Monthly Archives: March 2014

A Coal Town and a Cold One: My Hefeweizen Craft Beer Conversion

Chur (www-shm-com-au)By noon the early October drizzle had turned into a downpour. Several hours lay between the Alpine peaks and meadows of Chur, where I was visiting my grandmother, and the drab Saarbrücken way-station where the train traveling between Mannheim and Paris had just deposited me. Not unlike many German towns and cities, Saarbrücken’s dominant architectural hue is brown. But under this leaden-gray vault of my very first day in Germany, Saarbrücken exuded none of the Romantic charm of a city like Heidelberg. Instead, the brown buildings – streaked all the darker by the relentless rain – seemed to bear witness to Saarbrücken’s heritage as the capital of a once hotly-contested coal-producing region situated on the historically-shifting frontier between France and Germany. The City of Light this was not.

Germany - Lage_des_Saarlandes (Wiki-En)The Saarland has been the site of many significant events marking Franco-German relations up to the mid-twentieth century. Occupied by France and Britain in the aftermath of the First World War, the region functioned as a tool of reparations. A little over a decade later, the Saarland served as the staging ground of a plebiscite that intersected with Hitler’s rise to power. (Saarländers voted to annul the Saarland’s status as a mandate of the League of Nations and rejoin Germany.) In the immediate post-WWII period, the Saarland was a key component of the Allied policy of industrial disarmament, and was administered by the French as a protectorate until 1957.

The Saarland is also of import as the site of another profoundly significant event: my discovery of a beer that was far superior to Molson Canadian, Labatt’s Blue, and – my personal fave circa 1991 – Kokanee.

After gathering my backpack and duffel bag from the train station platform, I made my way out of the station and braved the driving rain, arriving soaked and bedraggled at what would be home for most of the coming year: a concrete pre-fabricated student residence bearing a quaint name that was, at least, in keeping with its forested surroundings, Plattenbau aesthetics notwithstanding.Waldhausweg (www-studentenwerkDASHsaarland-de) I got into the elevator, pushed the button for the tenth floor, and cursed my fate – to which the other occupant of the elevator responded, “Oh! You speak English!” The dapper chap who had responded so drily yet bemusedly to my imprecations had also arrived in Saarbrücken a mere few days previously. A law student from Bristol who was part of a contingent of exchange students from Exeter, A. and his crew had already been introduced to one of the joys of German student life: the Heimbar. (Lit: “home bar.”)

Each student residence of the Universität des Saarlandes came equipped with a small bar that opened for business on rotating nights so that no evening would be without a Heimbar happening at one of the residences. Our particular residence didn’t have a Heimbar scheduled until two nights hence.

But perhaps, inquired A., you’d like to accompany me to one of the Heimbars on campus where I and my cohort will be gathering for the evening? A splendid idea! I said in my best British accent.

The steel sky turned purple, and a darkness descended upon the surrounding forest. At the appointed time I met my newfound friend in the lobby of the residence, and headed out into the chill evening. The walk from Waldhausweg, our student residence, to the less evocatively-named Heim E was a short fifteen minutes through dripping woods. Once on campus, we traversed the anodyne entrance hall of Heim E and descended the stairs into the epitome of that German word, “Gemütlichkeit,” where A.’s fellow law students from Exeter welcomed us cordially into the cozy and dimly lit surroundings of Heim E’s Heimbar.

What shall it be? asked one of A.’s trimly attired friends who was about to rustle up the first round.

I thought for a moment. Becks (ossifiedonline-com)Germany. Any self-respecting university student with an inclination toward the bottle knew what that entailed: good beer. I savoured the envy of friends back at home. You’ll get to try some great beers while you’re there! Hmmm. Maybe a Beck’s? I was familiar enough with the phrase, “Gebraut nach dem Reinheitsgebot von 1516,” inscribed on its label. Two years of college-level German (and a Swiss dad) helped with that particular translation task. Skunk (yourstupidadvice-files-wordpress-com)And at any rate I was beginning to develop an appreciation for that vaguely skunky je ne sais quoi that I had come to associate with all those premium exotic imported beers in green bottles.

While ruminating over whether or not to order a Beck’s, I had one of those flashes of illumination that strikes a person all too rarely. It was said that H., the trimly attired one, knew a thing or two about wine. If he knew about something as cryptic as wine was to me at the time, surely he could be relied upon to order a decent beer.

