Kindred Spirits: Beerburg Brewing Defines ‘Local’ with Its Wildcrafted Brews
Foraging for native herbs is at the core of the Dripping Springs brewery’s innovative production
By Laurel Miller
Photographs courtesy of Beerburg Brewing
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Most brewery visits don’t start with a stroll around the property and a crash course in native plant identification. But most breweries aren’t like Beerburg Brewing. The Dripping Springs tap room, production facility and a restaurant, Taqueria La Violeta, are located on 15 bucolic acres along Fitzhugh Road.
“I’m trying to create beers with a sense of place,” says founder and herbalist Trevor Nearburg. “I want our guests to be able to drink a beer and know that the ingredients it’s made from were foraged or sourced on-site, down the road or somewhere nearby.”
Nearburg and head brewer Gino Guerrero opened Beerburg in January 2020, in partnership with chef Ricardo Gutierrez. While the timing was unfortunate, the team used disruptions that followed to their advantage to “hyper focus” on their core values and mission, including creating a wildcrafted beer program, says Nearburg. The brewery is also working toward becoming a zero solid and liquid waste facility that provides its own energy and water.
“We do year-round and seasonal releases, but the wild component is why I started this business. It’s something Gino — who has a background in permaculture, [a system of land management that works with natural resources] — and I have worked toward for so long.”
The two men met at Uncle Billy’s Brewery & Smokehouse in 2015, while Nearburg was head brewer and Guerrero was a brewer. They bonded over a shared love of regenerative agriculture and native plants. Nearburg when on to complete a nine-month program at Austin’s Sacred Journey School of Herbalism with his mentor, Ginger Webb.
Beerburg’s releases are only available for on-site consumption, which was part of the team’s plan for fostering community and collaborative sourcing that “doesn’t need to adhere to a strict production schedule, the way it would if our beer was distributed,” explains Nearburg.
To offset the need to source grain from out-of-state or import it (most breweries obtain grain from Germany, says Nearburg), Beerburg is strict about procuring everything else as locally and sustainably as possible. The brewery sources malted organic barley from the Texas Panhandle and Colorado, and the native yeasts are sourced from San Antonio’s Community Cultures Yeast Lab. It was founded, says Nearburg, by a couple who backpack and kayak Texas’ national parks, collecting swabs of native yeasts including Saccharomyces and Brettanomyces, which are used in some of Beerburg’s releases.
“Yeast is so much more prevalent than people realize, so Rob Green and Mara Young Green of Community Cultures end up getting a ton of different strains. While many are not fit for brewing, some are,” says Nearburg. “They swabbed juniper berries, persimmons, cactuses, random flowers, grapes, etc., and got three potentially viable strains. They’re currently growing these strains into homebrew batch-size test samples. Gino and I are going to experiment with them over the next several months to see how they perform and how they taste.”
Beerburg’s year-round beers, though made with indigenous yeasts, are what Nearburg calls “no bulls—, straightforward styles, like our IPA and Red Ale. We’re not the only brewery using native yeasts or barrel aging some of our beers (with casks obtained from regional distilleries like neighboring Treaty Oak). Jester King does that, but they specialize in a specific Lambic style.”
Cases in point are Beerburg’s seasonal releases, which emphasize iconic regional ingredients like peaches or pecans sourced from sustainable farmers. “Last year, we did a peach Berliner Weisse; this year, it’s a Peach Witbier with fruit from Wahl Orchards in Fredericksburg,” says Nearburg. He also harvests figs from a tree in his mother’s yard in his hometown of Lakeway for a summer beer.
The seasonal series also features collaborations with local makers who, while they may not utilize native ingredients, still “really represent Texas” with the quality of their products and sourcing ethos. Beerburg uses cacao nibs from Austin’s SRSLY Chocolate for their winter Russian Stout aged in Treaty Oak bourbon casks, and Burg Lite is made with organic, Texas-grown heritage Carolina Gold rice milled at Barton Springs Mill (located on the Treaty Oak campus).
The wild series, however, is what truly unleashes Nearburg’s imagination, in part because he relies upon plants like yarrow, horehound and mugwort, bittering agents for beer in place of hops, which require a cooler climate. “They’ve been used for thousands of years,” says Nearburg, and have medicinal value due to their antimicrobial or antiviral properties.
It’s illegal to forage on public lands, so Nearburg makes monthly visits to his family’s property in Abilene, where he collects wild plums, yarrow, mugwort, horehound and prickly ash, which is used for the brewery’s Tickle Tongue, named for the Sichuan pepper-like tingling effect the plant has on the mouth.
On Beerburg’s property, Nearbug gathers juniper, grapes, persimmons, dewberries, bee balm, vervain and other botanicals—all which visitors can learn about on his new Friday Herb Walks, which depart weekly at 4 p.m. “I let the land dictate my ideas and tell me what to make. A lot of it comes down to place and time: what’s flowering (increasingly a variable, he notes, due to climate change) or otherwise ready for harvest.”
The flavors of these hops-free beers vary with the stages of fermentation. “They tend to grow more mellow and sweeter with time,” says Nearburg. “I generally prefer subtle, nuanced flavors, but some of these beers are great with a more bitter profile.” The Golden Horehound for example, is a refreshing, assertively bitter brew, while the Mugwort ESP offers a bright, floral flavor with a crushable quality. Other summer releases include a Yarrow Berliner Weisse, Bee Balm Witbier and a Juniper IPA.
As the brewery settles into post-pandemic operations, Nearburg is starting to work on his next project: a line of wildcrafted apothecary products, teas and loose-leaf smoking herb blends. “Each herb has different properties and medicines that need to be extracted in different ways,” he says. “It’s a lot of experimenting, but I’m endlessly curious about the natural world.”
Beerburg has communal and private indoor seating, as well as an expansive deck and shaded beer garden. There’s also a dog park and family area with toys. In the large, airy tap room, check out the alcove apothecary area, which has a miniature lab, of foraged botanicals and a drying rack lined with plants and flowers.
Taqueria La Violeta, inside of the tap room, serves seasonal Mexican food inspired by chef Gutierrez’s family recipes, many of which came from his mother and grandmother who grew up on a cattle ranch near Laredo and is the taqueria’s namesake. He grew up on a multi-generational cattle ranch near Laredo and makes everything in-house, including the tortillas and salsas. Look for regionally inspired dishes like nopalito quesadillas with queso Oaxaca, squash huaraches, elotes with Meyer lemon aioli, brisket tacos and mushroom asada tacos.
Beerburg is open Thursdays and Fridays from 3 p.m. until 8 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. It’s located at 13476 Fitzhugh Road.