There are over 2,100 breweries in the U.S., according to the Brewers Association, an uptick of more than 350 in the last year alone. Apparently, more than half as many are in the works, as the association reports that nearly 1,300 are in the planning stages. Thirty-four hundred breweries and brewpubs? Where are we going to put them all? Evidently, several are or will be clustered almost on top of one another in a handful of hot spots from sea to brewing sea. While we suppose you’ve been to one or two hubs of brewing activity—epicenters such as Portland, San Francisco, Denver, Asheville, etc., spring to mind—how about resolving to make the new year all about visiting new hotbeds?
Of course, more isn’t necessarily more. Equally important is, how good are the new digs on the block? Be it by striking out into a whole new territory like Austin or seeping over into a nearby locale as is the case for me with Hood River, OR, boomtowns are experiencing liquid-gold rushes.
For various reasons, the Lone Star State hosts precious few brewing companies per capita, perennially finding itself in the bottom 10 in the union. But there is a bright, solitary star on the Texas beer map. Austin, famous for its Longhorns and its bats (there are more than 1.5 million in the largest urban colony in the country), now supports about 20 brewing concerns. Note that they all make the distinction between production facilities and brewpubs; the former can’t sell on-site directly to the consumer and the latter can’t sell for off-premise but don’t necessarily have a restaurant attached or any food available. Weird, right? Well, that’s why they say Keep Austin Weird. Here’s a look at the places keeping Austin beer’ed. Plan your trip in the summer (yes, it’ll be hot) during an only-in-Austin celebration called Bats & Beers.
Our guide through Austin’ is Christopher Orf, one of a few locals who aspire to establish a brewery. Orf Brewing hopes to host the first Orftoberfest in 2013. He’s at least as equally passionate about the local music scene, with Austin deserving its reputation as the Live Music Capital, and suggests streaming local stations KUT 90.5 and KOOP 91.7 as you plot your trip and once you arrive. As brew guide, he begins with the ones he calls the “old guard,” but of course that only dates back to 1997 with Live Oak Brewing, purveyor of “great, traditional Bavarian-style beers,” thus earning frequent “Best Of” honors. Orf is a huge fan of its hefeweizen and Pils and notes that even it has something new going on: the development of a larger facility on the Colorado River.
Brewpub-wise, visit the The Draught House Pub & Brewery (4112 Medical Parkway) to experience “the best beer bar, by many accounts” with great atmosphere inside and out (in the beer garden). It’s not to be confused with The Alamo Drafthouse (many locations), which does serve a house amber made by local Independence Brewing, but presents signature events like Heckle Vision, where audience members “text-heck” and their gibes appear on screen during cult movies.
If you’d like to class things up a bit, hit North By Northwest (10010 Capital of Texas Highway N.). The name isn’t a reaction to the famous SXSW Music Festival that Austin hosts, but owner Davis Tucker’s homage to the brewing culture of the Pacific Northwest that happens to be located in Northwest Austin. Orf confirms that “their beers are quite good, and tend to pair well with their food.” Try the tri-tip pizza washed down with Py Jingo Pale Ale.
Seeing as the new brewers have yet to develop a reputation beyond Austin city limits, one of the “established but still youthful” breweries is the area-code-identified (512) Brewing (407 Radam Lane, Building F-200). Incorporating local terroir, the Wit differs from a traditional Belgian Witbier by replacing orange peel with zest from locally grown grapefruits. “It has the stamp of approval from the late Pierre Celis,” mentions Orf, referring to the person single-handedly responsible for reintroducing this classic style. Celis became an Austin transplant, and his daughter recently announced plans to bring the Celis Brewing Co. back to Austin! As for (512), “Their Pecan Porter is delicious,” made with real Texas pecans.
Beer geeks nationwide clamor for Jester King (13005 Fitzhugh Road), located on a farm in an unincorporated part of Austin’s Texas Hill Country, so plan extra time (about an hour round trip) for driving when heading out for its Saturday tours and tastings. “These guys are pushing the taste buds of Texas beer drinkers,” Orf says. Try Thrash Metal Farmhouse Strong Ale or Black Metal Farmhouse Imperial Stout. “They do a lot of sours, funky yeast blends and aging in barrels.”
