What’s on tap for the Texas Craft Brewers Festival and the 6 beers you’ve gotta try

The 2015 Texas Craft Brewers Festival returns to Fiesta Gardens on Saturday, September 19, 2015. The state’s largest craft beer event serving beer made exclusively in Texas got even bigger this year with 65 breweries pouring around 170 brews.

Hops & Grain, Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter Culture
Hops & Grain, Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter Culture

 

There will definitely be a style of beer to suit any palate, as brewers will bring out their year-round beers, seasonals, and special beers to pour at the fest. In addition to the beers poured at each tent, there will be more than 20 special brews that will be tapped on the half hour.

To help you narrow your quest at the fest, CultureMap has selected six top beers to seek out at the Texas Craft Brewers Festival. Here are our picks:

Blue Owl Brewing: Spirit Animal Sour Pale Ale

Blue Owl Spirit Animal
I’ve been salivating with anticipation of the brews from Blue Owl Brewing and now we have our first chance to taste them at the Texas Craft Brewers Fest. This sour pale ale is made with a mix of GR Magnum, Crystal, Centennial, Citra, and Galaxy hops along with pale, Munich, honey, and Carahell malts. Blue Owl calls it “the marriage of sour-mashing and dry-hopping” to create a “truly unique animal.” This quenchy, low alcohol (5.1 percent), citrusy hoppy ale will be great on a hot summer afternoon and will be released at the upcoming grand opening.

Independence Brewing Co.: Reaper Madness

Independence ReaperMadness_front
Independence always brings out something interesting for the Craft Brewers Festival. Head brewer Brannon Radicke brewed a black IPA for Independence’s ninth anniversary party way back in October 2013; the beer was so popular that it was resurrected and reincarnated into Reaper Madness. A gorgeous blend of Columbus, Summit, and 07270 hops and Vienna, Carafa III, and Midnight Wheat malts give it dark and bold, piney and hoppy flavors balanced with mild biscuit and roasted-malt flavors. Its moderate alcohol of 6.1 percent won’t be crippling in the afternoon, and it’ll pair well with boudin balls from the Red’s Porch food truck at the festival.

Hops & Grain: Volumes of Oak Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter Culture
The Volumes of Oak series is all about bringing out complexity in beer with oak aging. The brewing shamans at Hops & Grain converted their delicious Baltic porter, called Porter Culture, into a lush brew with layers of chocolate, coffee, oak, tobacco, and vanilla with a velvety smooth finish by aging it in heavily charred American Oak barrels that were previously used to age bourbon whiskey. It’s made with pale and Munich malts with a touch of chocolate wheat for a smooth vanilla and coconut flavor to balance the heat of the bourbon booziness. Speaking of booziness, this one packs a punch at 9.4 percent ABV, so stick to just one 3-ounce taster of it.

Jester King Brewery: Amicis Mortis
Jester King is well known for its creative beers made with atypical ingredients. This year Jester King is bringing Amicis Mortis to the fest. It’s made in collaboration with the brewers from Brasserie Dunham in Quebec and inspired by a sweet potato, chili pepper, and coconut dish the folks at Jester King enjoy with Dunham. The unfiltered, unpasteurized, and naturally conditioned farmhouse ale is made with Zythos, Saaz, and Cascade hops along with organic pilsner and raw wheat malts fermented with a mixed culture of brewer’s yeast, native yeast, and bacteria harvested from the air and wildflowers around the brewery. The dry, mildly tart, earthy, funky, and mildly spicy beer is versatile and food friendly. Only 2,400 750-milliliter bottles of this were released last month, and the fest is one of the few occasions where it is available outside of the Jester King tasting room.

Save the World Brewing Co.: Froctum Bonum Saison Ale
This 1-year-old philanthropic brewery is starting to show up in more locations around Austin, but it’s still one to grab at the festival. Its Saison, made with Czech Saaz, East Kent Goldings, and Perle hops and Dingemans Pale, Dingemans Cara 20, and Briess Red Wheat malts, is a refreshing example of the traditional farmhouse ale. It’s a robust and versatile ale with assertive aromas and sweet malts, zesty citrus, and peppery spices with a hint of earthiness followed by a crisp dry finish. This will go great with The Knuckle Sandwich at the Nobel Sandwich food truck at the fest. If you miss it on Saturday, it’s available in cases of 12 22-ounce bottles year-round in stores, bars, and restaurants in Austin.

