End, 311 Colorado Street, Austin, Texas 78701. 512/478-2337. Brewery tours are available, but please call in advance to
schedule a group tour/tasting.