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.

What are you drinking? 

Austin Brew Pubs Could be Better

2013 Austin City Guide Austin Food Bloggers Alliance 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 PubDraught 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.

Davis Tucker, NXNW Owner 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.

Coming Soon

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.

Other local Brew Pubs

  • 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!

What are you drinking?

Craft Pride Brings Texas Craft Beer to Rainey Street

Craft Pride on Rainey StreetJust when you thought that every beer-soaked square inch of Rainey Street was occupied by a bar, another one squeezes into the scene. The newest entrant to the red hot bar district is Craft Pride, a Texas tap room that will start pouring craft brews at its grand opening on Thursday, February 28.

Husband and wife team JT and Brandy Egli are introducing 54 taps and two cask engines all pouring Texas-made craft brews in a remodeled house at 61 Rainey, next to Javelina.

It takes a little more than a big selection of beer to draw attention among the bars on Rainey Street, something that this team knows well. The Eglis designed Craft Pride with serious attention to detail, aspiring to make it the perfect beer den for Texas craft brew lovers.

“One thing absolutely necessary is for people to be comfortable. All the seats inside are cushioned. Even the big octagon outdoor picnic tables are comfortable,” says Brandy. Craft Pride will offer table service on its back patio and all bar service inside and on the front porch. The back patio also sports two stages for live music.

Craft Pride owners Brandy and JT EgliOf course the real draw is the beer, with a regular rotating supply of staples from 18 Texas breweries as well as seasonal and special beers. “We will serve proper pours in proper glassware. Craft Pride is using 20 ounce Imperial pint style glasses so we can pour a 16 ounce beer and leave room for a two-inch head,” JT says. “It’s a Texas sized pour. It looks great and lets you smell the beer. And we are offering flights of five four-ounce pours. Most places only give you four pours. Ours are Texas sized flights.”

The beer-focused design also extends to the cooler and a new draft system that features short lines from the cooler right behind the tap wall, so the beer is as fresh as possible from the keg to the glass. They redesigned the old house with the intent of getting as much beer as possible in the space by building up instead of building out.

“I think we may have the only two-story walk-in beer cooler in the country. It lets us get more beer and keep more space to accommodate guests,” JT explains.

In addition to the large selection of beer on tap, Craft Pride will also sell beer to go in its retail space called Bottle Shop. While the taps are all Texas, Bottle Shop will carry some non Texas beers like domestic IPAs and Belgian Ales.

Chris Booth, a Cicerone Certified beer expert formerly of Black Star Co-op and Bangers will make sure Craft Pride has a constant supply of the very best craft beers, while keeping service up to snuff. “We are fortunate to have Chris. He is committed to serving the absolute best beer and taking care of customers,” JT says.

Craft Pride will have 54 beers on tap and 2 cask enginesTo soak up all of those suds, Reid Reynolds, owner of Bacon Restaurant, will have a Bacon Bus parked in the back serving an ever changing menu with several items from the restaurant. Burgers, chicken and waffles, as well as a full family of pork — pulled pork, pork belly and pig wings — will be served alongside healthier options like salads, a black bean burger and grilled cheese. “Who doesn’t want to drink great beer and eat great bacon?” Reynolds asks.

The name Craft Pride reflects the couple’s love of all things craft, beyond just beer. The design of the bar reflects their appreciation of hand-crafted elements, using unique materials and architectural elements. The main bar, side bars and some tables are made from one monstrous Live Oak branch. All of the long leaf pine and curly pine on the interior wall is made of wood from the original house.

There is even a hand-made light fixture in the shape of an alpha acid molecule, the agent in hops that gives beer is edgy bitterness. “Architect Ryan Reynolds Design did a great job incorporating the original space with the feel we were looking for. The Historical Society even approved of it,” says JT.

