If you think the amount of choices on Netflix gets paralyzing, try looking at the beer aisle at any reputable grocer in Austin, Texas. The sheer quantity of quality gets downright intimidating for newbies and visitors, and asking any enthusiastic worker in such establishments always seems to yield a different favorite option. To see for yourself, try following one or two Austin brewers on Twitter, then continually adding the “Who to follow” accounts—you can get 30+ deep before blinking an eye.
Simply put, beer in Austin is an institution rivaling beats, barbecue, and breakfast tacos. Seemingly every large Texas brewery of note distributes here (Saint Arnold, Karbach, Revolver, the great Real Ale, etc.), and even the regional cheap cans (Lone Star, Shiner) are iconic. There’s a yearly beer guide that seems to generate as much excitement as those pre-season college football magazines. It’s clear why a big craft player like Oskar Blues chose Austin as its newest home last year.
Luckily, despite the vast amount of beer here, it’s hard to go wrong with anything. Even the brewers opting to do something unique as a means of standing out—Austin has not one, but two cideries—tend to produce high quality products. So, the options below are by no means the only ambassadors of Austin beer worth trying, but they’ll definitely give any interested patron a start.
Hops & Grain
The details: Even if you knew nothing of Hops & Grain beyond its beer, this brewer would be among Austin’s best. Its small taproom rotates many different house varieties—a dry-hopped kettle sour, a red wine barrel-aged Alt—in addition to hosting its dependable and divine regulars (which are found often around town). The One They Call Zoe is an everyday drinkin’ dry-hopped, old-world German lager that’s good all-year round, and the Pale Mosaic IPA uses a newer hop varietal (conveniently called Mosaic) to deliver familiar IPA hops in a unique experience. But on top of all the beer, Hops & Grain has a great mission too—they strive to be a leader in environmentally-thoughtful brewing. Used mash goes into things like dog treats and soap, brewing ingredients come from local (and fellow green-minded) providers, and Hops & Grain belongs to One Percent, a business collective of organizations that donates 1% of revenue back to environmental causes.
Try (if you can find it): Texas Honey IPA is the rare IPA that can appeal to the style’s diehards and yet satisfy those who claim to be anti-hops (120 lbs of honey added during the kettle process tends to add a delightful sweetness to balance out that bitterness).
The details: Remember, Texas is sprawling. So, while it may seem like this is an awful long way from (downtown) Austin, any booze traveler must navigate their way west for Central Texas’s greatest farmhouse brewery. Jester King has a 58-acre space with a brewery, taproom, outdoor patio space, and a partnering farmhouse pizzeria. (Worth noting: much of the acreage is beginning to go towards on-site agriculture, which ultimately helps with Jester King’s sustainability initiatives and, of course, its farmhouse brewing efforts.) This is where your extremely beer-savvy friends will be asking you to “mule” for one-offs like CRU 55, a barrel-aged sour red ale worth waiting in line for. Luckily, even the regularly available brews stand near the top of Austin’s offerings.
Try (if you can find it): Rare releases like CRU 55 (or generally any of the brewery’s farmhouse sours) are hot commodities, but more routine releases like Wytchmaker, a farmhouse rye IPA, are nothing to sneeze at. (And speaking of nose, you won’t find many initial aromas as interesting as this hoppy, citrusy concoction.)
Live Oak Brewing Company
The details: Universally accepted truth: when you arrive at an airport, all you want to do is get to your destination, toss your stuff down, and rest for a second. In Austin, the lure of some of the city’s best beer threatens to disrupt this routine. Live Oak is located at the far east edge of town near AUS; it’s a newer facility for the soon-to-be 20-year-old establishment specializing in European styles. On site, you can enjoy limited and robust offerings like the Primus Weizenbock (a delicious Frankenstein of a bock with a fruity weizenbier). But with canning of several beers starting last year, the secret is well and truly out for even the newest (or visiting) Austinites.
Try (if you can find it): Live Oak Hefeweizen is likely the best typically available option for the Texas heat. Done in a traditional style, it greets drinkers with an alluring banana scent before delivering a balanced flavor and light (but not too light) body.