Dating back to 2010, America received its first cooperatively owned, self-managed brewpub in the form of Black Star Co-op Pub & Brewery (7020 Easy Wind Drive, Suite 100). Though it’s worker-owned, and most of the employees are adept homebrewers, Jeff Young is the brewmaster who keeps the pub afloat in “rational” beers such as wheat or brown ales, “irrational” beers where anything goes, and the occasional “infinite” beers aged in various oak barrels. “It’s a cool atmosphere,” says Orf approvingly, “knowing that the guy at the bar next to you might have been one of the homebrewing co-op members who contributed to the latest recipe on tap.”
But it’s the half-dozen or so breweries that have sprouted up in the last year or two that put the Texas capital at the forefront of the next wave of craft brewing. Austin Beerworks (3009 Industrial Terrace) is a canning-only brewery debuting four brands including Peacemaker Extra Pale Ale, one of Orf’s favorite “anytime” beers. Less than a mile away is Adelbert’s Brewery (2314 Rutland Drive, Suite #100), proffering high-gravity Belgian-style ales, though one of its most popular brews is the French Farmhouse style bière de garde called Scratchin’ Hippo. And some seven miles farther east is Rogness Brewing (2400 Patterson Industrial Drive in Pflugerville), courtesy of Forrest Rogness (and a second Kickstarter campaign), the owner of Austin Homebrew Supply, friend to the local homebrew club The Austin Zealots.
Amping up the homebrewer’s mentality on a commercial scale is Jim Sampson, co-founder of Twisted X (3200 W. Whitestone Blvd., C#1, in Cedar Park), with a theme line of Tex-Mex-style beers like its flagship Premium Tex Mex Lager made with corn to emulate Mexican lagers. Other brands include Fuego Jalapeno Pilsner, Siesta Prickly Pear Lager, and Senor Viejo, a tequila-aged Imperial Schwarzbier. Though the Rogness Brewing is just a year old, a new 30-barrel brewery is already in the works. Also north of Austin proper is Flix Brewhouse (2200 S. I-35 S., Suite B-1, in Round Rock). “It’s a movie theater with a brewpub attached,” Orf says. “Brewer Justin Rizza makes a great saison” (and a blood orange Wit) that pairs nicely with, well, first-run films. There are roughly 40 taps heavy on Texan beers from St. Arnold’s (Houston) to Shiner Bock.
As far as the new brewpubs go, whereas Orf points to the construction site where Pinthouse Pizza is going in, just north of the Draught House, helmed by Joe Mohrfeld, formerly a brewer at Odell in Fort Collins,CO, the Whip-In is now home to Namaste Brewing (1950 IH-35 S.), brewing in 10-gallon batches. “The South Asian food (lots of ginger, but with South Austin flair) is great nosh,” Orf enthuses. Two cultures have melded brilliantly (“Namaste and Howdy Y’all”). For example, a section of the gastropub’s menu focuses on “panaani” sandwiches like the Mahadeva Muffaleta grilled on naan bread. The house beers, obviously, follow suit. Orf notes of their debut beer, Brahmale, a 9.5 percent Post-colonial pale ale: “Why should they call it an IPA? Dipak the owner and Arjit the manager take pride in their heritage.” (Its website does now refer to Brahmale as a post-colonial IPA, made with local honey, grapefruit peel and lemongrass.) Other exotic brews include the Shivastout (with bourbon-reduced dates and oatmeal), the Kalidurgale (barleywine with cardamom, espresso and molasses), and for mango lassi fans, the Shakti Ale, a sour ale with mango pulp. Beyond this, the pub doubles as a music venue (for “guitars and sitars”), bottle shop and atmospheric beer garden.
Speaking of places to visit, no trip to Austin is complete without pairing local beer with live music. Optimally, time your visit for mid-October to take in its signature fest, Austin City Limits featuring tons of disparate bands on eight stages for three full days. To keep it more manageable, Orf lists The Resentments as long-time favorites who gig Sundays at the Saxon Pub (1320 S. Lamar Blvd.). Dig some “raucous blues by dynamo Carolyn Wonderland or guitar-slinger Gary Clark Jr. or brassy R&B Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears” at Antone’s (213 W. 5th St.). Orf gets jazzed about the “fun mishmash of brass and winds known as the Minor Mishap Marching Band. Tubas! Trumpets! Piccolos! Piccolo trumpets! It’s a scene to see and revel in.” Finally, hit Maria’s Taco Xpress (2529 S. Lamar Blvd.) for “Hippie Church,” which Orf describes as “an Austin institution where local Texas bands play gospel and blues music on Sundays at noon.”
