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.
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. 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 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. 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. The 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.) 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. 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
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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.