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, given 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. 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.
Back 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.) And 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.
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.
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.
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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.