Seniors brew beer at north Austin assisted living community

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A north Austin senior living community had a certain craft in mind when deciding on their residents’ next activity.

B-4 you guess, “bingo!,” the word you want to spell out is “b-e-e-r.” Did they get bored with the game?

A senior adds ingredients to start brewing (Courtesy: Amy Casillas)

“No, we still do bingo and they can actually win some of their own brewed beer as a bingo prize. So, it’s more than just a one-time thing for these folks,” Amy Casillas said. She is the life enrichment director at Parmer Woods at North Austin.

The retirement home is grounds for one of the latest “breweries” to hit the Austin market: Parmer Woods Beer Works. Casillas inherited the program from a previous maintenance director, who brought beer-making equipment to the facility. Before her, it was merely show-and-tell. Now, the residents are heading the operations as brewmasters and more.

“They help from cleaning the bottles to actually capping and storing it… the whole process. They choose what kind we do and they also help with the design of the labels,” Casillas said. “They have four different kinds already in the bottles. We have two more we are bottling today actually.”

They make small batches — 24 to 48 bottles each time. So far, the team has brewed:

  • Cider
  • IPA
  • Oatmeal Stout
  • Wit Beer

The next two will be an ale and lager. Local Austin company BuildASign designed each beer label.

(KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

12 to 15 residents have shown interest in the program, and upward of six have become committed. For most, if not all, participants, the experience has a deeper-rooted meaning — one that’s connected to the city and its many existing breweries.

They feel like they’re really getting to be a part of something bigger and it’s real, uh, reminiscent of Austin itself. There’s a microbrew every two blocks. It’s a way to stay part of the community while also putting our own little flair on it, which is always fun… It’s more than just something to spend time doing. It gives them a creative outlet, it gives them a long term goal, and it’s something to sort of brag about that I’ve made. We don’t often make things anymore. That’s not really what we do as a society, and to harken back to their younger ages when they made beer and they made preserves and they made jams — this is real similar to something they’re familiar with and it’s very comforting, I think.

Casillas

How the Program Works

Residents meet every week in their activity room kitchen, where they brew a new variety of beer. With social distancing guidelines in mind, only six residents participate at once.

Monday afternoons are for lessons. They learn about the newest type of beer being brewed, taste commercial versions of that beer, and then the fun part — brew it. They use a conical fermenter, in which the beer is left to ferment for seven days, after which the beer is ready to bottle. After another seven, it’s ready to enjoy. In the meantime, the senior brewers discuss the chemicals and brewing materials used to create the different types. This includes food pairings as well as palette sensitivity training.

Regarding COVID-19 safety restrictions, they follow some guidelines.

“First thing is everybody has to wear PPE, so if they’re gonna have any part of the bottling process, there are gloves, there are masks. If we’re doing anything hands-on or close, I primarily do that so that I can make sure proper handwashing and things like that,” Casillas said.

“When we do the actual tastings, we have tables preset with disposable tablecloths and dishes and everybody has to wear a mask if they’re gonna be doing anything involving touching their mouths or eating. That way we’re not spreading anything, what with all of that, but everybody still gets to enjoy the experience,” Casillas said.

She hopes the seniors can show off these beers at large family events in the future.

“They’re very proud, and they should be,” Casillas said. “It’s delicious!”

But it’s not just about bragging rights. They’d also love to expand. If someone is interested in purchasing and/or carrying their beer, Casillas says to let Parmer Woods know. They’re open to talking, over a beer or two, of course.

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