The Rio Olympics Proved The Haters Wrong — And I’m Not Surprised

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This post was originally published on Bustle.com.

In the media coverage leading up to the 2016 Rio Olympics, we mostly heard about the threat of Zika, the unfinished rail lines, thepolitical unrest, and the frightening crime stats. But as the 2016 Games drew to a close and nothing catastrophic happened, we’ve still hardly heard anything about the friendly locals or the city’s vibrant energy — and that’s a shame. When athletes arrived in Rio, they were both surprised at the lack of mosquitoes and reassured by the heavy security presence. All seemed to be going according to plan, and quite frankly, better than the world expected — there werefew reports of infections from polluted water and no collapsed buildings following the supposedly dubious and delayed construction of Olympic venues.

That is, until swimmer Ryan Lochte reported that he and three other American swimmers were robbed at gunpoint. This was a huge blow to, and a somewhat stereotypical confirmation of, Rio’s reputation for crime. As officials began to investigate, however, they found holes in Lochte’s story. His report began to unravel, and now he and swimmer Jimmy Feigen could be indicted for reporting a false crime. Just as the Olympics began to separate the host nation from its troubled image, Lochte seemed to take advantage of it to cover up his own apparent misbehavior.

“I over-exaggerated that story,” Lochte told NBC’s Matt Lauer on Saturday. “If I had never done that, we would never be in this mess … None of this would’ve happened. It was my immature behavior.”

Needless to say, Brazilians were pissed. And as an American who once lived in Rio, I was also angry —but I wasn’t surprised.

I moved to Rio as a teenager in 2007, and the narrative surrounding Brazil was the same. When my family announced our move, we were met with wide eyes and worried faces: Isn’t it super dangerous there? I’ve heard it’s not very clean. You’re moving to a third-world country?My mom was among the skeptics, since the move would be for my dad’s job. But when we took a short trip to Brazil before making our final decision, we were immediately captivated.

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Living in any metropolitan area takes common sense. Don’t venture to certain areas at night. Avoid taking the late bus alone. Leave your flashy jewelry at home. Be aware of your surroundings.

But in our three years of living in Rio, we had no major problems with violent crime. Once, a group of young street boys tried to grab my groceries, but it was more sad than anything. I was also pick-pocketed once in a large crowd, mostly due to my own naiveté. Generally, however, I walked around and felt pretty safe as a girl in Rio. My dad, who sticks out like a sore thumb in Brazil as a white, burly Texan, didn’t feel particularly targeted as a “gringo.”

Yet I’m well aware that I lived a privileged life in Rio. I lived in an upscale neighborhood and went to a private school. I socialized with Brazil’s upper class and went to the beach at Ipanema’s “Posto 9.”But I also passed through Rio’s largest favela every day to get to school. I took taxis by myself and stayed out far later than I should have. I often explored the city alone, and I became fluent in Portuguese. I fell in love with Brazil.

Rio’s people (called “Cariocas”) are some of the warmest and friendliest you’ll ever meet — throw out a couple of Portuguese phrases, and they’ll be even more impressed. The food  —  fromsalgadinhos to feijoada  —  is incredible. (Not to mention that their go-to drunk food is sushi.) Turn one direction and you’ll see mountains; the other, ocean.

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Of course, Brazil is so much bigger than just Rio, and as much as I traveled nationally, I only scratched the surface. But what struck me the most about Brazilians, and what I will always carry with me, is their enthusiasm for life. People in Brazil appreciate the everyday beauty around them  —  whether it’s the sound of the waves or the love of a family member or their soccer team scoring a goal. Try and talk sh*t about Brazil and a local will likely defend it. And now that I’ve lived there, I will too.

Now that the 2016 Olympic Games have come and gone, I hope others will stop assuming that Brazil is only full of either problems or wild parties. If the Games showed the world anything, it’s that Brazilians are up for a challenge. Despite dramatic forecasting, they showed hospitality and grace in the face of adversity, and their joy was infectious — something I experienced firsthand during my time there.

