Roughhouse Brewing is a family business, a labour of love and an experimental brewing project all rolled into one. Co-founded and owned by husband and wife Davy and Alex Pasternak and Davy’s brother Andy, they designed and built the brewery and taproom on family land in the beautiful San Marcos Hill Country. Davy, Alex and Andy did a large amount of the building work themselves, including insulation, electrics, plumbing, painting and interior design, a hugely ambitious project requiring hard work, long hours, and expanding their skillsets but ultimately enabling them to bring to life their vision of a cosy, homely, environmentally-friendly brewery creating high-quality experimental foeder-brewed Sours and Saisons – how brilliantly inspiring and exciting!
Both Davy and Andy have backgrounds in engineering, and Davy’s entry into the beer world was an eight-month stint as an engineer at Jester King. A long-standing home brewer, Davy then moved to Blue Owl where he acted as Head Brewer and Barrel Programmer for its first three years, leaving to make the dream of Roughhouse a reality. Having selected the name for their brewery back in 2014, the construction of the Pasternaks’ very own brewery commenced in 2018 after more than a year of planning. Alex’s background is in marketing and communications, doing graphic design and writing, all skills that have translated very well into her role organising Roughhouse’s marketing, business planning and interior design. Visiting the Roughhouse taproom, you’re immediately struck by warm but stylish décor with the feel of a country manor house, much of which was impressively created using leftover construction wood. Roughhouse aims to be as self-sufficient as possible and to utilise the wide array of local Hill Country produce, as well as cultivating their own kitchen garden and home-grown yeasts, making a winning combination of quality, flavour and sustainability.
Roughhouse is a delightful taproom to visit and their superb beers have taken off so well that they are available across the greater Austin area. I was ever so excited to spend some time with Alex and Davy, learn a bit more about how Roughhouse got started and their brewing process, and discuss their opinions on craft beer in Austin.
Here’s what they have 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?
Davy: ‘The whole scene here is great. There are so many interesting events to attend like Lager Jam and Lambic Fest, and so many people who love beer and want to talk about it and be a part of the community and bolster it. It’s really unique and special.’
Alex: ‘I really like the supportive relationship between breweries here – there’s no hostility and competition is gentle because everyone knows everyone.’
2) Tell me a bit about the beers that you brew/work with…
Davy: ‘All Roughhouse beers are fermented in oak foeders made from American white oak. The fermentation process is all yeast-driven, and the foeders provide a canvas for the yeast to paint on. We want to provide an environment for the beers to fully express their character. This type of brewing means that all our beers are very dry, clean, crisp and smooth. Approachability is very important to us too and we want to educate people as they drink.
A lot of the yeast which we use is from the property or harvested from previous yeasts I’ve used – we try to be as local and environmentally friendly as possible. We gather the yeast when it’s hot and the bees are out. Last Spring we gathered 30 samples but most of them were unsuitable for use, so this process can be quite challenging. Of all 30, only one was suitable for use in the end, so this is really hard work! We want the beer to be evolving in a good way – the brewer’s job is to help the yeast, to guide the beer in the right direction, but you can’t control it completely. We have new beers coming out in the next few months, one with agarita berries from the ranch and another with locally baked rye bread – we try to use as much as possible that we can source from the land, which requires a lot of planning.’
Alex: ‘The foeder-brewed rustic styles that we make work really well in the Texas heat. These styles, alongside the many light Pilsners brewed in the area, suit the weather perfectly. We’re in great company with breweries like 5 Stones Artisan Ales and Jester King who also produce these styles for this environment.’
3) Why do you think the beer scene has taken off so rapidly and grown so fast in Austin?
Alex: ‘The influx of people moving to Austin has definitely bolstered the beer scene. Austin is a great city, it’s relatively cheap and liberal and has a creative outlook and its breweries are very much in line with that in terms of making beers that these people want to drink.’
