If you are looking for a decent place to eat, with fantastic views of the lake at sunset and live music on a sprawling deck, you’ll likely find Uncle Billy’s Lake Travis. If barbeque is your thing, you’ll feel right at home. If you like craft brew, you’ll think you’ve found Nirvana. This place has serious beer.
Brian Peters, Uncle Billy’s brewmaster, wields a fat reputation in the beer community. This guy has been around the hop block. He started his beer career as a co-founder of Live Oak Brewing Company with Chip McElroy in 1997. He spent seven years there before going to brewpub, The Bitter End. He then started Uncle Billy’s Brew and Que in downtown Austin in 2006, and added a second location on Lake Travis in 2010.
Brian’s credo: “Brew beer that you like to drink.” That principle guided him starting out as a home brewer as it does today. He’s a big fan of Czech Pilsner, German Hefeweizen and Lagers. He likes drier, hoppier, crisper beers and not huge and chewy beers. That explains a lot about the Uncle Billy’s brew menu, which is dominated by lighter style, crisp beers.
I toured the shiny new brewery on Lake Travis with a group of bloggers. Brian showed off his 20 barrel fermentation system with a brew capacity of 4,000 barrels. That’s about 80% larger than any other brew pub in the state, because this brewery was built to sell off-premise beer too. There is even space for a bottling line, should the State of Texas ever abolish its arcane laws that prohibit selling packaged beer to take home from a brewpub.
Uncle Billy’s is content with making plenty of beer to keep thirsty boaters happy. Brian only makes unfiltered beer with quality Amarillo, Simco, Cascade and German hops, malts and grains and no other adjuncts. He’s obsessed with yeast, reusing his precious Fullers yeast for up to 20 batches to ensure it has the right build-up. The brewhouse is built on the third floor, which means there is no pumping required for the gravity-fed taps to get the precious beer served at the bar.
After checking out the process, I had to taste the goods. I was in luck. I was able to sample my way through the menu to give you insight into what’s on tap. Here’s what you can find at Uncle Billy’s.
Uncle Billy’s makes this witbier with traditional ingredients such as, coriander, orange peel and 50% red wheat that leaves a nice protein sheen in the cloudy beer. But hey, this is Texas, so Brian throws in a measure of Agave to help the fermentation along. Be careful with this one, because before you know it you could throw back three or four while relaxing on the deck. Clocking in at 4.6% alcohol, you won’t knock yourself out in the sun with this, but you still shouldn’t get behind the wheel.
|Look||Relaxes in the glass like a piña colada, opaque whitish yellow with a frothy white head.|
|Smell||Sweet nose with sourdough, citrus, and banana.|
|Taste||This is an easy drinking, crisp light citrusy beer with no bitterness and a slightly spicy finish.|
With a brewpub situated on a lake, a brewmaster has to think about the type of beer people hanker for after a day of skiing, tubing and baking in the sun. A light, easy drinking beer with only 4.8% alcohol, its thirst quenching and gets its number called often. Brian chose to make an American pre-Prohibition style lager with 10% corn, German Pilsner malt and German hops. It has a taste profile like a serious batch of Budweiser. It won’t scare the casual drinker away from the brewpub.
|Look||Bashful yellow so light you might mistake it for a Bud, if it weren’t for the unfiltered haze. It has a fine white head with little lacing.|
|Smell||The Bottle Rocket Lager smells of cucumber, wheat and dough.|
|Taste||Dignan and Anthony should have celebrated the escape from the mental hospital with this highly drinkable beer. It has more hoppy bitterness than a mass produced domestic, with a creaminess that blends well with the energetic carbonation.|
This amber is brewed with organic barley, no corn, Cascade hops and Munich Malt for complexity. It’s sessionable with slightly over 5% alcohol content so you can have more than one in a sitting.
|Look||Weathered copper, cloudy with a light tan head and thin lacing.|
|Smell||It has a nice scent of brown sugar, caramel and toast.|
|Taste||The Amber tastes of butterscotch, dried grass and toasted almonds. Its medium bodied with smooth fizziness.|
You could be blind and deaf and it would still be easy to recognize that this is a good beer. Kellerbier is an unfiltered German lager and Brian won the Silver Medal with this style beer at the 2008 Great American Beer Festival. This was definitely one of my favorites of the evening.
|Look||A glass full of hazy lemonade with a fine white head.|
|Smell||It had a grassy scent with light malts and a hint of nutty bread.|
|Taste||Refreshing, pleasant herbaceous and lemon zest taste with mild hoppiness. Lively effervescence extended a slightly bitter finish. This is a damned good beer to drink in the Texas sun.|
The Wood Eye is made with 50% rye, a finicky grain that’s a bitch to brew, but makes for a malty spiciness, that makes it a subtle “hops delivery vehicle.” It might be hard to brew with rye, but it’s easy to drink. If you are expecting a pine laden bitter IPA, keep looking. This one is smooth and balanced.
|Look||Cloudy dark auburn with a khaki head of fine foam that settled quickly.|
|Smell||Not an overly strong aroma with toasty oats, spicy, sweet malt and a hint of pine sap.|
|Taste||The dry spicy rye pairs well with the caramel maltiness, a touch of citrus and subtle bitterness of the hops. I wanted a second one of these.|
I tasted a few more beers that night, including the Ax Handle Pale Ale and the Hop Zombie IPA, but stopped taking notes by the time I got to them. Somehow I think my writing wasn’t improving with each beer.
Whether you’re just looking for a casual place to enjoy a spectacular view of the lake or you’re looking for a top-notch craft brew, you’ll find it at Uncle Billy’s Lake Travis. Taste your way through all of the taps and let me know which beer is your favorite.