When Ryan Lochte fed into the common narrative about crime in Rio, he not only tainted the spirit of the games, but he insulted an entire city that, for two weeks, welcomed the world with open arms. The media fear-mongering leading up to the 2016 Olympics proved to be just that. What we really should have been doing is giving this beautiful, complicated city a chance. I, for one, am certainly glad I did.

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Learning to Swim

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As any writer will know, writing is hard. Sometimes we feel as though we have nothing to say, nothing to add to the conversation. But other times writing is necessary. The urge for catharsis is so strong that our fingers simply move about the keys until we string our thoughts into some sort of cohesive whole. This is one of those moments for me. Recently, I’ve been hit with this “adulting” thing pretty hard. And by “adulting” I mean the crushing weight of anxiety, fear—the unknown.

People often describe me as “chill.” I’ve learned that when coming from a dude, it’s usually a compliment. I’ve always sort of taken whatever life throws at me with cherished optimism, ridden the wave of change until I come out on the other side. I’ve certainly had my moments, my less than calm seas, but it’s never knocked me off my feet for too long. I’ve always been self-aware and more than comfortable in my own skin. I’m good at being alone—or so I thought.

Lately, I’m not so sure. There are several things contributing to my recent anxiety, and each is worthy of its own story, but I’ll save that for another day. All in all, I’ve been pretty happy for the past two years, not coincidentally the time I’ve been dating my boyfriend. We moved in together about nine months ago and went into it with level-headed caution. We’re not trying to get married anytime soon; we both have lofty goals for our young lives and our sights set on the world. Much to our pleasant surprise, living together is great. It’s more than great. We’ve grown infinitely closer and have created a space for our relationship to thrive—a home.

We’re each other’s greatest support systems, so when he decided that he wanted to go to law school in the fall, I was thrilled; knowing what you want is half the battle. So through the late night study sessions, applications, and doubt, I was there—knowing, but not fully accepting that him going to law school likely meant him leaving. I pushed that fact out of my mind and enjoyed what we had. And I have absolutely no regrets about that. But one day, after the high of celebrating birthdays, traveling to New Orleans, and SXSW shenanigans wound down, I hit a wall. Or rather, a wall of some kind hit me. I felt a dark wave of energy, panic, take over—something both oddly familiar and foreign. It felt like I was losing control, like reality was slipping away from me, and I had no idea why. To say I was lost in this darkness is an understatement. After a few days of trying to grapple with my mind and emotions, I realized that the main underlying cause was this: What now?

Once I came to terms with my feelings, I was able to go back to work the next week and move on. I got caught up in my usual routine, and things felt normal again. But a few days later I felt that darkness creep up again—and I let it. I panicked, afraid of feeling that weight again, which only added fuel to the fire. This routine continued a few times, and I could feel it taking a toll. Each time I trusted myself less and less, convinced that this was the new normal, the new me, that the darkness was here to stay. And the more I wished it away, the worse it became. I could feel my peaceful mind slipping away from me, and I was terrified. I woke up each morning with a pit in my stomach, already worried about the day ahead of me. I came home each day and cried to my boyfriend (who was nothing but supportive). At this point, I was more afraid of myself than anything else. Afraid that I would spiral into darkness, afraid that this constant barrage of thoughts would drive me crazy, afraid that I was becoming someone I didn’t recognize, and didn’t like.

To say that it was all hopeless would be a lie. Each day was a new journey of sorts, with a new realization, leading me to a better tomorrow (if only slightly). But I was tired, emotionally drained, and desperately wanted to feel better. I started researching anxiety and panic, talking to friends who have experienced similar, and downloading meditation apps. I started thinking about what was missing in my life, what my passion projects were that I could begin to divert new, positive energy into. I started to become more conscious of my thoughts, and less judgmental of them. I came to understand that this is a process that you can’t speed up or wish away, as much as we would like to. That these thoughts are just thoughts, and they don’t define me. That this is normal. This is what being an adult is.

