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A Brief Evolution of Breakside from an Outside Perspective

If you know me or follow my writing, you know that being invited to a special preview of an upcoming brewery release is not enough to get me to do a review.  Not unless I'm blown away - and I'm one picky motherfucker.

I owned a house just down the street from Breakside when they first opened up their Dekum location.  Myself and my husband at the time, along with a huge crowd of middle-class thirty-something Woodlawn residents, flocked to Breakside, thrilled to finally have a place in the neighborhood to drink beer.  In the beginning, it was all guest taps...good ones.  Then, they started putting out their own beer.  Sadly, as they ironed out their process and learned the quirks of their new system, I quickly decided that it was worth sticking to the guest taps.

Then, as the year progressed, something changed.  Breakside started producing decent beers.  Then, before I knew what hit me, they were producing phenomenal beers.
  They started brewing a wide range of styles and doing them all well.  Experimentation expanded as they began to push the boundaries of style - and they knocked it out of the park every time.  This brings us to now: Breakside continues to astound the imagination and the palate with attention to detail and a seemingly-neurotic focus on complexity and balance.  And with this...I give you one of my rare beer reviews:

La Tormenta
A sour ale dry hopped with Citra, Mosaic and Equinox hops

A hoppy sour is a terrain which has rarely been tread - and for good reason, as it's pretty damn hard to pull off.  While I love both a good sour and complex, hoppy beers, the two do not always work well together.  La Tormenta is an example of one of the ways to do it right. 

La Tormenta pours a striking light golden-orange with the thin, white head characteristic of many sours.  The nose showcases the vibrant hops complexity with a lot of fragrant tangerine and lemon, cantaloupe, and a dash of passion fruit and pine.  The flavor is dominated by citrus, along with the tropical and melon notes found in the aroma, which integrates perfectly with the tart sour finish.  As the beer warms a bit, the passion fruit comes out and adds a little sweetness for an ideal balance.  A gentle carbonation and moderate body lends to a beer that is both refreshing and decadently complex.

Available for a limited time at both Breakside locations and in stores.

Breakside Country Blonde: coming December 5th
A straw-colored, wheaten saison conditioned on Gewurztraminer grapes and a blend of wild yeast and bacteria that includes three strains of Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus. A small batch limited edition.
7.2 % ABV 27 IBU's.

I had the incredible honor of trying Country Blonde before its release date, and although I failed to take tasting notes, I suggest you do not miss grabbing a bottle of this...and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.  Many breweries attempt to do this style only to have it turn out cloyingly sweet and, at times, undrinkable (e.g. - my last home brew).  Add Gewurztraminer grapes - a type of grape often used in sweet, German wine - and you could have a recipe for an unbalanced disaster.  But if anyone can pull such a thing off, it's Breakside.  The addition of Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus create a beautifully-balanced, characteristically complex, dry and slightly funky brew that cannot be passed up.

On Friday December 5th, 2014, you will be able to pick up a bottle of this limited-edition beer only at the two Breakside locations - only while they last, which won't be long (750 oz @ $15/bottle).

Thanks to Ezra Johnson-Greenough, Ben Edmunds, and Breakside Brewing for the opportunity to try these fantastic beers before the release date.
 
 
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Southern Tier Brewing
Warlock Imperial Pumpkin Stout
8.6% ABV

Brewed with 2-row pale malt, caramel malt, black malt, Munich malt, pureed pumpkin, magnum and sterling hops, and natural flavors.

It's hard to imagine but it's true.  Whether we like it or not, the pumpkin beers have arrived, signifying the reality of the upcoming fall season.  It's not the pumpkin beers' fault that summer will soon be over - and one can't shoot the messenger, after all.

That being said - one does have good reason to be skeptical of pumpkin beer.
  Sadly, there have been some which I actually dumped down the drain after taking one sip (gasp - alcohol abuse!).  In my opinion, there is no justification for sickly sweet, unbalanced and overly-spiced beer any time of the year.  At the risk of stating the obvious: if I wanted pumpkin pie, I would be eating pumpkin pie and not drinking beer.  Pumpkin pie is delicious.  Pumpkin pie beer - not so much.  And why mask the flavor of the pumpkin with sugar and spice if it's your featured ingredient? 

Thankfully, I found a couple of pumpkin beers last year which were both balanced and complex and which managed to showcase the flavor of the pumpkin itself.

One stand-out in the pumpkin category was last year's Mabon by Propolis Brewing.  Propolis normally grows their own herbs and spices - and they grew their own pumpkins as well, picking them as fresh as they could to make this aged farmhouse ale, a synergy of savory and sweet.  The result was an incredibly complex beer with a subtlety of flavor that's rarely found in pumpkin ales. 

Another great one was Pumpkin Smash by Cascade Brewing - a sour beer aged in rum barrels on "triple-roasted" pumpkins - a shit ton of them - for nearly a year.  Roasting highlights the beautiful flavor of the pumpkin and brings out the natural sugars, integrating perfectly with the flavor of rum and spices, then balanced by tartness.  Dangerously drinkable at 11.4% ABV - it may be your noggin and not your pumpkin that gets smashed.


