Establishing shot: Silhouettes of people seated before a screen, barely discernible in the darkness of the theater. The projector stirs. The on-screen action intensifies and the sound of explosions fills the room. The flickering of the screen illuminates a cylindrical object filled with liquid. A hand reaches out for the glass and takes a long draft, calming the mounting anxiety. Cut to the front of the house.
Now here’s something you don’t see every day: a cinema that serves beer and food inside the inner sanctum of its theatres. And not just any beer, but beer that is brewed in a compact copper brewhouse showcased at the entrance to the cinema complex.
Flix Brewhouse bills itself as the only first-run movie theatre in the world to incorporate a fully-functioning microbrewery, and has been screening beers and pouring pints in Austin’s northern reaches since 2010. All six of what Flix calls their “dining room” theaters feature comfortable high-back chairs and retractable tables augmented by high-definition digital cinema projection and wall-to-wall curved screens. And beer.
Cinema goers have the option of purchasing food and drink before the film, or can press a button near their seats once the film starts. Thanks to the stadium-style seating, servers can reach every seat in the house without creating too much of a commotion.
If you’re not a fan of first-run Hollywood flicks, that’s OK, too. The Flix Mix brewpub caters to the imbibing needs of the Round Rock community with nine in-house brews and thirty-eight guest taps and a straightforward food menu, no ticket required. Which is good, because I didn’t come here to see the latest Hunger Games archery display.
On this balmy central Texas “winter” afternoon, head brewer, Justin Rizza, cuts straight to the chase and pours me a sampling of Flix’s non-cinematic offerings. A native son of those heady Colorado beer climes, Rizza has led a peripatetic existence that has taken him from cleaning kegs at Breckenridge Brewery, through the hallowed halls of Great Divide, and on to Tuscany for a short stint with Birra Amiata after honing his skills at Seattle’s Hale’s Ales. Like so many who have heeded the siren call of Austin in recent years, Rizza returned from Italy to take up a position as head brewer at Austin’s Independence Brewing Company before being handed the reins of Flix Brewhouse.
Flix’s lineup consists of six perennials and three rotating taps for seasonals and limited-edition runs – flexible enough to cover several Belgian- and Scottish-inflected interpretations alongside North American standards like the ubiquitous IPA and the by-now de rigueur sour/barrel-aged offerings. The 10 Day Scottish Ale weaves an amber montage of chocolate, toasted almond, and smoky roasted barley not unlike Japanese mugi-cha (cold barley tea) – a suitable accompaniment to any Kurosawa film starring Mifune Toshirô. Saison de Walt renders homage to a fixture of the Austin craft brew community who passed away recently. Befitting its status as a tribute beer, this saison is unique, with pink peppercorns and Styrian Goldings making cameo appearances. After fermentation, the beer is blended with a dash of aged saison that has passed through a series of casks, solera-like, spending some time with Brettanomyces along the way. If somewhat on the funky side, the result is an earthy-herbal saison bearing aromas of lime, hay, and white pepper.
Toward the seasonal and experimental end of the tap line, the predominantly Mexican observance, Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos), is the inspiration behind Flix’s Beer of the Dead. This pecan-hued ale alludes to the ingredients that find their way into the bread baked for the occasion, incorporating oranges, fennel seeds, and Mexican chocolate in a potent chocolate liqueur-like beer. Too many of these and the feast day might take on a literal meaning, turning you into an extra for the set of Dawn of the Dead. By far the most compelling of Flix’s offerings is its Brambler Sour, a Flemish-style red ale that rests for sixteen months on oak, mingling fleetingly with blackberries during the last few weeks of its slumber. Bright sour cherry aromas star in this ruby-brown beer, while aged balsamic vinegar, farmhouse funk (straw and horse blanket), and peppery Cabernet Franc-like nuances play supporting roles. Nutty, citrusy, and peppery notes on the palate conceal a hint of caramel, with blackberry acidity rounding out the background.
Sipping these kinds of beers in the midst of others engaging in the willing suspension of disbelief is a concept that has proved successful enough that Rizza and company will be taking their show on the road. Plans are in place for expansion across the U.S., with imminent Flix Brewhouse openings slated for Des Moines, IA, and Carmel, IN. If first-run Hollywood films and craft beer sound like an ideal combination, keep your eyes on the listings and head out for a drink when Flix comes to a theatre town near you.
Flix Brewhouse is on the northern edge of Austin at 2200 S IH 35, Round Rock, TX, 78681.
For show times and listings, visit flixbrewhouse.com.
All images compliments of Flix Brewhouse.