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Austin’s Top Draft Picks

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By Matt McGinnis

In Austin, we can always count on hot weather and hot and spicy food. Nothing cuts through the acrid scorch of thirst on a hot Texas day and the sear of a jalapeño quite like a cold beer. Fortunately, we’re blessed with an abundance of local craft brews and places dedicated to serving them up cold. The craft-brew mania gripping the country is alive and well in Texas. We’re enthusiastic about drinking locally made brew, which is evident in Austin’s booming beer business. An economic study commissioned by the Texas Craft Brewers Guild shows explosive growth in the number of independent Texas craft brewers, growing from 52 in 2010 to 78 in 2011. Those brewers have almost doubled the number of barrels of beer they produced in the same period. The Austin beer scene is certainly hot. The city now boasts 14 craft breweries—10 of which are new in the past two years—as well as numerous brew pubs and taprooms to slake our thirst for local brew.


Celis Brewery
Christine Celis, the daughter of local brewer Pierre Celis, is reopening the family business and using the original recipe to make Belgian beers. The timing of the opening is yet to be determined, but Austinites will soon be able to enjoy the Celis White, Celis Pale Bock, Celis Grand Cru and Celis Raspberry that made this Austin brewery a local legend in the 1990s. The reestablished brewery will start with three year-round beers and one seasonal, and plans to add other beers in a later phase. Celis acquired the family brand name from the now defunct Michigan Brewing Company, which had purchased the name from the Miller Brewing Company after it had previously acquired the Celis Brewery. The reborn brewery will use a combination of older and newer equipment from the U.S. and Europe. Celis hopes to bring back the original copper kettles that were once used in the first Celis brewery.

Tours: Once open, Celis Brewery plans to offer tours and beer tastings.
How to get it: Celis will be available on tap and in bottles in bars, restaurants and retail outlets in Austin.

Hops and Grain Brewing Co.
507 Calles St.
Josh Hare opened his microbrewery in October 2011 and demand for the beer has already necessitated an expansion of the facilities and the addition of new recipes. Hops and Grain is tripling the capacity to about 4,000 barrels and added an automated canning line, making it possible to move from all kegs to packaging 95 percent in cans. The current two year-round beers— Alt-Eration, a Dusseldorf-style Altbier; and Pale Dog, American pale ale—have been received enthusiastically. Alt-Eration won a gold medal at the 2012 World Beer Cup international beer competition just three months after it was introduced. The success is leading to the addition of several new beers.

“We have a third year-round beer coming out in the fall: The One They Call Zoe, a pale lager named for our Papillion dog. It’s an easy, smooth beer, like a Vienna lager with a pilsner finish,” Hare says.

The company also just opened a barrel room to make six beers in French wine and bourbon barrels called the Volumes of Oak series. Hare will introduce another series called Volumes of Funk, a sour beer line, in late fall.

Tours: The brewery and taproom with eight different beers on tap are open every Friday from 2 to 6 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 4 p.m.
How to get it: Draft is available at Austin restaurants and bars, and cans are available at Whole Foods, H-E-B and other retail outlets.

Jester King Craft Brewery
13005 Fitzhugh Road
The unconventional craft brewery started turning heads when it released highly acclaimed barrel-aged brews in late 2010. Jester King has continued to capture attention as it tinkers with its five year-round brews, including Le Petite Prince, Nobel King, Wytchmaker Rye IPA, Black Metal Imperial Stout and Mad Meg, as well as for its eight inventive limited-production beers. (The company will soon bring back Commercial Suicide with a tweaked recipe.)

Jester King brews exclusively with farmhouse yeast, wild and native yeasts. All of its beers are naturally cask-conditioned, which takes two to three months to achieve the authentic to the farmhouse style. The brewers are working on about 15 small-batch beers, including sour barrel-aged beers like Funk Metal, which is a sour Black Metal blended with pure brettanomyces yeast. The brewery has doubled capacity in the past year and plans to continue to expand.

“Our motto is to brew what we like, drink what we want, offer the rest to those who want it. Why would we want to make beers that everyone else is making?” Brewer Ron Extract says.

Tours: The tasting room is open every Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m., with tours at 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
How to get it: Jester King beers are on tap in Austin restaurants and bars, and in several styles in 750-ml bottles at local retailers.

Live Oak Brewing Co.
Corner of Fifth and Allen streets
A stalwart of Austin craft brewing, Live Oak Brewing was started in February 1997 by Chip McElroy and Brian Peters. Live Oak is well-known for its Old World German and Czech-style beers, including its award-winning four year-round beers: Pilz, a Czech Pilsner; Big Bark Amber Lager; Hefeweizen and Liberation Ale. Live Oak also introduces new seasonal brews each quarter. While the Hefeweizen is wildly popular throughout town, the Live Oak Primus snagged a silver medal in the 2012 World Beer Cup. The brewery cranks out 6,500 barrels a year, all on draft with plans for bottling in the works.

