I’d heard about Whichcraft before I moved to Austin – it’s reputation as primo purveyor of all things craft beer precedes it as far as London! Obviously, it was one of my first stops on arriving in the city, and Jody and his brilliant crew have always made us incredibly welcome, as well as tempting us with exciting beery delights from Texas and beyond. Jody is in the highly enviable position of curating craft beers from all over the country to meet the drinking needs of us thirsty Austinites, with reps from breweries large and small out to impress him with their sparkly effervescent wares. Whichcraft is my go-to spot for replenishing the beer-fridge, but they also hold great events and parties, from meet-the-brewers to beer/food pairings, and it’s an integral part of the Austin beer scene. All of this made me very eager to talk to the man behind it all and get his take on Austin as a beer city.
Originally from the Seattle area, Jody moved to Austin from Minneapolis in 2013, leaving the corporate world behind to open Whichcraft. The original South Lamar branch opened in May 2014, when Austin had about half as many breweries as it has now. It took Jody about eleven months after arriving in Austin to get Whichcraft off the ground, with the aim of providing an exciting, high quality selection of craft beers, giving customers access to products and knowledge that they can’t get anywhere else.
Here’s what he has to say…
1) What do you like most about the beer scene in Austin? What do you think makes it unique as a beer city?
‘In the time that I’ve been in Austin, the beer industry has developed and matured a lot. The level of competition, of keeping different and relevant, keeps production standards high, and running Whichcraft means that I get to pick the best of the best to stock in the store. Conversely, the number of local brewpubs who don’t distribute at all in Austin is, to me, the sign of a mature beer city. Having lots of neighbourhood breweries like ABGB, Lazarus and Oddwood is great for customers and is a sign of Austin’s status as a mature beer city like Portland or Denver.’
2) Tell me a bit about the beers that you brew/work with…
‘At Whichcraft, my aim is to keep customers coming back by offering an interesting, unique and up-to-date selection of beers to help and guide people on their craft beer journey. This means keeping up to speed with new breweries and trends, ensuring that staff have a high level of expertise but also not neglecting or ignoring well-known flagship beers. There needs to be something for everyone and it can be a difficult line to straddle, ensuring our range isn’t specialised to the extent of being exclusionary, but that we meet the demands of beer-educated Austinites. We work hard to differentiate, keep relevant, and keep customers coming back.’
3) Why do you think the beer scene has taken off so rapidly and grown so fast in Austin?
‘The explosive growth has come from lots of people moving here who are craft-beer-savvy, who want good quality beer but who also want to drink locally. Breweries, brewpubs and restaurants have all responded to that demand, so customers have it really good these days!’
4) Tell me about some of your favourite Austin breweries – where would you recommend to a visitor or newcomer to the city?
‘I get asked this a lot! When our South Lamar branch was open, we had a lot more customers from out of town than we usually do at Mueller, which is more of a local spot. I started my career in hospitality so I enjoy being a beer tour guide and am always happy to offer recommendations to suit people’s location and time-frame. I’ll always ask if there’s a particular part of town they want to focus on, and will recommend a route accordingly. For anyone who’s planning to go out into the Hill Country, I’d advise them to visit Jester King, Vista and Family Business, or if they want to keep it central, then East 6th is a great place to walk between breweries from Zilker to Hops & Grain via Lazarus. There’s also all the breweries in the north-central area to choose from. Austin Beerworks to Adelberts and then Circle makes a good trip. My local breweries are the Brewtorium and Black Star Co-op which are both great too.’
5) What’s your top Austin beer event?
‘I love the Craft Beer Prom, the Austin Beer Guide Winter Release Party, which happens in December at the ABGB. Everyone in the industry is there and it’s a really fun evening. I also really enjoyed the Art Of The Brew event, organised by Co Lab, where they paired local breweries and artists to create a beer and a piece of art and then show them all. It was a really unique experience to create a mash-up of two diverse communities to show what they have in common, and it’s a shame it hasn’t happened in a while.’
6) What’s your favourite Austin beer, and non-Austin beer?
‘I tend to get excited by whatever the brewers I talk to are getting excited about! It’s great to be able to talk to brewers and find out what they’re up to, and hear about the brewing process and what they’re most enthusiastic about. My beer choices vary a lot depending on my mood and the weather. I like most styles of beer from a crisp lager through to a rich stout. I love creativity and innovation in brewing, and have enjoyed seeing new tends like NEIPAs and Brut IPAs grow in prominence. I really enjoy it when breweries push boundaries – in Austin, Blue Owl do this particularly well. I really like the super-clean beers that Austin Beerworks put out too.’
7) What beer styles would you like to see more of in Austin?
‘I really like traditional Belgian-style Saisons with wild cultured yeasts, and it would be great to see more English style beers and cask ales in Austin.’
8) Are there any problems with the speed of growth of the beer scene in Austin? How do you think the projected 20+ breweries opening in 2019 will affect the market?
‘I’m in a great position at Whichcraft, because I get to pick and choose the best of the best beers that come through the door, so more breweries opening in Austin isn’t necessarily a problem for me the way that it might be for existing breweries. Nevertheless, there is still competition for footfall, and more breweries will obviously divide the consumer base further. At the recent Texas Brewer’s Guild Conference, they presented data showing that breweries and bars aren’t in direct competition, as people rarely substitute one style of establishment for another, which is good for Whichcraft. I think it’s easier for local brewpubs than for production breweries in the current market, as few new production breweries make the leap from local to national, while the demand for brewpubs continues to grow. The breweries which opened prior to the law changing in 2013 like (512) didn’t have the option for taproom sales and have been reliant on production, but new breweries have more options. These days I say no to more beers than I say yes to – breweries are vying for space in bars and restaurants, whereas when I first opened it was easy to stock most local beers.’
9) Do you think the beer culture in Austin is adequately inclusive and progressive?
‘At the Texas Brewer’s Guild Conference, the Brewer’s Association’s Diversity Ambassador, Dr Jackson-Beckham gave a really important talk on why stakeholders in the industry need to take steps to be better, and I very much agree with this. All areas of diversity need to be better represented in the industry, and it does need to try harder to be inclusive. At Whichcraft, we train our staff to treat all customers equally and not make judgements or assumptions about what people might like to drink. I’m very aware that the women’s experience of the craft beer industry is very different to men’s and can often be based on assumptions about what they will like to drink, I see this happen to my wife and want to make sure that this doesn’t happen in the store. It’s very important to listen to a customer’s thoughts and opinions about what they like before recommending a beer to them – our role is to help all customers on their own beer journey, not make judgements.’
10) Where would you most like to visit as a beer-tourist and why?
‘I’d really like to visit the UK – I recently went to Belgium and Germany where I had some fantastic beers, but have never been to the UK and really want to. I had a great visit to New Zealand too, where they are brewing some amazing stuff. I’d also like to visit the North-East USA, Maine and Vermont. I’m from the North-West so have had a lot of great beers from that region!’