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A third pumpkin beer which did not offend me last year was Alaskan Brewing's Pumpkin Porter.  Though the pumpkin itself didn't really come out in this one, the spices integrated nicely with chocolatey malt.  Think Mexican chocolate, but without being overly-sweet - an interesting take on pumpkin beer. 

And in the same dark-chocolate-and-spice pumpkin beer category is Southern Tier's Warlock.

Warlock pours a dark brown, almost black, but with some clarity against the light - hardly the black tar body of some imperial stouts.  A beige, two-finger head mellows out to a ring around the glass, then to nothing at all, without much lacing to speak of.  The nose is nutty and spicy - allspice and nutmeg dominate.  Smooth, velvety, medium-bodied.  A spice-forward vanilla coats the tongue, with some chocolate and a subtle and creeping coriander bitterness.  While not overly sweet at first, it becomes sickly sweet as it warms and could use a bit of hop bitterness for balance.  I also find the liberal use of spices to be over-the-top.  Not a bad beer but certainly couldn't drink a whole 22-oz to myself.  Okay, I lied.  I actually did - but I don't recommend it.  

Serve chilled to keep the sweetness at bay, or drink for dessert if that's your thing.


 
 
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When the going gets tough, the tough don their rubber boots and rain jackets and get to drinking great craft beer!  It was the Oregon Brewers Festival, after all - and there's nothing that says Oregon more than rain and great beer.  So we slipped and slid through the mud to get tasters from some of the eighty-six different breweries featured at this five-day event. 

It's tough work, but someone has to do it.

I'll be honest - I haven't been to OBF in many years.  My crowd-anxiety and dislike of drunk frat boys has kept me away.  It's understandable that the oldest and biggest Portland beer festival should draw a crowd, but...eh...not for me.  I figured, though, that if I went just after the festival opened
on Wednesday, the crowds would be bearable and the frat boys to a minimum.  Bonus that it rained, leaving only the die-hard craft beer enthusiasts, writers, and other craft beer industry folk.  My people.

Naturally, I didn't have a chance to try all the beers, otherwise I wouldn't be alive to write this.  But here's my take on a few...Keep in mind that the "Author Picks" are completely subjective and, while I love all styles if they're done well, I tend to gravitate toward the Belgians and sours.

10 Barrel Brewing Co.
Cider Weiss

10 Barrel took the gold home at GABF 2013 with their Berliner-style Weiss, German Sparkle Party.  This Cider Weiss was a blend of this award-winner and a Granny Smith and Pink Lady cider.  I'm not much of a cider drinker but I was looking forward to seeing what 10 Barrel is up to these days.  There was a nice crisp, cidery and funky nose with - thankfully - a very dry, tart finish.  Clean, crisp and refreshing - definitely has some cider character but without losing the dry, tart Berliner Weiss nature.  Not overly complex but well-done. 

Beer Valley Brewing
Heavy Sugars Honey Ale
This would not have been my first choice for beers to try because I had it in my mind that it would be too sweet for my liking but I tried a bit from a friend's glass.  Brewed with Alfalfa honey and flavored with Oregon plum, cherry and blueberry purees and containing absolutely no hops, the smell
is dominated by fresh honey and strangely reminiscent of cheese.  The flavor is nothing like that though, which is interesting in my book.  A very drinkable, surprisingly dry honey ale.  Worth a try.

Cigar City Brewing
Blood Orange/Dragon Fruit Florida Weisse
Finally - a beer by Cigar City which has been unadulterated by collaborations (mind you, I am completely pro-collaborations!  It's only that the Cigar City/Widmer collaborative series was a bit disappointing...as was the Cigar City/New Belgium Lips of Faith collaboration).  From all the buzz about Cigar City Brewing which comes rapidly through the interweb to the West Coast, I was pretty excited to try this one.  After searching for a while and not finding it, a friend told me that this super-secret beer was the one without the sign.  Naturally. 

Brewed with blood orange and dragon fruit, a type of cactus with a flavor reminiscent of kiwi and pear, pilsner and pale wheat malt, then fermented with Lactobacillus
, this beer was a tart, fruity and incredibly well-balanced Berliner-Weiss style.  Although it didn't exactly blow my mind, it's definitely worthy of competition against some of the great American wild and sour ales produced in the Great Northwest.

Keep an eye out for Cigar City's famous imperial stout scheduled to tap Friday at noon in the specialty, two-token section.  When Cigar City ran out of this beer not too long ago, there was nearly a douche bag riot!

Deschutes Brewery
Ester the Farmhouse Maiden <-- Author Pick
I'm always excited to try a Deschutes one-off, seasonal or Reserve Series beer.  While their old regulars (Mirror Pond, Black Butte Porter, etc.) are solid, their special beers can be downright mind-blowing.  A saison brewed with Vienna and spelt malts and flaked oats with the addition of pink peppercorn, lemon verbena, sumac and dried lemon; this one definitely stood out for me and managed to not disappoint despite my high expectations for it.  It was every bit as complex, spicy and herbal as one would imagine while still retaining a pretty impressive traditional and well-balanced saison style.