I’ll leave it up to you, I replied.

WeizenGlass (www-ukhomideas-co-uk)A few minutes later he came back not with a beer but with a ritual that would mark many a drinking occasion henceforth. Along with a bottle slightly larger than the ones to which I was accustomed back at home he brought a glass of beguiling form: tall, slender at the bottom, opening out like a flower vase at the top, and set atop a round and elegant pedestal.

H. started to pour out the contents of the bottle, at first slowly down the side of the glass and then more vigourously down the center, but stopped short as the beer started to foam up precipitously. He then proceeded to swirl what was left of the contents and roll the bottle on the table. With a last flourish, into the glass he poured what to me looked like sludge.

OK, then.

H. handed me the glass, which was by now crowned with an impressive cap of foam. Down in one!

But something …

… caught my attention.

What’s this? Bananas?! Clove?! The banana was easy enough. And with oh-so-hip, clove cigarette-smoking friends, I was able to pick up on the latter.

Clove and banana. Not something I would ever have expected in a beer. And then came the rich, creamy, brown sugar-like flavours cutting through with just a hint of citrus. The refreshing zing recalled summer, but the fruitiness and spicy malt richness were the perfect riposte to the coming of autumn.

Wow! I’ll have another! And another before heading back into the dripping woods. Maisels-Weisse (Logo)I’ve had many Hefeweizens since, but that first glass of Maisel’s Hefeweizen will always be tinted pink with nostalgia.

*If you’re reading this, chance are you’ve had some sort of “craft beer conversion experience.” What was yours like? Do you remember which beer you drank that wrenched your attention away from mass-produced fizzy yellow swill? Or were you a born aficionado of fine beer? Maybe you’ve had a similar experience with wine, cider, or spirits. Were you with friends, or did you decide, on a whim, to pick up a different bottle at your local liquor store? Whatever the case may be, consider clicking on the “Leave a Reply” button above.

*I’m not the most “fact-driven” person in the world, but in the course of searching for an image of a Beck’s label for this article, I couldn’t find one with the phrase, “Gebraut nach dem Reinheitsgebot von 1516.” This could have something to do with its 2002 sale to Interbrew/In-Bev. I haven’t had a Beck’s since the early 90s.    

Related Tempest Articles

So You Wanna Brew a Weizen

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Images:

Chur: www.shm.com.au

Saarland Map: Wiki English

Waldhausweg: www.studentenwerk-saarland.de)

Beck’s: ossifiedonline.com

Skunks: yourstupidadvice-wordpress.com

Glasses: www.ukhomeideas.uk.com

© 2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Getting Your Craft Beer Fill at Austin’s Taprooms and Bottle Shops

Welcome to Tempest’s series on Austin’s craft beer scene. In this segment, I profile taprooms and bottle shops that I visited during a recent stay in Austin. In Part 1 (here), I introduce readers to a few of Austin’s brewpubs, and then move on to feature breweries in Part 2 (here), including Texas’ only saké brewery. A final installment will bring everything together and end off with a few notes on the beers and other beverages I managed to sample.

By Way of Introduction

As with just about any major metropolitan area, so, too, with Austin: no one will go thirsty. And those with a yen for craft beer won’t have to worry about drowning in a sea of BudMillerCoors either. With all the brewpubs and breweries to explore within the space of five whirlwind days, the taproom and tavern scene received less Tempest attention than would normally be the case. But if the few I managed to visit are any indication, you won’t be disappointed. If you can’t get your craft beer fill at a taproom, bottle selections in supermarkets and gas station convenience stores alike stand at the ready to ensure that you leave town stocked with plenty of interesting beverages for later enjoyment. If you don’t see your favourite establishment in this spotlight, it is simply a function of that old adage that trades in plentiful selections and a dearth of time. Leave a reply, and help colour in this section of Tempest’s Austin Craft Beer User’s Guide. Unless otherwise indicated with an asterisk (*), I have visited the establishments listed.

Taprooms and Taverns

It was late Saturday evening. My fellow intrepid craft beer explorers and I were far to the northeast of Austin central, and the winter sun was already long in its arc, casting a diffuse pinkish-orange glow over the remnants of farmland fighting a valiant last stand against urban encroachment. The amiable folks at Rogness had what turned out to be a very sensible suggestion, IMG_9568given that we didn’t quite feel like braving the traffic back to the lively inner sanctum of the city: The Brass Tap. Now, I’m not normally a fan of franchises, but this particular chain of bars that got its start in Tampa is a decent addition to the vibrant thoroughfare of Round Rock, TX, one of the several Austin exurbs that has managed to maintain a modicum of main street charm.

