Or is it uptown Texas craft beers and down-home food? Double Horn Brewing Company, which celebrated an eagerly awaited opening this last weekend in Marble Falls, does not fit readily into either category. Both its beer and its food boast a level of sophistication that defies easy description. If you are thinking home-brew and bar food, you will be delightfully surprised by how much more this establishment has to offer. It is a place with a strong Texas accent and a refined palate.
First, let us deal with a few definitions. What is craft beer? What is a microbrewery, and what is a brewpub?
According to the Craft Brewers’ Association, a craft beer producer is small, independent and traditional. Craft brewers are also innovative and they tend to have strong community-oriented values. Double Horn Brewing Company will be producing its own artisanal craft beers—they plan to offer five—and they also have fine selections from some of their favorite Texas craft brewers: Real Ale Brewing Company (Blanco), Thirsty Planet Brewing Company (Austin), Southern Star Brewing Company (Conroe), Live Oak Brewing Company (Austin), and (512) Brewing Company (Austin). Double Horn is the only bar in Marble Falls with Texas craft beer on draft—they have the largest selection—and they also carry bottled beer from Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner and Lone Star Brewing Company in San Antonio.
Double Horn is, in fact, the only brewpub in Burnet County and for miles around. There’s the Fredericksburg Brewing Company to the south—the oldest brewpub in the state—and several in Austin. Heading north, you have to go all the way to the Dallas-Fort Worth area to find another one.
Laws define the differences between microbreweries and brewpubs, even though the concept of craft beers is common to both of them. A microbrewery—such as Real Ale Brewing Company in Blanco—produces beer and sells it to retailers, but it is not permitted to sell beer on site, nor can it serve food. A brewpub, on the other hand, such as Double Horn, may brew and serve their own beer on site, but may not sell to retailers, and it may serve food.
Overseeing the beer operations at Double Horn is Eric Casey, the head brewer. Casey started out with a hand-me-down home brewing set from a friend in college and found that he enjoyed creating things he couldn’t readily get in the stores. He was a biology major at the University of Texas and worked for several years as a molecular biologist for the Department of State Health Services. Like a forensic scientist at a crime scene investigation, his job was to compare the DNA patterns of food-borne bacteria to connect them to outbreaks and work with the Center for Disease Control to announce recalls of affected products.
What is the role of a microbiologist in the brewing process? Basically, it is quality control and monitoring such things as yeast health. Casey has the serious demeanor of a scientist along with the enthusiasm of a good teacher and the energy of a punk rock fan. He would like to bring some of the progressive atmosphere of Austin to this community, starting with using more locally sourced things wherever possible. “We’re trying to bring that artisanal-handcrafted flavor to everything we do.” He loves talking about beer and how it’s made, so If you get a chance, seek him out!
Double Horn also serves wine—all Texas wines, of course. This month they are featuring wines from Flat Creek Estates between Marble Falls and Cedar Park.
Chef Allen Lewis describes the menu at Double Horn as refined Americana—with a southeastern accent. This is not typical “bar” food at all, but fine dining in a casual atmosphere. You can start, for instance, with an appetizer of avocado wedges coated in fine crumbs and briefly deep-fried, topped with crab and served with a spicy Creole remoulade. How about a soft-shell crab BLT or or chicken fried venison? In other words, the idea is that good hand-crafted beer should go with good food.
Chef Allen hails from Charleston, South Carolina, and while he no longer has a trace of a southern accent in his speech, it is evident in his menu. His love of food goes back to his childhood and the women who taught him to cook, his grandmother and his “godmother,” a Gulah woman. Their influence is still apparent in the foods you’ll find on the Double Horn menu.
Lewis has some terrific credentials. As a child, he wanted to fly jets, but when an illness sidetracked that hope, he decided his career would be in food. He trained at the renowned Cordon Bleu in Paris and then worked in some of the finest restaurants on the east coast. He worked at Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin in New York City (Michelin 3 stars!) and with Tom Colicchio at Gramercy Tavern, one of the city’s most famous and popular restaurants. He exchanges emails with Anthony Bourdain. Food television addict that I am, I have to admit I was impressed!
