Tag Archives: Brass Tap

Tempest’s Tankard Ratings and Austin’s Best Brews

Welcome to Tempest’s final post in the Austin craft beer series. In this segment, I unveil my “Tankard” ratings so you can easily find both the finest beers and purveyors of those brews when you visit Austin. If you’re looking for more specific aspects of Austin’s vibrant scene, click here for brewpubs, here for breweries, and here for taprooms and bottle shops.

Austin Map (tourtexas-com)

Austin is awash with fermented beverages, which can make drink decisions both intriguing and intimidating. For the purposes of this segment, I’ve decided to suspend my usual injunction against ranking beers so that you can get a sense of which beers stand out from what’s already a very solid field.

Against Ratings

One of the reasons I’m wary about introducing rankings and ratings to my beer features and brewery profiles is because even though I recognize the value of ratings in certain cases, I’m cognizant of the extent to which environment and other factors exert a sometimes imperceptible influence on my perception of a beverage. None of the ratings I offer here is cast in stone. If I were to try all of these beverages blind or under otherwise different circumstances, I might reach conclusions that are at odds with my initial impressions. (It’s happened before – label and brand expectations can play an unconscious and often underappreciated role in our judgment and evaluation.) Sampling a horizontal flight of, say, Pilseners from a variety of producers will affect my perception – and hence my evaluation – in a different manner than if I were drinking them in isolation, or alongside a number of styles. If I were to taste a beer, wine, saké, or spirit today as a component of a structured tasting and then drink the same beverages tomorrow as an accompaniment to a memorable dinner shared with close friends or family, my impressions may well diverge in subtle but potentially significant ways: Same beverage, different locale and different time of the day.

Tankards, Tankards, and More Tankards

Tankard - Classic PewterWith those caveats aside, I offer my tankard system in place of more common rating systems. Rather than trying to include every beverage I sampled during my stay in Austin, I’ve devised a rating system that highlights what I think are among the best beers, breweries, brewpubs, taprooms, and bottle shops a city or region has to offer. Since I’m not particularly enamoured of reducing aesthetic pleasures to numbers, I’ve ruled out numerical rankings. Instead, I’ll award “tankards” to some of the beverages I evaluate. Not unlike the Michelin star system used for dining establishments, only the most impressive beverages receive tankards.

A few points:

1. I’ve heard great things about several brews from Austin in particular and Texas in general. If one of the generally-accepted standouts is not listed here, it’s either because I haven’t gotten around to trying the beer yet (the most likely scenario – the Jester King Atrial Rubicite resting in my cellar is a case in point), or because the beer wasn’t in season (I was in Austin in early winter, and missed some of the weightier beer releases), or because the beer didn’t deliver on its reputation (which is not beyond the realm of possibility).

2. If a beverage does not receive a tankard, this does not necessarily indicate that the beverage is subpar. Now, if I were to include a catch-all category comprising all of the beverages that receive no tankards, this category would include drinks ranging from run-of-the-mill to quite good. In other words, if someone at a barbeque or dinner party offered me a beer at the higher end of the range, I’d have no problem tipping back my glass.

3. Occasionally, breweries, brewpubs, and taverns find their way into these listings if they merit a special trip.

4. With the exception of breweries, brewpubs, taprooms, and bottle shops, listings are in alphabetical order.

5. Entries with an asterisk (*) represent beverages I’ve tasted in a place other than at the brewpub or brewery – usually at a taproom, sometimes in the comfort of my home.

How Does It All Shake Out?

  • One tankard: A very fine beverage. A cut above and a few ounces taller than other beverages.
  • Two tankards: An excellent beverage. Worth searching out, preferably at its place of production or, if that’s not possible, then at a taproom or liquor store.
  • Three tankards: Exceptional. An absolute aesthetic pleasure, one that blends the Kantian sublime with Proust’s literary account of aromas and the gustatory delights of Babette’s Feast. A beer that could find a place on any hypothetical Top-25 list I’d concoct.

TankardTiledX3Tempest’s Austin Faves

One Tankard:

Flix Brewhouse. Brambler Sour. Barrel-aged for fifteen months; blackberry purée added prior to kegging. Broadly in the Flemish red style, with bright sour cherry, horse blanket funk, wood notes, and a vinous character reminiscent of Cabernet Franc. A mild nutty caramel note counters the sour pepper-lemon flavours, while a buoyant cherry/blackberry acidity predominates throughout.

Jester King. Boxer’s Revenge. Farmhouse/Wild-Fermented Beer (aged in whiskey and wine barrels). Sour caramel, allspice, and pine needles. Rich and citrusy palate with pungent oak-Brett. At 10.2% ABV, watch out for this sour beer’s left hook.

*Live Oak. Hefeweizen. Sampled at The Brass Tap, Round Rock. Fine example that does a good job of walking the clove/banana tightrope, but a touch light in the mid-section. More malt richness would make this a stellar beer.

IMG_9550Pinthouse Pizza. Bearded Seal. Dry Irish Stout. A bit potent for the style (6.1% ABV), but with a deft blend of freshly-roasted coffee beans, espresso, and café au lait.

*Real Ale. Hans’ Pils. Pilsener. Canned. 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.

Rogness. Tenebrous Stout. Raspberry Seasonal. Rich but restrained; harmonious integration of fruit, malt, and yeast character.

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.

____________NXNW - Growler-Logo

North by Northwest. Brewpub. Compelling diversity of traditional and experimental beers, with food and ambience to match.

Sunset Mini Mart. Bottle Shop. A local institution and an absolute gem, especially considering that it’s nominally a Citgo gas station convenience store.

Two Tankards:

The ABGB. Industry. Pilsener. Hops are a quiet force in this beer, floral-perfumed and spicy. Well-rounded on the palate, with a dry, crisp finish.

*Argus Cidery. 2011 Bandera Brût. Sparkling Hard Cider. Cinnamon-spiced apple with prominent, hay-like Brett character, and pleasantly acidic.

Jester King. Ol’ Oi. Sour Brown Ale/American Wild Ale. Rich, complex, and with great depth. Combines caramel with aged balsamic vinegar notes.

*Real Ale. Sisyphus. Barley Wine. Bottled. Extended Tempest review here.

North by Northwest. 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.

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Craft Pride. Taproom. Excellent selection of beers from Austin and from Texas more generally. And that’s it. But this is not a bad thing, especially with several dozen taps dedicated to the finest Texan beer. Knowledgeable serving staff. Great woodwork. Be sure to check out the well-curated bottle shop next store. IMG_9575

Jester King. Brewery and Taproom. The hype is much-deserved. A predominantly sour and wild-fermented lineup that is both well conceived and well crafted. 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. Pecan Porter. Sampled at The Brass Tap in Round Rock. 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. 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. I had mine at Craft Pride. Freshly-ground coffee aromas, Tia Maria, dark caramel malt, and an infinitely chocolaty rich roast on the palate.

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ABGB Glass 2The ABGB. Beer Garden/Brewery. Exquisitely balanced beers, whether lagers or hop-forward and higher-ABV offerings. Urban beer garden with an amicable vibe; beer hall with a spare, industrial-warehouse aesthetic.

Postscript:

If you’ve been to Austin, what stands out for you? Feel free to share your favourite beers, breweries, brewpubs, taprooms, and bottle shops by clicking “Leave a Reply” above.

Images:

Austin map: www.tourtexas.com

Pewter tankard: www.germansteins.com

Tempest’s tankard: F.D. Hofer

Pinthouse Pizza: F.D. Hofer

NXNW: courtesy of NXNW

Jester King brewhouse: F.D. Hofer

The ABGB beer garden: theabgb.com

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.