As for feasting, Orf begins with Uchi (801 S. Lamar Blvd.), “the best restaurant in town” (if the locals who voted it that some six years running have any say, not to mention the James Beard Foundation Awards). Deep in the heart of Texas, Austinites love this Japanese-fusion sushi place. But dining need not be spendy, so Orf recommends the food trailer culture, claiming that Torchy’s Tacos (eight locations in Austin), especially the one at 2809 S. First St., is best. Straight down First Street, check out Gourdough’s (1503 S. First St.), serving meal-sized doughnuts, though not all of them are desserty. Take the Boss Hog for instance, topped with pulled pork and potato salad, and drizzled with honey barbecue sauce. Welcome to Texas.
But barbecue and doughnuts are getting ahead. Rest your fun-fatigued head at the Hotel Saint Cecilia (112 Academy Drive) named after the patron saint of music and poetry in hip South Congress (“SoCo”), where it’s a short walk to the Magnolia Cafe (1920 S. Congress Ave.; second locale: 2304 Lake Austin Blvd.) for “outstanding pancakes.” Or for great Tex-Mex, Orf isn’t alone as a fan of the Tamale House (three locations: the Original Tamale House, Famous Tamale House and Tamale House East). Tamale House East (1707 E. Sixth St.) makes great mole sauce, while the original (5003 Airport Blvd.) makes his favorite hot sauce “for their 85-cent, super-yummy breakfast tacos.” You’ll need ’em, presuming you follow Orf’s festive counsel.
Hood River, OR
It’s widely known that Portland has more breweries than any other city in the world (50). Head 60 miles due east of “Beervana,” however, and you’ll not only drive through the stunning Columbia River Gorge, but you’ll wind up in Hood River, population 7,200. The gorge’s brewery population including the Washington state side of the river: eight. Yes, the brewery per capita in this playground on the river is virtually one per thousand.
The gorgeous and fun year-round destination offers ample hiking trails that may be wetter in the winter and spring, but that makes all the waterfalls that much more spectacular. (Multnomah Falls is deservedly the most popular, but I like Ponytail because you can go behind the waterfall.) Less obvious is that Hood River lies exactly between the Yakima and Willamette valleys, America’s top two hop-growing regions, which give local brewers an unfair advantage. Plan your trip for the last weekend in September just as the fall foliage arrives and soak up the Fresh Hops Beer Fest to enjoy some 50 fresh-hopped beers you can’t make or enjoy anywhere else.
Hood River is renowned for its wind surfing, with the gorge creating perfect conditions on the river that attract “boardheads” the world over. Many of the original 47 employee-owners of Full Sail (506 Columbia St.) were among them, hence the fitting name change from the original Hood River Brewing Co. Today, 10 of those 47 are still among the total 108 employees of this brewery founded in 1987 as one of the earliest craft breweries in the country. Tours to see where their flagship Amber (and don’t forget Session-brand beers) come from are offered daily and naturally conclude at the adjoining brewpub where you can enjoy pints from the picture windows offering what is arguably one of the best views from any brewery, anywhere.
Less well-known but just as long of a local institution is Big Horse Brew Pub (115 W. State St.), which also opened in 1987 but not as a brewpub. The full name is Horsefeathers/Big Horse Brewing since Randy Orzeck initially launched an upscale restaurant with a 220-strong beer menu, but along with his wife, Susan, they’ve transitioned it into a casual-dining pub with the four-barrel brewhouse down in the “basement” (giving brewer Darrek Smith an equally jaw-dropping vista from his office since it’s set into the hillside overlooking the town and river). The house specialty MacStallion Scotch Ale pairs well with their creative list of organic beef burgers, and there’s always fresh salmon options, thanks to the Columbia.
Not exactly a grandfather among local breweries, but Double Mountain (8 Fourth St.) dates back to 2007. Founded by Matt Swihart and Charlie Devereux, this growing brewpub earns its reputation as one of the best—and not just locally—on the strength of their hop-centric beers like Vaporizer dry-hopped pale and Hop Lava IPA. But in my opinion, and I’m not alone, it’s their dual pairs of fresh hop beers and krieks that shine the brightest. Killer Green IPA and Killer Red (India Red Ale) are available only in September and October, while Devil’s Kriek and Rainier Kriek, made with red Bing cherries and striking yellow Rainier cherries, cherry-picked right from Swihart’s local orchard) show up in July during the harvest and rarely last the summer. Their Neapolitan-style pizza is also not to be missed.
