Texans love to crow about the great beer scene in the state. They point to the insane growth in breweries and production. Sure, the craft brew industry in Texas is enjoying explosive expansion with brewers almost doubling the number of barrels they produced from 2010 to 2011 according to a study commissioned by the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. They point to the award winning quality and diversity of styles of beer that have consumers clamoring. Sure Texans are bringing home medals in international competitions and we are enthusiastically draining pints of locally made brew as fast as it is made. That doesn’t make a great beer state. It’s not great at all.
If state of the Texas craft beer industry were great, we would be able to buy an armload of 750 ml bottles of Jester King after a visit to the brewery. Or we could grab a six-pack of Uncle Billy’s at the local HEB. But we can’t. Alas, Texas laws prohibit breweries to sell directly to consumers on-site and bars brewpubs from selling package beer at off-site retail locations. That sucks.
This month Senate Bills 515, 516, 517 and 518 were filed in the State Legislature aimed at overturning those archaic laws that artificially constrain the business of craft brewers and limit consumer choice. Don’t get your hopes up too fast. Similar bills filed last year failed to reach a vote. Until politicians hear our voices and wake up to the economic opportunities of selling craft beer in an open market, Texas is not a great beer state.
Until then, we will have to leave the comfort of home to drink great beer at brew pubs. Fortunately there are some great ones to choose from in Austin.
Draught House Pub and Brewery, 4112 Medical Parkway Austin
When the inside bar is crammed full of beer lovers, you can sometimes find a seat at a picnic table in the outside beer garden. The Draught House has been an Austin beer bastion for years; first opening its doors in 1968 and now celebrating its 45th anniversary in October. Brewmaster, Josh Wilson, has been brewing since 1994 and brews about 30 original beers each year. He has done hundreds of recipes over the years using traditional and interesting ingredients to make brews like the Grackle Black Lager and Reanimator Dopplebock. The Draught House serves five house beers that change seasonally.
The Draught House also has 70 beers on tap and cask and has an additional 20 beers in bottles, including gluten free and Belgian. Wilson selects the line-up to support local brewers, represent the best American craft beer and to offer of as many styles as possible. The line-up includes several Texas craft beers, seasonal and special releases, brewer’s reserve and small batch beers. The Draught House keeps things fresh by varying the beer menu by changing out about a dozen taps weekly. The mix of its beers and selection of guest taps earned The Draught House a spot on “America’s 100 best beer bars: 2012,” chosen by Draft Magazine.
“We have a hand-picked selection of beer that reflects my tastes, served in a comfortable atmosphere with low lighting and a beer garden. It’s a chill place to find really good beer at honest prices,” says brewer, Josh Wilson
Black Star Co-op, 7020 Easy Wind Drive, Midtown Commons, Suite 100, Austin,
The world’s first co-operatively owned brew pub is anything but an average beer bar. Steven Yarak had an idea to start a neighborhood brew pub owned by the neighborhood and gathered like-minded individuals with the panache and know-how to brew beer and operate a business in April 2006. It’s now owned by more than 3,000 members who have chipped in money to brew the beer that they want to drink.
Brew Master Jeff Young, brews 15 house beers broken down into rational, irrational and infinite series. I like to taste my way through all of them by ordering flights. They also offer ten local and craft beers rotating on guest taps and an extensive selection of bottled beers. Black Star currently has eight gluten free beers available. Its conveniently located next to the Crestview Train Station.
North by Northwest (NXNW), 10010 Capital of TX Hwy N, Austin
Patterned after a Pacific Northwest lodge, NXNW serves a full menu with steak, grilled duck and cedar plank salmon. While the food is tasty, the beer is the star with prominently displayed grain silo and six house-made brews on tap. Owner, Davis Tucker is an active board member of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, and has assembled a team of talented brewers making top notch beer. The Barton Kriek brought home a bronze in the Belgian-style lambic for at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival.
Brewmaster, Don Thompson, augments the core menu of five classic beers with eight seasonal and special beers that are rotated regularly. Special cask-conditioned beers are featured at “Cask Night,” held the last Monday of every month. NXNW also has a full bar serving cocktails and wine.
Pinthouse Pizza, 4729 Burnet Road, Austin
Austin’s newest brew pub packs in guests at long shared tables and often is crowded with groups of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder yearning for craft beer. Families, young couples and well-bearded beer geeks soak in the boisterous environment that includes several flat-screen TVs playing sports and video games. As the name suggests, the menu sports a wide assortment of pizza including pizza rolls, a Vietnamese style Banh Mi pizza and “Off the Map Pie,” a specialty pizza with artisan sausage, jalapeños, pickled onions & carrots and cucumber topped with sriracha sauce and cilantro. Damn!
