The Draught House is looking pretty good for a 44-year-old: yesterday afternoon, Austinites were already queued up before the west side brewpub had opened its doors for the evening, anxious to get pours of house-made brews or one of the evening's beer pairings with Jester King and the Seedling Truck. On Saturday, the bar will celebrate its anniversary with an all-day party featuring a whole roast pig, smoked ales, a DJ and whatever else shenanigans loyal patrons get up to in that famously drinking-friendly parking lot.
Eater Austin sat down with manager and brewer Josh Wilson and long-time bartender Constance Cichon to talk about what makes the Draught House such an enduring Austin staple, how they've seen the craft brew scene change over the years and how they keep coming up with new beers.
"We have people who've been coming in here for forty years," says Wilson, who helped reopen the bar in 1995 after a year's hiatus. Wilson hadn't even been to the Draught House before; he'd moved to Austin from Brooklyn for film school and had been working at the now-shuttered Bitter End downtown. That's when the Draught House replaced the existing kitchen with a brewery and became the beer-centric pub it is today.
"It was kind of quiet for the first couple of years," remembers Cichon, who's been serving at the Draught House since its 90's relaunch. "We used to close at midnight." Now, the pub stays open until 2 a.m. and has a particularly dedicated following of service industry folks who keep Cichon occupied in the late hours. And then there are the patrons who Cichon says she's seen "grow up" over the years.
"I have a lot of kids who started coming in when they were in their early 20's," she says," when they were in college. And now they have families."
Wilson agrees: "I get that all the time! The guy who owns the Seedling [Truck], Dan, he told me, 'This is where I came on my 21st birthday.'"
Dedicated Draught House patrons will have seen the brewing style change over the years, says Wilson, who says his main brewing philosophy is "non-traditional." He started out making British-style ales in the '90s but now produces more American-style beers with "some German and Belgian mixed in."
"I think you shouldn't try and copy," says Wilson. "You should try and make it American, which to me means it's open. You can forge your own path."
Wilson says Texas is "wide open" when it comes to craft beer these days, surging back from a '90s slump when "imports ruled the roost." Now, he says, "There's so many bars that continue to open and raise the bar--no pun intended." He's always pushing the Draught House to keep up—right now, for example they're working on getting permits from the city for an overhaul of their beer garden.
"Everything has to continually improve, or you're just not going to compete," says Wilson. To stay fresh, the Draught House hosts all manner of brewery-focused events, like last night's pairing with Jester King. Constance Cichon says that she's seen patrons' interest in specialty beers and pairings grow especially over the last few years.
"I think food TV has a lot to do with it," she says. "People are just more aware of it. It has just exploded." Beer, she says, is more "accessible" for a lot of people than wine, and it works so well with food. And she's always happy to help introduce patrons to their new favorite beers, whether they're a Miller Lite drinker or a seasoned craft brew fan. Her first question to a beer seeker is: what do you like?
"A lot of people they won't tell us, because they're embarrased because they drink Miller Light, they say, 'I drink everything.' Nobody drinks everything!" laughs Cichon. "You're not going to love everything. It's so much easier when people actually tell us, because we can find them something."
And at the end of the night, she loves seeing patrons leave her bar with a new appreciation for beer: "I know they're going to go to the store the next time and get a new six pack of beer they never had before."
At the Draught House, she says, "we are very good about finding beers. I think there is a beer out there for everybody."