Once ensconced at the bar, we struck up a conversation with someone who hadn’t yet tried a sour beer. No problem, said the barkeep as he handed the inquisitive sour beer neophyte a small glass of Rodenbach. Service at The Brass Tap is welcoming, and the samples generous. Austin craft beer and Texas brews from further afield are abundantly represented, but the selection knows no borders.IMG_9562 If you’re the type of person who enjoys some rhythm for your pint-raising arm workouts, the compact stage at the front of the venue is just large enough to accommodate the occasional live music act. Something to note: As the evening wears on, it can get quite busy behind the bar, so keep an eye out for hot and not-quite-drained glasses straight from the dishwasher. On balance, though, The Brass Tap makes for an enjoyable night out, especially if you find yourself in the northern fringes of Greater Austin.

IMG_9609Back in a part of Central Austin where new condo towers rise like sentries, Craft Pride anchors a narrow street provisioned with a slate of bars and a food truck court nearby. Craft Pride is one of the more intensely focused of the taprooms I’ve visited – pride here means Texas. If you need a comprehensive introduction to what Austin and the rest of Texas has to offer, look no further. Around sixty taps highlight an impressive number of Austin breweries, with continually rotating selections from all corners of Texas in case you don’t have time for the trip. At any given time you’ll find a few beers on cask or nitro. Find yourself a seat at the handsome custom-cut and bark-encrusted live oak bar and let the knowledgeable staff members be your guide. Never tried a Buried Hatchet Stout? They’ve got you covered. (Why, thank you.) IMG_9610And so it goes before you’ve even decided on a flight of beers from among the helpfully categorized “Hoppy,” “Malty,” “Belgian-Style,” “Misfit,” “On the Lighter Side,” and “Out-of-the-Box” groups chalked up on the wall.

As some of those weightier beers start to release their charms, you might find your mind wandering off to contemplate the play of the subdued light among the uneven textures of walls paneled with repurposed odd ends of wood. When you’re done admiring the geometric patterns of the impressive woodwork and your pint glass contains naught but the memory of foam, consider heading next door to the small but well-curated Craft Pride bottle shop. If you’re hungry, the food truck court along Rainey St. is just the ticket. The staff at Craft Pride enthusiastically endorsed *Via 313’s Detroit-style pizza, so we ambled on over, expectant. Too late. Closed. But we found an ideal substitute: donuts from Little Lucy’s.IMG_9613

Two taprooms barely scratch the surface of what Austin has to offer, but depending on where you end up, The Brass Tap is a more than adequate introduction to Austin’s craft beer scene, and Craft Pride positively excels. If you’re in the mood for a pub crawl, grab an Austin Beer Guide and plot out a course along 6th Street. *The Ginger Man, somewhat of a Texas institution, is just off 6th. One place that has a lot of people talking is southern Austin’s *The Whip In just off I-35. What started as a family-owned convenience store slowly grew into not only a respected bottle shop, but also a seventy-two-tap pub serving up Gujarti cuisine. Not content to stop there, the Topiwala family built a brewhouse and took home a GABF gold medal in 2013 for their Bitterama. The brewery formerly known as Namaste now goes under the name Kamala due to a rather unfortunate trademark dispute with Dogfish Head.

… and Bottle Shops to the Rescue

If you’re not among the hundred people per day moving to Austin, you’ll be saddling up your mule at some point and heading home. Chances are you’ll want to pick up a bottle or two for your collection, especially if you reside in a relative craft beer desert like Oklahoma. Central Market comes stocked with fine victuals, has locations in the northern and southern regions of central Austin, and offers a wide selection of Texan, American, and international beers and wines.

Just south of downtown and a stone’s throw from Uncle Billy’s Brew and Que in Barton Springs, Thom’s Market is everything their website promises: “A rockin’ Austin-style, independent grocery with a focus on local and natural foods.” Thom’s Market shelves their one-hundred-plus varieties of beer in alphabetical order, and they break up six-packs of cans so you can put together your own selection of singles. Unlike many places that have mix-n-match sixers, here you can buy as few or as many bottles and cans as you want.

