For Supernatural fans, Vancouver, where the show is filmed, is often referred to as ‘Mecca’. But there’s another contender for that title – Austin, Texas, where both Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles make their homes. Fans have been going to the San Jac Saloon in Austin for several years, ever since Jared Padalecki became the owner. And since January of this year, fans have had another place to congregate when they make the pilgrimage to Austin – the Family Business Beer Company, owned by Jensen and Danneel Ackles, her brother Gino Graul and their parents. That makes Austin a destination city for the SPNFamily.
So when the Paws4AKF charity coordinator contacted me to see if I would like to donate a copy of Family Don’t End With Blood for a charity event at the San Jac Saloon benefitting Austin Pets Alive and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, I said sure. It seemed a small step to then say well, why not buy a ticket to the fundraiser and head out to Austin myself? After all, I’d been dying to experience Family Business Beer, so two birds, one stone, you get the picture.
At the same time, the more rational part of my brain was insisting that it’s never a good idea to buy a plane ticket with only a few days notice. I called Kim, partner in crime and fellow fangirl and talented photographer, to say this is a crazy idea, right? Kim agreed.
Kim: Yes, crazy idea. Definitely.
Lynn: So…. you wanna go? Take some pictures?
That’s how we found ourselves in Austin in late June, when the temperatures are just a wee bit higher than we’re used to. We flew in on Friday, me from Philadelphia and Kim from Kentucky, and managed to rendezvous at the Austin airport. Car rental figured out, we GPS’d our way into the city and checked into our hotel – and immediately ran into familiar faces. A large group of the SPN Family had showed up in force for the fundraiser. Most of us made the trek out to Family Business Beer when we arrived on Friday – and was it ever worth the 50 minute drive out of the city!
As the city fell away and the roads became more trees and nature than highways and buildings, we kept our eyes open for some kind of sign so we’d know when we were there. And sure enough, there was a sign! A few, in fact, all hand painted. The unassuming one at the entrance just said ‘Brewery.’ I believe Danneel Ackles painted the signs herself, since she and Jensen and Gino are the definition of hands-on owners. If so, lovely job, Mrs. Ackles.
The signs directed us to the side lot where we parked, then made our way up to the main building. The Brewery itself was gorgeous in the summer sun, the interior tastefully decorated and blessedly cool and the outside dotted with picnic tables clustered under generous shade trees.
I’m so glad we had Kim and her camera to do it justice!
I had seen photos from other fans’ pilgrimages to FBBC, but somehow they really didn’t do it justice. You sort of expect a brewery to be more factory than homey, more steel and metal and cold (it definitely wasn’t cold…) But it was warm in more ways than one, inviting and welcoming and comfortable.
The inside of the building and the bar are all warm wood and soft colors, with comfy tables and chairs and plenty of room to mingle. There’s also a small stage which has a long table on it when it’s not being used for a musical performance. The bartenders are all impressively knowledgeable about the various types of beer they have available, and seem to be having a fabulous time mingling with customers. They’re also always game for a photo op.
Kim and I were totally taken with the place immediately, so we decided that this article would be a photo-intensive tribute to the beauty of Family Business Beer Company, both aesthetically and in terms of the welcoming atmosphere they’ve managed to create.
Kim: The staff was so warm and gracious and accommodating as I roamed around taking pictures. They knew I was doing the pictures for an article about the brewery, so maybe that’s why they were so accommodating. But no one – staff nor customers – scoffed at my pics. Everyone was happy to strike a pose — or quickly get out of the shot! The whole place just begs to be photographed… the outdoor area is literally picture perfect, with so many interesting things to see through my lens, so many interesting things to capture. The facility itself has so many interesting features and textures and angles, the combination of wood and metal and steel and concrete meshes together in a way that is far from industrial, but instead very welcoming. The fact that there are also dogs on the property? Oh my heart, it is truly a dream shoot.
When we arrived on Friday, the place was hopping – both fans in town for the charity event and locals were there, everyone enjoying themselves and the delicious beer. Outside the building is a wraparound porch which is very popular, with long tables for sitting and chatting or a shelf railing for resting your beer and admiring the view. There are rocking chairs for relaxing and all afternoon there were people coming and going with flights of beer and plates of food, or with kids or dogs in tow. There was a lovely young woman who was celebrating her 21st birthday, so we all joined in the celebration – I can’t think of a better place to be to turn 21!
FBBC is as dog friendly as it gets, with large water bowls strategically placed and plenty of open space for dogs to frolic – and plenty of sticks for them to mock-fight over. The brewery is also kid friendly, with a large fenced in playground so kids can play while parents relax in the shade of the many trees. There are also games for adults to play, including cornhole and a giant tabletop Jenga. Picnic tables are dotted amongst the trees and people come and go – on Friday there were so many Supernatural fans there that Kim and I just roamed from table to table saying hi to old friends who we usually only get to see at conventions.
