Everything tastes better at the source.
Driftwood, Texas, is known for a particular barbecue hot spot. But the town, just 25 miles outside of Austin, has itself another gastronomic destination — Vista Brewing. Opened April of this year by husband and wife Kent and Karen Killough, the 21-acre Vista Brewing is the whole package. There’s a brewery (it’s in the name), a tasting room, an apiary, a concert venue, an event space, a farm, and a verifiable farm-to-table restaurant. It also happens to sit in the center of the original 1830s land grant to the William Barrett Travis, a founding father of Texas who died at The Alamo.
For the Killoughs, Vista serves as an escape from hustle of day-to-day life. "It was important to us to have enough land for visitors to spread out, relax, and take in the views," Kent Killough says. "[Vista] is the embodiment of that local experience where customers can sample a wide variety of styles of beer, see the production of onsite-sourced ingredients, and relax in the shade of centuries-old oak trees on an historic property.”
The brews are inspired as much by Vista’s location—the verdant Hill Country was settled by European immigrants in the 19th century whose culinary heritage continues with wineries and German beer gardens—as by the founders’ time living in Europe. It's what brewmaster Josh Watterson calls his “Texas Hill Country interpretation.” Classic German styles like kölsch (an easygoing beer) and pilsner (here, it’s inky black and evocative of roasted marshmallows) are served alongside a saison rife with citrus and peppercorns, a vanilla-forward Belgian Trippel, a floral American IPA, and more options.
“I pull much of my inspiration from the history and traditions surrounding the styles I make,” Watterson says. “Before I brew I am usually doing research on the beer even if I've brewed it a hundred times. I like to find new bit of information about how and why the style was brewed and who was drinking it. With that in hand I work backwards knowing where I want to go but paving a new road on how to get there. My ‘Texas Hill Country interpretation’ enters the fray at this stage. Our water is the largest Hill Country aspect that plays off of that interpretation. We use well water from our property so it it quite literally a proprietary ingredient. Every sip of Vista Beer is made with Hill Country water. I feel that the environment in which you brew impacts the products that are produced. The heart of our beers may come from Germany, Belgium, England, Czech Republic, etc., but the soul is always Texas.”
Vista Brewing also recently announced a barrel program under the stewardship of Watterson. The program is one that emphasizes the Lambic and Brettanomyces sour ales of Belgium, utilizing local ingredients — including Vista’s limestone-filtered well water and fermented in freshly-emptied wine barrels from Central Texas — and it doesn’t have the face of a whim. Watterson, whose earned accolades for Vista’s beers, including the Dark Skies black pilsner, studied barrel fermentation while working in the wine industry in Oregon. While working at Brasserie St. James in Reno, Nevada, he amassed more than 300 wood barrels for aging. Later, he was named the 2014 Great American Beer Festival Brewer of the Year. Vista Brewing’s barrel program is already earning praise. Watterson and Vista won the National Grand Champion for Sour Award with Rosanna Barrel-Aged Brett Ale at the 2018 U.S. Beer Tasting Championships.
The Rosanna Brett Ale is distinct for its process and expressions. The beer is aged in four single-varietal wine barrels — Anglianico, Tannat, Petite Sirah and Tempranillo — from the Bending Branch Winery in Comfort, Texas. The result is a horizontal set of four 750 milliliter bottles which allow exploration of the nuances that each wine imparts on the beer available alongside a blended version.
Italian plums and peaches from Jenschke Orchards in the nearby Texas town of Fredericksburg have been used in Vista Brewing’s barrel-aged beer, but there are plans for utilizing produce from the Vista Brewing property, including persimmons and foraged ingredients. But, first, comes the September release of the next barrel-aged Brett ale, Laissez Faire.
Matching this attention to detail is Vista Brewing’s chef, Andrew Stiver, running what’s being touted as a nose-to-hoof and whole-plant concept. Chef Stiver builds his menus around the bounty of fresh produce harvested from Vista’s onsite farm, orchard, and apiary. The meat is sourced from nearby Central Texas. His goal is the shorten the distance between people and their food, using readily available ingredients from right in Vista’s backyard.
"Every Tuesday I come and spend time in the garden harvesting and visit other farms as well to buy the best produce available that week," Stiver says. "I have great sources of protein that I get consistently every week and utilize every bit of them as creatively as possible. Sometimes I lean on classic dishes but mostly I like to combine flavors, textures, and color that I find interesting and inspiring. The hardest part of my job is introducing a variety of produce to our guests in a way that they would be comfortable trying for the first time or something they have never had. To put simply, I get the opportunity to grow, forage, and prepare food all in the same place. It is a dream come true for a chef and is completely unique to any other restaurant in Austin [Texas] and the Hill Country.”
On Vista Brewing’s food menu, visitors will see more than bar bites engineered to compel you to purchase more beer. Sure, you will want to grab an order of the house-roasted pecans and the pimento cheese board with vegetables harvested onsite. However, you have the chance to relish the Vista Farm salad with fresh, local goat cheese, house-made vinaigrette and Blue Earth Farms grilled chicken. The smoked Le Saison pork sausage with sweet potato fries, pepper relish, and a mustard made with Vista’s Adair Kölsch is a heartier option. Stiver and company aren’t skimping on the entrees either, serving a grilled honey-jalapeño glazed pork chop with black-eyed peas and Vista okra. But this being Texas in the summer, you’ll want to consider the cool Vista tomatoes gazpacho listed among the sides items available. There is one dish folks at Vista swear by: corn bread. We have the recipe below, courtesy Stiver.
Hill Country Corn Bread
(4 – 6 Servings)
We use the freshest local ingredients in our corn bread and for any dish that is what makes it taste great. If you are making this corn bread at home seek out the best ingredients, you can and support your local farms that provide it. This makes all the difference when you’re making a humble dish like corn bread. — Andrew Stiver, executive chef Vista Brewing
2 cups cornmeal
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
¼ pound unsalted butter
1 cup buttermilk
¼ cup honey
2 whole eggs
Preset your oven to bake at 425 degrees. If you are baking your cornbread in a cast iron skillet or molds, place them in the oven to heat up before baking.
Melt your butter gently on the stovetop. During this time combine and stir together your dry ingredients. Remove the melted butter from the stove to cool to room temperature. Combine and mix your buttermilk, honey, and eggs. Once butter has cooled to room temp slowly whisk the butter into your wet ingredients. Then whisk together your wet ingredients to your dry.
(Chef’s note: At this point you can save the batter over night or even in the refrigerator for a few hours before baking. I find that this helps the corn bread to develop a nice spongy cake texture. Otherwise, bake right away.)
Remove your cast iron from the oven carefully. Brush the cast iron with butter to prevent sticking. Then fill your cast iron with batter and place on the middle rack of your oven. The corn bread should bake in 10 – 15 minutes or so. When the top starts to take on a golden color and a toothpick come clean from bread it is done. If you are cooking in smaller molds the baking process will be quicker. Remove the bread from the oven and gently remove from the cast iron onto a wire rack to cool.
Serve with honey and soft butter and enjoy!
For more information on Vista Brewing Co., visit the brewery’s website. Subscribe to the forthcoming monthly Taste of the West e-newsletter below.