New state beer laws boost brewery's access

Bob Collins settles into his bar stool,his hand cupped around a pint of Hop Overboard at the Circle Brewing Co. facility in North Austin. The Pflugerville resident makes the trek to the 8,100-square-foot brewery every Friday evening to enjoy a beer with his wife, Barbara.

"The beer's fresh, and you get to see their new stuff," he said. "It's good exposure."

Texas legislators approved several laws in 2013 that allow beer connoisseurs such as Collins to enjoy their favorite brews right from the source. Breweries may now sell beer on-site, providing an avenue for brewers to test the market with new products.

"It allows fans to come see what we're doing, talk to us and see our passion," said co-owner Ben Sabel, who founded Circle Brewing in December 2010 with childhood friend Jud Mulherin.

The pair grew up in Nashville but shopped around for the best city to locate their brewery. They settled on Austin partly for its support of local businesses.

"We've been growing in leaps and bounds," Sabel said. "People are more aware of craft beer, and Austinites are excited about cool products."

In Texas craft breweries are defined as those that produce less than 75,000 barrels each year. Circle Brewing produces about 2,000 barrels annually and continues to release new styles of beer. The brewery unveiled its seasonal brew Tuxedo Tshirt, a black India pale ale, on Sept. 13. Sabel and Mulherin create all the recipes.

"It's akin to cooking; it's a science as well as an art," Sabel said.

More than 200 bars, restaurants and retail locations in Austin and San Antonio sell Circle Brewing beers. Consumers may visit the brewery's website for a map of all of those locations. Sabel said he would like to build the brand statewide before selling in other states.

"We have a couple of more [brewing] tanks coming in, and we'll be able to get more beer on the market," Sabel said. "Some people in Austin still haven't heard of us."

From the tap

Co-owner Ben Sabel said Circle Brewing Co. only uses four ingredients for all its beers: water, malt, hops and yeast. Using different types of malt, hops and yeast achieve the different flavor profiles and styles of beer, he said. Circle Brewing has four staple beers, pictured above from left:

Alibi Blonde: A cross between a German maibock, a type of lager, and American blond ale, Sabel said this beer is crisp and clean with a malty backbone of flavor. Alibi started as a limited release, but consumer support boosted it to a year-round offering, Sabel said. Alibi also won a silver award in 2014 in the Golden or Blonde Ale category at the World Beer Cup.

Blur Texas Hefe: The brewery's No. 1 selling beer twofold is a Southern Germany–style hefeweizen made with caramel malt and fermented at a lower temperature for a crisper taste.

Hop Overboard: This is a West Coast–style pale ale with a light, hoppy flavor that Sabel said is not too bitter or overwhelming. This is in part due to the sweetness from the caramel malt.

Envy Amber: An English-style Extra Special Bitter, this beer has notes of dried fruit and earthy malts, Sabel said.

Tasting room

In May, Circle Brewing opened its tasting room on Fridays and expanded to Saturday hours Sept. 6. Fans are invited to try the four staple beers plus any limited releases or special casks, the latter of which are only available to try at the brewery. Circle Brewing only brews the special casks, such as a ginger-infused Alibi Blonde, 9 gallons at a time. Sabel said the brewery also has a tap to infuse one of its beers with nitro. This means nitrogen is also added to the beer instead of just carbon dioxide. Nitrogen produces smaller bubbles in the beer, and Sabel said this brings out a creamier and thicker flavor. During tasting room hours, a food truck is available to customers.

2340 W. Braker Lane, Ste. B, 512-814-7599,, Twitter: @circlebrew

Hours (tasting room): Fri. 5–8 p.m., Sat. 1–4 p.m. (No tasting hours Sept. 27)