Sunrise MiniMart (Sunrise Twitter)Of the three places I visited in search of souvenirs, Sunrise Mini-Mart is a rare gem. A broad and eclectic bottle selection in a Citgo gas station convenience store? Not the first place I would have thought to look. They stock not only beer, wine, cider, and saké alongside a regular lineup of convenience store goods, but ice cream and an impressive selection of higher-end chocolate too. I’m told the selection changes regularly, so check their Twitter feed (@SunriseMiniMart) when you’re in town to see what they have.

And so, with a few boxes full of sundry bottles and cans, I latched my trunk, headed north, and bade farewell to five days of gustatory delight in Austin.

Addendum: An earlier version of this article made reference to how I heard through the grapevine that the Brass Tap had displaced a local coffee shop. A representative of the Brass Tap subsequently got in touch with me and clarified the history of the location. See the comments below.

Related Tempest Articles

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Austin: A User’s Guide for the Craft Beverage Enthusiast (Breweries)

Austin: A User’s Guide for the Craft Beer Enthusiast (Brewpubs)

Image Sources:

All photos by F.D. Hofer, with the exception of the exterior of Sunrise Mini Mart: twitter.com/SunriseMiniMart

© 2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Austin: A User’s Guide for the Craft Beverage Enthusiast (Breweries)

Welcome to Tempest’s ongoing series on Austin’s craft beer scene. In this segment, I profile breweries that I visited in Austin. Part 1 (here) introduced a few of Austin’s brewpubs. Part 3 (here) details taprooms and bottle shops in the Austin area.

Notes on Method

Drinking your way through Austin (or any region, for that matter) is an enjoyable way to spend five days. But it’s difficult indeed to make a dent in all of the breweries, brewpubs, and taprooms that Austin and its environs have to offer. If an establishment is not represented in this spotlight, it is simply due to scheduling conflicts or time constraints. Next time! As for prices, they change regularly and are readily available from a given establishment’s website.

Austin Mural (centraltexasmurals-com)

Resources

As mentioned in Part 1 of this User’s Guide, a good way to get a handle on Austin’s beverage scene is to seek out the Austin Beer Guide with its comprehensive coverage, maps, and brief write-ups on craft beverage establishments in Central, North, South, and Greater Austin. Each issue offers roughly eighty to ninety pages of scene-related articles.

Breweries and Such

Central Austin is home to a handful of breweries (Live Oak; Hops & Grain), but the majority of production facilities involve some travel time. Thanks to recent legislative changes governing the consumption and distribution of beer in Texas, production breweries are now able to sell beer on premises to visitors who make time for the trek. Tasting rooms are fast becoming a part of the craft beer landscape. Gone are the days when patrons would have to pay for a tour and glassware as a means of sampling a brewery’s wares on site.

Located a stone’s throw from the farmland of Pflugerville, a small town recently incorporated into Austin’s northeastern periphery, Rogness Brewing Company has become a magnet for the surrounding exurbs with its trivia nights and brew-house film screenings.IMG_9559 Diane and Forrest Rogness, the long-time owners of Austin Homebrew Supply, are no strangers to the kinds of serendipitous brewing discoveries that result from a twist of this and a dash of that. Beers such as the chai-spiced Yogi amber beer and the lavender-scented Joi d’été saison augment a strong year-round collection of 22-oz. bottlings that includes a porter, pale ale, IPA, Scotch ale, and even a bière de garde. (See my “Rogness: A Plethora of Beer from Pflugerville” for an in-depth feature of this family-operated community hub.)

Also tucked away in the northern reaches of the Austin area is 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 craft beer brewed on site.Flix - Theater Exterior 2 Flix Brewhouse bills itself as the only first-run movie theatre in the world to incorporate a fully-functioning microbrewery. If your plans don’t involve a film, that’s fine too. The Flix Mix brewpub caters to the imbibing needs of the Round Rock community with in-house brews and guest taps. For a brewpub, the food menu is fairly straightforward, but as far as cinemas go, this is a major step up from the standard cineplex fare of overpriced popcorn and chocolate bars. The house beer lineup features a blend of nine regular, seasonal, and limited-edition beers brewed broadly in the Belgian, Scottish, and American traditions. Try a few samples before settling on a pint. At their best, the beers are refreshing (Flix Golden; Luna Rosa Wit), or they represent unique and often compelling experiments (Beer of the Dead; Brambler Sour). If your idea of a good time involves a mix of mainstream Hollywood movies and craft beer, you could do much worse than a trip out to the Round Rock area of Greater Austin. (See my “Flix: Craft Beer at a Theatre Near You” for more.)

