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.

What are you drinking?

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. 

What are you drinking? 

Beer on the trading floor at Brew Exchange

The bell rings and pandemonium ensues — the screaming traders, the mad waving of colorful stock order slips, the smell of money. Wall Street? No, last week Brew Exchange rang the opening bell on a fresh concept of stock market pricing at a new West Sixth Street location.

Here, beer is sold according to the laws of supply and demand. Real-time market conditions dictate pricing allowing you to get some unknown beers at a discount, while driving the price of more popular brews higher.

Nick Adams, co-owner

Owner Nick Adams, is an idea collector. He constantly takes notes on things that catch his attention and when he stumbled across the idea for a bar with a trading theme, he and his four partners (including the three co-owners of Kung Fu Saloon — Michael Dickson, Chris Horne, Ben Cantu — as well as Tim Womac) moved quickly.

He paired a unique software program that interfaces with cash registers to create stock market price fluctuations on a huge selection of beer, capitalizing on the surging craft brew movement in Texas. “No one in the nation does it like Brew Exchange,” says Adams.

So, with fluctuating pricing, is it possible to end up paying more for a Miller Lite than a local craft brew? Adams says no and explains that there is a low and a high cap for every beer. In other words, Miller Lite, the best selling beer on W. Sixth Street, won’t be going for $10 a pint even if a bachelor party stumbles in and orders it by the case. “We’re probably not going to have mainstream beers going for higher prices than a craft beer,” says Adams.

Brew Exchange groups similar beers in categories, so if a particular beer within a group goes up, its counter-parts drop. For example, if Real Ale jumps 25 percent, then Live Oak in the same group will drop by the same amount. If a Live Oak is around $4 a pint and it gets to its upper limit $6, the software will cap it and then reset the price. (These are just hypothetical prices to give an idea of the system at work.) In addition to the supply and demand fluctuations, they will simulate “market crashes” to offer fat discounts on select suds that will last all day. The insider tip: don’t buy high.

Austin is blessed with some fantastic beer bars like the Draught House Pub, the Flying Saucer, The Gingerman and Black Star Co-op, and now this Beer Exchange will compete for our attention. It will carry 72 beers on tap and 50 to 60 more in bottles and cans, with at least 25 to 30 local brews including (512) Brewing Company, Austin Beerworks, Circle Brewing Company, Jester King, Live Oak Brewing Company, Thirsty Planet Brewing, and Real Ale Brewing to name a few. They will carry several more American craft beers, a selection of Belgian beers and many other European porters, stouts and ales. Brew Exchange plans to carry a rotating stock of seasonal selections and will even carry gluten-free beers. The menu is refreshed regularly based on customer input with up to 15 to 20 percent of the selection changing to keep things fresh.

Brew Exchange has a few added touches to keep beer aficionados happy. They have installed a glycol beer cooling system that keeps the beer crisp from cooler to tap via refrigerated copper pipes. Not only that, but they are fanatical about keeping the glasses clean with a four compartment washing system that allows for extra rinse. Of course the glasses are cold.

Who’s buying it?

Beer aficionados and Austinites pride themselves in their Portlandia-like reverence of anything authentic. Will a concept bar smack people as too gimmicky? Will protesters come to Occupy Barstool? Why in the hell would I want to pay more money for a beer just because it’s selling particularly well on a given night?

There are some skeptics. Chris Troutman, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Austin Beer Guide says, “I like going to bars where I know how much I’ll be paying for my evening out. The success of a new beer bar really depends on how many of those 72 taps they dedicate to better beers, and how many of those they allot to local craft beer. I’ve observed that the beer bars that work at keeping their selection fresh and up-to-date with national and regional seasonal and special releases tend to be more popular with the craft crowd. Better beer drinkers in Austin are looking for bars that consistently secure new seasonals, special one-off releases, and actively work with the brewers to host special cask tappings or other rare beer events.”

Matt Abendschein, the You Stay Hoppy Austin beer blogger, is more enthusiastic, saying, “How could I not be excited about a bar with that kind of offering? That just sounds like I’d be walking into an adult candy store. If the beer bar is truly passionate about the beer they serve and especially puts a high focus on local beer, then I see no reason why the craft beer community shouldn’t or wouldn’t support it. Having an authentic vibe of community is what the beer world is all about. It’s definitely a unique idea, one I have never heard of in the beer bar world. I’m not sure I fully understand it but hey, if I can get a good local craft brew for $2, bring it on.”