Whole Foods Market Brewing CompanyNo Escape Imperial Coffee Stout
What’s that? A grocery store brewing beer? Yep! Whole Foods Market has an in-house brewmaster, David Ohmer, who will pour a massive stout, billowing with molasses, vanilla, and milk chocolate flavors. It has more than enough hops to keep it from being too sweet with a blend of Horizon, Pacific Gem hops, and pale, Special B, Carafa II, Crystal 77, and roasted barley malts to give it those rich chocolatey flavors. If the initial rush of flavors doesn’t wake you up, the blitz of coffee will: It’s made with Ethiopian Suke Quto espresso beans for a big coffee flavor. Speaking of big, this bruiser packs a 10.8-percent ABV punch.

If you are looking for the No Escape Imperial Coffee Stout, you’ll only find it in the “Whole Foods Market presents: What’s Brewing?” interview series. Austin American-Statesman drinks-writer Arianna Auber and I will each interview brewers throughout the afternoon, including Ohmer.

What’s Brewing? Interview Schedule

Moderator: Arianna Auber (Liquid Austin, Bitch Beer)

  • 1 p.m. – Chip McElroy, Live Oak Brewing
  • 1:30 p.m. – David Ohmer, Whole Foods Market Brewing with Tiffany Cunningham, Whole Foods Market talking Beer & Cheese
  • 2 p.m.  – Jeff Young & Suzy Shaffer, Blue Owl Brewing
  • 2:30 p.m. – Scott Metzger, Freetail Brewing

Moderator: Matt McGinnis (CultureMap Austin, What Are You Drinking?)

  • 3 p.m.  – David Ohmer, Whole Foods Market Brewing with Tiffany Cunningham, Whole Foods Market talking Beer & Cheese
  • 3:30 p.m.  – Marco Rodriguez, Zilker Brewing
  • 4 p.m.  – Trevor Nearburg, Uncle Billy’s Brewery
  • 4:30 p.m.  – Quynh & Dave Rathkamp, Save the World Brewing

The event starts at 11:30 am for VIP ticket holders and 2 pm for general admission and closes at 6:30 pm. VIP tickets are sold out. General admission tickets sell for $30 on the Festival site and entitle guests to admission, eight 3-ounce sampling tokens, and a tasting cup. Tickets will not be sold at the door.

This story was originally published on CultureMap and has been slightly modified for the blog.

Disclosure, my marketing communications agency, Pen & Tell Us, represents Uncle Billy’s Brewery, which is mentioned in this story.

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My 5 Favorite Austin Beers at the Texas Craft Brewers Festival

Texas Craft Brewers Festival VolunteerOceans of beer flowed freely at the 2014 Texas Craft Brewers Festival. More than 150 types of beer were poured by 57 brewers at Fiesta Gardens. There is absolutely no way to taste all of those beers, so I took a simpleton’s approach to the beer bash this year: I tasted only what came to me in the VIP session and after that I tasted only beer that I can readily buy in Austin.

Notes on my approach:

  • VIP is the only way to go if you want to avoid the insanely long lines that come with general admission. Sure you’ll miss some of the special tappings that happen every 30 minutes going later into the day, but you will get to taste almost anything else you want without wasting all day in line.
  • It sounds counter-intuitive to drink Austin based beers when the whole state is coming to Austin. Why the hell not taste what I can’t get normally? Yes I drank other beers, but when I needed to actually seek a beer, I wanted to know that if I like it, I can buy it again after the fest. This wasn’t an exercise in total exploration.

Here are my five favorite Austin beers poured at the Texas Craft Brewers Festival:

Austin Beerworks, Sptunik

Austin Beerworks SputnikThis Russian imperial coffee oatmeal stout is as smooth as any oatmeal stout you’ll encounter with a bit of an edge from coffee from Cuvée Coffee Roasting Company. It wasn’t listed in the official program, but poured during the VIP session. This isn’t one of Austin Beerworks regular line up, but you can get it on tap around town seasonally.

 Hops & Grain Brewing, Double IPA 

Hops & Grain Double IPAThis bad boy was not listed on the official program, but was poured at the Hops & Grain booth along-side its Greenhouse IPA. Richer in color, with a bolder citrus and herbal punch, this 2X IPA cut through any beer lingering on the palate from a previous pour. I’d love to see this released in a can in the Greenhouse series.

