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.