I read commencement speeches about the transition to adulthood (even though I’ve had two jobs since graduating about a year and half ago, so this isn’t totally new). I tried to internalize one of my grandma’s favorite sayings: This too shall pass. I came up with a new morning routine that would get me out of bed quicker so I could carry on with my day. But despite all of these things, I still wonder, why can’t I just be happy? I have a job that I like, a boyfriend that I love, friends who love me, and I live in one of the best cities in the world. What, then, does my brain not understand? Maybe, just maybe, I’m not just afraid of the darkness; I’m also afraid of the happiness. Because pretty soon, it’s all going to change. He’s moving to a different state in a few months, and I will likely have to move apartments at the very least to avoid dwelling on it. I’ve dealt with various moves and changes in my life rather gracefully, but this is different. What happens if it all comes crashing down? If I don’t know how to be alone again? If I don’t want to be? What happens when he leaves and I’m left standing still?

I never really understood the term “wrestling with my demons,” because fortunately they’ve been rather dormant until now. These are my demons: This new self-doubt that wants to become my friend. But I can’t let it. Because the truth is, I know that I’ll be just fine. That optimism is still there somewhere. I know that by anticipating the uncomfortable and the inevitable, my heart is just trying to help me prepare. But enough. The truth is I have no idea how I’ll feel in the future, but I’ll handle it then. Fear of anxiety is often worse than the anxiety itself, and I can’t waste any more precious time. Self-doubt, I’ve given you more attention than you deserve; I don’t want to be friends.

I like to imagine that I’m learning to swim. I’ve always been good at strengthening my physical body, but I’ve never had to work this hard at strengthening my mind. That sometimes the seas are rough, and the waves are big. Up until now I’ve been calmly floating, when a big wave came up from behind and knocked me the fuck out. I let it carry me through the surf and it felt like I was drowning and didn’t know how to get out. It felt like I was failing, and some days when I wake up feeling nervous, it feels like I still am. But the point is, after each wave was done with me, I resurfaced. Maybe a little beat up, a little bit shaken, but I fucking survived. Time and time again. Then I got angry. Why was I letting this happen over and over? Because each time I was getting stronger. Sure, I could stay on dry land, stay in bed, and pretend that the sea isn’t there. I could avoid my problems and let them crash behind me until I can’t any longer. But that’s not healthy and I know it. I have to keep swimming. I have to get back in the water and face the day. I have to trust that calmer seas are ahead. That days are just days, and they won’t all be easy, but the distance I swim today isn’t the same as it was yesterday—I’m moving forward, although to what I still don’t know. But now, when I see the wave coming (and sometimes it’s a big, fucking tidal wave), I can take a deep breath, swim underneath, and let it pass over me. And know that someday, when I least expect it, I’ll find dry land again.

Old Town Square was a personal favorite. It's central location meant that we ended up there most nights. But with a view like this, who can blame us?

Photoblog: Prancing around Prague

My family’s holiday tradition is very non-traditional. In the past several years, we’ve traded wrapping presents for packing suitcases. Last year we were in Sydney; the year before that, Singapore; the year before that, Munich. I’ve also spent Christmas in Paris, Rio de Janeiro and Patagonia through the years. My dad’s job has taken us around the world; now my parents have landed in Singapore. This Christmas, we met in the middle (sort of): Prague.

Traveling far and wide may seem more glamorous than driving to grandma’s house, and when co-workers make small talk about their Christmas plans, I tend to stay quiet until asked; not for a lack of excitement, but because my family’s holiday “tradition” is no more exciting than anyone else’s. The truth is, it was mostly born out of circumstance. Losing loved ones means there is no grandma’s house nearby. Moving abroad means it’s often easier to explore other locales than to travel home. Living across the world means that my family only converges once a year. So the idea of going “home” for the holidays has evolved into something less physical. For my family, it means simply being together, no matter where that may be.

Which is all to say that Prague itself served as a rendezvous this Christmas, where neither me nor my parents had to travel 21+ hours to see the other. And it was beautiful and exciting, don’t get me wrong. I’m still amazed at how fortunate I am to experience the world as fully as I have at 22. But what I’m trying to say is that it’s not about where you spend the holidays, it’s about who you spend them with.