Blue Owl Brewing
The details: With so many competing (and quality) brewers in town, it helps to have an angle. Blue Owl found one that no one else seems to have—not only do they specialize in sours, but they’re the first brewer to customize equipment to exclusively produce sour mashed beers. Most sour brewers opt for kettle souring or barrel aging, but sour-mashing lends itself to more consistency in brewing and the ability for a wider variety of flavors and styles (since it uses naturally occurring bacteria and yeast). This means Blue Owl can offer your typical brewer lineup—something hoppy, something malty, something wheaty—with a sour twist. Tours are available for the enterprising hop-head interested in this newer technique, but even just heading to the spacious taproom to try something odd (say, their latest creation, a sour Imperial Oatmeal stout called Admiral Gravitas) will expand any beer-loving mind.
Try (if you can find it): Professor Black is a sour cherry stout that is canned and also on taps through Austin. Disregard the name if it feels too weird to try, because this is a great introduction to what Blue Owl does. From the first sip, it’s easy to recognize both the sour and stout components. Ultimately sour is the dominant component, though only slightly so because the deep, fruity, and funky flavors truly play well together.
The details: Meet the brewer that best personifies Austin’s love of the weird and artistic. Kiss from a Gose, a Bloodwork Orange, Heisenberg Kristalweizen, and event beers like Con Beer (made for the film-poster mecca, MondoCon) are just a few of the limited releases Austin Beerworks continues to churn out. While the experiments are always fun and flavorful, the brewer’s core four beers have rightfully earned an ever-present status around town (Pearl Snap Pils and Fire Eagle American IPA genuinely seem to be everywhere).
Try (if you can find it): The brewery has a reputation of being very hops forward, but their Russian imperial coffee and oatmeal stout, called Sputnik, should be your first order. It uses some of Austin’s finest local roasters (Cuvee Coffee) and adds the coffee in a unique way so as to limit bitterness but still get all that aroma and flavor. Bonus points if you can find El Sputniko, the Mexican Hot Chocolate spin-off that adds chillies, cinnamon, and cocoa nibs.
The Wright Bros. Brew & Brew
Neighborhood: East Austin
The details: One of Austin beer culture’s greatest strengths is its pervasiveness. You can fill your growler at the local grocery store, grab beers before, during, and after a movie night, and start the day with pour over and end it with porter at many coffee shops. Brew & Brew may be the finest of that last category, with 39 rotating taps focusing on seasonal flavors and local brewers. The patio is big, and you can bring your glass next door to peruse an art gallery and neighboring shop. Best of all, the beer board silently guides you (X-axis moves from less to more hoppy, the Y- from dark to light), so you can effortlessly follow-up your espresso with an Austin Beerworks Choco Leche milk stout—no questions asked.
The details: If in town visiting the UT student in your life, attending a wedding (or wedding-related activity), or essentially rooming at the Convention Center, downtown-centric drinking is inevitable. Beer nerds will want to skip West/Dirty Sixth Street (aka, the Bourbon St. of Austin) and nearby Rainey Street is too much of a known entity to avoid crowds and find suds salvation. So, with apologies to the 100-plus-taps selection at sausage-and-beer hall Bangers, Easy Tiger is your craft oasis in the area. Another coffee/food/beer hybrid, Easy Tiger boasts a beautiful and secluded back patio, ideal beer-pairing snacks (house jerky, pretzels, and beer cheese? Please!), and plenty of Texas craft to sample (33 rotating taps). As a bonus, there’s usually a beer cocktail or two on the menu worth your time (start with the Kentucky Porter even if it uses Portland’s Deschutes instead of Austin’s 512).
The details: Just north of the neighborhoods occupying most of any Austin travel guide, the Draught House is the oldest craft beer haven in town. Now 48-years-young, it offers a wide and varied selection of nearly 80 rotating taps, plus the House brews 30 of its own selections throughout the year. Between the large beer garden and offerings like its Pumpkin Head (a spicy, nutmeg-heavy fall seasonal you’ll genuinely want), the Draught House is well-worth venturing away from the center of town.
Neighborhood: South Austin
Whip In is a beautiful mishmash: bar, Indian fusion kitchen, and a corner market. Such a combination has perks beyond booze—live music, Mario Kart nights, delicious cuisine—but it’s hard to argue with the beer options alone. Between the three aspects of Whip In, you can fill growlers with 60+ beers, sample flights from the 50+ Austin brews to parse through, and rummage through 300+ overall craft options for sale.