Ecliptic Brewing
Perihelion Crimson Saison
I'm always interested in trying the next Ecliptic beer to see how the brewing technique and style is evolving.  Brewed with pale and wheat malts, Sterling hops
and rhubarb; this was a solid, slightly spicy saison with a lingering bitter finish.  Not mind-blowing, but solid.

Ex Novo Brewing Company
Black and Wheat
Ex Novo is one of the newest breweries to open in Portland and is the only non-profit brewery there is (to the best of my knowledge).  I was excited to try my first Ex Novo beer- a black raspberry beer brewed with wheat and Pilsner malts and Amarillo hops.  I really, really wanted to like this one because these guys are so damn nice and have their hearts in the right place.  Unfortunately, based on this one beer, I think they need to hone in on their recipes a bit.  Sorry guys, it just wasn't great - or rather, not even really good.  Not yet, but give these guys some time and keep your eye on them because they've got a great business model and I hope they succeed wildly.

Heathen Brewing
Mega Dank (IPA)
Unfamiliar with Heathen Brewing thus far, I had to try it - especially with a name like this.  I have two words for this beer: HOP FORWARD.  If you are a hop head, DO IT!  Brewed with Pilsner and Vienna malt, the malt profile is subdued enough to really showcase the hops: Ella, Nugget, Columbus, Amarillo, Simcoe, Citra and Mosaic.  An explosion of dense, resinous pine with a lingering bitterness.  Quite good.

Klamath Basin Brewing Company
Breakfast Blend IPA
This wasn't on my list of must-tries but someone I was chatting with suggested I try it.  Brewed with two-row, Munich and Vienna malts, Cascade, Chinook, Mosaic, Falconer's Flight, Simcoe and Summit hops and flavored with espresso beans, this is the IPA and coffee lover's dream.  The IPA and coffee combination has always seemed like a strange one to me, but they pulled it off very, very well - with a strong yet pleasant coffee flavor and a well-integrated lingering, bitter finish.  Well done!

Logsdon Farmhouse Ales
Straffe Drieling (Belgian-style Tripel)
<-- Author Pick
I have never.  NEVER.  Had a bad beer from Logsdon.  So trying this one was a no-brainer.  And once again, this did not disappoint.  Brewed with Pilsner malt, Hallertau hops, chamomile and coriander, and using pear juice as a secondary fermentation sugar; this beer had an intense and complex flavor.  For me, there was a dominant muscat grape flavor.  Didn't really pick up too much on the pear - likely because it integrated so well with the cidery, pear notes of the Belgian yeast.  I also didn't pick up any of the chamomile but the coriander showed up a little, along with a slightly bitter, lingering finish.  So good, I had two.

Upright Brewing Company

Old News Saison  <-- Author Pick
A light amber saison brewed with Amarillo, Santiam, and Willamette hops - late in the boil to keep bitterness down and bring out the complex hop character.  I make no attempt to hide the fact that I may be one of Upright's biggest fans.  I cannot remember ever disliking a single beer I've tried of theirs, and while this saison isn't the most experimental of their beers, it certainly conforms to the incredibly high standards of quality and flavor that Upright is known for.  A very good saison, dry with a spicy finish and a nice Northwest hop character to balance it out.

     ****************************************************************************


Other notes:
I was told by multiple people that the GoodLife Brewing Nothing As It Seems coffee blonde was quite good.

Also on my list of beers I wanted to try: Boneyard Bone-A-Fide Pale Ale, Boundary Bay Double Dry Hopped Mosaic Pale Ale, Cascade Raspberry Wheat, Central City Brewing Red Betty Imperial IPA, Crux Fermentation Project Off Leash NW Session Ale, Elysian Perfesser (Belgian Blonde with plums and Brettanomyces), Gigantic Who Ate All the Pies Strawberry Rhubarb Gose, Mazama Rasplendent raspberry hibiscus wit, Scuttlebutt Jalapeno Tripel, and Sixpoint Barrel-Aged 3Beans.

So much beer, too little time!  Cheers!


For more info on the Oregon Brewers Festival, visit their official website


 
 
In honor of Lexington Craft Beer Week, May 10-18th...
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Country Boy Brewing
436 Chair Avenue

A row of regulars with strong Kentucky accents sit at a wood and rough corrugated steel bar watching one of two big-screen TVs, each with a different game on, as country music ricochets off concrete floors. There's not much about this place to indicate it's anything other than a neighborhood country bar - except for the neon hanging high on the wall, which, instead of advertising Budweiser or Coors Light as one might expect, advertises craft beer.  This is the first indication that there's something different about this place.

As it turns out, Country Boy is an indication of good things to come in Lexington - a product of an explosion of craft beer in the world today as consumers in small towns and big cities alike demand higher quality. 