But, Prague is still pretty damn lovely to look at. And if you want to photos 10x better than mine, check out my brother’s photography here.

 

 

 

Prada Marfa, about a 30 minute drive from the town, is one of Marfa's most famous visual symbols. The sculpture debuted in 2005.

Photoblog: Way Out in West Texas

If you’re from Texas, you’ve probably seen at least one picture of someone standing in front of an abandoned Prada store. If you’re not, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about.

“Tough to get to. Tougher to explain. But once you get here, you get it.”

Whoever came up with this town promotional slogan for Marfa, Texas is a genius. When my boyfriend and I set out to plan a little road trip, middle-of-nowhere Marfa and Big Bend National Park seemed like the perfect getaway. Spoiler alert: it was. It was a bit difficult to write a blog post about my West Texas trip; being out under the wide-open sky makes you feel a certain way, almost like you’re in a different world, that’s hard to explain. So I decided to do a photoblog instead, because seeing — and really seeing it in person — will almost certainly do it more justice.

Prada Marfa, about a 30 minute drive from the town, is one of Marfa's most famous visual symbols. The sculpture debuted in 2005.

Prada Marfa, about a 30 minute drive from the town, is one of Marfa’s most famous visual symbols. The sculpture debuted in 2005.

Most photos show Prada Marfa in the context of its surroundings. I loved looking into this mirror inside of it. It perfectly captures how strange and compelling Marfa's art scene is.

Most photos show Prada Marfa in the context of its surroundings. I loved looking into this mirror inside of it. It perfectly captures how strange and compelling Marfa’s art scene is.

The Big Bend Sentinel's logo (and tiny office) intensify the feeling that you're in a sort of time warp when you visit Marfa.

The Big Bend Sentinel’s logo (and tiny office) intensify the feeling that you’re in a sort of time warp when you visit Marfa.

A cool shot of the old-school Marfa water tower that my boyfriend (and budding photographer) Nathan Burchard took. And to think this was only a day after he learned how to use my camera.

A cool shot of the old-school Marfa water tower that my boyfriend (and budding photographer) Nathan Burchard took. And to think this was only a day after he learned how to use my camera.

Food Shark is one of Marfa's hottest lunch spots, serving up delicious Meditterranean street food. The owners summed it up nicely for Serious Eats, "Food Shark is a unique operation in a unique tiny town. It's difficult to describe—it must be experienced to be appreciated."

Food Shark is one of Marfa’s hottest lunch spots, serving up delicious Meditterranean street food. The owners summed it up nicely for an interview with Serious Eats, “Food Shark is a unique operation in a unique tiny town. It’s difficult to describe—it must be experienced to be appreciated.” Note that businesses in Marfa have odd, constantly evolving hours. Most places  are only open on the weekends, while others have small windows for meal times.

Ballroom Marfa is just one of the many art spaces to explore in town. The weekend we went in March, they hosted art/film/music festival Marfa Myths. Take a day to wander through some of the exhibits, but pro tip: if you want to see the best of what the Chinati Foundation has to offer, look into booking a tour ahead of time.

Ballroom Marfa is just one of the many art spaces to explore in town. The weekend we there in March, the venue hosted art/film/music festival Marfa Myths. Take a day to wander through some of the exhibits around town. Pro tip: if you want to see the best of what the Chinati Foundation has to offer, look into booking a tour ahead of time.

El Cosmico is a campsite with the communal feel of a hostel. Guests can stay in safari tents, teepees, airstream trailers, or their own tents. It even got a nod from Vogue magazine.

El Cosmico is a quirky campsite with the communal feel of a hostel. Guests can stay in safari tents, teepees, airstream trailers, or their own tents. It even got a nod from Vogue magazine.

On the night we stayed at El Cosmico everyone gathered outside on the string light-laden patio for beer, wine, live music and hammock hangs.

On the night we stayed at El Cosmico everyone gathered outside on the string light-laden patio for beer, wine, live music and hammock hangs.