For the grand opening on February 28, Craft Pride will be tapping special kegs and casks from (512) Brewing Co.Adelbert’s BreweryAustin BeerworksDeep Ellum Brewing Co., Hop’s & GrainJester King Craft BreweryRanger Creek and Real Ale Brewing Company.

Craft Pride plans to host new brewery launch parties as well “Meet the Brewers” nights soon after opening.

This story was first published on CultureMap.

What are you drinking? 

Craft beer boom: Industry could have $5.6 billion economic impact on Texas if laws are changed

We pride ourselves on having a free market economy where supply and demand are the only regulators of prices and trade, but that’s not actually the case — especially when it comes to craft beer in Texas.

An economic study commissioned by the Texas Craft Brewers Guild says that the craft beer industry, while booming, is artificially hindered by restrictive laws.

According to the study, Texas craft brewers, both in brew pubs and breweries, had an economic impact of $608 million on the state in 2011. While that sounds like a ton of cash — and it is a big impact — it could be bigger. The study estimates that the craft brew industry’s economic impact for Texas could be as much as $5.6 billion a year with an addition of 52,000 new jobs by 2020, if legislation is created to support it.

That’s an optimistic estimate that requires a long-winded explanation of the equation for economic impact. The number is a combination of direct impact (the actual sales of the beer and wages calculated at $221.6 million), indirect impact (the money and wages made through related industries dependent on beer money calculated at $173.9 million) and induced impact (an extrapolation of the cash from direct and indirect money calculated at $212.6 million). Phew.

Lately, demand for craft beer around the country, and in Texas particularly, has been stout. The number of breweries and brew pubs in Texas has increased exponentially in recent years with 78 actively licensed brewers in 2011 up from 52 the year before, and another 61 licensed brewers in planning. Sales increased 13 percent in 2011 over the previous year, and the amount of beer brewed jumped 46 percent.

Many of the brewers in Austin, like Austin BeerworksJester King Craft BreweryHops & Grain Brewing and Live Oak Brewing Co. say they are doing everything they can just to make enough beer to satisfy thirsty Austinites. To remedy the shortage, 92 percent of the study’s survey respondents said they would invest in expanding their production if the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code (TABC) were changed to lift restrictions on market access.

The estimated economic growth prediction is predicated on continued growth in the industry as well as a change in current laws. “In other states, brewers can sell their packaged goods directly to consumers through tasting rooms… brew pubs can sell beer off premises, at festivals, for instance, and as packaged goods in retail stores, not just at their brew pub location,” says Metzger. “These sales opportunities are lost for Texas craft brewers — and they add up.”

“If regulations were to change, the entire craft beer environment in Texas would change for the better. We would see a drastic increase in revenue, and subsequently tax revenue, from our tap room sales. These sales are taxed at a higher rate than our wholesale sales through our distributor. With the ability to sell our beer in our tap room we could generate more revenue for our business as well as for the state,” says Josh Hare, brewer and founder of Hops & Grain Brewing.

Ron Extract, managing partner at Jester King Craft Brewery, agrees. “Craft beer is a growing part of the economy and it could grow more. We are constrained right now. We don’t have the same rights that wineries or other out-of-state breweries enjoy. The growth is hampered by the current laws. The chances of a new brewery succeeding are much, much lower in the current climate.”

Efforts to address the laws are underway and there is hope that constraints will be removed during the next legislative session. In addition to active lobbying by brewers, consumer group Open the Taps is working to change the state’s legislative and regulatory process.

It will be a tough battle in light of the failure of similar legislation in Texas last year, but the community is hopeful that beer drinkers will join the cause. “If you want to see a better economic climate for Texas craft beer, you should reach out to your legislators and weigh in on the law,” Extract says. “The legislators need to hear from their constituents that we want to see things change.”

The next time you’re thirsty for a take-home six-pack of Uncle Billy’s Hop Zombie from the brew pub, take action by contacting your senator. You may get the beer you want and you’ll improve the state’s economy at the same time.

This story originally ran on CultureMap.

What are you drinking?