Keeping It Real Deal

George Adelbert “Del” Hovey was what some might call “the real deal”—lively, independent and enthusiastic about what comes next. And, as it turns out, he had a lot in common with the mission behind the craft brewery that’s named after him. Adelbert’s Brewery bears Del’s name, and all the mainstay beers at this local brewhouse are named in honor of Del in one way or another. Oddly enough though, Del wasn’t the brewery’s founder, brewmaster or even its bartender. He was the older brother of Adelbert’s Brewery founder and brewmaster, Scott Hovey. 

Del passed away in 2000 after contracting a viral infection, but his bearded and bespectacled face is common to many an Austin beer drinker. It graces the labels of strangely named Belgian-style ales, such as Scratchin’ Hippo, Naked Nun, Black Rhino and Dancin’ Monks—all of which owe their monikers to Del’s colorful tales. Scratchin’ Hippo, for instance, is a Bière de Garde (a strong pale ale) named after a time in Kenya when Del awoke to a massive hippo using the lakeside home as a late-night scratching post. 

Even though he was an avid adventurer and free spirit, Del always took time to enjoy a beer with family and friends. Often, Del would recount stories from his fascinating travels around the world (hence Travelin’ Man, the brewery’s Belgian IPA). This spirit is well reflected in his brother’s tasty brews, which champion both freedom and authenticity with a dash of the unexpected.

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Seated in a small tasting room flanked by floor-to-ceiling barrels and a loading-dock patio, Scott and Adelbert’s general manager, Sarah Haney, share the legend behind the man and the genesis of his eponymous beer. Scott, a 54-year-old New York native, found himself living in Houston and working as a sales manager in the semiconductor industry (what he calls a “young man’s job”) when his brother passed away. It was then that he reevaluated his life—deciding to move to Austin and founding Adelbert’s Brewery about a decade later.

Even Scott’s choice to brew Belgian beers seems inspired by Del—not because Del’s travels took him to Belgium, but because Belgian beer is experimental. Scott says a lot of people adhere to the Reinheitsgebot, or the German beer purity law, which states, as he puts it, “‘Beer shalt be made only from hops, malt and water.’ Most of the world of beer rolls out of that mindset,” he says. “Including Mexican, American and Japanese lagers.” 

“Then you had the Belgians,” he says, “who were like: You can put whatever you damn well feel like putting in your beer.” He’s noticeably more excited about this approach—listing spices, sugars and candy syrups as typical Belgian accoutrements. “It’s all encouraged,” he says—noting his love of cooking as part of the draw toward a broader ingredient list. “Belgian beers are wide open. It’s a free-for-all.”

In February, the brewery released its Passion Fruit Sour, the first in a series of fruited sours that exhibit Scott’s point. Adelbert’s beers also exhibit the yeast-generated esters and phenols that contribute aromas of banana, apple, coriander and clove to Belgian beers. Add decoction—the process that causes a magical tastiness to occur between amino acids and sugars at high temperatures (it’s the same Maillard reaction that makes browned food so delicious)—to the mix, and you’re left with some pretty luscious, complex beers.

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Another point of pride for Scott is the brewery’s use of real-deal ingredients. “We bring in all our grain from the Czech Republic, and our specialty malts come from Belgium,” he says. “I wanted to try to make it as authentic as possible.” This authenticity is something Del would have appreciated. He lived a life of immersive experiences, such as serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia in the mid-’70s where he met his wife, Maria. Afterward, back in the U.S., they started a family (Pablo’s Wild Pale Ale is named after their son). Del eventually took an agricultural job in Kenya, where he and his family lived for seven years on Lake Naivasha—fishing, boating and hosting annual retreats for expat Colombian monks. A large photo of Del in a fishing boat hangs next to the tasting room taps. “He liked to fish,” says Scott; then he guessed that Adelbert’s Buzzbait Blonde probably would have been Del’s favorite of their beers. 

Will all Adelbert’s beers have names inspired by Del? “Our intention, initially, was that anything that was going to be a mainstay should be tied to a [Del] story,” says Sarah, though she admits a temptation to weave fictional yarns for their one-off beers. “It would be a lot of fun to make him a mythical creature like a unicorn,” she says. “But we want to keep it authentic. People hardly believe that there really was a scratching hippo or dancing monks!” she says. “So, to have a [true] story behind them is really cool.”

They’re pretty sure Del would agree.

By Amy McCullough • Photography by Melanie Grizzel