Independence Brewing Co. Prickly Pear Stash IPA Firkin 

Amy Cartwright digs on the Stash IPA prickly pear
Amy Cartwright digs on the Stash IPA prickly pear

 

The folks at Independence spiked a batch of its Chinook hops Stash IPA with a dose of deep purple prickly pear juice made by heating, but not boiling, the luscious fruit. Neon pink, this beer stood out. It kept the familiar hoppy bite of Stash, with an added layer of melon flavor. Lots of fun.

Jester King Snörkel

Ron Extract pours a Jester King Snorkel
Ron Extract pours a Jester King Snorkel

 

This was the most interesting beer I tasted all day. The sour German Gose style beer is made with wheat, oyster mushrooms grown near the brewery and both sea salt and alderwood smoked sea salt. Funky, light and low alcohol, I could drink this stuff all afternoon. More please.

Real Ale Oktoberfest 

Erik Ogershok pours the pumpkiny goodness
Erik Ogershok pours the pumpkiny goodness

 

Real Ale made a traditional Bavarian style Oktoberfest with German malt, hops, and yeast and then spiked the bad boy with pumpkin pie spices. While it had the typical body and character of a Märzen, the pumpkin pie spice gave it an extra festive flavor without overwhelming it. Deelish.

Tell me what I missed. What were your favorites?

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Beers to go: 3 Texas breweries introduce new canned beers for spring

The  warmer days of spring lure Austinites to the lake, to the green belts and swimming pools around town. All of that fresh air and healthy activity works up a mighty thirst that can only be quenched by a cold beer. Thankfully three Texas brewers — Independence Brewing Co., Hops & Grain Brewing and Spoetzl Brewery, makers of Shiner — understand are introducing new beers in cans suitable for enjoying in the great outdoors.

Independence White Rabbit AleIndependence Brewing Co. introduces its first beer in cans  
Independence Brewing Co. is pulling a new trick out of its hat with the introduction of White Rabbit Ale in cans. This Belgian-style white ale was previously only available seasonally on draught.

“We tested several special release beers last year to see which would be the next we would package based on popularity,” said Independence president and co-founder Amy Cartwright. “People loved White Rabbit and were asking if we would release it as a year-round beer. We knew we had to release it.”

This is the third spring release of White Rabbit Ale, which has evolved from a hybrid-style saison to a traditional-style saison and now to a traditional Belgian-style witbier made with Belgian wit yeast. Head Brewer Brandon Radicke’s current recipe uses orange zest, coriander and peppercorns, along with Nugget and Styrian Goldings hops and Two-Row Pale, White Wheat, Pils and Munich malts.

“We wanted a refreshing beer with creaminess to the body, some fruitiness and a super dry finish,” said Cartwright. “The creaminess is based on the yeast we selected and the orange zest gives it some fruitiness. It’s medium bodied and perfect for drinking in the spring. We will probably have it available from February to August because summer is long in Austin and people want a summer beer for that long season.”

Cartwright acknowledges that packaging Independence in a can is a great way to help people enjoy a cold beer in their favorite outdoor spaces outside, but the decision to introduce cans has a more practical reason.

“We have a four head bottling machine that we bought in 2005 and we abuse it every day just trying to keep up with the production of our regular beers,” she said. “To put out a new beer was hard to do with the limits of our bottling line. We started talking with American Canning, a local company that has mobile canning equipment that they bring right to our site. It is a great way to try out cans without buying the equipment.”

The name White Rabbit ties in with the Independence vibe with a wink and a nod to the free-your-mind ethos of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland. Six-packs of White Rabbit are available for about $11 at the usual places you find Independence Brewing, including Specs, Central Market, Whole Foods and HEB stores in Austin.

Hops and Grain Green House IPAGrab Hops & Grain Greenhouse IPA in cans while it lasts
Recently Hops & Grain Brewery released the second version of its Greenhouse IPA series. In January Hops & Grain released Greenhouse IPA as a year-round beer in a can after experimenting with many recipes for it over the past year. Brewer, Josh Hare, settled on the recipe for the canned version to have plenty of heft from the hops and just a hint of malt flavor.

Greenhouse IPA is unique in an industry known for consistency, because every month Hops & Grain will release a slightly modified version using different hop varieties. The January release featured Mosaic hops and the February release employed dry-hopping of 60 percent Falconer’s Flight hops grown in Washington, and 20 percent Chinook and 19 percent Centennial hops from Oregon.