Lewis was working at a Ruth Chris restaurant in Florida when he decided he needed a change. He said he flipped a coin between Denver and Austin and Austin won two times out of three. After stints at Ruth Chris in Austin, Perlas, and Stuffed Cajun Mean Market and Specialty Foods, which he and friends opened on Highway 620, he heard of the opening at Double Horn. He likes the area and he’s planning to move to Spicewood this fall.
For all of his experience, Lewis is not quite 30. He has a southerner’s charm and an infectious laugh—along with some awesome tattoos. Both forearms are covered with food-related designs, which include a picture-perfect fried egg that covers one entire elbow. They have put a lot of “blood, sweat and tears” in the place, Lewis said, but he is having fun. It’s not every day, he said, that you get to design a kitchen, buy all of your equipment and write the menu.
Another member of the team is Chris Harrelson, the general manager of the restaurant. He’s also young but experienced, having opened numerous restaurants and led front-of-house operations at the 1000-seat Salt Lick.
Finally, there’s the owner, Dusty Knight. Knight was a finance major at the University of Texas. After graduation, he went into the computer business and now works for a software company, Oracle. He and his wife were drawn to some property in the Double Horn subdivision of Spicewood and intended to build there eventually. When she became pregnant, they decided to go ahead and move to the area. They have two boys, 6 and 7, who attend Spicewood Elementary.
He gave up golf, he said, and took up home brewing as a hobby to stay closer to home as the boys were growing up. He found himself visiting brewpubs whenever he traveled and finally decided he had a perfect concept for a brewpub for this area. He started putting the plan together about four years ago and was almost ready to go ahead when the economy went south. He put the plans on hold for a while and when the economic situation starting improving last year, everything began to come together. They opened officially on Mother’s Day, May 8.
The concept for the Double Horn brand is based on the story of the town and creek of the same name. Founded in 1855, the town survived for about 100 years, but little trace is left of it now. The story goes that a pioneer in the area came across two bucks by the river who had fought and died with interlocking antlers. The Double Horn brews take their names from those Texas pioneer days: Waterwheel Wheat, 1855 Pale Ale, Locked Antler Amber and the Texas Weather Tap (their brewer’s choice).
While the main attractions at the Double Horn, the beer and wine and the menu , offer some very refined choices, the decor is definitely casual. The focal point in the dining area is the glass window and view into the brewhouse, where five huge shiny-new tanks stand at the ready. Concrete floors and open-beamed rafters are offset with beige walls hung with pieces of Texas memorabilia. The furniture and furnishings are basic and mainly unadorned—except for a small tea candle set in a glass bowl of roasted barley of different shades. Nice touch!
Chef Allen was kind enough to let me tour the kitchen on the day I visited, a couple of days before the “soft” opening. The racks were filled with pristine and shiny new pots and everything gleamed. In the corner of the brewhouse stood a pair of new rubber boots, but the floor was still dry and the tanks silent and spotless. In the dining room newly hired servers were being trained. It was quiet but there was an undercurrent of excitement—they were almost there.
Here’s a great-sounding recipe courtesy of Chef Allen. It’s simple to prepare, a classic dish with some interesting additions, and just enough for two servings:
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GREEN CHILI MAC AND CHEESE
1 tablespoon corn oil
1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
1/4 cup diced red onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 cups macaroni, cooked
1/2 cup poblano chili, roasted, peeled, seeded and pureed
1/2 cup Pepper Jack cheese, grated 1/2 cup heavy cream
kosher salt and cracked black pepper
Heat oil in a heavy pan over moderately high heat. Sauté bell pepper, onion and garlic until tender. Add macaroni, poblano puree, Pepper Jack cheese and cream. Stir until combined thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Makes two servings
You can view the menu and obtain more information about Marble Falls’ new brewpub on their
Double Horn Brewing Company
208 Avenue H, Marble Falls