The home base of Family Business Beer Company in Dripping Springs, Texas is exactly where you’d like Sam and Dean from Supernatural to retire. It’s off the beaten path, hidden among the trees, but sunny and calm. It’s absolutely serene. And there is plenty of good beer.
Before I get too much further into my trip, a disclaimer – if you are reading this hoping to get a sharp, hard hitting review of the brewery, you’re going to be sadly disappointed. This is going to be a one way ticket to admiration town. Find a local Austin review if you want gritty realism. I’m going to tell you about the oasis the Jensen Ackles, Danneel Ackles and their family built.
I’m sitting in a field full of oak trees at a wooden picnic table. The sun is bright but diffused, and a calm breeze stirs the leaves at my feet. In front of me is a flight of beers (more on that later) and a cup full of macaroni and cheese. Around me are families and adults young and old, laughing, drinking, smiling. And there’s a deep sense of home, of belonging. And my guess is that’s exactly the sort of feeling they were aiming for when they built it.
From the moment I drove onto the property, you can tell this is a well loved place. The parking lot is full on a sunny Sunday afternoon, but no one is in a rush. A young man at the door checks my ID (bless, my 34 year old self declares) and puts a band around my wrist. He asks me kindly if I’ve ever been to the brewery. I shake my head, no, but I tell him I’m a fan, and he has a knowing smile as he leads me into the main area.
The tasting room is clean and modern with touches of natural elements. There’s several people bustling behind the bar, and on the right side, doors open to the huge patio. Almost everyone has a drink in their hand. Just as I’m about to get one myself, a man steps out from a door on the left and asks if the group that’s gathered is ready for the brewery tour. I’m not even sure if I had to sign up but I slip in the door after them, hoping to catch more information (before I’ve even had a beer!).
One of the brewery assistants talks to a crowd of about forty people about the brewery itself. By now, most of us know the story from all of the press that’s happened since it opened. Jensen and Gino Graul (his brother in law) started brewing themselves years ago as a hobby back when they lived in Los Angeles. When the family moved to Austin, they decided to do this thing for real, and bought a piece of land that actually borders Danneel and Gino’s uncle’s farm to set up shop for a destination brewery. Gino and Danneel run the day to day operations of the brewery, and they hired Nate Seale (formerly head brewer at 512 Brewing Company, also in Austin) to be head brewer. We’re shown the state of the art facility with pride – you can tell these guys enjoy what they do. And afterwards, we’re all treated to something fresh straight from one of the huge, stainless steel containers. I had a short friendly chat with another of the assistant brewers, who recognizes my Doctor Who clothing, and had a tattoo of Gallifreyan writing on his hand. Nerds unite!
Approaching the bar area, I’m a little disappointed to see that Danneel isn’t there (as I’d planned a whole speech around informing her of how awesome she is) but another lovely lady is all smiles as she took the order for my flight. For those of you who aren’t familiar, this is basically a series of five short pours (usually around three ounces) designed to give you a taste of each beer. I order the Hamilton, Haulin’ Oats, Aurora, Dark Star and the Grackle. Balancing that and my notebook, I head outside towards the silver bullet style trailer where Jep’s Southern Roots food truck calls me like a siren song. As a California gal, I so rarely get real, good southern food, so I have to exploit it as much as I can when I’m visiting Texas. The woman behind the counter compliments my hair, and hands me that sweet sweet nectar of the gods – macaroni and cheese.
My arms are full of delicious things as I take a seat at an empty picnic table. I dive in and watch as a young man balances a brand new baby on one arm, and a flight of beer on another from the patio area down to picnic table next to mine. I was ready to get up to run over to help save one of those precious things from falling, but instead he just took precarious steps until he reached his picnic table. I had to give him a small clap afterwards – it was damn impressive.
In the meantime, my mouth was having a taste explosion. I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with beer for years. But I’m married to a darling man who is very much into the craft brew scene, so I’ve had to learn to love it. My favorite beers tend to be either dark, sweet stouts, or sour beers (yes, there is such a thing, and they’re delicious). Of the five I picked, the one I probably liked the least was the Aurora, their Vienna-Style Lager – it was just a little too bitter for me, but still very nuanced. The rest of them were stellar. If you’re new to the craft brew scene, the Hamilton is the perfect light pale ale (particularly great for a hot day) to start you into the scene. Haulin’ Oats really surprised me, as I’ve not enjoyed brown ales in the past, but this one had a gentle creaminess to it. Dark Star also shocked me, as the IBU (International Bitterness Unit) count was the highest of the beers I’d picked, but the taste of chocolate really shined through. And wow, did it pair well with that mac and cheese. Holy cow!
My favorite of course was the Grackle, which is exactly what I expected. A word of warning for beer amateurs – the sweeter the beer, generally means the higher the alcohol content. A normal beer will run around 5%, but the Dark Star and Grackle were hovering at 6.8% and 8.9% respectively. All that really meant was, with a long drive ahead of me, I was very glad I’d only gotten a taster of each!
I didn’t want to leave. I sat for a few hours, reading, people watching, slowly sipping, trying to soak it all in. I’ve seen Jensen joke in a few places about the possibility of fans making a pilgrimage to this brewery, but I’m not sure he understands that his family has made it so nice, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. The soul of the place is tangible. And as I glanced around, I saw a healthy mixture of all sorts of people – different ages, races, sexualities. Some kids in their twenties played cornhole. The woman next to me started breastfeeding. Children played on a jungle gym. An older couple sat on the porch with their dog. And I sat in the sun and wrote in a journal. It was perfect.
Before I left I made sure to get a growler fill (the only way you can leave the brewery with beer) of their King Biscuit ESB at my husband’s request. (As a side note, this did miraculously survive the flight back to California a few days later.) I also had to buy some merch because hey, I’m a fangirl, of course I’m going to get the merch. I practically had to drag myself away as the sun started to go down but I had a long drive ahead of me.
What Danneel, Gino, Jensen and family have built here is truly special. If you get a chance to visit Austin (the city itself by the way, is spectacular, and subject for a whole other article), do make the trek out to Dripping Springs. The road out was winding and beautiful, and as I blasted Led Zeppelin with the windows down from my rental car, I promised myself that someday, I’ll go back.