Adams believes the Brew Exchange key to success is interactivity. Bartenders study beer bibles and are trained to maintain a conversation with the customer on the pricing concept and on all the beers. “This is a way to influence people to take the leap and try new beer. If someone orders a Blue Moon, our bar staff can say ‘Hey if you like Wit Bier, we have four others that might blow your mind,’” say Adams.

Perhaps the time has come for a concept beer bar in Austin. “People expect a little more in a bar than a hot location with great beer,” says Adams. “They want a great design with a cool feel, not a corporate feel. We put a lot of imagination into Brew Exchange.”

The architecture has unique elements, like copper bar backs and beer bottle light fixtures, keeping it fresh and giving it a 1960s stock market motif. Prices scroll on a ticker that runs 62 feet across the perimeter of the bar and on TVs. While employees won’t be required to wear a uniform, like one of those blue smocks popular on stock trading floors, they have the option of wearing the iconic red suspenders made popular by Bear Stearns Partner, Liam Dalton. Adams wore them on opening night.


This article also appeared on CultureMap.

What are you drinking?


From Mistress to Wife: Jester King Brewery

Texas welcomes a new craft brewery to the neighborhood today with the opening party for Jester King Brewery. And a party it was. Traffic was backed-up more than 2.5 miles to get in. The 2,000 pint glasses ordered for the party ran out in the first hour and half. What do you expect? Texans love a party, and Texans love beer.

Have you ever dreamt of turning your hobby into your job? That’s just what Jeff Stuffings, owner of Jester King, did. He was gracious enough to spend a little time with me at the end of the opening bash to spin a yarn about the birth of his brewery. Jeff started home brewing back in aught three. He fell in love. He was obsessed. After a while, he couldn’t pay attention to his day job. His mistress soon became his wife.

Jeff found a 200 acre working ranch that needed a 6,500 square foot brewery to complete its own life goals, and soon Jester King had a home in the Texas hill country just outside of Austin. The brewery started operations with its first brew day on September 24, 2010 and began shipping kegs of beer to bars in Austin, Dallas and Houston in October.


In a typical brew day, Jeff and his brother Michael produce 930 gallons, or 30 barrels, or 60 kegs of glorious beer. From the fermenter, the beer is kegged, bottled, or barrel aged.  Yeah, Jester King ages three of its five beers in oak barrels. They source barrels from George Dickel whiskey for Commercial Suicide and wine barrels for the farmhouse ales, Boxer’s Revenge and Das Wunderkind!.

The barrels are stored in a temperature controlled room to let the yeast do its best work. The same goes for the 750ml bottles of Black Metal Imperial Stout. This bad ass stout is bottle conditioned, with yeast and sugar added to the bottle for additional fermentation in the bottle. Size matters and these beers don’t come in a puny 12 oz bottle.

Speaking of bottles, the 130 cases of Black Metal is just the first round of bottles produced. It’s hand-bottled, which is pretty damned time consuming. It is available now in good beer stores around Texas. The next batch of beers in bottles will be in stores in late February.

Here’s what you can expect to taste when you get your hands on Jester King beers.

Wytchmaker Rye IPA

Look Tawny amber, hazy with a bone cream head.
Smell Like a bag of sticky weed in a pine forest. Fresh hops and juniper berries burst in the nose.
Taste The British army would order extra of this IPA. Grapefruit rind and pine sap mingle in smooth effervescence and linger for a long, bitter finish.

Black Metal Imperial Stout

Look Black espresso with a rich brown crema head that subsides quickly. Black Metal is as opaque as its name.
Smell A coffee shop a few hours after roasting. Warm coffee beans, chocolate and toasted malt.
Taste Breakfast or desert? Lush, creamy dark chocolate with French roast coffee spiked with tingly bubbles, finishing in a long oak and coffee bean finish.

Commercial Suicide Dark Mild

Look I was never good at telling the difference between burnt sienna or burnt umbra Crayolas, but this beer is one of those. Its dark brown veil is translucent enough to let light shine in through the edges.
Smell A lazy afternoon rolling in dry leaves and straw in the hot sun, with sweet malt and fresh baked bread on the breeze.
Taste Have you had a buddy’s home brew and you know it has potential, but it’s not completely balanced? That’s Commercial Suicide. The yeast is a bit too prominent and overcomes the mild citrus and toasted malt. It finishes quickly, making no excuses.

If you think the darkest, richest beer made in Texas is Shiner Bock, you are in for a treat. Jester King brings rich, hearty brews to the Texas craft brew fraternity. Jeff, I’m glad you gave up your first one to marry your mistress.


Unfortunately I got to the opening party late and was unable to try the beer at the brewery. Samples were provided free of charge by The Draught House Pub and Brewery.

What are you drinking?An interview with Jeff Stuffings, owner Jester King