Shades of blue, orange, and green explode on the side of the wall in a colossal sunrise. Silhouettes of crops grow out of the cement ground while lush trees provide shade for a herd of steers. Six words appear in big, bold white letters: “Do Good, Love Big, Live Now.” At Fast Friends Brewing Company in Austin, TX, the message of their sky-high mural is clear: Come for the beer, spread the cheer, and leave with some new dear friends.
“We want people to live now and be present,” says Fast Friends Brewing Operations Director Keith Shaw, who previously spent almost ten years as the head brewer at Modern Times. “We want to do good things for people.”
A part of something bigger, Fast Friends is the first of several businesses planned for the 3.3-acre campus that will financially contribute to Fast Friends Founder and Former Common Space Brewery Co-Founder Dave Childress’ 501c3 called DO/LOVE/LIVE, which combats the veteran PTSD/suicide epidemic and curates underprivileged youth mentorship programs.
“Our mission is to create positive change and inspire people to DO/good, LOVE/big, and LIVE/now,” says Childress. “I quickly learned how amazingly big-hearted everyone is in the craft beer industry and saw it as a means to help create economic engines to fuel our non-profit.”
Fast Friends, which opened last May, has already made a splash as big and colorful as the mural outside its taproom, earning a spot on our list of the Best New Breweries of 2023.
“Fast Friends is a portrait of inclusivity in beer,” wrote Next Glass Director of Strategic Business Development John Gross. “The beer, the attitude, the anthropomorphic beer mascots… They’ve set a high bar for an opening.”
With only seven months under its belt, Fast Friends has been living up to its name.
Becoming Fast Friends
Fifteen people meet at a company retreat in Southern California, a third of them for the first time. Over a couple of beers, Common Space Brewery’s Co-Founder, former Modern Times’ Head Brewer, and former Wren House’s Head Brewer, among others, brainstormed a yet-to-be-named brewery.
The sparks flew immediately.
So much so that one of the partners, Christian Helms, said, “Everybody became such fast friends,” recalls Childress. “There was this kind of pregnant pause, and we were like, yeah, it’s so cool!”
Months later, Childress opened Fast Friends with Shaw and Head Brewer Luke Wortendyke (whose recent pedigree at Wren House had him racking up awards). Each brought a wealth of experience.
Shaw got into beer in the Marines when a buddy started homebrewing, showing him the ropes.
“I remember having my first Stone IPA, and I was like, oh, my God, I can’t feel my tongue,” says Shaw. “I love this.”
After leaving the Marines, Shaw joined the Masters Brewing Program at UC Davis, hooking up with Modern Times in 2014.
Fortuitously, a mutual friend set up a meeting between Shaw and Childress. Almost like a successful blind date, the Marine veteran says he immediately clicked with Childress, an Army vet. “It was this instant connection,” he says. “It was too easy.”
In a divisive world, Shaw, who had never even been to Austin, says Childress drew him in with Fast Friend’s promise that you’ll never meet a stranger. That through beer, you can become fast friends.
Where Old-School Meets New-School
In reality, Childress, Shaw, and Wortendyke have been together just a matter of months (or perhaps a year at the most).
But spend any amount of time chatting with the trio, and they start riffing off each other as if they’ve been kicking it in their parent’s basement since the 90s.
Finishing each other’s sentences becomes commonplace. As does playfully pointing out each other’s strengths…and weaknesses.
Almost like the big brother, Shaw brings his old-school passion for West Coast-style IPAs courtesy of Modern Times.
“Keith was in the industry a few years before I was, so he definitely has some more old-school takes on certain styles,” Wortendyke says slyly, referencing a red IPA they brewed recently. “It’s an old-man beer, an old American craft style.”
Shaw laughs. “I’m an old man, and that’s okay.”
But Wortendyke admits that since Shaw is “kind of an expert” on West Coast-style IPAs, you’ll always find at least one on the menu at Fast Friends.
“[Plus], Dave drinks a ton,” Shaw chips in.
On the other hand, the ‘newer-school’ Wortendyke excels at lagers. He started homebrewing at a young age, partly helped by his dad, who sold water chemistry equipment.
“[Water] is the most basic ingredient in beer, but it’s the most overlooked,” says Shaw.
Not by Wortendyke. To nail a Dortmunder, you need Dortmund-style water. For a German-style pilsner, you need to recreate a North German water profile. “[Luke] can do that to perfection,” says Shaw. “He is an expert in lagers.”