In addition to flights of their own beer, Country Boy offers some excellent guest taps - for which, however, there is no need to bother with
.  In a town with only a few breweries, Country Boy not only brews the best beer in Lexington - I would argue this is some of the best craft beer I've ever had.  Period.

I visited Lexington in February, 2014 - exactly two years after Country Boy opened - so the winter seasonals I describe below are long gone, but it should give you a sense of the styles they offer and quality they represent.  I'm very sorry I discovered this place as I was on my way out of town because I would have loved to make myself a permanent fixture here for the three days I spent in Lexington.  With some damn good beer and some damn fine folks, this brewery is worth a trip to Lexington if you're anywhere nearby.


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XXX Jalapeno Smoked Stout
This version of their traditional Jalapeno Smoked Stout also adds Serrano and habanero for bold heat and a fragrant chili aroma. There's just enough smokiness in the flavor to be distinct but not overpowering and it integrates well with the flavor of chili and a slight, dry chocolate to balance it out. This is the best chili beer I've had yet, without a doubt.

Peckerhead Wheat IPA

Pours a gorgeous hazy straw with an aromatic citrus nose. Just a hint of tropical fruit with a lot of citrus and a lingering bitter finish. Yet another really excellent Country Boy beer.

Lazy Rye A lot lighter in both body and color than is characteristic of other ryes – at least in my neck of the woods. It really showcases the rye's earthy spiciness, with a lingering bitter finish.

Sexual Dracula Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout
Brewed with a combination of sour and sweet cherries. The general consensus: other customers love it, but this one is a little too sweet and medicinal for me. Lighter, more mellow and less alcohol than the Rx (9% as opposed to 12.5%), but lacking any detectable booziness. It's a matter of taste, but it's really saying something that this is only one of five Country Boy beers I didn't like.

Bourbon Barrel Rx Stout
A lot of bourbon-vanilla flavor and a slight boozy sweetness. Great flavor, not hugely complex, but very enjoyable.

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The Beer Trappe
811 Euclid Ave


My second pick on the list of craft beer must-sees for Lexington is The Beer Trappe - Lexington's only dedicated beer bottle shop with eight taps, over 500 bottles and growlers to go, this place has a classy vibe with dim lighting, a leather couch, and barrels for tables.

The Beer Trappe offers beer events (such as the Mikkeller vs. Evil Twin tap takeover TONIGHT, which makes me really wish I were in Lexington right now) and Beer School - an informative weekly beer tasting,
based on a different weekly style or theme and hosted by BJCP judge and Certified Cicerone®, Kevin Patterson.    


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West Sixth Brewing
501 West Sixth St


West Sixth quickly became my local haunt during a brief stint in Lexington, primarily because - despite the vastness of the space, which threatens a cold vibe - the warmth of those who work at West Sixth drew me in.  In three short days, they knew my name and made me feel like a beloved regular.  One or two of the employees even nearly convinced me to stay in Lexington.

Transylvania Tripel was the first of their beers I tried, with flavors of honey and pear cider and a clove and coriander finish. The flavor was decent, characteristic of the style, but I found it far too sweet for my taste.  Their Kentucky Common, part of an experimental batch series, was nothing to write home about either.  But don't get me wrong...just because I didn't like all of their beers doesn't mean they aren't a great brewery.  West Sixth also had a great bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout with all the complex flavor one could want from the style, along with a great balance and a dangerously non-boozy 13% ABV.

But of all the admirably-diverse styles that West Sixth attempts (with mixed results), their IPAs knock it out of the park, easily competing with the best of the Northwest IPAs - and blowing the mediocre ones out of the water.  One example is their flagship West Sixth IPA, which showcases all of the beautiful complexity of Cascade, Columbus, Centennial, and Citra hops while maintaining a delicate malt balance.  Their Second Fiddle Simcoe IPA had a beautiful floral nose, citrus and tropical fruit, and a pine finish. The malt, again, was really well-balanced and the beer had very little bitterness despite the 80 IBUs - a very impressive IPA with a surprisingly complex hop profile despite the single-hop variety.

Beyond the beer itself,
West Sixth exemplifies the community and sustainability which craft beer represents.

West Sixth
owns the 90,000 square foot building which houses not only the brewery and taproom but also FoodChain, a local non-profit which set up an aquaponics system for sustainable indoor food production.  Huge barrels of Talapia produce waste which bacteria convert to fertilizer to grow rows of lettuce and herbs. Fish, lettuce and herbs are then harvested by Smithtown Seafood, a restaurant next door which delivers to the taproom.

The building also houses Lexington Roller Girls of Central Kentucky, Magic Beans Coffee Roasters, Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop, The Bread Box artist studios, and Bluegrass Bouldering, a rock climbing gym; and will soon house Bluegrass Distillers, a small-scale distillery (currently under construction).  This diverse and close-knit community, combined with a natural Southern hospitality, made me feel like I, too, was part of it - right from the start.