Davy: ‘There are some great breweries that have been in Austin for a while that inspire a lot of the new breweries and show that there is space for an exciting and diverse beer scene, like Real Ale, Live Oak, Jester King and Austin Beerworks. Lots of the brewers at newer breweries have come from more established breweries like this, so they already know the environment well and have great experience. For example, brewers who have worked at Black Star Co-Op have gone on to start three other breweries – 4th Tap, Blue Owl, Roughhouse’
4) Tell me about some of your favourite Austin breweries – where would you recommend to a visitor or newcomer to the city?
Alex: ‘Live Oak, Real Ale and The Brewer’s Table are all really strong on Pilsners and Lagers, on the Farmhouse side I really like Jester King and 5 Stones. St Elmo and Skull Mechanix are both really consistent across the board. Of course, what beer we drink depends on our mood, but Farmhouse and Pilsners are my favourite styles.’
5) What’s your top Austin beer event?
Alex: ‘The monthly Texas Craft Brewers Guild hosts brewer’s nights, which are a great opportunity to chat with other people working in the industry and share knowledge and advice.’
Davy: ‘ The Austin Beer Guide winter launch party is always a great event, I really enjoy hanging out and having beers with other brewers and brewery staff.’
6) What’s your favourite Austin beer, and non-Austin beer?
Davy: ‘Live Oak Pils and Jester King La Vie En Rose are my favourite Texas beers. I also really enjoy traditional Belgian Saisons, such as Brasserie de Blaugies.’
Alex: ‘I like low ABV table-style beers best, across the board.’
7) What beer styles would you like to see more of in Austin?
Alex: ‘More low ABV, crisp, light-bodied Ales and Pilsners would be great – Skull Mechanix and The Brewer’s Table both do this well.’
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?
Davy: ‘Austin is still so far behind the rest of the US for breweries per capita, but breweries that are starting up now need to open with great beers and great branding. There are new challenges now that breweries didn’t face nine or ten years ago, particularly the need for strong branding and social media, especially if you’re opening downtown. It’s different if you’re a neighbourhood brewpub – all you need is good beer and good food to ensure that you get local people to come in. We’re not especially concerned ourselves as the market here is stable and able to sustain growth that’s good quality.’
Alex: ‘I think that we need more breweries to do unique things and introduce more unique beer styles to contribute to the growth of the scene.’
Davy: ‘New businesses bring in new drinkers who weren’t into craft beer, which widens the market so that everyone is better off.’
9) Do you think the beer culture in Austin is adequately inclusive and progressive?
Alex: ‘This is still a white, male-dominated industry, but as an owner of a Texas craft brewery I’m keen to help to change that. At Roughhouse, as well as myself being Co-Founder, our taproom is staffed predominantly with women but I often go to craft beer events and notice the lack of other women present. I want to push our female staff forward and help them to see a path into production and allow them to be creative and to put forward and implement their own ideas for the brewery. We need to see it as a possibility for women to brew and offer the opportunity for them to develop that skillset – brewery owners need to be progressive and encouraging.’
Davy: ‘There are many female-owned craft breweries in Austin, including Celis, Vista and Independence, but this is definitely something we need to work on as an industry. It was amazing to work with Meike Rossman at Blue Owl and watch her develop her skills and career. I think we are on the right path but need to encourage more minorities into the industry, and we have a long way to go in both taproom and production. We need to ensure that we follow up on the important work that the Brewer’s Association are doing to promote diversity and equality and need to take steps to make taprooms and beer events more inclusive. Hops and Grain are doing a lot of work in that area, and we always need to do better and more.’
10) Where would you most like to visit as a beer-tourist and why?
Alex: ‘I’d really like to visit the UK. We find ourselves in Denver a lot for travel, and we always make a point to stop by Hogshead Brewing in Denver to try their cask ales, and I’d love to drink more of that style! Also Asheville, North Carolina.’
Davy: ‘I want to visit the Czech Republic and try the local Pilsners. I’m also really keen to revisit Brussels and visit many of the small family-run craft breweries we missed last time.’