“We will be building a new brewery soon and that will increase capacity and incorporate packaged beer as well,” McElroy says.

Tours: Available twice monthly on Saturdays. Check the website for the schedule and sign up ahead of time.
How to get it: On tap and in bars and restaurants in Central Texas, in to-go growlers from Whole Foods Bar Lamar and soon to be released in bottles.

Real Ale Brewing Co.
OK, so it’s not exactly in Austin and you may not even think of it as a microbrew because of the phenomenal success of the omnipresent flagship ale, Firemans #4, but this Blanco-based brewery still makes the list. Founded in 1996 by Philip and Diane Conner, Real Ale is one of the oldest breweries in the area, and with a capacity of 72,000 barrels (almost a million cases) a year, it is definitely one of the biggest. The company just introduced a new canning line to offer additional packaging choices. Real Ale brews six year-round brews, including the Full Moon Pale Rye Ale, Lost Gold IPA, Brewhouse Brown Ale and ESB. It also makes two seasonal brews each quarter, such as Phoenixx Double ESB and Devil’s Backbone Tripel. The real showstoppers are in the experimental barrel-aged MysteriumVerum series, which includes WT3F?!, a tripelwort fermented exclusively with brettanomyces bruxellensis yeast and The Kraken, a Sisyphus barley wine aged for 11 months in American and French oak.

Tours: The tasting room is open on Fridays from 2 to 5 p.m., with tours starting at 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.
How to get it: Real Ale beers are widely available throughout Austin on tap and by the bottle.

Austin Beerworks
3009 Industrial Terrace, suite 150
Austin Beerworks took the town by storm with its first batch of kick-ass beer, distinctive branding and plucky wit in April 2011. Founded by four partners—Michael Graham, Will Golden, Adam DeBower and Mike McGovern—the microbrewery is cranking out kegs and cans at a mad pace trying to meet demand for its highly drinkable brews.

“Our beer is currently only available in Austin. People are drinking it faster than we can make it,” Graham says.

Austin Beerworks typically brews more than 4,500 gallons a week and has new equipment on the way that will allow the business to almost double the output of kegs and cans. The company makes four year-round brews, including the Black Thunder German-style Schwarzbier, Fire Eagle American IPA, Peacemaker Extra Pale Ale and Pearl-Snap German-style Pils. The Peacemaker is not only a match for our discerning Austin taste buds, but it also passed muster with the expert palates at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival, winning a silver medal a scant four months after it was introduced. In addition, Austin Beerworks makes seasonal brews every two months. This October, the company will remake Battle Axe Imperial Red Ale, the first seasonal it’s ever released.

Tours: Periodic happy-hour tours provided. Check for tour availability.
How to get it: Austin Beerworks beers are available at about 175 locations in Austin only, on tap at local bars and restaurants, and in cans in local retail outlets.

Thirsty Planet Brewing Co.
11160 Circle Dr.
Brian Smittle fell in love with beer while studying politics in the U.K., and earned his stripes brewing beer for almost 20 years in Colorado and Oklahoma. He chose to move to Austin after falling in love with the city during a Craft Brewers Conference. Thirsty Planet started rolling out the first keg in June 2010. Its three year-round brews— Buckethead IPA, Yellow Armadillo Wheat and Thirsty Goat Amber—are highly drinkable in the Texas heat. The company also offers special and seasonal beers like the Silverback Pale Ale, Jittery Monk and Franklin Smoked Porter. Last year, Thirsty Planet cranked out 16,000 barrels and it is brewing full tilt with the expectations of doubling the production this year. That increase in capacity isn’t keeping up with demand in thirsty Austin, so the Planet is having four fermentation tanks made. In addition, Thirsty Planet recently purchased a pre-owned Italian bottling machine with plans to sell 12-ounce six packs of all three year-round beers and 22-ounce bottles of specialty beers in local stores.

Tours: Each Saturday. Visit the website to get a ticket.
How to get it: Drafts are available at finer bars and restaurants in the Austin metro area.