We were only in Marfa for one night (and it was Thursday), so unfortunately we didn't have enough time to explore the bar scene. Planet Marfa is supposed to be a great beer garden. We also missed out on the Latenight Grilled Cheese Parlour and Padre's. Next time!

We were only in Marfa for one night (and it was Thursday), so unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to explore the bar scene. Planet Marfa is supposed to be a great beer garden. We also missed out on the Latenight Grilled Cheese Parlour and Padre’s. Next time!

Next stop: Big Bend. We camped for two nights at the Rio Grande campground. Luckily, we found a spot during the park's busiest time of the year. No wonder it's so popular, the early spring weather was perfect.

Next stop: Big Bend. We camped for two nights at the Rio Grande campground. Luckily, we found a spot during the park’s busiest time of the year. One of the reasons must be the perfect early spring weather. And so many bluebonnets!

You can never have too many road pictures in Big Bend. The park is so huge, that you could spend an entire day driving around it — and still never be bored. Pictured at the Chisos Mountains, which make me wonder if we're actually still in Texas, because these guys paint quite a different picture than the stereotype.

You can never have too many road pictures in Big Bend. The park is so huge, that you could spend an entire day driving through it — and still never be bored. Pictured are the Chisos Mountains, which make me wonder if we’re actually still in Texas, because these guys paint quite a different picture.

The border crossing into Boquillas, Mexico was just opened back up recently to tourists so we decided to make it across. If you have your passport, it's pretty simple. All you need is $5 for the boat ride across the Rio Grande and then you're in Mexico. The people in the town are very friendly and love tourists. "No gracias" is a good phrase to know here. (Taken with iPhone)

The border crossing into Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico was just opened back up to tourists a couple of years ago so we decided to make it across. If you have your passport, it’s pretty simple. All you need is $5 for the boat ride across the Rio Grande and then you’re in Mexico. The people in the town are very friendly and love tourists. “No gracias” is a good phrase to know here. (Taken with iPhone)

Ah, a refreshing beer and some tacos at Jose Falcon's after a walk around the town in the hot sun. The owner of the restaurant, Bernardo, is very nice (my boyfriend knows Spanish and chatted with him). His store is also the bomb and sells just about every handmade Mexican souvenir you could want. Pro tip: bring cash!

Ah, a refreshing beer and some tacos at Jose Falcon’s after a walk around the town in the blazing sun. The owner of the restaurant, Bernardo, is very nice (my boyfriend knows Spanish and chatted with him). His store is also the bomb and sells just about every handmade Mexican souvenir you could want. Pro tip: bring cash! (Taken with iPhone)

Standing in the middle of the Rio Grande River, in a canyon between Mexico and Texas. This place is absolutely beautiful.

Standing in the middle of the Rio Grande River, in a canyon between Mexico and Texas. This place is absolutely beautiful. (Taken with iPhone)

While it's nice to come home after a few days of no showering and sleeping on the ground, some time away with no cell service and little contact with the rest of the world does wonders for one's life perspective. Oh how I miss the wide-open West Texas sky.

While it’s nice to come home after a few days of no showering and sleeping on the ground, some time away with no cell service and little contact with the rest of the world does wonders for one’s life perspective. Oh how I will miss the wide-open West Texas sky.

Millennials Abroad: Young Cosmopolitans or a Façade?

An insightful post about how students should take more initiative to get the most out of their study abroad experience.

Nathan T. B.

I wrote this as part of my application for an opinion column with The Daily Texan. 

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UT sends more students abroad than almost any university. We’ve all seen (and envied) the semester-long photo streams on Facebook and Instagram of our friends romping through an exotic land: laying on European beaches, dancing at sweaty nightclubs, and throwing the ‘Hook Em’ in front of the Eiffel Tower. It’s an onslaught of postcards proclaiming their newfound cosmopolitanism and adopted culture. They’ve made sure we all heard how amazing their study abroad experience was.

But how substantial are these experiences really? Students come back with a new air of worldliness and a basic understanding of futbol, but how many students actually come back with all the highly touted benefits of the study abroad experience? Depending on the type of program—affiliated, faculty-led, or exchange—results may vary.

