Sunday, December 11, 2016

A bevy of beverages along Fitzhugh Road

Ten years ago, the homeowners and ranch owners along Fitzhugh Road in southwest Travis County probably never thought their sleepy little two-lane would end up being home to a whole slew of companies making beer, wine, cider and spirits. 

While Fitzhugh Road isn't technically in Dripping Springs, it's pretty darn close and whenever we have visitors in town, the easiest and funnest trips we do is a trip down Fitzhugh Road and then a stop at the Salt Lick for bbq. It's the perfect day trip! 

Jester King Brewery kind of started the booze trend on this stretch of road when they officially opened in early 2011. I remember seeing fliers at Austin Homebrew in 2010 for investment opportunities into Jester King and fast forward five years and they're one of the hottest breweries in town and the crowds line up early for their special releases. Why didn't I invest?!? 

After JK opened and started doing well, a lot of companies followed suit out to the winding road. Permitting/zoning seems to be easier since it's not in the City of Austin. 

If you're looking for something to do on a Saturday afternoon, I suggest you mosey on down to Fitzhugh. Here are a few of the places that you should visit:

Last Stand Brewing

This brewery is in a commercial park that seems like it was made just for drinking (Argus Cidery and Revolution Spirits are in the same complex). 

Last Stand recently expanded their facility (they took over a 2nd warehouse) and now they have a fully functioning taproom that has a/c! You know that a/c is needed when it's 100 degrees during peak summer. 

For a fairly new brewery, they brew some of the most solid selections of beer in town. We always enjoy the various belgian beers they have on tap. The only real problem? They tend to brew beers that have a higher alcohol content, so I would stick with the tasting trays if you're hitting up several places! 

The new and improved tap room has plenty of seating and the all important a/c. They still have an outdoor space that you can enjoy on a nice day.

Take it slow and get a flight. We have several more places to hit up.

Revolution Spirits

Right next door to Last Stand is Revolution Spirits, which specializes in gin. While I'm not a fan of gin, it's still a great place to visit to try the gin (samples are free) and even get a cocktail made with their gin. If you're a fan of super-spiced gin, you might like Revolution's. They put a good amount of juniper in it!

The company is also making a new coffee liqeur that is delicious! Pro Tip: Spec's sells it for cheaper than they do at the distillery. 

Argus Cidery

After you're finished getting your gin and tonic on at Revolution, walk down to Argus Cidery. They're in a green building as well, but the shop is at the entrance -- it's on the immediate left when you turn into the commercial space. It's kind of unfortunate the shop isn't as visible as Last Stand and Revolution.

The ciders they make here are dry and delicious. If Austin Eastciders has the hipster can cider going on, Argus Cidery is the fancier sister. They only sell their stuff in 750ml bottles, which I think is nice but for them to be more accessible, they might have to start canning to compete with Eastciders.

Argus Cidery actually introduced me and Micah to Tepache awhile back and we've been fans ever since. Micah now brews his own Tepache (pineapple wine) and it's great!

Argus is small but there's decent seating along with some outdoor space. The interior space is nicely decorated though! P.S. there's no a/c here.

Argus also teams up with Treaty Oak (which I will get into next) to barrel-age their ciders in the whiskey barrels.

Treaty Oak Brewing & Distilling

Treaty Oak has technically been distilling for 10 years but only recently opened their new and inviting space on Fitzhugh this fall. The space that they've created is very similar to Jester King's. There's a barnyard and no air conditioning here either.

While they're known for their spirits, the company just officially launched their three year-round brews. When we were there for their grand opening party in October the "test" beers they had on tap were not very tasty, so hopefully they fine-tuned their brews for the market. Treaty Oak follows what Ranger Creek did in San Antonio but in reverse. Ranger Creek was always going to make whiskey, but since that takes a few years to get out of the barrel, Ranger Creek started making and selling beer first as the whiskey was in the queue.

But enough about their business model. When you get to their space, there's a shop towards the front where you can buy bottles and other gear. Towards the middle is the main space with drinks on tap and a small menu. Their cocktails are priced well and I was thoroughly impressed with their Old Fashioned.

There is plenty of seating and if you really must watch TV, they have that here too.

Jester King Brewery

Last but not least, the biggest kid on the block is JK. If it's a pretty day, you should expect to see a large crowd here with their dogs and children in tow. However, the lines can get long depending on what beers they have on hand that week so be prepared! The brewery has one main taproom (teeny tiny) but they supplement that by having a couple of mobile tents that have servers as well, just be mindful that the outside tents usually have a smaller selection.

