Tag Archives: Pinthouse Pizza

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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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!


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 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