Austin is a sprawling city, with plenty to see and do besides visiting breweries. If you had time to visit but one brewery while in the Austin area, I’d go with Jester King, not so much because I think they make great beer – they do – but more for the opportunity to get out into the surrounding countryside for an afternoon.IMG_9585 The rolling hills and semi-arid scenery, the quaint farmhouse brewery, the bustling tasting room, and the informative tour make for a worthwhile excursion. Add the nearby Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza with its wood-fired oven and cracker-like thin-crust pizza, and you’ve got a satisfying meal into the bargain as well. Jester King has generated plenty of buzz over the past few years for its farmhouse-style sour and barrel-aged beers, and aside from Petit Prince (not my fave), the hype is justified. Beers range from light-bodied, crisp, and dry to weighty and complex. With its bracing passion fruit, pineapple, and mild hay-like Brettanomyces character, Das Wunderkind Saison (4.5% ABV) occupies one end of the scale. Boxer’s Revenge (10.2% ABV) is representative of the other end, featuring pungent oak-Brett aromatics, a rich yet sour palate, and citrus-infused notes of caramel, pine needle, candied tangerine, and cinnamon-allspice. IMG_9582The mad fermentationists at Jester King have been hard at work developing the kinds of unique yeast strains that’ll contribute additional layers to the “house character” of the beers; look for subtle differences in taste between older and newer versions of Jester King regulars like Wytchmaker, Petit Prince, Mad Meg, and Noble King.

If the Flix format isn’t enough of a change of pace for you, and if the sour and barrel-aged offerings of Jester King haven’t succeeded in stimulating your palate, try something altogether different: saké. Austin’s Texas Saké is the only brewer of saké in the state – and the only one for several hundred miles around, for that matter. (Most North American saké production is concentrated on the West Coast, with a few others in the Twin Cities and Asheville.) Texas Saké rests its brewing philosophy on the foundations of wild fermentation and organic local ingredients. In the case of wild fermentation, Texas Saké brews in what is generally considered to be a less-refined style of saké, yamahai-shikomi, noted for its rustic, bold, gamey, tangy, and potentially funky aroma and flavour profile. As for the ingredients, the kura sources its Shinriki rice strain from the Houston area. (Kura is the Japanese term for saké brewery, and means, literally, storehouse.)IMG_9632 Shinriki is a rare ancestral strain to many of today’s saké rice varieties, and it has an interesting history in Texas (click on the photo to the right). It is a difficult rice to mill, and doesn’t have as large a shinpaku (starch packet) as the Yamada-nishiki variety used widely in Japan. This results in more amino acids and lipids, which contributes yet more gaminess and acidity to the flavour and aroma profile.

Texas Saké bills all of its offerings as junmai sakés, which means that the beverages are brewed with rice, water, and koji mold only. The kura focuses most of its energy on three different bottlings: a nigori (cloudy) offering called Rising Star; a karakuchi (dry) called Tumbleweed; and the less-dry Whooping Crane.Whooping Crane (tx-sake) Now, I understand the economics of producing an organic and artisanal beverage with which not too many people are familiar; however, at an average of $35 per 720mL bottle, the price point is firmly to the north of the dial. And even if rustic and less-refined sakés can make for a refreshing change from delicate and elegant sakés, Texas Saké’s offerings are a tad tart for the style. Be that as it may, these sakés represent a respectable effort, especially given that the folks at Texas Saké are working in a field where it’s not nearly as easy to tap into a broad pool of knowledge as it is in the North American craft beer industry. In spite of the difficulties, I find it encouraging that people are trying to produce more saké in North America, and genuinely wish Texas Saké success as they continue to hone their craft. Hats off to them so far.

*Don’t see your favourite brewery among the ones I profiled? Click on the “Leave a Reply” button located at the top of this post and tell Tempest’s readers about it.