If you don't know about JK beers, I don't know where you've been. They're known for their farmhouse Belgian-style beers. If you come on a day where there's a special release going on, someone might approach you about buying a bottle for them (since JK usually limits special releases to 2 per person). These people then turn around and trade/sell their beer with other beer folks across the country. If you don't like funky beers, JK also has a full list of wines and other breweries beers on hand, so you'll find something!

If you're hungry, there's a pizza joint down the hill along with another bar space operated by another entity.

For the longest time, my biggest pet peeve with JK was the lack of real bathrooms. They always had one bathroom in the main taproom and several port a potties, but that was it. After five years, they finally put in some REAL bathrooms!


Drinking on the edge of the Hill Country on Fitzhugh Road at dusk is the perfect way to end a great day!

While I didn't include it in this post, here are some other spots along Fitzhugh Road you should visit:

  • Solaro Estate Winery: Not my favorite wine in the area but the space is pretty and has plenty of seating. The wines are a bit pricey for the quality.
  • Bell Springs Winery: Not technically on Fitzhugh, but right off of it! Solid winery but smaller than Solaro.
  • Texas Hill Country Olive Company: Like olive oil and bread dipped in olive oil? This place is for you. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Five years of slipping and sliding!

It's been nearly a month since our 5th Annual Slip and Slide party and we haven't fully packed up the slide from the backyard. It takes time to re-roll the slide and get everything nice and neat before we put it away for the next 11 months. Soon (after this rain clears).

The fifth year was another great success and was, once again, pure fun.

While I still made a big ol' batch of sangria, I did mix it up a bit by making my own kegged Moscow Mule with homemade ginger beer. Obviously cocktails on draft are all the rage, so I had to get in on that action.

The ginger beer (recipe below) turned out great—it was spicy and not as sweet as commercial products. I thought it was a pretty good effort for my first batch! And once I added the gallon of vodka, it was even better! We tapped all 3 gallons of it at the party. We also had some of Micah's tepache (pineapple wine) on hand so we threw that into the dispenser as well.

Micah decided to go with a pilsner theme, so all the homebrews we had on tap were pilz, with a Trump twist. 

Food menu was about the same with a large taco bar! I did have some deer sausage in the freezer so thought that would something else for guests to nibble on. 

We're in our mid-30s now, how long can we keep this up?!? As long as we can!!

And every party needs emoji balls!

This poor alien doesn't know what's going on!


Recipe: Kegged Moscow Mule
Makes 3 gallons of kegged cocktail

Ginger Beer:
Makes 2 gallons of ginger beer

  • 2 gallons spring water
  • 2 C. grated ginger (about 4 large ginger roots)
  • 1 1/2 C. white sugar
  • 1 1/2 C. light brown sugar
  • 2 limes juiced
  • 1 lemon juiced
1. Over medium heat, heat 1 gallon of the water with all the sugar in a pot to 180 degrees. Don't let it boil, you're just making a simple syrup. Once it gets to 180, turn off the heat and let it cool down to 150 degrees.

The ginger beer without vodka

2. While the sugar syrup is heating up, trim off most of the ginger skin (it's ok if you don't clean all of it). I then chopped the ginger into 1/4 inch chunks and threw it all into a blender and blended it until the mixture was slightly chunkier than a puree.

3. Strain the ginger and save the ginger liquid. 

4. Put the ginger puree into a cheese cloth or something similar. 

5. Once the sugar/water mixture cools down to 150, put the ginger bag into the water mixture and let it steep for 30 minutes. 

6. Take out the ginger bag, then add the ginger liquid plus lemon and lime juice into syrup liquid mixture. 

7. Make sure you have a sanitized keg and add the entire syrup liquid mixture into the keg along with the other gallon of spring water.

8. Close up the keg and carb it for at least three days (this was not a naturally carbonated ginger soda). 

Turning it into a Moscow Mule
  • 2 1.75L bottles of good vodka
  • 1 C. fresh lime juice
1. After the 4th day, test the ginger beer and see if you need to adjust for any sweetness (you can always make more simple syrup and add to it).

2. Add the vodka and lime juice. If you like your moscow mule more tart, add more lime juice. I happened to have one cup of sage infused vodka sitting around so I added that as well which made the end product a bit spicier.

3. Close the keg back up and carbonate again. We ended up serving it around 3.0 Volume of CO2. 

Then it's ready to serve after it's fully carbonated. 