The food was courtesy of Jep’s Southern Roots, housed in a shiny silver trailer off to the side. We didn’t get a chance to sample any on Friday, but we definitely made up for it when we returned on Sunday. There’s even a sno-cone stand opening soon, which will be most welcome in the 100 degree heat! I also appreciated that there’s a big cooler of water that’s plentiful and free, because I definitely needed to stay hydrated! (Oh and hey, the bathrooms were also clean and spacious – since owner Jensen Ackles has said he’s cleaned them himself, let’s be sure we give credit where credit is due).
We had hurried to get to the Brewery in time for the 4:30 pm tour, which was a popular event indeed with all the Supernatural fans from out of town crowding into the factory portion of the building. Our tour guide was Dave, who was totally awesome – and very knowledgeable. Not only did he tell us a lot about brewing beer, but he also gave us an update on some of the other parts of the establishment. For example, the beautiful old house that was on the property when they bought it, they’re thinking of turning into a restaurant. The brewery building itself they built with the help of contractors, but also “with the sweat of the family,” Dave said. “We poured a lot of our blood and sweat into all of this.”
I feel like that last one is just calling out for the Winchesters, don’t you?
Everyone who works there refers to the owners (Jensen and Danneel Ackles, Danneel’s brother Gino Graul, and their parents) as “the family” – but everyone who works there also clearly feels like part of the family too. Once you spend a few hours there, that same family feeling starts to seep into everyone else who’s spending the day there too, and it’s a really nice feeling.
Dave: I’m not family, but we all feel like family.
FBBC is serious about their beer brewing and about taking care of the environment of this city they all love. They have well water there, so they bring water in from Austin – and then they carry out the chemical waste water even though they would be allowed to dispose of it in the septic system there. We saw the whisky barrels where they age the Grackle (the one that’s a portmanteau of Ackles and Graul, Danneel and Gino’s family name), and heard all about the ingredients and the process that goes into making the various beers. Periodically, Dave toasted the rest of us with the beer he was holding and we all responded in kind. It was about 150 degrees in the warehouse, but I was learning so much that I was determined to stick it out.
As Dave was finishing up our tour, Nate Seale – the head brewer – was busy pouring all of us samples of a new ale they’re brewing.
It’s a special brew called ‘Randy’ in honor of their friend who passed away from ALS, and is part of the “Ales for ALS” program that FBBC was invited to participate in.
We had a chance to chat with Nate for a bit after the tour, and he explained more about the Ales for ALS program. The brew will be launched this weekend, and $1.00 from every Randy sold will go to the ALS Foundation. According to Nate, he was aware of the program from his time as the original head brewer of (512) Brewing Company. He suggested it, and the family all wanted to do it.
Nate: They give you the hops for free and you donate a dollar from every pint.
Side note: It’s delicious! And it wasn’t even done yet.
Nate: It’s resting now. More carbonation gets added.
Lynn: Well it’s pretty yummy right now!
We asked Nate what he enjoys most about FBBC. He said he really enjoys the variety – not just of beers, of which there are 14 to 16, but that here he gets to be truly creative. Otherwise, he says, he tends to get bored, but here everyone is all on the same page and they all love to create.
Lynn: I guess that’s the plus side of working with a bunch of people who are all creative types too!
The other thing that Nate loves about FBBC is the unique opportunity they have thanks to the brewery being owned by the Ackles.
Nate: We’re the only brewery that, because of who the family is, we get huge groups of people who tour the brewery who don’t know anything about beer. And I think we have a responsibility for stewardship, to educate people about beer.
Lynn: That’s so true. And it seems like you take that seriously.
Nate: We do.
(In fact, Danneel asked me the next day when I related this conversation if I’d seen Nate’s tattoos on his arms – they are all beer related! I said I hadn’t, in an attempt not to be that awkward person going oh hey, can I see your tattoos? But next time I definitely will!)
I asked Nate what he was excited about coming up.
Nate: We’re opening another location in about a year, so we’ve been really focused on that.
Lynn: Woohoo! Here’s to your continued success, Family Business Beer Co!
After the tour and our chat with Nate, we went outside to a shady picnic table. Kim roamed around taking photos (as she’s wont to do) and we chatted with people we’d just met and with fans we knew from conventions or the online fan community, most of whom had no idea there would be other fans here. There were lots and lots of “OMG I didn’t know you’d be here!” exclamations and lots and lots of fangirl hugs. A half dozen times, Kim and I announced that we were heading back to the hotel to cool off, then found ourselves sitting down at yet another picnic table with another group of fellow Supernatural fans.
As it got later in the day, someone took the small stage and strummed a guitar and sang, entertaining the people chatting and sampling the delicious beers at the long tables in the inside. I enjoyed the seasonal Summer Spree, which had a delicious flavor of watermelon and was totally refreshing. There’s really not much that tops sitting under a tree sipping a delicious beer and chatting about Supernatural, is there? Rhetorical question.