Every study abroad program lists essentially the…

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Bondi Beach

In the Land of “No Worries”: Down Under the Sydney Sun

I’m not sure what kind of expectations I had before going to Australia. I wasn’t picturing the stereotypical image of kangaroos bounding across dry, red outback, but I certainly wasn’t anticipating the multicultural metropolis that I found Sydney to be either. All I know is that it exceeded them all.

Sydney's stunning harbor and skyline, as seen from a ferry.

Sydney’s stunning harbour, featuring the harbour bridge, Opera House and skyline, as seen from a ferry.

I’d move to Sydney in a heartbeat. It’s clean and diverse with beautiful beaches and weather. The locals (many of them also beautiful) speak English and are more than friendly. There’s only one problem: Australia is in a world of its own. I think travel writer Bill Bryson said it best in his New York Times bestseller “In A Sunburned Country” (which I highly recommend if you want an entertaining read on the continent):

“Once you leave Australia, Australia ceases to be. What a strange, sad thought that is. I can understand it, of course. Australia is mostly empty and a long way away. Its population is small and its role in the world consequently peripheral…It is stable and peaceful and good. It doesn’t need watching, and so we don’t. But I will tell you this: this loss is entirely ours. You see, Australia is an interesting place. It truly is.”

A surfer stares at the waves at Manly Beach.

A surfer stares at the waves at Manly Beach.

A koala sleeps in a tree.

A koala sleeps in a tree.

The day I arrived in Sydney, Christmas morning, I left my phone in a taxi on the way to our hotel (I miraculously got it back a week later thanks to the kind efforts of a stranger). 8,464 miles away plus a 17-hour time difference, minus my primary means of communication, equals feeling pretty darn disconnected. In a way, it can be quite liberating. With a job that requires me to be in-the-know and connected 24/7, it felt nice to take a break from social media chatter and screens, and to just enjoy the strange, new world around me. Surrounded by blue coastline and warm, tan faces, you soon forget everything beyond remembering to put on more sunscreen — and you’d better not forget that. Australians use the phrase “no worries” as a response to just about anything, and it’s probably because they have none.

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Beachgoers sunbathe at the popular Bondi Beach.

Besides being a lover of all things summertime, I think the real reason why I felt so immediately at home in Sydney is because it’s a perfect mix of familiar and foreign. Australia is probably the country most comparable to the US in terms of culture, but has just enough British influence to remind you that you’re on a different continent.

I visited Sydney at the peak of its tourism season, when tens of thousands of foreigners flock to the city to be one of the first in the world to celebrate the new year. An estimated 1.4 million people gathered to watch the fireworks around the harbour. And afterward I could see why: it was spectacular.

New Year's Eve fireworks display over Sydney Harbour help revelers ring in 2015.

New Year’s Eve fireworks display over Sydney Harbour helps revelers ring in 2015.

After a week, I left Sydney sunburned and yearning for more. Here was this massive continent that took hours and hours to get to, and I was leaving after only visiting one city. It’s as if you went to the US and only visited NYC. Oh well, now with six out of seven continents crossed off my bucket list, one day I’ll return to this lovely place and discover more of what the Land Down Under has to offer.

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Local brewers attended a meet up to share recipes and brews. Photo: Anna Daugherty

BYOB: Brew Your Own Beer

By Anna Daugherty, Emma Ledford and Alex Vickery

As the do-it-yourself culture grows, brewing their own beer is becoming a favorite hobby for Austinites.

With over 20 craft breweries, annual beer festivals, two homebrew supply stores, and a crafty reputation, it’s no surprise that Austin has developed a vibrant, supportive and ever-growing homebrewing community.

Local brewers attended a meet up to share recipes and brews. Photo: Anna Daugherty

Local brewers attended a meet up to share recipes and brews. Photo: Anna Daugherty

Dave Ebel has been homebrewing for almost eight years. He got started when his friend sold him his homebrew kit for $40. He tried it once and loved it, and has been brewing ever since.