West Sixth recently added a new forty-barrel system, with an eighty-barrel brite tank and eighty-barrel fermenters for full-fledged production and canning.  Their original fifteen-barrel brew system will still be used to produce excellent beer for the taproom.

Special thanks to
Kelly Hieronymus at West Sixth for her hospitality and for fact-checking and providing additional information.

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Lexington Beerworks
213 N Limestone St


Gray-haired men hunching over their beer glasses
turned to stare as I walked in with two younger friends.  I felt as though I were walking into an English pub full of the Old Boys Club. 

As it turns out, the charming patrons of Lexington Beerworks can talk your ear off over a great beer and the most phenomenal thin-crust pizza I've EVER had.  Also a homebrew shop, and definitely worth checking out if you're in Lexington.



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A charming patron of Lexington Beerworks
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Arcadium
574 N Limestone St

A bar with one wall dedicated to old arcade video games, this is the place where beer geeks go when West Sixth stops serving. An impressive list of eleven beers on tap - which included Evil Twin Molotov Cocktail, a 13% ABV tropical fruit bomb. Everyone in the room was a good fifteen years younger than me, which I guess means it's the place to be.

Wood floors and exposed brick walls and a lot of laughter and boysterous conversation that ricocheted off the walls of this historical building on the corner of a sleepy, icy street at midnight.


 
 
PictureEverything's bigger in Texas. (Not really).
Many people have told me that the only place in Texas worth visiting is Austin. The city is famous for its music scene and a liberal vibe which the rest of Texas may view as a blemish on an otherwise Red State. Austin has been described as having many similarities to Portland, Oregon – a city which is currently experiencing a renaissance of all things creative, driven by the energy of a youthful culture with nothing to lose. A mecca of art, music, writing, food, craft beer and craft distilling. A city where tattoos are mainstream, food carts are ubiquitous, and punk clowns can be seen juggling fire on oversized bicycles in the middle of the day. It's also a city tucked within the Willamette Valley, which produces a pinot noir that puts Burgundy to shame, and the great Northwest, which produces hops that have made even Belgian beer-producers salivate.

Portland is reported to have the highest number of breweries of any city in the world and this is what encourages some craft beer-lovers to remain, putting up with a pervasive chilly dampness that facilitates fungal growth in unexpected places. While the city remains a craft beer capital (one of many self-proclaimed...), other cities and regions are rapidly catching up. San Diego. Philadelphia. Atlanta. Asheville, Colorado, of course. Michigan. Vermont. New Zealand. Even Germany is following suit, experimenting with different hop varietals, and all within the parameters of the guiding Reinheitsgebot dogma. France and the UK have also caught on – threatening to outdo us with a rich history of pub and cafe culture.

Despite the surge in craft breweries and taprooms around the world, and despite the cultural similarity to Portland, I hadn't heard anything about the Austin craft beer scene. Was it because I wasn't listening?

Recent Changes in Texas Law Make Way for Craft

On March 12th, 2013, Texas law changed in a way that made it significantly easier for most breweries to sell their product to the public directly. As a result, a flood of new craft breweries have opened only recently in Austin and I suspect there will be rapid growth of the industry, and in demand, as a result.

There are distinct differences between Austin's budding craft beer scene and that of the seasoned craft beer scene of Portland – where even the sketchiest dives are obligated to serve craft beer and the best beer bars ensure their glassware is spotless and fit for the style. Most of the breweries and taprooms in Austin seem apprehensive about testing the consumer palate just yet. While I did try a couple of really nice wine and bourbon barrel-aged beers, there was a distinct absence of sours – and the very few I could find were only of Belgian origin – with one exception: the highly-regarded and exceptionally bold Jester King Brewery.

Below is a list of some of my Austin craft beer finds, ranking them in order of preference:

#1: Jester King (Brewery)

Located eighteen miles outside of downtown Austin, Jester King strives to produce true farmhouse ales with as many local and organic ingredients as possible, pioneering the use of wild yeast and barrel-aging in Austin. I have a huge admiration for their innovation and creativity, all within the parameters of a farmhouse tradition. Jester King is proving to Austin that the consumer palate is ready for wild and sour ales, and I expect others will quickly follow suit – but only because Jester King did it first and did it well.

There is no public transportation to their brewery, and I don't drive so I can't tell you what their taproom is like. However, my limited experience trying their beer has led me to believe – as I have been told by several locals – that no Austin craft beercation would be complete without going to their brewery. You can find some of their bottles around town (I found one of their farmhouse ales in a grocery store), but it's incredibly rare as they usually run out quickly.

#2: Austin Beer Works (Brewery)

Situated in the outskirts, deep in the industrial part of town, the Austin Beer Works tap room has limited hours and the location is not at all obvious. Start with the address, then keep going, into the parking lot to the right and around to the back. There you'll find a huge open garage door with plenty of seating at big bright picnic tables, or along a wrap-around bar.