*Next up in the series: taprooms, bottle shops, and beer lists

Related Tempest Articles

Austin: A User’s Guide for the Craft Beer Enthusiast (Brewpubs)

Getting Your Craft Beer Fill at Austin’s Taprooms and Bottleshops

Image Sources and Credits:

Austin postcard: centraltexasmurals.com

Rogness logo: F.D. Hofer

Flix Brewhouse: Flix Facebook page

Hill Country and Jester King photos: F.D. Hofer

Saibara plaque: F.D. Hofer

Whooping Crane: txsake.com

©2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Austin: A User’s Guide for the Craft Beverage Enthusiast (Brewpubs)

Welcome to Tempest’s series on Austin’s craft beer scene. In this first installment, I profile brewpubs that I visited during a recent stay in Austin. Part 2 (here) moves on to breweries, including Texas’ only saké brewery. Part 3 (here) features taprooms and bottle shops in the Austin area.

**Austin is a sprawling city. If you’re going to explore its beverage culture, please be sure to drink responsibly and bring along a designated driver.

Spend more than a half a day in Austin and chances are good that you’ll hear all about the “hundred people per day” moving to town. Several major companies have established national or regional headquarters in Austin, including Dell, Apple, eBay, Google, Texas Instruments, and Whole Foods Market. Between 1990 and 2012, Austin’s population nearly doubled. It won’t be long before Austin cracks the Top-Ten list of the United States’ largest cities, if it hasn’t already.

Not all residents are equally enamoured of this influx of people, though. Some Austinites have adopted the unofficial slogan, “Keep Austin Weird,” as a means of signaling their support of eclectic local businesses against the tide of commercialism and development that has accompanied Austin’s astounding growth.

Austin City Limits (vegnews-com)One of the more obvious side-effect of Austin’s rapid development is the traffic. According to some residents with whom I spoke, the traffic gets worse, seemingly by the day. Public transportation appears to have been an urban planning afterthought as Austin has stretched out to incorporate surrounding exurbs, to the point that the city is now firmly among the top five most-congested urban centers in the United States.

(Why am I dwelling on traffic? Well, I spent quite a bit of time in it during my five days exploring Austin’s vibrant – and sprawling – craft beverage scene. And unless you confine yourself to sampling Austin’s craft beers at one of many well-provisioned taprooms, chances are you will, too.)

Rapid population growth on the one hand, and staunch support of unique local businesses on the other, have combined to unleash the perfect storm for craft brewers and craft beer enthusiasts alike. (A world-class university and several other institutions of higher education don’t hurt the demand for craft beer, either.) As Austin booms, so does its craft beverage scene. From well-curated bottle shops ensconced in Citgo gas stations (of all places!) to brewpubs that serve up the perfect marriage of barbeque and craft brew, Austin has something for most every craft beer devotee.

And did I mention the excellent lagers and spicy German-style wheat beers? (In case readers of A Tempest in a Tankard haven’t noticed, I’m a fan of these kinds of beers.) Austin is the de facto lager capital of Texas, with pilseners and Munich-style lagers that could rival those of any northern Midwestern state. Austin is also the home of Texas’ only saké kura.

Notes on Method

Before diving into this Austin User’s Guide for the Craft Beverage Enthusiast, a few caveats and notes on method are in order. When I put out the call to friends for suggestions regarding taprooms to visit and brews to sample, I received a deluge of tips. Now, drinking your way through Austin in five days is a tall order for anyone. So if a brewery, beer, taproom, brewpub, or bottle shop is not listed in this spotlight, it does not signify a vote of non-confidence. It might be because my schedule of appointments did not match with that of a particular brewery, or a brewery/cidery might have closed for the season. (I was in Austin during the third week of December.) So much to try!

Aside from brief mentions of the culinary options available at brewpubs, I don’t go into too much depth on food – much as I love making and eating the stuff. (Check out a few of my recipes I’ve posted under Tempest’s Food/Drink heading, if you haven’t already.) As for prices, they change regularly and are readily available from a given establishment’s website, so I won’t dwell on them unless they warrant attention.

OK, onward!

Resources

If you’ve just landed in Austin, the best way to get a handle on the local beverage scene is to go in search of the Austin Beer Guide. Two things make this quarterly publication worth seeking out: it’s available in hard-copy print format, something that’s all too rare these days; and it’s free.Austin Beer Guide (fr website) Coverage is excellent, with maps and brief write-ups for craft beverage establishments in Central, North, South, and Greater Austin. Each issue offers roughly eighty to ninety pages of entertaining scene-related articles that’ll keep you turning the pages while you wait for friends at the bar. If you needed further evidence that Austin is a mecca for lovers of Central European-style beers, check out Austin Beer Guide’s five-page feature, “Lagers are for Lovers, (Fall 2013 edition), and the “Best of 2013” segment in their Winter 2013 guide. Editors’ Choice for Best Overall Beer? Real Ale’s Hans’ Pils. Best Brewery honours? Live Oak Brewing Co., known beyond the borders of Texas for its stellar Hefeweizen.