The “old” man and the “new” kid complement each other well. A modern-day Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, one might say.
“Where he is strong, I may be slightly weaker and vice versa,” says Shaw. “Together, I think we can make anything.”
Making Anything at Fast Friends, Including Friends
At Fast Friends, the goal isn’t to take over the entire world. Instead, it’s to invite people to their 16,500 sq ft brew pub to enjoy themselves no matter what they like to drink.
“These two industry heavy hitters brought the Lone Star State a welcome breath of fresh air,” writes Gross. “They are fanatical about making clean and drinkable beer for all to enjoy.”
Shaw likes to say, “There is something for everybody,” whether you’re an old-school hophead like himself and Childress or a new-school lager lover like Wortendyke and everything in between.
On the hoppy side, you’ll find West Coast styles buddying up to hoppy blondes and a New Zealand-style hazy IPA called Matamata.
The beer Shaw is most proud of, Matamata, includes one hundred percent New Zealand hops—Nelson Sauvin, Cascade, and Waimea— from Freestyle Farms and Riwaka CGX from Crosby Hop Farms.
“It was a nice blend of really prominent hops and some supporting character,” says Shaw. “It’s nice putting that Riwaka in because it gives a little bit more tropical punch and not just white wine grape notes, while the supporting cast of Waimea and New Zealand Cascade gives a pleasant overall hoppiness. … It’s got a lot of different layers that keep going with every sip.”
Named after the city in New Zealand where the Lord of the Rings Hobbit was built for the film, Matamata professes the brewery’s love of New Zealand hops and Shaw’s personal passion for J.R.R. Tolkien’s tome.
The self-proclaimed fantasy nerd quickly points out the beer’s label with a couple of beer buddies walking with a Gandalf-esq staff amongst Hobbit holes with their own little Mount Doom in the background.
“I’m waiting for the C and D to come through,” jokes Shaw. “I’ve already decided that if we get one, it’s going on the wall.”
That fresh spin on a hazy sets Fast Friends version apart.
“In a city full of Pinthouses’s Jellyfish….we have something different,” says Shaw, who quickly points out that while he’s proud of that beer, he’s also “proud of every single lager we make.”
Once again, Shaw turns the spotlight right back on Wortendyke. “When making a lager, any mistake is simplified, so its really nice to taste our lager and be like…this is phenomenal,” he says. “I’m a proud papa!”
It’s no surprise that Wortendyke loves Fast Friends’ Mucho Gusto, a pale Mexican lager “with maybe one notch up on hop character,” says Wortendyke.
One of the first beers developed at the brewery, Mucho Gusto, includes all German Noble hops from a farmer co-op in Germany called Pro Hops, along with all premium Weyermann extra pale and pilsner malt, Weyermann Vienna malt and a little bit of corn.
“It’s a simple but very thoughtful beer that we’ve put a lot of time into.,” says Wortendyke. “It’s one of our top sellers, so it has been really cool to see such a simple, nice North American lager from a small brewpub take off and be a big needle mover for us.”
Perhaps one beer more than any other encapsulates Fast Friends. The brewery’s Märzen, Gisela, got its name from a fan of the same name who stopped by the brewery one day looking for spent grain to make bread.
“It was rad, so [we told her] whenever you need spent grain, come by and get it,” says Shaw. “When we couldn’t think of a name for the beer, we thought, how about we name it after her!”
In a true nod to its community and its namesake, the brewery made a new friend.
“She got so excited,” says Shaw, who notes that Gisela brought her spent grain back to the brewery for everyone to try. “It was some of the best bread I’ve ever had.”
Do Good, Love Big, Live Now
Although new to the Austin scene, Fast Friends has made a fast first impression.
During their opening Memorial Day weekend, Shaw says that despite only having five or six beers on tap, the brewery moved through over thirteen barrels in a four-day weekend. “For a brewpub, that’s crazy,” says Shaw. “Austin really came out to support us.”
Off to a great start, Fast Friends, in the coming year, will look to get more of its core beers out in cans in the market with a focus on some of their European lagers, start its membership club (called Friends With Benefits 😜), and continue getting its name out in Austin.
“We’re just excited to be here and excited that Austin was very receptive to us, and we’re looking forward to being here for a long time, serving the community and helping out in any way we can,” says Shaw.
After all, it’s written right on the brewery’s wall, etched into Fast Friend’s DNA: Do Good, Love Big, Live Now.