Journalism can be a tough business, and sometimes you get an unappealing assignment that you just have to power through.
That's not this one. This time, the Austonia team assembled under perfect conditions—a 102-degree Austin afternoon, poolside, under shade—for a label-on tasting of seven authentic Austin hard seltzers.
The tasters were the usual suspects from the top of Austonia's site, plus beverage industry veteran and guest taster, Austinite Federico Martinez. The age range was 21 to embarrassed-to-admit, evenly divided between women and men.
Prior to commencing the tasting, we cleared our palates with Topo Chico and sipped some White Claw Mango to create a reference flavor.
You can't go wrong with any of these hometown heroes. They're all built to be consumed in multiples, with varying flavors and sweetness, but with a thirst-quenching flavor profile in common.
As these beverages are all Austin-based, we wanted every single one to get a trophy. And they did. But we are calling out our most and least favorites, in the interest of journalistic integrity.
From first to last place, here are our ratings:
Ranch Rider Spirits Co., Ranch Water
6% alcohol, 119 calories, 1.5g carbs, gluten free, tequila
Our winner! All five amateur tasters ranked it #1, and our professional taster ranked it #2, after Mighty Swell. This cocktail-in-a-can consists of reposado tequila, sparking water and lime juice.
Created by two University of Texas MBA students who started a food truck before figuring out the real money is in booze.
Tasting notes: "tequila aroma," "very natural flavor," "subtle," "like a light (not sweet) margarita," "solid drink", "like being buried in warm sand," "for a tequila lover on a hot day"
Mighty Swell Spiked Spritzer, Grapefruit
5% alcohol, 110 calories, 4g carbs, gluten free, alcohol from sugar
An expertly-branded big money favorite, from the founder of Sweet Leaf tea (sale price undisclosed) and Deep Eddy Vodka (est. sale price $150M - $300M), along with other industry veterans.
This is the only one of the seven that's packaged in the tall, slim can used by White Claw.
Tasting notes: "great aromatics," "real grapefruit flavor," "aftertaste!," "no after flavor," "not overly sweet," "sugary," "natural and fresh"
Canteen Spirits Vodka Soda, Watermelon
5% alcohol, 99 calories, 0g carbs, gluten free, vodka
Another ringer. This vodka soda is from founders of Deep Eddy Vodka, Treaty Oak Whiskey and Waterloo Sparkling Water. Seed investors include a mix of Texas and Tennessee music celebs, and professional investors include Dan Graham's (BuildASign, $280M sale to Vistaprint parent) Springdale Ventures.
Tasting notes: "refreshing," "not real flavor," "super fizzy," "Jolly Rancher flavor," "soft flavor," "smooth and light," "could knock some back on a hot day"
Blue Norther Hard Seltzer, Wild Blackberry
5% alcohol, 110 calories, 5g carbs, gluten free, alcohol from sugar
The product of a father-son team, both named ... you know where this is going ... Austin.
Tasting notes: "uncommon flavor," "real juice," "too sweet," "almost syrupy," "I can feel my future hangover"
Austin Eastciders Spiked Seltzer, Black Cherry
4.2% alcohol, 100 calories, 5g carbs, gluten free, hard apple cider
Punny name. From English transplant Ed Gibson, who came from "cider country" to East Austin. Visit him on Barton Springs Road, in the old Uncle Billy's.
Tasting notes: "tart, nice flavor," "mix with cough syrup," "good flavor," "sparkly," "smells like a popsicle"
Austin Seltzer, Hard Black Raspberry
4% alcohol, 85 calories, alcohol from organic cane sugar
Little information is known about this new brand, but it should be noted that each pack comes with an assortment of flavors, so each taster tried a different flavor.
Tasting notes: "watery," "almost like water," "candy aftertaste," "ghost flavor," "light", "not fully formed," "I could drink it all day"
Shotgun Spiked Seltzer, Ranch Water
6.9% alcohol, 164 calories, 3g carbs, gluten free, alcohol from cane sugar and agave
Sorry, but there has to be a loser, and this was it. Five of six tasters rated it last.
From a wife and husband team working from their space in Cuernavaca. Their major investor is a Texas hero—the founder of Big Ass Fans, which sold for $500 million in 2017. Time to put a couple mil back into product development.
Tasting notes: "not fresh," "musty," "aftertaste," "rough," "chemical-ly," "sour"
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If you are a committed, grunge-wearing resident of the Pacific Northwest, it is easy–almost automatic–to look at Texas as an extraordinarily dry, hot and culturally oppressive place that is better to avoid, especially in the summer. Our two granddaughters live with their parents in Portland.
Recently we decided to take the older girl, who is 15, to Dallas. Setting aside the summer heat, a Portlander can adjust to the vibes of Austin without effort. So let’s take Texas with all of its excesses straight up. Dallas, here we come.
Our 15-year-old granddaughter and her sister, 12, have spent summer weeks with us, usually separately so that we could better get to know each individually. In visits focused on Austin and Port Aransas, the girls seemed to be developing an affection for Texas.