Brewpubs

Brewpubs abound in Austin, with a range of food offerings to fit many tastes and budgets. North by Northwest (NXNW) is among the more upscale of the brewpubs I visited, and is housed in an angular brick-and-iron building meant to evoke Pacific Northwest mountain lodges. NXNW - ExteriorFireplace warmth provides a cozy respite from cooler winter days, while patio seating lends itself to sunshine and refreshing beers. NXNW receives acclaim not only for its beer but for its food menu. In addition to the ubiquitous brewpub pizzas and sandwiches, NXNW serves up dishes such as basil arugula salad, grilled bacon-wrapped quail, and cedar-planked salmon. The tap selection is a compelling study in contrasts, with head brewer Kevin Roark’s sour, barrel-aged, and hoppier brews providing a counterpoint to master brewer Donald Thompson’s Central European-inflected beers. (For a more in-depth look at NXNW, see my “North by Northwest: Fine Food to Accompany Beers Novel and Classic.”)

IMG_9550Also in northern Austin – and in a pocket of town replete with restaurants and taverns – Pinthouse Pizza serves up award-winning beer and satiating pizza in a convivial atmosphere. The bench seating is communal, so order a pint and a pie and strike up a conversation with the party next to you. If you’re a hophead, you’re in for a treat: beers tend to favour the fruit of the bine. Try the Bearded Seal Dry Irish Stout if a richer, malt-accented brew featuring roasted barley, café au lait, and dark chocolate aromatics is more to your taste. You can’t go wrong with any of the pizzas. All feature ingredients like ricotta, artichokes, artisanal sausage, fresh oregano, Kalamata olives, poblano peppers, cherry tomatoes, and the like.

South of the river and just off S. Lamar Blvd. sprawls a beer garden barely six months old but packed with patrons inside and out. The location may be new, but the folks behind Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co. (The ABGB) are legendary veterans of the Austin and Texas beer scene. Brian “Swifty” Peters and Amos Lowe left their marks on Live Oak and Uncle Billy’s before eventually teaming up on The ABGB.ABGB BeerBoard 2 Of the beers I sampled during my five days in Austin, Peters’ and Lowe’s ales and lagers were among the most harmonious and nuanced. Always ready with a pithy quip, Lowe explained their philosophy to me thus: “We’re not trying to rip your face off with hop bitterness.” Peters’ affinity for lagers speaks for itself. The Industrial Pils is his brew house daily drinker. Munich-style lager? Hell Yes! Just like sipping from a Maß in the shadow of Munich’s Frauenkirche. Tasty food, too – although I did find myself longing for a Bratwurst or Weisswurst to go with my lager.

Not far away on Barton Springs Road, Uncle Billy’s Brew and Que pairs an old Texas standard with the recent Texan turn to craft beer. Who can say no to beer and barbeque?IMG_9623 I ordered up a creamy Swiss cheese-accented Mac and Cheese to accompany my quarter pound of brisket served with a Texas peppercorn sauce and a brown sugar-balanced habanero sauce that, mercifully, did not wreck my palate. Before tucking into the food, though, I made sure to sample their delicate Humbucker Helles and Rock of Ages Pils. The standard-issue pale ale and IPA stood up well to the food, but the smoky roasted malt notes and sarsaparilla-like aromas of the Lovecraft Belgian-style stout really shone alongside the meat and sauces. Situated just across the river from the downtown core, Uncle Billy’s makes for a convenient lunch stop.

*Don’t see your favourite brewpub among the ones I profiled? Click on the “Leave a Reply” button located at the top of this post and tell us about it.

*Next up: breweries and taprooms in Austin.

Image Credits:

Austin City Limits: vegnews.com

Austin Beer Guide: austinbeerguide.com

NXNW: Photo courtesy of Kevin Roark

Pinthouse Pizza: Franz D. Hofer

The ABGB Beer Board: The ABGB Facebook page

Uncle Billy’s: Franz D. Hofer