Tag Archives: Austin Beer Guide

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