Central Machine Works
How this machine shop-turned-brewery is embracing tradition to forge its future
By Karen O. Spezia
Photographs by Holly Cowart
This review wasn’t my idea. But my peeps at Tribeza kept bugging me about Central Machine Works Brewery. I argued that I don’t normally write about breweries (or wineries or distilleries), but they urged me on. The food’s great! The beer’s yummy! The space is cool! And they were right.
Central Machine Works was an unexpected delight. It’s a brewery offering much more than just a cold pint, with a history, ambiance and menu that’s a cut above most brewpubs in town. Central Machine Works is Austin’s newest brewery in one of its older buildings. Open since November, it’s housed in a massive 1940s metal workshop with a rich, long history. Formerly known as Capitol Machine Works, it produced airplane parts and transport trailers during WWII, then manufactured custom industrial parts for local businesses for decades after the war.
Its timeless, corrugated metal warehouse has been a neighborhood landmark for 80 years and CMW’s owners were careful to protect it when repurposing it as a brewery. They maintained its iconic façade yet refashioned its interior to include a spacious beer hall, an intimate tap room with full bar and a working brewery, complete with soaring fermentation tanks. Outside, there’s a beer garden, fire pits, family- and dog-friendly play areas, an outdoor stage for live music and parking for food trucks. Inside and out, the sprawling property accommodates 500 people.
Designer and CMW neighbor, David Clark of Kartwheel, was mindful to preserve the integrity of the building and to repurpose materials as much as possible. He incorporated many of the original machines and fixtures into the décor, including an 18,000-pound steel lathe that makes a striking backdrop behind the main bar. The inside is filled with a mishmash of comfortable vintage furniture and the outdoor beer garden hosts picnic tables and patio furniture. On chilly nights, there are fire pits and blankets – none of those omnipresent propane heaters. It’s a massive space that somehow feels cozy and nostalgic.
The clientele varies throughout the day and week. On a recent Saturday afternoon, families filled the patio as kids played corn hole while their parents happily sipped cold beer. On weekdays, patrons on laptops take advantage of the free WiFi. And in the evenings, singles, couples and groups of all ages roam the various spaces.
Since it’s a brewery, let’s talk beer. CMW brewers Scott Rynbrandt and Jordan Bremer are focused on small-batch traditional beers like German pilsners and American-style ales. Recently, only one CMW beer was available, a crisp American Lager, but I’m sure those options will increase quickly. Additionally, there are draft and canned choices from local brewers like St. Elmo, Friends & Allies, Hops & Grain, Live Oak, Zilker, Southern Heights, Oasis, Real Ale, plus Argus Cider.
I like beer, but after one, I’m ready to move on. And luckily, CMW offers a full bar with an impressive cocktail menu. There’s the classics like Bloody Marys and Old Fashioneds, but also creative originals like the Sunriser with vodka, coconut, cardamom and nitro CBD-infused cold brew coffee and the delicious Blueberry Smash mixed with fresh berries, vodka, canton ginger, mint and lemon. There’s also a small but really thoughtful wine list of mostly old world imports.
CMW serves both lunch and dinner and while there’s nothing on the menu that will blow your mind, it’s all really good. The German pretzel was warm and soft and served with Kolsch whole grain mustard and oozy beer cheese with an unexpected bite and depth of flavor. There are excellent pizzas, including options with gluten-free cauliflower crusts. We devoured the Pizza Primer; its crispy thin crust offering a bit of chew and topped with fresh, bright tomato sauce and just the right amount of mozzarella and basil. The Beer Brat is a generous sausage on a soft roll topped with sauerkraut, caramelized onions and peppers, and Pilsner mustard. It comes with tasty Zapp’s potato chips, or for a small up-charge you can substitute the amazing Warm German Potato Salad made with tender cubes of potato dressed with apple cider vinegar and mustard and studded with red onion and chunks of thick, diced bacon. The menu also features juicy burgers, Rueben sandwiches, a few salads and a decent kids menu.
I’m glad that my Tribeza colleagues get in my business sometimes. Otherwise, I might overlook gems like Central Machine Works. It’s a treasured piece of East Austin’s past that has been reinvented into a delightful and delicious place to be enjoyed for years to come.