Austin’s craft beer scene has long played second fiddle to the city’s reputation as a live music mecca. Now, full-fledged breweries and brewpubs garner much love from a broad assortment of bars, restaurants and lager drinkers.
By Emma Janzen
Since 2010, the number of Austin breweries has doubled, with seven new outfits launching just last year. Dive in head-first with Austin Beerworks’ four flagships, easily spotted by their bold, bright cans. Its Peacemaker Extra Pale Ale, which claimed a silver medal at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival, is a sessionable counterpoint to the patriotically hoppy and heady 8.4%-ABV Fire Eagle American IPA. Also turning heads with cans: The Kickstarter-funded Rogness Brewing will unleash its eclectic line (including a chai amber, a Scotch ale and a porter) in cans for the first time this summer, and veterans Real Ale Brewing will liberate bestseller Firemans #4 Blonde Ale from the bottle and offer it in aluminum this year, too. Eco-minded Hops & Grain turns to cans for sustainability reasons; it also transforms spent grains from its German-style Alt-eration and Pale Dog pale ale into dog treats for four-legged fans. Twisted X Brewing leans Southwest and sustainable by incorporating locally sourced ingredients into its Tex-Mex beer portfolio: Taste fresh peppers in the Fuego Jalapeño Pilsner, and prickly pears in the Siesta Prickly Pear Lager. And because Austin is nothing if not idiosyncratic, check out the bold personalities from Hill Country farmhouse brewery Jester King, which combines local flavors from wild yeasts, well and rain water, and sheer imagination to churn out European-minded brews that range from the unassuming table beer Le Petit Prince to the loud roasted malts of the intrepid Black Metal Imperial Stout.
Don’t be fooled by the no-frills, divey atmosphere of North Loop’s Workhorse Bar: The tap list is serious, with an impressive 26 of the 50 faucets pouring beer brewed within city limits. Sports bar Draft Pick American Grill takes the local mantra to the extreme with 31 of 33 taps spouting Texas brews, including the best from Austinites (512) Brewing and Independence. The young professional crowd of the West Sixth Street district recently welcomed The Brew Exchange, where a 62-foot-long, stock-market-style ticker scrolls through the prices of 72 drafts, which fluctuate based on supply and demand throughout business hours. Watch for local tap-only gems, like Live Oak HefeWeizen—often rated one of the country’s best—and the summer-only Independence Saison.
Nationally acclaimed Barley Swine takes its name from chef Bryce Gilmore’s love of all things pork and beer, so it’s natural that the always-busy gastropub showcases an inspired selection of both. The staff happily suggests beer pairings with rustic yet refined small plates. Hopfields focuses on rural French fare, but that doesn’t mean the selection of 42 taps is completely Euro-centric: Beers from around the world provide the focal point at the quirky but friendly pub. Easy Tiger: Bake Shop & Beer Garden embraces all things grain, from the house-baked breads and flaky pastries to the 30 brews on tap. Also keep your eyes on the Whip In, a family-run Indian food restaurant, grocery store and longtime craft beer staple, as it launches its Namaste Brewing arm—specializing in Belgian and English-style beers to complement the house Indian cuisine—this summer.
Cinematic Sips: Helping to “keep Austin weird” is the local movie-going experience, in which taking in a summer blockbuster means also taking in, say, a summer blond ale. Movie theater chain Alamo Drafthouse, where viewers take down small plates and drink during films, boasts more taps at some of its five Austin-area theaters than many bars in town; the Lake Creek location has 40 beers on tap with one spout for cask-conditioned beer. North Austin’s new Flix Brewhouse kicks the concept up a notch with its own in-house brewer (Justin Rizza, formerly of Independence Brewery), who creates a series of signature beers and rotates special taps for movie-goers to enjoy before, during or after a film.