Every one of their beers I tried was excellent, not to mention it's a pretty cool warehouse space and they're willing to do spontaneous brewery tours. They make a popular seasonal called Sputnik, a Russian imperial stout with a whole lot of coffee. They also won a GABF gold medal for Black Thunder, their German-style Schwarzbier, which I tried along with the whiskey barrel-aged version. My favorite of the evening, however, was Genuine Pyrite, a Belgian-style golden strong ale aged in white wine barrels. I also tried an amazing imperial red with a beautiful aromatic, floral aroma – worthy of a full pint - or three.

Texas law requires that brewery taprooms not – technically - sell beer for on premises consumption, but $10 buys you a glass – which you can take home with you – and three fills of their beer.

#3: Craft Pride (Taproom)

My Austin beer geek friends are going to kick my ass for picking Craft Pride over many peoples' favorite Draught House, but from an outsider's perspective, this is a great place to learn about Texas beer because it's all they serve – 52 taps of the stuff, plus 2 casks, representing over twenty local Texas breweries, many from Austin. The best craft beer that Texas has to offer, all in one place, served by local bearded beer lovers born and bred in Austin. The only drawback of this is that they have a lot of taps to fill so not ALL the beer is going to be great. But you can give these guys your style preference and they'll give you a great suggestion and a taster of anything you want.

Even if they can't tell you which specific hops are used in a particular IPA, the guys working know what's good, and their enthusiasm for beer shines through. Several times during my – admittedly – extended tenure at their bar, they grabbed a flashlight to show someone the sparkles in Austin Beer Works' Mr. Sparkle, a beer made with food-grade glitter - and they never grew tired of it.

If the beer quality or the sparkles aren't enough to get you here, go to see the space – artistically designed and carefully executed with extraordinary attention to detail and a floor-to-ceiling reverence for wood. The lovingly-lacquered bar is constructed from one of the most impressive pieces of 130-year-old wood I've ever seen and the walls are constructed from the reclaimed lumber of the old house that once stood in that very spot.

No food, but a food cart out back serves hot, fresh and tasty pizza and delivers it to your table. Beers are served in pints or in smaller 6-oz glasses, your choice. I appreciate the smaller glasses because, personally, I'd rather try a little bit of a lot of different things and I get tired of those damn shaker pints at most places.

#4: The Draught House (Taproom)
From everything I've read, The Draught House is THE ultimate beer-lovers place to go – even if you have the high standards of an Oregon craft beer lover. With about 55 of some of the best breweries in the world on tap, it's certainly the best tap list in Austin. With an old dive bar vibe, the smell of a hundred years of stale beer, dirty tile floors, and tables that have a million stories etched into them. There's the sound of Dead Kennedies playing faintly in the background. And...joy of joys...I finally got to try the Founder's Breakfast Stout which doesn't distribute to Oregon – beautiful creamy head, great intense coffee flavor. Delicious.

I saw that they had BFM's Le Cuvee Alex le Rouge, a Russian imperial stout I'd never tried before. I asked the less-than-enthusiastic bartender if it was barrel aged, and he said he didn't think so and mumbled something about carbonation. After looking the beer up on beeradvocate.com, I found out that it's made with Serawak pepper, bourbon vanilla and Russian tea - which gives it an earthy, tannic and vinous character. You'll either have to know something about craft beer before you go to The Draft House or be willing to be independent and adventurous, but don't expect any help from the bartender.

There's plenty of parking, a big outdoor area, and dart boards - strategically placed right next to a door to the patio. Luckily, it's on a street called Medical Parkway, so I would assume there's a hospital nearby if you need to have a dart pulled out of your eye. No food, but they have a different food truck outside every day except Sundays and free brats at 3pm on Saturdays.

#5: Black Star Co-Op Pub and Brewery
From everything I've read, Black Star's house beer is the way to go, but they also serve guest taps. I made the mistake of trying one of these first – Southern Star's Le Mort Vivant, a biere de garde that tastes nothing like the style and seems to have a strange raspberry flavor to it. No matter – stick to the house beers, which are nicely divided on their chalk board into “Rational” and “Irrational”. Naturally, I opt for the irrational side – specifically Cantankerous Dockhand, a dry and smokey robust porter brewed with chilis and cocao nibs. THIS is good. A beautiful creamy head with the most perfect lacing I've ever seen, great flavor and enough bite without being overpowering.

Black Star is a co-op brewery which prides itself in paying its workers a true living wage and because of this, they don't accept tips...that's right, there's no extra 20% - you only pay for the cost of your beer and food (bonus!). Aside from the excellent beer they make, decent food, and an awesome business model, I was fortunate to hang out for a while in the back with one of the brewers and I'm fairly certain I've never met anyone quite as passionate about brewing. I have much respect for this place and the people who work here.

Tip: they may also have some bottles of Jester King, or other very special beers available for sale, but you have to ask.

