It’s been a long week. You duck out of the office a few minutes early before Lumbergh can catch up with you. The duffel bag is already in the trunk of the car; you turn west down the highway until finding a small road that no one would ever think to drive down unless you knew what it was. Mile after mile of empty land pass by, then one final turn. The old barrel lid spray-painted with “Hi” greet you. You’ve made it to the middle of nowhere, a place of peace and quiet, where you can ignore everything and simply be you.
I’m not sure if the owners of Hi Sign Brewing, the latest brewery to open in Austin, TX, had a Friday afternoon quite like the story above, but something pretty similar gave birth to the name. Opening recently by owner and veteran Mark Phillippe, I was able to enjoy three of their initial four beers with brewer Andrew Shelton during an event at the WhichCraft Tap Room in Mueller, Austin, TX.
First up–and I literally mean first up–was their Blonde Ale. Not only was this the first beer produced on the brewery’s 15-barrel automated brewline, my pour was from that initial batch. The brew was a clean blonde with a hint of rye, giving it just a tad of that peppery follow-through.
Andrew started his brewing life in college trying to create a better beer cheaper than what a group of cash-strapped college students could buy with Natural Light being the next best option. After some time that led him to the brewing certificate program at the University of California Davis campus. After some time at a couple of other breweries in North Texas and Florida, he’s back in Austin ready to brew some fun.
Hi Sign is planting their flag in the hazy camp with their New England-style IPA. It was a pleasant IPA–hoppy and citrus. I didn’t catch the IBU while enjoying it and they seemingly don’t have it published anywhere I’ve found yet, but it isn’t in your face with the hop experience. I would venture in the 40-45 IBU ballpark. But I could be 100% wrong too. 😁
While they’re still looking for their brewing voice, their first stout may give us a glimpse of one early area for experimentation. The Ubuntu Coffee Stout is not, as I first wondered, a sign of love toward the Ubuntu flavor of Linux, but the shared namesake–the African philosophy of ubuntu. Roughly translated, it means “I am because we are”, a powerful concept that we are all interconnected and none of us are where we are now except because of the community around us. Hi Sign partnered with local non-profit, Ubuntu Foundation, which empowers lives in Kenya through pediatric health and education programs. (Be sure to check out their store too!)
To add a bit of complexity and a bit of surprise, Andrew added 40 pounds of blood oranges to the brew. While I did not personally pick up on the blood oranges (Robin, the social media guru at WhichCraft, noted he picked it up on the back end), the stout in and of itself was solid.
Of the three, the stout was the favorite of the group and one I’m likely to repeat when visiting their taproom, near the Austin airport.
While they’re an extremely young brewery in Austin without splashy marketing materials or trying-to-be-cute beer names, they’re focusing on producing a solid beer which I think will win them a fan base eventually.
I do hope they’re able to find that base. In a market with a boom of breweries, they lack their unique slant to the market. Live Oak is the old school powerhouse of Austin with German-style brews. Jester King is, erm, the king of farm house, wild fermentations, and a dream in the eye of almost any brewer. Hops & Grain has their Greenhouse series and a good location. Black Star has the socially-minded angle and Blue Owl has the sour mash all mashed up. It will be interesting and critical for them to determine how they will make themselves known.
The next time you’re in Austin, be sure to check out their taproom once you land at the airport (and likely before you check into your hotel). The taproom is currently open Wednesday and Thursday, 2-10 pm; Friday and Saturday Noon to 10 pm; and Sunday Noon to 8 pm and located on Bastrop Highway, alongside US 183 just north of SH 71.