Houston and Dallas are two great American cities, the 4th and 9th largest, each loaded with cultural treasures, each standing in glittering and starchy contrast to Austin’s more louche, T-shirts and shorts ways.
Three hours up I-35, Dallas loomed before us as a set of gray skyscrapers in a filmy haze, accessed only through a concrete mixmaster of freeways, ramps and exits. I drove with false confidence. Be calm, I said to myself, it will all end in 10 minutes under the hotel entrance canopy. And it did.
The pool at the Crescent Court Hotel in Dallas. (Crescent Court Hotel)
We stayed three nights at the Crescent Court Hotel ($622 a night for two queens), a high-end hotel in Uptown, patronized by women in white blazers, business people in suits, and tall, lean professional athletes, their shiny Escalades and Corvettes darting in and out, and other celebrities like Bill Barr, the former attorney general who shoe-horned his ample self into a Toyota.
Each morning as I walked to Whole Foods for a cappuccino, a fellow identified by a bellman as Billy the Oilman arrived in his Rolls Royce Phantom. Where does he park? “Wherever he wants to. He likes the Starbucks here.”
We garaged our more modest set of wheels for the visit. We were chauffeured for tips by Matt Cooney and Alfonza “The Rev” Scott in the hotel’s black Audi sedan. They drove us to museums, restaurants and past the enclaves of the rich and famous. In Highland Park, The Rev pointed out the homes of the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones and Troy Aikman along with the family compound of the Hunts, oil and gas tycoons.
The Dallas Museum of Art’s “Cartier and Islam” exhibit (until Sept. 18) attracted an older crowd; the nearby Perot Museum of Nature and Science was a powerful whirlpool of kids’ groups ricocheting from the Tyrannosaurus Rex to the oil fracking exhibit. Watch your shins.
A Geogia O'Keeffe oil painting called "Ranchos Church, New Mexico" at the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art. (Rich Oppel)
For us, the best museum was the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, a 50-minute, madcap drive away via a 75 mph toll lane along I-30. Don’t try it during rush hour. The Carter has an exquisite collection of Remington paintings and sculptures and an excellent array of 19th and 20th-century paintings as well. Pick one museum? The Amon Carter. Peaceful, beautiful, uncrowded, free admission and small enough to manage in two hours.
The Fort Worth Stockyards, a place of history (with a dab of schmaltz), fun and good shopping, filled one of our mornings. The 98 acres brand the city as Cowboy Town, with a rodeo and a twice-daily (11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) cattle drive. We shopped for boots, drank coffee and watched the “herd” of 18 longhorns. So languid was their progress that if this were a real market drive the beef would have been very tough and leathery before it hit the steakhouse dinner plate.
The cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards. (Rich Oppel)
But we could identify: the temperature was 97. “I saw a dog chasing a cat today,” said the emcee, deploying a very old joke. “It was so hot that both were walking.”
With limited time, we chose three very different restaurants:
- Nobu, in the Crescent Court Hotel; Jia, a modern Chinese restaurant in Highland Park; and Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth. Nobu’s exotic Japanese menu set us back $480, with tip, for four (we had a guest), but it was worth it.
- Jia was an ordinary suburban strip mall restaurant, but with good food and a reasonable tab of $110 for four.
- Joe T.’s is an 85-year-old Fort Worth institution (think Matt’s El Rancho but larger), a fine Mexican restaurant where a meal with two drinks was $115.
Sushi at high-end restaurant Nobu. (Crescent Hotel)
It was all a splurge for a grandchild’s visit. Now we will get back to our ordinary road trips of Hampton Inns, where a room rate is closer to the Crescent Court’s overnight parking rate of $52. And to corner cafes in small towns.
Did Dallas change our 15-year-old’s view of Texas? “Yes. I think it’s a lot cooler than I did. The fashion, the food.” So, not only Austin is cool. Take Texas as a whole. It’s a big, complex, diverse and wonderful state.
Giga Texas, the massive Tesla factory in southeast Travis County is getting even bigger.
The company filed with the city of Austin this week to expand its headquarters with a new 500,000-square-foot building. The permit application notes “GA 2 and 3 expansion,” which indicates the company will make two general assembly lines in the building.
More details about the plans for the building are unclear. The gigafactory has been focused on Model Y production since it opened in April, but the company is also aiming for Cybertruck production to kick off in mid-2023.
While there is room for expansion on the 3.3 square miles of land Tesla has, this move comes after CEO Elon Musk’s recent comments about the state of the economy and its impact on Tesla.
In a May interview with Tesla Owners Silicon Valley, Musk said the gigafactories in Berlin and Austin are “gigantic money furnaces” and said Giga Texas had manufactured only a small number of cars.
And in June, Musk sent a company wide email saying Tesla will be reducing salaried headcount by 10%, then later tweeted salaried headcount should be fairly flat.
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