#6: Hi Hat Public House
This one was suggested to me by my Austin host who said it's quickly becoming a favorite among the beer geeks. An unassuming interior with a small bar and instruments hanging from walls and ceiling, Hi Hat stands out in my mind because they were actually serving sours – including BFM's Abbaye de St. Bon Chien (a rare wine barrel-aged blend which is one my favorites). On tap was also the Petrus Aged Pale Sour and (512) Casabel Cream Stout with chilis added – a local rarity. Though I can't tell you first-hand, I'm told their food is also very good.

When I told the folks working at Hi Hat that I was writing an article about the craft beer scene in Austin, I was told I should come back when manager Habeab Kurdi was working. Habeab knows a shitload about craft beer and the Austin beer scene in particular. There was even an article by him in the Austin Beer Guide – a thick little 'zine which is a great source of information, including profiles and articles by some of the leaders and advocates of the craft beer scene here - and a good sign that the Austin craft beer scene is gaining momentum.

As it turns out, Habeab is also just about one of the nicest guys I've ever met. He was kind enough to introduce me to some of the writers, brewers, and beer geeks in the Austin craft beer scene and I had a great time with them over some very special bottles from the Black Star cellar. Habeab's knowledge and enthusiasm for craft beer is vast and though he hasn't worked at Hi Hat for long, I believe he has been – and will continue to be – instrumental in making Hi Hat a favorite among beer geeks.

#7: Pinthouse Pizza (Austin, TX)
Loud music, loud conversation – Pinthouse is a typical pizzaria, with long picnic tables and wooden floors. Fresh greasy pizza and great beer, along with a ton of guest taps - I counted forty-two taps in all. Head Brewer Joe Mohrfeld used to work for Odell, a highly-respected Fort Collins brewery, for what that's worth...I tried their pale ale: a really fresh, floral citrus aroma and a good balance of malt and hops. Their beer is definitely worth going for, but I would recommend a time where it's not too crowded because it can get a bit overwhelming. For you old-timers, they also have Donkey Kong and Pole Position, as well as a Monopoly pinball game and a golf video game. You know, good for both kids and parents...and probably grandparents too...

#8: The Ginger Man
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With 81 beers on tap and many more bottles, many styles are represented at The Ginger Man but if you're in search of something truly experimental and out of the ordinary, you may not find it here, and when they do get something unique in, they run out quickly. Great ambiance, though. Really nice, big bar with gorgeous copper behind the taps, friendly bartenders that know a lot about beer, a lot of classic-style wood, dim lighting, a great musical selection and a perfect volume to both enjoy it and still have a conversation. Beers are generally served in shaker pints with 9oz and 23oz also available. Small, simple plates and snacks for food.

#9: Hops and Grain Brewing (Austin, TX)
Hops and Grain Brewing recently opened their new 2000-square foot taproom in a quiet residential area of Austin just southeast of Hi Hat Public House, past the train tracks. Walking through a cavernous and echoing concrete hallway, you turn into suite 104. You are met by the sound of pop music and lively conversation ricocheting off concrete floors and endless industrial ceilings and the intoxicating chemical smell of freshly-finished wood. There are three rows of very long beer garden picnic tables serving their purpose by holding jocular groups of twenty and thirty-somethings, a wall of barrel aged beers to one side.

I started with the Altbier which tasted of freshly-harvested grain...not too bad. The bourbon-barrel alt was a little more interesting but seemed as though it needed more aging as the bourbon flavor lacked complexity. I tried their flagship Hop Dog after this but was thoroughly underwhelmed. A lot of fragrant citrus hops, and a lot of grapefruit bitterness dominating bready malts – what seemed like it could be a half-assed version of a Northwest IPA, minus any floral character or complexity. I really wanted to like their beer more than I did, but maybe I'm missing something because the locals seemed to dig it.

$5 gets you one of their glasses and $10 gets you the ticket equivalent of six ounces each of six of their beers. No food.
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Stumbling My Way Through Austin

I ran out of time before visiting every brewery and beer bar on my list, so I apologize in advance because there's a good chance some of these (below) would have made it onto my list of favorites. There's only so much a person can drink in a week – even me. The fact that there are so many places in Austin that brew or specialize in craft beer is a great thing and I look forward to going back to update my list.

High on my list of places I didn't get to visit were the following: Kamala Brewing/Whip In, Bangers Sausage House and Beer Garden, Austin Beer Garden Brewing, The Chicago House, Easy Tiger, (512) Brewing, Thirsty Planet, and Live Oak.

 
 
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Impasse Saison
Crux Fermentation Project
6.6% ABV


Crux uses open fermentation to brew this style – in the tradition of saison in the making, from the farms of the French-speaking region of Belgium - but with an ever-so-slight Northwest Twist of hoppy deliciousness. Crux Fermentation Project is out of Bend, where the craft breweries threaten to outdo one another in quality and creativity, bringing the term “craft” to a whole new level and enticing beer geeks throughout the globe to flock to this small Oregon town. This brewery seems to pay attention to all details, including sexy, minimalist label and, arguably, the best name for any brewery in the world. Ever.

