“Austin ain’t Texas.”
If I had a quid for every sod who has said this to me…
But it’s true. Texas gets a bad rep from, well, nearly everyone who isn’t from Texas. Stereotypes abound, but none (or at least very few) of them can be seen in the Texan oasis of creativity, expression, and (as I found out recently) delicious beer that is the city of Austin.
The West Coast gets the lion’s share of the plaudits when people talk about the American beer scene. From clean, crisp hop dreams to wonderfully nuanced Imperial Stouts, the breweries of America’s West Coast can sate most people’s tastes. Indeed, when you look at the geographical origin of the US brews we see brought in to Ireland and the UK, you don’t need to have an OxBridge Geography degree to know that a significantly large percentage comes from the Pacific coast.
But, how delightfully surprised I was to discover on a recent trip down to deepest darkest (bloody boiling hottest) Texas, that there’s life in the Southern beer scene. Thriving, accomplished, world class brewing life. And a buzzing local beer community to match.
The following is a rundown of the highlights of my short trip there – I’d consider all of these unmissable if you’re in the area and want great beer…
Ok, when I suggested earlier that the Texas beer scene gets no recognition at all, I was bullshitting you. The team at Jester King in the Texan Hill Country (a 20min drive from downtown Austin) are globally renowned and brew some literally world-class beers.
Jester King is now an all-farmhouse brewery – only brewing wild and spontaneously fermented beer. A brave plan; they’ve even stopped producing their much-lauded IPA, Wytchmaker, in favour of pursuing the wilder side of life.
How’s that gone for them, you ask? Blimmin’ well, I tell you. Their diverse range of brews will satisfy even the most hardcore of IPA-heads, taking inspiration from (mostly) European brewing styles but with a significant nod to the new age of American sour/wild production. What am I talking about…these guys are at the very forefront of this new age, and have been for some time.
At their idilic brewery and taproom (only open on Fridays and the weekends – see their site for concrete times), I experienced one of my most enjoyable beer-afternoons ever.
Clearly the setting is second to none, but the beers on offer really were of the highest order. From their lemony, lightly herbaceous flagship farmhouse ale, Noble King, to their huge, oaky, chocolate-forward funked-up Imperial Stout, Black Metal, I was in a beer-lover’s paradise. Add into that the delicately floral and peach-led session sour, Das Wunderkind, and a cherrytastically tart Flanders Red, Ol’ Oi!, and I was set for one hell of an afternoon. There’s an indoor bar & bottle shop looking into the brewhouse and a couple of outdoor beer stations to shorten the walk of those lounging in the Texan sunshine. It’s busy, so expect queues. But, to be fair, a rushed trip to Jester King is a sin: take your time, spend a few hours trying stuff. It’s heaven.
Back into central Austin now, and a fairly new player on the scene. Craft Pride is the true demonstration of how solid a beer culture Texas has cultivated over the past year: they never serve anything that doesn’t originate from the Lone Star State.
This is a little place down on the weird and wonderful Rainey Street (basically a rickety road of old Americana houses turned into trendy bars and eateries), that really does showcase the best of the local scene. Friendly staff and a cool little bottle shop out the back help to raise its game, but the beers on tap do their own talking. First up, Real Ale Brewing Company’s Lost Gold IPA gave a good fruity smack of dank Amarillo but then my breath was taken by what can only be described as an odd-ball of modern brewing: an Imperial Berliner Weisse(!) by Texian Brewing Co. Charlie Foxtrot is its name, and a crazy peach/orange-forward lemony lacto-sourness is its game. At 7.5% this creation (which looked like the dodgiest pint of Somerset Scrumpy Cider I’ve ever seen) was tough to get my head around. Christ knows what BJCP judges would say about it, but I thought it was bloody delicious. So there.
Staying down on the nutty Rainey Street, we have Banger’s – a near neighbour to Craft Pride. It satisfies similar beery urges but with a wider scope of brews on the taplist (and a few very tasty sausages thrown into the mix). I was lucky to get plenty of interesting gear from Firestone Walker pouring when I was in there; while not a Texas brewery, their stuff is sublime and I wasn’t going to turn my nose up at it.
That said, there were plenty of local options too, with a friendly knowledgable staff and a giant outdoor terrace. You could quite happily spend an evening here and leave boozed up and full of sausage. Like a boss.
This is a pure English-style old-skool boozer with an added oddity of an electronically displayed(!) taplist of well over 50 beers. What sets it apart from the traditional English boozer is the oh-so-polite way the locals queue up to be served at the bar. In a long, snaking line. No bar scrum or money-waving here, folks, these are sensitive people. Adorable.
Anyway, after joining a well-ordered line, there’s a plethora of choices. From local goodies from Real Ale, Southern Star, and Austin Beerworks to more widely known brews from the likes of Green Flash, Firestone Walker and Odell. Indeed, from the latter, I had a very interesting Imperial Peach IPA…Tree Shaker. This was, unsurprisingly, peach-forward with a good bit of juiciness, offset by some more bitter spruce character and peppery stuff. Pretty boozy, but an interesting half pint to say the least.
Last but by no means least on this rundown is the fantastic Austin Beer Garden Brewery. Man, this place is class. As the above (booze-shaken) picture shows, there’s a cool little onsite brewery in an old hangar pretty close to downtown Austin.
These guys really did brew the most complete, all-round-quality range of beers I’ve tasted from a brewpub in a long time. From lagers to stouts, via pale ales and IPAs, these guys nailed it. Their Hell Yes Helles (groan!) was fab: light in body, slight honey creaminess to the pale pale malt with a hint of lightly spicy hop character, it went down an absolute treat outside in the baking sun. The beer that really did blow my mind, though, was their house 5.5% ABV pale ale, Day Trip. A hazy light golden pour with a lovely white head. Gorgeous mango and lychee aroma – some pineapple and sweet mandarin orange too. Heady tropical fruits throughout. The taste is ever so juicy too: such a fresh hop whack of juicy Citra and dank Amarillo. Lots of mango and more bitter orange linger. Very clean and crisp malt backing – a touch of light digestive biscuit in there to give a little balance. Solid pine-tinged bitterness to finish, but nothing too resinous or sticky. This was truly first class. One of those brews you could quite happily sink forever more. Good job, ABGB.
So there we go, a round up of my beer experience in Austin, Texas. A couple more places didn’t get enough of a look-in for me to consider them, but believe me – there’s plenty more choice out there. This list is by no means comprehensive and can no doubt be supplemented by the wonderful folks I met at the Austin Zealots homebrew club – such a great local beer crowd down there, who are more than open to welcoming visitors with open arms and chatting shit about beer; hit them up if you’re in town.
Oh, and don’t forget the BBQ. Not that you were going to…