Four breweries have debuted in the last year and a half, including one just across the state line, not that the river runs in a straight line. Initially there was Walking Man Brewing Co. (240 First St., Stevenson, WA), which opened in 2000. It goes big with beers like Homo Erectus Imperial IPA and Jaywalker Imperial Stout. Then Everybody’s Brewing (151 E. Jewett Blvd., White Salmon, WA) opened in 2008 so close to Full Sail it feels like you could hit it with a Frisbee when the wind is right. It leans toward the session side with Little Sister India Session Ale. Now Backwoods Brewing (1162B Wind River Highway, Carson, WA) has opened this past summer, “around back of the Carson General Store.” In addition to quaffing its Backwoods Brown or Carson IPA along the Windy River Highway, snack on its “tasty vittles” like IPA-braised brisket topped nachos.
South of town is the 35-mile “Fruit Loop” along Highway 35 featuring an endless array of farms and orchards. There are several wineries, and as of 2011 there’s one farmhouse brewery. Logsdon Farmhouse Ales (4785 Booth Hill Road, Hood River County), set on David Logsdon’s 20-acre family farm, is housed in a big red barn. Arrange a visit in advance through brewer Chuck Porter. Brewmaster Logsdon not only co-founded Full Sail, but also co-launched Wyeast Labs, so naturally he and Porter make yeast-forward saisons (Seizoen, Seizoen Bretta) and use locally grown, whole organic hops. Their Cerasus is a Kriek-style ale made with local cherries, and the upcoming batch boasts Schaerbeekse cherries from trees imported from Flanders.
Six miles farther is the newly opened Solera Brewery (4945 Baseline Drive in Parkdale), a quaint brewpub founded by Jason Kahler (formerly of Big Horse). As the name implies, his plan is to specialize in Belgian-style ales made using the solera method of barrel aging known among port and sherry fans. For now Kahler’s making a range of hoppy beers from the low-ABV Half Pint India Session Ale to the powerful, fresh-hops Kwazy Wabbit double IPA. To get a sense of their sour beer program, order the Pêche Bier, a sour wheat aged on Fruit Loop-plucked peaches.
This leaves the youngest, and my new staple in town, Pfriem Family Brewery (707 Portway Ave Suite 101), with the “family” in the name both to honor brewer Josh Pfriem’s family’s involvement but also because the alliteration helps people know the P is silent. Though it’s a short hike from the main drag, it’s directly across the street from Waterfront Park. Any closer to the water and it would have to be built on a raft. Before or after family fun in the park, it’s equally fun inside the brewpub with and a small play area for the kids (including Josh’s). The liquid fun comes from the fantastic Belgian brews—often common styles like stout or IPA pitched with Belgian yeast, making the latter a hybrid Tripel and Imperial IPA that clocks in at 9 percent ABV.
Perhaps it’s the density of four breweries making up a one-mile-long pub crawl (Full Sail, Double Mountain, Big Horse, and Pfriem) along with pubs The Pint Shack (105 4th St.) and Sixth Street Bistro (509 Cascade Ave. Their Damn Good Cheeseburger is truth in advertising.) that has earned this stretch of downtown, primarily the hoppily named Cascade Avenue, the designation of Ale Alley.
If wind surfing, kiteboarding or paddle boarding aren’t your thing, another great way to burn off those pints and burgers is hiking or biking along the Twin Tunnels Trail, part of the 10-mile stretch of Highway 30 that no longer allows motorized vehicles. And to refill your tankard with Zs, high-end travelers should book a room at the Columbia Cliff Villas (3880 Westcliff Drive), where the grounds and villas themselves nearly compete with their river views, beginning with the footpath over a 200-foot waterfall cascading over the cliff that the resort and its dining options are set into. Accommodations range from $125 rooms to $900 suites. Save some duckets but don’t spare the scenery by checking into Best Western’s Hood River Inn (1108 E. Marina Way). Standard room rates are a bit below $150 and still include the waterfront setting including a pool. Guest or not, it’s another ideal option for breakfast before a day of exploring and brewery hopping.
Brian Yaeger recently moved to Portland, OR, where he homebrews and is exploring the beers of the Pacific Northwest.
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