Impasse pours a hazy, golden straw with a hearty, four-finger head, characteristic of the style, which mellows to a quarter-inch foam, lending to excellent lacing. The robust aroma is of pear cider, characteristic of Belgian yeast with a strong spiciness and a slight funky citrus. With medium body and strong carbonation which accentuates a well-integrated slight bitter hoppiness, the flavor is otherwise sweet, melting into fruity cider, orange and tangerine, transitioning to a strong spiciness that dominates and lingers throughout, and finishing with a lemon-rind bitterness. Estery goodness.

This tastes like something you would find at the end of the rainbow. Crux does it again.

 
 
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Sixpoint Brewing
Hi-Res
11.1% ABV, 111 IBU

Sparing us no mercy, Sixpoint Brewing
(Brooklyn, New York) recently released Hi-Res - a beer not for the faint of heart at 11.1% ABV and an IBU so high that it goes beyond human detection. 

A hazy but vibrant orange color with a single-finger head that fades to a ring around the glass, it is rich, full-bodied and resinous with a powerful ripe tropical fruit and citrus aroma.  The flavor mimics the aroma with a bit more complexity: sweet caramel malt, rich, juicy mango and pineapple, ripe orange and tangerine, and a slight pine and boozy-warm finish. 

Despite the intense, resinous, and complex hop profile, this beer doesn't blow your palate with bitterness.  Rather, the hops lend a nice fruitiness which integrates with the malt well, creating something that is almost malt-forward but completely lacking the breadiness of some imperial or double IPAs (something which I, admittedly, have grown tired of).  The warm booziness is far from masked in the finish, nor is the candy-sweetness as it warms.  Drinkable, but I don't think I would go for more than one in a sitting.

 
 
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Cascade Brewing (Portland, Oregon)
Sang Noir - 2012 Project
9.8%
A blend of red ales aged in oak and bourbon barrels for one year, then aged an additional six months on Bing and sour pie cherries.

Pours the color of vinous black cherry with a slightly burgundy two-finger head.  The nose is overwhelmingly tart pie cherry with a touch of wine and bourbon.

The flavor is similar to the aroma...tart cherries, very vinous. Bourbon is barely detectable when cold.  Lacto-tart and acidic at first, but as it warms up it becomes significantly more complex - the wine-like character comes out, more bourbon flavor and sweetness from the malt, creating a more balanced, pleasing character.  The bottle recommends serving at about 40-degrees, but I would recommend going a little warmer - more like 50-55.  It really opens up nicely. 

I always have a hard time spending $25 on a bottle of beer (and it seems there are more and more within this range these days, sadly for us poor craft beer lovers), but this is absolutely worth a try at least once.  Because of its sour, vinous flavor profile, it pairs really nicely with Italian food - even Trader Joe's frozen lasagna...not that I would know anything about that of course.

Available at Cascade Barrel House and in select bottle shops throughout Portland, Oregon.  Occasionally available on draft at Cascade.

 
 
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Worthy Brewing (Bend, Oregon)
Powder Keg Winter Ale

7.1% ABV, 65 IBU
Centennial, Cascade, Chinook and Columbus hops

According to Worthy Brewing, this is a “festive IPA”, which seems about right – robust, but not quite an imperial. Apparently, this one was dry-hopped – not once, but twice, lending to a fresh hoppy, resinous and lingering flavor without being overly dominant.

Pours a brilliantly clear deep amber with a nice copper hue and a two-finger head. Not a lot of head retention or lacing. Fragrant, piney and slightly floral hops aroma with a touch of honey and caramel malt. A lot more caramel malt in the flavor, smoothly fading into a decent amount of lingering pine and citrus bitterness. A lot of pine. A medium body and resinous feel that lingers on the palate. Overall, a really nice, drinkable beer. Not super-complex, but well-balanced – erring on the side of a piney IPA. Good for the price and worth a try.

To read more about this beer on Worthy's site...


 
 
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Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale
8.5% ABV, 38 IBU
Pale malt, malted wheat, and corn flakes
Magnum, Bravo and Amarillo hops

You can't help but love this beer right from the start.  This is a classy, old-fashioned label with a gorgeous color scheme.  The beer pours a bright golden straw color, hazy, with a thick Belgian-style head deserving of a traditional Farmhouse Ale - which leaves some fine lacing behind, like grandma's best doily. 



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This beer isn't anything new.  It's available year-round, so one might say that it's nothing special.  But I would beg to differ.  With a slight barnyard funk to balance out the initial malt sweetness, beautiful cidery Belgian yeast character, refreshing lemon rind and tangerine, and a dry, funky finish...  Refreshing as hell in the summer, but rich enough for a winter night in front of a fire.

At 38 IBU, it may be slightly more hoppy than a traditional Belgian or French farmhouse ale, but it integrates and balances the beer well.  The use of Amarillo hops lends a great floral, fruity character without overwhelming the flavor profile or seeming out-of-place.  I don't use the term "perfect beer" lightly.  But Boulevard seemed to get this one right on all levels - and whether by intention or just dumb luck - all the details are there.