The Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co. (The ABGB) doesn’t exactly make you feel like you’re at a beer garden in Munich—it makes you feel like you’re in Austin, Texas. There are eclectic lawn chairs surrounding wooden spool tables throughout the massive outdoor space that’s adorned with trough bed planters. Inside there are retro bar stools at the bar that serves pizza instead of pretzels underneath a large marquee “BEER” sign. And there is a multi-colored, fluorescently lit concert stage that reflects purple and green tones on the row of fermentation tanks behind it. You’ll be quickly transported to Germany, however, upon ordering a Hell Yes Helles or an Industry Pilsner.
“We really love making lagers, and it shows in our medals from the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup,” says Co-owner Mark Jensen, who launched The ABGB in 2013 with Brewers Amos Lowe and Brian Peters, and Jill and Curt Knobloch. Jensen, Lowe, and Curt Knobloch all went to high school in Texas together, and later in life they reunited in Austin for the South by Southwest (SXSW) and Austin City Limits (ACL) music festivals. “Amos was homebrewing at the time,” says Jensen, “so a lot of times we would sneak his homebrew into ACL… back when you could do that. We were drinking craft beer at music festivals, and we decided we wanted to do that for the rest of our lives.”
Jensen, a former freelance writer, always wanted to open up his own music venue. “Music is my part of The ABGB equation,” he says of the brewpub’s live music offerings. “Back in the mid-1980s in Austin, some of the clubs would have punk shows one night and bluegrass the next; and that just felt right. We like to have a widespread spectrum of all kinds of music here. We like to sound like Austin sounds.”
The ABGB sounds like Austin but doesn’t necessarily taste like Austin. Instead it offers a lineup of hoppy American and traditional German beer styles that add to the breadth of the city’s already robust beer scene. “I don’t think a brewpub needs to be everything for everybody,” says The ABGB Brewer Brian Peters. “You should brew what you love.”
For Peters and Lowe, that love comes in the form of lagers—specifically German-style lagers. Both brewers cut their teeth brewing lagers at other breweries in Texas. Peters helped to launch Live Oak in East Austin, where he focused on Czech-style Pilsner. He went on to brew more lagers at the now defunct The Bitter End where he met Lowe. The two went on to win awards in the Kellerbier/Zwickelbier category at Uncle Billy’s brewery “because we didn’t filter back then,” Peters says. “Now at The ABGB, we’re they focused on German Pilsner out of respect to Live Oak. Live Oak Pils is the Czech Pils in this town.”
“Our passion is Pilsner-driven,” adds Peters, who points out that Pilsner is the favorite style of a lot of brewers, hence The ABGB’s appropriately named Industry Pilsner. “Pilsner is simple and refreshing all the way through, with enough hops to make it interesting. I’m not the guy who wants ten different malts in his recipe.” All good Pilsner recipes start with German Pilsner malt—and only Pilsner malt to be authentic, Peters says. “I wouldn’t mess with anything else besides maybe a little bit of acid malt,” he advises homebrewers. “Water is critical, as Pilsner was not a style originally brewed in places with hard water. It’s too hard to get the hops and malt flavor right when you have that alkalinity, so we lower ours a bit.”
If you’re working with hard water, Peters suggests, buy water that you know is softer and then make a 50 /50 blend. “And then make sure your pH is right,” he says. “We have a pH of 6 when we mash in and when we sparge. Sierra Nevada does it a little bit lower, but generally that’s pretty low. Anything over 7, I can’t recommend.” Next in brewing The ABGB’s Industry is German hops. “We add Saphir hops to make Industry more floral than spicy,” says Peters.
The final step in The ABGB’s Pilsner-brewing process is a nice healthy lager yeast pitch and consistent fermentation temperature. “We ferment at 51°F (11°C),” he says. “You don’t have to do that as a homebrewer, but your results might not be as good as if you start say at 60°F (16°C) and then reduce. Pitch and be patient. It’s okay if you wait a few days before you see signs of life.”
Peters fell in love with brewing Pilsner during his homebrew days. “I started brewing lagers in 1990 because I heard they were more challenging,” he remembers. “Brewing ales was interesting, but I wanted a bigger challenge.” If homebrewers want an even loftier challenge, Peters suggests, they should try brewing the Helles lager style. “Pilsner has enough hops that maybe you can cover up a slight fermentation issue,” he jokes. “Maybe.”
At The ABGB, the Helles is intended to be the gateway or “crossover” beer that convinces the light macro lager–drinking Texas crowd that this craft-beer thing isn’t all that bad. Hell Yes is The ABGB’s biggest seller and one of six year-round offerings. Also on that list is Industry, Day Trip pale ale, Superliner IPA, Big Mama Red (a hoppy red ale), and the pre-Prohibition–style Pilsner, Rocket 100. This lineup represents the beers that Peters and crew want to see in their refrigerators at home. “It’s a selfish thing, but brewers do well with selfish,” he says.
The beers at The ABGB might be selfish, but it seems Austin, Texas, residents crave those same styles. “Combine selfishness and our beer garden concept that is two-thirds outdoors and the fact that it never gets below 50°F (10°C) here and we couldn’t go wrong with lagers,” Peters says. “We wanted to brew beers that we personally loved and drink every day. It’s all about passion.”
From the unique digs and the inspired music schedule to the pristine German-style lagers served by the sincere and upbeat staff, passion radiates at The ABGB. The owners, as well as Austin residents and visitors, can now drink craft beer at music festivals for life.
PHOTOS: COURTESY THE AUSTIN BEER GARDEN BREWING CO.