Ebel is a member of the Austin Zealots, a local homebrew club that gets together once a month to swap brews. He said the homebrew community in Austin is “amazing,” “supportive” and a lot of fun.

According to Texas law, homebrewers can’t sell their beer but they can give it away, which means sharing and comparing beers is a central part of Austin’s homebrewing culture.

“Everybody brews their own beer. Everybody has got their own take on it, right? And then you share that with your friends,” Ebel said. “So you learn something from every beer you get, and you realize a flavor you might have not tried before.”

Ebel has seen both the homebrewing and craft brewing cultures grow side by side.

“There’s more and more homebrewers every day, it feels like. Talk to any homebrew supply shop in town and they’ll tell you the same thing,” he said.

Chris Ellison, co-founder of SoCo Homebrew on South Congress Avenue, can testify to that. Before Soco Homebrew, there was just one homebrew supply store, Austin Homebrew Supply, up north. SoCo opened in August 2014 out of necessity to have a shop in South Austin, and the reception has been “fantastic,” Ellison said.

“There are more and more homebrewers every day. We see it all the time. We see new homebrewers come in – people that just start – and they become our repeat customers,” he said.

People can get into homebrewing for a variety of reasons, Ellison said. Some simply want to save money by brewing their own beer, while others are looking for an extra hobby. There are also homebrewers who are very “engineer-oriented” and like to create very specific things, and finally, there are those who use homebrewing as a creative outlet.

Ellison and the other SoCo Homebrew founders created the store to provide a friendly and supportive environment where entry-level and pro homebrewers alike can find the supplies and ingredients they need to help them grow in their craft.

“It is a great community,” Ellison said. “It’s something that you can either start and put very little time into and still yield great results, or if you want to really dedicate yourself to a great hobby, it’s a great hobby to start.”

Homebrewer Christian Holton won the award for “Most Unique” at the 2014 Austin Homebrew Festival with his beer Feisty Redhead. Photo: Alex Vickery

Homebrewer Christian Holton won the award for “Most Unique” at the 2014 Austin Homebrew Festival with his beer Feisty Redhead. Photo: Alex Vickery

The annual Austin Home Brew Festival aims to bring together and celebrate the city’s diverse homebrew culture. Organizer Wendy Salome started the festival in 2009 as a small fundraiser for her children’s independent school, and like the homebrewing community, it has grown each year. This year’s festival took place on Nov. 15, and there were about 250 attendees with a competition that included 17 home brewers and a panel of judges from four local craft breweries.

“We had a huge community of people,” Salome said. “Lots of people who just came through word or mouth, or hearing about it or seeing our flyers.”

Salome, whose husband is a homebrewer, said that one reason Austin’s community is growing is because it fits perfectly with the city’s creative and crafty culture.

Holton’s love for beer is permanently reflected on his body with his new hops tattoo. Photo: Alex Vickery

Holton’s love for beer is permanently reflected on his body with his new hops tattoo. Photo: Alex Vickery

“Austin is full of people who want to do things. We have craft brewers, and tinkers, and experimenters, and, you know, it’s a population of curious people,” she said. “You can make a batch and you might like it, but there are so many different aspects of it where you can improve your wear, and I think that’s really what people like.”

Homebrewer Christian Holton loves to experiment by incorporating his love for spicy food. His take on a Belgian Saison, Feisty Redhead, is brewed with bright red hibiscus petals, ginger, cracked peppercorn, coriander and fresh bright red jalapeños from his garden. It won the “Most Unique” award at the Austin Home Brew Festival.

“All the other brewers kept coming back to me,” he said. “People who get what I’m trying to do and enjoy it and come back for more – that’s my trophy.”

Holton describes homebrewing as “part chemistry, part biology, part cooking.” You will not always be successful, he said, but when you get it just right it can be addictive.

“I think everybody can homebrew. It’s really not that hard,” he said. “If you can make a cake, if you can make pancakes, if you can make cookies, you can brew a beer.”

Homebrewing Culture

Originally published with a slideshow on Multimedia Newsroom.