The beer has a hazy, light caramel color with a full head that lasts a long time. The variety of hops gives it a green, grassy smell with plenty of floral, pine and bread scents. While it’s not an over-powering hop-bomb, it has floral hoppy flavors with citrus and a punch of pine complemented by a hint of caramel from the malt. It’s complex, but still an easy drinker after a long hike.

Hops & Grain is only releasing 300 cases each month — each store receives only 10 cases — so it sells out fast. Greenhouse IPA is also available on draught at just two Austin bars: Star Bar and Haymaker.

Shiner Farm House 966Spoetzl Brewery releases Shiner FM 966 Farmhouse Ale in cans
For the first time, Shiner is introducing its spring seasonal in a can. Shiner FM 966 Farmhouse Ale, made in the style of European seasonal provision farmhouse ales, is an easy drinking beer made to be knocked back in the sun.

Reminiscent of a saison style, FM 966 is made with boiled Sterling Golding hops, with Meridian hops added in the whirlpool and then dry hopped with Meridian. It has an 80/20 two-row malt to wheat ratio.

FM 966 is a good beer for your first tubing trip of the season. It’s got plenty of carbonation to keep you buoyant. The hazy gold brew has fresh floral, orange and bread dough aromas and tastes fruity, grassy and a bit hoppy along with yeast, bready and soft malt flavors.

The FM 966 spring seasonal is available through March at central Austin HEB, Central Market and Whole Foods Markets locations.

Whether you are chilling on your back porch or headed down the river, you have excellent options of Texas beers in cans to take with you.

This story was first published on CultureMap.

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Texas Craft Brewers Festival taps booming beer market

“This has never been seen before in Texas,” mused Tim Schwartz, president of the  Texas Craft Brewers Guild and owner/brewer at Real Ale Brewing Company, as he looked around at the 39 Texas craft brewers and a growing crowd of thirsty people at the 2013 Texas Craft Brewers Festival, held at Fiesta Gardens in Austin on September 28. He was referring not only to the growth or the Festival, with 13 new breweries participating this year — up from 28 in 2012 and 18 in 2011 — but also to the vibrant development of the industry.

“We’ve more than doubled the number of brewers coming to this festival in the past few years,” said Schwartz. “That’s because there are a lot of new breweries opening up around the state. There are more breweries in Texas now than there ever have been. The increase in the number of people who drink craft beer has been fueling that growth. We see it at Real Ale. We’ve grown by 30 percent this year and will be producing more than 50,000 barrels.”

Schwartz has data from a recent study by the Texas Craft Brewers Guild to back up his enthusiasm. According to the study, Texas craft brewers produced 42 percent more beer in 2012 than in 2011.  From the looks of the expected sellout crowd of 6,000 at the Texas Craft Brewers Festival, there are enough eager beer drinkers in the state to gulp down all of that brew.

More than 130 local beers were on tap at the festival. Intrepid beer fans sought out the breweries that were new to this year’s festival, including Armadillo Ale Works, Branchline Brewing, Brigadoon Brewery, Buffalo Bayou Brewing, Cedar Creek Brewery, Community Beer, Cycler’s Brewing, Infamous Brewing,  Karbach Brewing, Lone Pint Brewery and Stones Craft Brewing. Clay Wicker, brewer and owner of Cycler’s Brewing, hopes to take advantage of cyclists’ proclivity to down a few pints after a hot ride with his cleverly named beers.

Returning breweries brought special and seasonal beers that aren’t readily found in bars, restaurants and retail shops.Independence Brewing Co. broke out a Muggles Double Cask dry hopped with Galaxy, Live Oak Brewing Co. introduced its Smoaktoberfest, Austin Beerworks tapped its Einhorn, Hops & Grain poured its Greenhouse Baltic Porter and the always inventive Jester King Brewery dazzled with Atrial Rubicide. The biggest crowds queued up for the special tappings that happened throughout the day.

With a mind-numbing variety of beer styles — from Czech, to Belgian, to German, to Texan — there were too many fan favorites to crown one king. A few that garnered audible oohs and aahs were Adelbert’s Brewery Barrel Aged Dancin’ Monks,No Label Brewing Black Wit-O, Pedernales Brewing Lobo Oktoberfest and (512) Brewing Company Whiskey Barrel Double Pecan Porter.

Despite the oppressive humidity early in the day and the sudden downpour in the afternoon, the crowds were in good spirits, luxuriating in barrel after barrel of locally made craft brew. It’s a good time to be a Texan beer lover.

 

 

This story was first published on CultureMap.

Disclosure: I was provided a media pass to attend the Festival free of charge. 

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