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.