Other notable Austin breweries

(512) Brewing Co., 407 Radam, suite F200
Adelbert’s Brewery, 2314 Rutland Dr., suite 100
Circle Brewing Co., 2340 W. Braker Lane, suite B
Independence Brewing Co., 3913 Todd Lane
Rogness Brewing Co., 2400 Patterson Industrial Dr., Pflugerville, TX
South Austin Brewing Co., 415 E. St. Elmo, unit 1D
Twisted X Brewing Co., 3200 W. Whitestone Blvd., C1, Cedar Park, TX

brew pubs

Uncle Billy’s Brew & Que

1530 Barton Springs Road and on Lake Travis at 6550 Comanche Trail
Whether you are looking for a decent place to eat with great beer and fantastic views of Lake Travis or just south of downtown, Uncle Billy’s is your spot, serving finger-sucking-good barbeque and award-winning craft brew. Brew masters Amos Lowe and Brian “Swifty” Peters brew seven beers at both locations, regularly rotating two or three beers. The beer menu is dominated by light, hoppy beers made with Belgian yeast like Bottle Rocket Lager Axe Handle Pale Ale and Hop Zombie. Last year, Bottle Rocket Lager garnered a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival. Uncle Billy’s brews 1,200 barrels at Barton Springs and 900 barrels at Lake Travis, and has the space to ramp capacity over time. The pub serves a few local beers on guest taps and has bottled beer as well.

Black Star Co-Op
7020 Easy Wind Dr., Midtown Commons, suite 100
This isn’t an average brew pub. No sir. This co-operative was started when Steven Yarak had an idea to start a neighborhood brew pub owned by the neighborhood. He gathered like-minded individuals with the panache and know-how to brew beer and operate a business. Members ponied up the money and started brewing the beer that they wanted to drink. It is reportedly the first cooperatively run and owned brew pub in the world. Born in April 2006, Black Star brews 15 rational and irrational beers and serves several other local beers on guest taps that rotate regularly.

North by Northwest (NXNW)
10010 N. Capital of Texas Hwy.
Patterned after a Pacific Northwest lodge, NXNW serves a full menu with steak, grilled duck and cedar-plank salmon. While the food is tasty, the beer is the star, with a prominently displayed grain silo and six house-made brews on tap. The Barton Kriek brought home a bronze in the Belgian-style lambic category at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival. Brew Master Don Thompson augments the menu with eight seasonal and special beers that are rotated regularly. Special cask-conditioned beers are featured on Cask Night, the last Monday of every month.

Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co.
(coming soon)
The award-winning brewers at Uncle Billy’s, Amos Lowe and Brian “Swifty” Peters, are departing to start their own brewery, slated to open in January 2013. The South Austin brew pub will serve hand-crafted pizza and beer on 10 taps in a music-hall-style beer garden.

“We’re going for the Armadillo World Headquarters vibe with New York-style pizza like Home Slice,” Peters says.

The brewers will make several varieties of beer with a mainstay lineup of pilsner, pale ale and IPA. They plan to have a small canning line to sell their beer off premise. The owners are shooting for a location at Lamar Boulevard and Oltorf Street.

tap rooms

Whip In

1950 S. IH-35
Don’t let the deceiving look of a convenience store on the frontage road of a major interstate highway throw you off. This shop not only offers more than 200 bottled beers to drink on premise or take with you, but it also features 58 special, seasonal and craft beers on tap, wine by the glass and plans to open a craft brewery soon. The South Austin institution, in business since 1986, has an eclectic café menu and a small beer garden to enjoy a drink and live music.

Draught House Pub and Brewery
4112 Medical Parkway
This iconic Austin brew pub opened in 1968 and will be celebrating its 44th anniversary in October at the 2012 Texas Craft Brewers Festival. Brew Master Josh Wilson has been brewing since 1994 and has brewed hundreds of recipes during the years using traditional and interesting ingredients like mesquite flowers and ground mesquite beans in his brews. The Draught House serves five of his house beers that change seasonally. Right now, Wilson is brewing a Bavarian-style hefeweizen with a ton of hops. The Draught House also has 70 beers on tap and cask, and has an additional 20 beers, including gluten-free and Belgian, in bottles. Wilson selects the lineup to support local brewers, represent the best American craft beer and to offer as many styles as possible. The lineup includes several Texas craft beers, seasonal and special releases, brewer’s reserve and small-batch beers. The Draught House keeps things fresh by varying the beer menu and changing out about a dozen taps weekly. The mix of its beers and selection of guest taps earned the Draught House a spot on “America’s 100 best beer bars: 2012,” chosen by Draft Magazine.

Brew Exchange
706 W. Sixth St.
Beer served from 72 taps and 60 more in bottles (with at least 25 local brews) is sold according to the laws of supply and demand at the stocktrading-themed Brew Exchange. Real-time market conditions dictate pricing, allowing you to get some unknown beers at a discount while driving the price of more popular brews higher. Owner Nick Adams paired a unique software program that interfaces with cash registers to create stock-market price fluctuations on the huge selection of beer for a distinctive experience.

Black Sheep Lodge
2108 South Lamar Blvd.
The patio on South Lamar is always packed with hipsters and beer drinkers chowing on burgers and washing them back with a good selection of beer. Black Sheep boasts 26 beers on tap and 130 bottled selections with a great lineup of local brews. It’s a great place to catch a game on one of the 20 TVs mounted inside.

Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden

79 and 81 Rainey St.
Ben Siegel thinks of his new addition to the Rainey Street District as an American beer hall with the feel of a traditional German biergarten but without the pretense. The casual beer garden has communal seating at long tables made from reclaimed bar wood, liter beer steins, artisanal sausage and live music played in a spacious outdoor setting. Siegel aims to make Banger’s one of the best beer bars in the country with a knowledgeable staff and corpulent beer selection. The staff is required to pass the level-one Cicerone beer certification to be able to help customers make informed beer choices. It has one of the largest tap walls in the state with 103 beers on draft, more than half of which are dedicated to Texas craft brews. Banger’s has many German-style lagers and Czech-style pilsners that go really well with the 30 varieties of sausage made in-house. Banger’s offers everything from a classic Bratwurst with sauerkraut to fried-chicken sausage made with chicken thighs wrapped in chicken skin, soaked in buttermilk and fried.

Billy’s on Burnet

2105 Hancock Dr.
Billy’s is a family-friendly joint run by local beer icon Billy Forrester. The beer menu features 28 brews on tap ranging from the mundane Miller Lite and Lone Star to stand-out local, seasonal brews. It also carries 25 bottled beers. Billy’s features regular beer specials and hosts beer events on a regular basis. The menu is dominated by inventive burgers like the bad-ass cobra jalapeño bacon cheeseburger and an ample vegetarian lineup with more than a dozen dishes.

Austin Dream Six Pack

With so many good beers made in Austin, it’s damned difficult to pick the best, but a panel of five prominent beer bloggers selected their favorites in six main categories.

Meet the Judging Panel:
Aaron Chamberlain, Austin Beer Guide
Chris Troutman, Austin Beer Guide
John Knox, Hop Safari
Lee Nichols, I Love Beer blog
Matt Abendschein, You Stay Hoppy Austin

Pale Ale
These are the copper- and bronze-colored beers that have evolved in to the piney, bitter delight of hop heads throughout the world, particularly in the IPA category. Judges’ selection: Independence Stash IPA. Tasting notes: “Piney hops dominate the scent and flavor, followed by floral and citrus flavors and a hint of sweetness.”

This bottom-fermented German-style lager gets its dark color from oodles of dark roasted malts. It has coffee and chocolate flavors similar to a stout. Judges’ selection: NXNW Okanagan Black Ale. Tasting notes: “The dark color is deceiving. This beer is medium bodied and refreshing with scents of toasted malts, bitter chocolate and nut that marry with bitter coffee and floral hops flavors.”

Both beers are robust, malty and dark brown in color. Famed Guinness and others are known for roasted coffee and chocolate flavors. Judges’ selection: (512) Whiskey Barrel Aged Double Pecan Porter. Tasting notes: “This is a dark, bold beer with an intense head. The whiskey barrel aging and locally grown pecans give it roasty, chocolate flavors with a slight nutty bitterness.”

Wheat beer differs from other beer in the ample use of wheat malt versus barley malt. The result is a light colored, hazy beer with a thick, long-lasting head. Judges’ selection: Live Oak HefeWeizen. Tasting notes: “Light-bodied, with a crisp, wheat, banana flavor.”

Pilsners are classic golden lagers that are crisp and light. Mass-produced beers like Bud draw on the Pilsner heritage but aren’t true to it. Judges’ selection: Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap Pils. Tasting notes: “Light, crisp and dry with subtle spices, toasty bread and a hint of bitter hops on the finish.”

This broad category is typified by strong flavors, strong alcohol (5 to 7 percent) and bottle conditioning. Judges’ selection: Real Ale Devil’s Backbone. Tasting notes: “This Belgian style has rich scents of ripe banana and lush taste of fruit, citrus and cloves followed by light hops.”

2012 Texas Craft Brewers Festival

Oct. 6, 2 to 8 p.m. (noon entry/VIP)
Fiesta Gardens, 2101 Jesse E. Segovia St.
The Young Men’s Business League and Texas Craft Brewers Guild are busily organizing the 2012 Texas Craft Brewers Festival, a day-long festival featuring Texas-brewed craft beer. Emerging and established brewers from throughout the state will bring new and special releases, seasonal offerings and rare beers to delight our taste buds. In addition to the excellent beer, there will be local food vendors, live music and educational sessions. For more information, visit

Know before you go:

  • You must be 21 or older to attend. It is family-friendly and children are welcome with a parent or guardian. Strollers are welcome but there will not be special kids’ activities.
  • Limited parking in the Fiesta Gardens. Street parking is available in the neighborhood. Ride your bike. There will be plenty of nice racks on site. Of course, taxis will be available.
  • Leave your chairs, coolers, glass and dogs at home.
  • You can bring in water in factory-sealed bottles.
  • Proceeds from the festival benefit Austin Sunshine Camps, which provides education and personal development for economically disadvantaged children.


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