Get a copper mug, fill it with ice and top it off with this delicious drink! (or in the case of some of my friends, they just drank it straight with no ice dilution, yikes!)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Mexico City: Besame Mucho

When people hear I'm going to Mexico, most people assume I'm planning to lounge at a sandy beach with a Coronita in hand. But when I tell them, "No, I'm actually going to Mexico City" their usual reaction is: "Oh! Be safe."

I've been to Mexico City twice now (first time in 2008 and recently at the beginning of the month) and I've never felt unsafe walking around the streets of the D.F. (Districto Federal). As always, I'm aware of my surroundings and try to stay out of sketchy areas after dark (smart to do that anywhere!). I've actually walked in a sketchier area of Paris before and I never came across anything like that in the D.F.

When people ask me about the city, I can't praise it enough. I've thoroughly enjoyed it every time and I think everyone should visit (brush up on your espanol, though). It slightly reminds me of Vietnam with its flurry of people and chaotic traffic. You can walk along and smell exhaust fumes but then the fumes are overpowered by the intoxicating smell of freshly made blue corn gorditas on the street corner. The historic center is also a UNESCO world heritage site and city is home to dozens of museums, Aztec ruins and so much more. Just go!

After my 2008 trip with my friend Frida, I was just itching for a reason to go back. When my friend Mandy approached me about it a few months ago (after seeing the D.F. featured on 007's Spectre!) we decided to make it happen. I invited my other partners in crime (sister and Frida) to join us on this weekend adventure.

Day 1

Since Mandy and I landed first, we immediately dropped off our bags at the Hilton Mexico City Reforma Hotel and headed to the streets to find some food. The hotel is nicely situated just one block west of Belles Artes.

The first thing we found were these sizzling hot gorditas with chorizo.

The ladies topped the gordita with nopales, queso fresco and lettuce and yummy salsa. It was perfect. 

We also stumbled into the San Juan Mercado

The market was full of fresh fruit, veggies and my fave: aguas frescas.

After seeing Chef Jorge Vallejo, of Quintonil restaurant in Mexico City, taking Rick Bayless to one of his favorite taco joints Taqueria Los Cocuyos, I had to make a stop there. 

The owner literally has a vat of eyeballs, tongue, tripe and other innards/cuts of meat he braises.

We both ordered the campechano (combination of several meats) and it was glorious. 

The fatty meats nestled on top of two small corn tortillas that were perfectly crisp on the edges was heaven for a measly 16 pesos (about 85 cents). 

We wandered through the Zocalo a bit before returning to our hotel to meet up with Linda and Frida. 

Our BIG dinner that night was at Quintonil. One of the top-rated restaurants in Mexico City right now.

After getting a slight buzz from a total of nine drink pairings (one of which was non-alcoholic) we decided dancing would be the next best thing. We were planning on going to a latin nightclub but as we were walking there, there were some fun jams coming from La Piedra, a rooftop restaurant/bar that lured us there.

We saddled up to the bar, grabbed a couple of drinks and proceeded to dance with some locals and even the bartenders. It was the perfect night cap.

"I got this feeling inside my bones. It goes electric wavy when I turn it on." 

Day 2

The last time Frida and I were in the D.F. we walked a million miles, went to numerous museums and experienced a lot of things, but we didn't get to visit Xochimilco, so that was on our top to-do list. 

We took a $14 45-minute Uber ride down there to explore the old canals that were built for agriculture and transportation purposes 1,000 years ago. While some of the canals are still used for agriculture now, most of the waterways are used for tourism. 

For 350 pesos you can rent a brightly colored gondola for 1 hour. While on it, we decided we were having so much fun that we got the 2-hour tour. It was worth it. 

To make sure we were properly hydrated, we also got these 40 oz. micheladas. I mean, if the locals are drinking we should be too!

Elotes for sale by a passing vendor
The gondolas traverse the waterways with all the other gondolas along with food and trinket vendors. Want a mariachi band to serenade you? No problem! They're on their own small boats and the full band can jump onto your boat with ease (about 100 pesos for one song). 

In order to get the full Xochimilco experience, Frida waved a mariachi boat down and a great time ensued.

Locals bring their picnics, booze and have a fiesta on the boat!

After a full day in Xochimilco, we headed home to get ready for dinner with a couple whom Frida and I stayed with in 2008. 

We ended up eating dinner at Azul Historico in the mixed-used development called Downtown Mexico. It's in an old building in the historic district that was remodeled about five years ago to include dining, shopping, bars, a boutique hotel and even a hostel. There is also a fabulous rooftop bar!