Saturday we spent some time exploring the city. I’ve been here before, but I have a feeling it would take many many visits to really see everything that Austin has to offer. I mean, a city that celebrates being weird? Gives you an entire wall of the hopeful sentiment that “love will win”? Give me ALL of it.
That meant a delicious brunch, with bacon because the Winchesters are totally right about the value of bacon, and a Bloody Mary because…. well, because I’m on vacation and Bloody Mary is also Supernatural relevant …
A little later that meant a trip to Voodoo Doughnut, because I’m pretty sure you can’t go to Austin and not go to Voodoo Doughnut.
Some very nice guy offered to take our photos and then proceeded to turn into a director. “Turn this way! Now the other way! Take a bite out of your donuts!” Maybe he was a wannabe donut advertiser? Kim hates the result but I kinda love it.
I think Kim’s doughnut had everything but the kitchen sink on it. That may have even been what it was called…
Other fans also took advantage of the time to explore the city. Our friends found a familiar spot where Jared and Jensen took a popular photo and decided to recreate it – what’s a fan pilgrimage without a photo op recreation?!
Saturday evening was the charity event at the San Jac Saloon, which benefited Austin Pets Alive and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. The event was organized by Sandra and Tonia from @Paws4AKF and raised money through event tickets, a silent auction and direct donations. Austin Pets Alive was there to spread the word about the important work they do, and fans had fun with photo props, playing twister, and belting out karaoke songs. Mayor Adler attended to proclaim it “Supernatural Day” in Austin, in honor of stars Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki – and Ackles and Padalecki and their wives, Danneel and Genevieve, all attended too. It was a fun and laid back evening, the Mayor thanking the actors, and then the actors thanking the Mayor and the city and the fans and each other for this going-on-14-year journey. They then mingled with fans and took about a million selfies, as generous and good-natured and appreciative as always. For all our adventures at that event, check out our article here –
Kim and I had such a good time on Friday at Family Business Beer Company that we returned on Sunday evening to get a feel for what the Brewery was like at night – and what a great idea that was! We met up with a dozen or so other fangirls, and this time in addition to my Summer Spree beers, I also got to sample some of Jep’s delicious Cajun food.
When I saw Jensen at the charity event on Saturday night, I asked him what I should try and he immediately recommended the Shrimp Po Boy. Needless to say, that’s what I ordered – along with some beignets (because who doesn’t order beignets whenever they can order beignets??) I owe Mr. Ackles a big thank you because that Po Boy was to die for! OMG yum. And so were the beignets, which I managed to eat all of and thus be covered with powdered sugar, but really, who cares when something is that delicious?
Kim also got some recommendations from Jensen – but for what to drink, not what to eat. I think the conversation went something like this:
Kim: So I’m going back to the brewery, but I don’t drink. So what should I drink?
Jensen: Well….not beer.
Kim: No, I have to drink beer. I’m not going home and telling my husband I went to a brewery and didn’t drink a beer!
Jensen: (giving in) Okay!
He eventually recommended the Summer Spree, which I had already discovered – so Kim joined me in imbibing. Clearly you can trust an Ackles’ recommendation.
Kim: The Summer Spree was a little less “beer” taste and more a cider taste, with a hint of fruitiness. This beer went well with the beignets, and neither the beer nor the pastry overshadowed the taste of the other. Kudos!
Among the SPNFamily friends who we met up with at FBBC for some of that amazing beer and delicious food were Dawn Gray and company, the team behind the upcoming Darkhunters web series.
One of the best things about Supernatural is that it has inspired so much creativity in its fandom, and this web series is a great example. The group of fans who call themselves the Darkhunters began in the online fandom and fanfic community, then became a supportive group in “real life” as well. Now Dawn and company are making their dreams come true by kicking off a supernatural web series of the same name. Here are a few behind the scenes stills taken during the filming of the trailer – you can check out the project and help fund it here – Darkhunters Indiegogo
By 8 pm the lights came on all around the property – strung by Mr. Ackles himself – and the Brewery was transformed. The Brewery as the sun starts to go down is magical, the lights strung through the trees glittering and all the shiny surfaces glowing. The temperature dropped and we all sat around picnic tables sipping our beers and sharing fandom stories and laughing so hard we were crying.
Several local people came by with their dogs, which means Kim got to have a fabulous time taking their photos.
We were all still sitting around chatting when 9 pm rolled around and the lovely FBBC folks gently reminded us that it was closing time.
It’s a hard place to leave, especially when your little Austin mini vacation is coming to end. Lots of hugs all around, and we said goodbye – but only for a while. We will definitely be back!
If you’re in the Austin area, be sure to check out Family Business Beer Company – you won’t be sorry.
Stay tuned for more Supernatural related news from our recent conventions in Nashville, Pittsburgh and Chicago – and from San Diego Comic Con in just a few weeks!
Check out our books on Supernatural,
including Family Don’t End With Blood,
with chapters written by the actors!