Tag Archives: #ATX

Austin: Twenty Beers and Breweries You Won’t Want to Miss

Another edition of SXSW is upon us. If you’re from out of town, or even if you live in Austin, the plethora of excellent craft beer possibilities can make drink decisions a little daunting. But fear not. I’ve put together a list of some of my favourites so you can easily find both the finest beers and purveyors of those brews. Austin Map 1920 (WikiCommons)

Tankards, Tankards, and More Tankards

How does it all shake out? Three tankards are up for grabs, and Tempest’s Tankards has all the details on how I approach evaluating beer.

A few notes:

  • Austin is awash with some fine beverages. If one of the generally-accepted standouts is not listed here, it’s either because I haven’t gotten around to trying the beer or brewery yet, or because the beer wasn’t in season when I visited Austin, or because the beer didn’t deliver on its reputation (which is not beyond the realm of possibility).
  • If a beverage does not receive a tankard, this does not necessarily indicate that the beverage is subpar.
  • Breweries, brewpubs, taverns, or bottle shops that I particularly enjoyed find their way into these listings after the beers.If a beverage does not receive a tankard, this does not necessarily indicate that the beverage is subpar.
  • Entries with an asterisk (*) represent beverages I’ve tasted in a place other than at the brewpub or brewery, usually at a taproom.

IMG_1917

Tempest’s Austin Faves

One Tankard:

Jester King’s Boxer’s Revenge. This farmhouse/wild-fermented beer (aged in whiskey and wine barrels) delivers a fistful of sour caramel, allspice, and pine needles. Rich and citrusy on the palate, with a pungent mix of oak and Brett. At 10.2% ABV, watch out for this sour beer’s left hook.

*Live Oak’s Hefeweizen. A fine German-style wheat beer that walks the clove/banana tightrope, but a touch light in the mid-section. More malt richness would make this a stellar beer.

Rogness’ Tenebrous Stout. Rich but restrained, this seasonal beer brewed with raspberries offers a harmonious integration of fruit, malt, and yeast character.

*Real Ale’s Hans’ Pils. Clean, crisp, and dry. An austere northern German-style Pils with that characteristic bitter hop note the Germans call “herb,” which combines dry, bitter, astringent, herbal, and spicy into one difficult-to-translate flavour/sensation package.IMG_9550

Pinthouse Pizza’s Bearded Seal is a dry Irish stout that’s a bit potent for the style (6.1% ABV). But that’s AOK because this smooth beverage would make the perfect Sunday morning pick-me-up. Expect a deft aromatic blend of freshly-roasted coffee beans, espresso, and café au lait.

Uncle Billy’s Humbucker Helles. A Munich Helles featuring bready malts with a mild toast accent. Rich and full-bodied, with soft notes of citrus and grassy hops rounding out toasty and fine-grained malt.

Flix Brewhouse’s Brambler Sour is barrel-aged for fifteen months, and blackberry purée is added prior to kegging. Broadly in the Flemish red style, this beer is redolent of bright sour cherry, horse blanket funk, wood notes, and a vinous character reminiscent of Cabernet Franc.NXNW - Grain Silo Mild nutty caramel counters the sour pepper-lemon flavours, while a buoyant cherry/blackberry acidity predominates throughout.

*

North by Northwest is an upscale brewpub to the north (and west) of the downtown core that serves up a compelling diversity of traditional and experimental beers, with food and ambience to match.

Sunset Mini Mart. This bottle shop in the west of Austin ranks among the most pleasant surprises of my visit. The place is a local institution and an absolute gem, especially considering that it’s nominally a Citgo gas station convenience store. If you’re like me and have a fatal attraction to chocolate, you’ll have another reason to stop by. Ice cream, too.

Two Tankards:

The ABGB’s Industry (Pilsener). Hops are a quiet force in this beer, floral-perfumed and spicy. Rich breadiness rounds out the palate of this beer that finishes dry and crisp.

*Argus Cidery’s 2011 Bandera Brût. Sparkling hard ciders from Argus are a joy to drink, and this one is no different. Cinnamon-spiced apple with prominent, hay-like Brett character, and pleasantly acidic.IMG_9578

Jester King’s Ol’ Oi (Barrel-Aged Sour Brown Ale; 2013 Blend #2 that I drank in mid-2014). Who said brown beers were boring? Rich, complex, and with great depth, this cutting-edge tart ale looks to British and Flemish brewing traditions of times past. Caramel-oak mingles with aged balsamic vinegar notes, sour cherry, hay, and the slightest hint of chocolate.

*Real Ale’s Sisyphus. It’s no Sisyphean task at all to drink this smooth and unctuous barley wine. Extended Tempest review here.

North by Northwest’s Holiday Ale. Grab one when it’s released, but hold onto it for a few years. The best ones I sampled had one to two years of bottle age. Three years out and the beer develops interesting Oloroso sherry notes.

*

Craft Pride anchors a narrow Central Austin street packed with bars and a nearby food truck court. This taproom serves up an excellent array of beers from Austin and from Texas more generally. And that’s it.IMG_9607 But this is not a bad thing, especially with several dozen taps dedicated to the finest Texan beer. Knowledgeable serving staff. Great woodwork. And a small but well-curated bottle shop next store.

Jester King. The hype surrounding this local institution is much-deserved. Jester King has garnered national renown for its well-conceived and well-crafted sour and wild-fermented lineup. But you probably already knew that. Side note: Great flat-crust pizza next door at Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza. Maybe you didn’t know that.

Three Tankards:

*512’s Pecan Porter. What’s not to like about rich and buttery pecan-maple accents in a well-crafted smoky porter? Roast notes and creamy coffee on the palate, balanced by a vivacious mineral carbonation. Finish is as long as a total eclipse is black.

The ABGB’s Hell Yes Munich Helles. Rich but crisp and refreshing; clean bready malts with a touch of honey and a subtle grassy minerality. The embodiment of finesse.

*Austin Beer Works’ Sputnik (Coffee Imperial Stout). A Texas stand-out. Freshly-ground coffee aromas, Tia Maria, dark caramel malt, and an infinitely chocolaty rich roast on the palate.

ABGB Glass 2*

The ABGB (Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co.). Urban beer garden with an amicable vibe; beer hall with a spare, industrial-warehouse aesthetic. Exquisitely balanced beers are the signature of this beer garden/brewery, be they lagers or hop-forward and higher-ABV offerings.

If you’ve been to Austin, share your favourite beers, breweries, brewpubs, taprooms, and bottle shops by clicking “Leave a Reply” above.

Related Tempest Articles

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

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

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

Images

Austin Map (1920): Wiki Commons

Tankard: F.D. Hofer

Pinthouse Pizza samplers: F.D. Hofer

NXNW: courtesy of NXNW and Kevin Roark

Jester King: F.D. Hofer

Craft Pride: F.D. Hofer

The ABGB: http://theabgb.com

© 2015 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

________________

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.