The real star of the pub is of course, the beer.
Pinthouse had 45 taps and typically eight-to-ten of those are pouring house-made beers that vary week to week and the rest are guest taps. Its mainstay beers are the Man o’ War, a bright, tropical IPA; Iron Genny, a hoppy and earthy Pale Ale, Calma Muerta, a hoppy Session Ale; and Bearded Seal, a dry Irish Stout with lovely coffee and chocolate flavors. Pinthouse offers a rotation of seasonal beer with at least two on tap at all times. If you can’t make up your mind which beers to try, they offer two different flights: the Pinthouse Flight which includes all 4 mainstays and “fallen cask” and the Guest Flight: includes any five beers on tap. They also have one constantly changing “ironic” tap with beers like Coors Original, Keystone Light or Natural Light.
The house-brewed beer is in hot demand. Owner, Ryan Van Biene says, “We brew as fast as we can and try to put as many Pinthouse Pizza beers on tap as possible, but this is a thirsty town and they are often ahead of our fermentation capacity.”
Uncle Billy’s Brew & Que, 1530 Barton Springs Road, Austin
This award winning brew pub has gone through some big changes in the last year with the closing of its gorgeous Lake Travis location with its expansive state-of-the-art brewery, to the departure of its two star brewers Amos Lowe and Brian “Swifty” Peters. Despite the change, Uncle Billy’s is still a great place to drink fantastic craft brew while munching on finger-sucking-good barbeque in a convenient location just south of downtown.
New brewmaster, Michael Waters, brews 1,200 barrels of five mainstay beers and regularly rotates in a Brewer’s Choice beer as well. The beer menu is dominated by light, hoppy beers made with Belgian yeast like Back 40 Blonde, Axe Handle Pale Ale and Hop Zombie. The Bottle Rocket Lager, made at the former Lake Travis location, garnered a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2011 and gold in 2012. Let’s hope they resurrect that recipe. They also serve a few local beers on guest taps, bottled beers, cocktails and a crappy selection of wine.
Whip In, 1950 South IH-35 South, Austin
While it might look like a convenience store on the frontage road of a major interstate highway, it’s actually an amazing Indian-inspired restaurant, retail shop and now a brew pub. The South Austin institution has been in business since 1986, offering an eclectic café menu (they call themselves a Gastro Pub, but that feels like a stretch) and a small beer garden to enjoy a drink and live music. The retail shop not only offers more than 200 bottled beers to drink on premise or take with you, but it also features 58 special, season and craft beers on tap and wine by the glass.
Whip In opened Namaste Brewing in August 2012 to an enthusiastic reception. Kevin Sykes, head brewer, currently offers four beers including the Brahmale Post Colonial IPA, Vishnavitripale Belgian style triple, Shivastout dark ale and the Ganeshale aged Belgian.
Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co., 1305 West Oltorf 78704
The award winning brewers at Uncle Billy’s, Amos Lowe and Brian “Swifty” Peters, left Uncle Billy’s to start their own brewery slated to open in June 2013. The South Austin brew pub will serve hand-crafted pizza and beer on 10 taps in a music hall-style beer garden. “We’re going for the Armadillo World Headquarters vibe with New York style pizza like Home Slice,” said Peters.
They will make several varieties of always on-tap mainstay line up of Pilsner, Pale Ale and IPAs, with a rotating selection of seasonals and brewer’s choices, including a cask-conditioned beer. At opening, all of the beer will be house-made, but they have plans for some big collaborations down the road.
The venue will seat up to 170 inside, and potentially just as many people outside. It’s a big space with plenty of parking. The owners plan to be open for lunch every day and feature live music at night. “We’re all passionate about music, so it will be a big part of our place. We want the ABGB to feel like an old comfortable place you’ve been loving and coming to for years, right from the get go,” says Mark Jensen, owner.
- The Barber Shop, 207 Mercer Street, Dripping Springs
- Flix Brewhouse, 2200 South IH-35, Suite B1, Round Rock
- Middleton Brewing, 9595 Ranch Road 12, Suite 4, Wimberly
- Wimberly Brewing Co. , 9595 Ranch Road 12, Wimberly
OK, so we now know that Texas, and particularly Austin, has great beer at brew pubs, but it doesn’t have the rights to claim that it is a great beer state because of its ridiculous laws. Do your part. Drink local and voice your opinion. Open The Taps has a convenient page describing how you can voice your support for craft brew in Texas. Do it!