Austin breweries split on choice to open taprooms to customers

Ben Sabel at Circle Brewing
Ben Sabel, founder and brewer at Circle Brewing, pours a beer at the brewery's taproom in North Austin. Sabel said he is still on the fence about opening to the public May 22. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)

Ben Sabel, founder and brewer at Circle Brewing, pours a beer at the brewery's taproom in North Austin. Sabel said he is still on the fence about opening to the public May 22. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)

On May 22, for the first time in two months, most breweries across Austin will have the chance to open their taprooms to the general public.

Gov. Greg Abbott opened the door to in-house sales for breweries in a May 18 announcement, permitting bars, breweries and wine rooms to open with limited capacity at the end of the week.

So far, taprooms across the city are split on when to open their doors to customers.

Breweries that have definitively announced they are not opening at the end of the week have cited the inability to definitively create a safe environment for guests and employees.

“While we are excited to reopen, we have to make sure that Jester King will be as safe as possible when that happens," Southwest Austin-based Jester King Brewery wrote in a May 18 post on its social media pages. "We're a unique place that presents both opportunities and challenges when it comes to safety during the pandemic. We believe we have a plan in development that will indeed make Jester King a safe place to visit when the time comes.”

At the same time, some breweries in Austin believe they have made the proper measures to welcome back patrons into a safe environment.

Hopsquad Brewing Co., located in North Austin, is expanding out into its parking lot to create an impromptu patio.

“We don’t foresee opening the taproom for some time,” said Alex Limon, founder and brewer of Hopsquad. “We’re fortunate enough to have a pretty big parking lot. ... We can spread out a good 10-12 tables out there.”

Any customer visiting the brewery must wear a mask if they are not at their patio table, Limon said, and sanitation stations will be set up throughout the brewery and patio.

In another pivot, Limon said his brewery will only serve canned beer to customers at the brewery for the time being, cutting out draught pours from its menu. Guests at the brewery will have to order their drinks through a no-contact online ordering system. This will eliminate foot traffic coming in and out of Hopsquad’s bar area.

“We’re definitely taking the necessary precautions here,” Limon said.

Hopsquad is not the only brewery making the decision to welcome customers back this weekend.

Vista Brewing, located in Driftwood, told Community Impact Newspaper in an email it is opening its outdoor beer garden beginning May 22. Guests must make table reservation on the brewery's website before visiting, Vista Brewery cofounder Karen Killough said.

"We feel fortunate to have to have a large open air space [where] we are able to space tables 10-20 feet apart. With guests’ cooperation in making reservations and following our new policies, we are creating a safe space for enjoying the outdoors and a cold craft beer," Killough said in an email.

Barking Armadillo Brewing, the newest craft beer establishment in Georgetown, announced on its social media pages it will open for service May 22. The brewery was previously forced to close less than two weeks after it made its debut.

Pflugerville’s Compadre Brewing, another relatively new brewery on the scene, will open its taproom to customers May 23.

Rus Hall, the brewmaster and general manager at Compadre, said about 37 customers can fit inside the taproom at 25% capacity.

“We are excited about it, absolutely. We are a taproom-based business model, so the connection of our community is huge,” Hall said.

Other breweries that operate as brewpubs, such as the Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co. in South Austin and Lazarus Brewing Co. in East Austin, have already opened their patios to customers.

But operators of most breweries across the city simply are not sure of when they will finally reopen to customers.

Austin Beerworks in North Austin told Community Impact Newspaper in an email that it has not decided on an opening date as of yet, and two other North Austin breweries, Circle Brewing Co. and 4th Tap Brewing Co-Op, both said their plans are up in the air.

Ben Sabel, the founder and brewer at Circle Brewing, said his taproom still needs to secure an appropriate amount of hand sanitizer before he will even consider opening to customers. Still, Sabel said that his team is currently working on gearing up operations to open May 22. It remains a possibility, according to Sabel.

“If we can’t get our hands on hand sanitizer, we simply can’t reopen the taproom. It is just not safe,” Sabel said.

On the afternoon of May 19, one team member at 4th Tap was power-washing tables that had been moved from inside the taproom out onto their parking lot. Like the nearby Hopsquad, 4th Tap is now building a beer garden for customers.

John Stecker, the CEO and co-founder of 4th Tap, said the brewery is going to lengths to install no-contact hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the taproom and patio. When it does reopen, 4th Tap will have a new, no-contact ordering system where customers scan QR codes to order beer.

However, despite taking those measures, Stecker said 4th Tap will not open to customers May 22.

“We kind of want to see how things are playing out. The safety of our guests is a primary concern,” Stecker said.
By Iain Oldman
Iain Oldman joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2017 after spending two years in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he covered Pittsburgh City Council. His byline has appeared in PublicSource, WESA-FM and Scranton-Times Tribune. Iain worked as the reporter for Community Impact Newspaper's flagship Round Rock/Pflugerville/Hutto edition and is now working as the editor for the Northwest Austin edition.


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