The main restaurant space with real trees and tons of candlight
Living wall

We started our meal with a mezcal served in the cutest bowl along with some orange slices. The mezcal was super smoky and luxurious, but it was muy fuerte (strong). We all had various dishes and all were solid, I thoroughly enjoyed my traditional tortilla soup. 

Our friends were utterly amazing and charming as usual. Even though we hadn't seen Alicia and Carlos in eight years, it was like we've known them forever and restarted our conversation seamlessly. So great to be able to reconnect with old friends!

After dinner, we roamed around Centro Historico and then finished out the night at the Mojito Room, a nightclub with a live salsa band.

Day 3

On Sunday we woke up early and roamed the nearby streets for some breakfast tacos before we made our way to the Teotihuacan ruins.

Just to be clear, breakfast tacos in Mexico City do not contain any scrambled eggs--it just happens to be tacos for breakfast, although you can get a boiled egg added. The tacos shown above were 5 peso a piece! and these were chicharron and picadillo.

Since the ruins are situated about an hour north of Mexico City, we took the subway to Autobuses del Norte bus station. Once there, we bought tickets from the Teotihuacan bus stall for 90 pesos round trip. The charter bus ride was smooth and by the time I woke up from my nap, we were there. The ruins cost about 50 pesos to get in.

You should definitely give yourself about four hours to go up the various pyramids and really take in the vista views.

Best Tip: Make sure you also put on sunblock and wear comfortable shoes!

On top of the Sun Pyramid looking towards the Moon Pyramid.

The queen on top of the Moon Pyramid!

Sisters conquering the world!

The whole time we were walking through the ruins, we kept hearing rave music coming from a distance. We realized there was a full weekend rave happening not far from the ruins. It's definitely weird to traverse something so historic and hear raving music in the background.

After getting our glute workout in, we wandered the outskirts of the ruins to find some snacks.

A little girl tracked us down and told us to check out her family's food stall. Since she was so persuasive we followed her to the brightly colored stall and settled in with a couple of micheladas and some nomz.

My delicious mushroom sopes!

After our bellies were happy, we got back on the bus and made our way back to the hotel to get ready for a night out.

Unfortunately we had to shorten our evening walk once it started raining.

We ended up hanging out with some friends in the Polanco area before calling it a night.

Day 4

Since Frida's flight was the earliest out of all of ours, we made a mad dash to find some breakfast.

We found a great place that had a cheap but filling breakfast. For less than $4-$5 you got a fresh juice, a fruit plate, a coffee and the main entree.

I opted for the chilaquiles with verde sauce. It had the perfect tang although I did have to scrape of some of the excess cheese!

After breakfast, we rushed back to the hotel to get Frida on her flight.

Since the rest of us weren't flying out until 6 p.m., we spent the rest of the day checking out the Coyocan neighborhood where Frida Kahlo's museum is located. Because it was a Monday all the museums were closed!

Since we couldn't get into the blue house, we roamed around, shopped and took some photos.

The Coyocan neighborhood is so bright and lively! Even on a Monday morning the shops were buzzing as were the parks.

Parroquia San Juan Bautista in the Coyoacan area is a beautiful 16th century church.

There was also this artist who was stationed in the Jardin Centanario painting the wolf fountain.

For our last official meal, we decided on mole at Oaxaca en Mexico Restaurante Tipico, which was a place suggested to us by an Uber driver. 

The meal started with these adorable little tamales and delicious sauces. Since it was my last meal, I ordered a mezcal to go with my meal, that's how I roll!

My mole negra enchiladas. The mole was well-balanced with the darkness of the chocolate and spices. Glorious! Why can't I find mole like this in the U.S.?

Linda's dish was a lighter mole which kind of reminded me of a curry!

After lunch we made a trip to the Zocalo one last time and went inside the Cathedral of Mexico City.

Since we were still having so much fun, we kind of lost track of time so we had to mall-walk back to the hotel to make sure we got to the airport in time! 

As we boarded the plane and said adios to the largest city in North America, I know it won't be the last time I visit the D.F.

To be able to travel to exciting places with people you adore, life doesn't get any better than that!

Parting shots of the D.F.
Making tacos al pastor early in the morning

China Town!
Angel of Independence

Blue tile building

Belles Artes

Derricious crickets. I wouldn't eat them solo but with some cerveza, yes!

And just a little GIF Action of my sis doing a handstand at the ruins.

Hasta Luego!