I have become, in the last several years, both an enthusiast and an ambassador for craft beer. While the Brewers Association has a definition of craft brewing (here), when I talk about craft beer it’s easiest to just think about small brewers who are handcrafting interesting and flavorful beer. For my friends who aren’t much into beer, craft beer isn’t limited to the really “bitter” (i.e. hoppy) beers that some of your more beer geeky friends (myself included) really love. If you like light beer, there are plenty of craft beers that track some of the pilsners you might be more familiar with – only with more flavor. If you like wheat beers/hefeweizens the same is true. And it’s probably useful to know that not every beer that is dark in color has the same overpowering density as some Imperial Stouts. I share these tips as a guide so that it may be easier the next time someone suggests an unfamiliar beer. Also, one major answer to the question “why should I drink local craft beer” is that most of the people in most of those breweries are your neighbors and live in your communities. So choosing to find a local beer you like is usually also choosing to improve your own community a bit.
To the best of my ability I also try to focus on brewers who view their role on the planet as about more than the profit they can make. So I tend to support craft brewers – and there are plenty – who make great beer and care about making a difference. On this trip to Texas, I knew I wouldn’t have time to learn the ethos of the breweries, but I’d at least have time to try some great ones. And I even made some time to get to know a bit about the Texas craft beer world, generally. Here are some highlights.
Texas Craft Beer
I started this trip with an intentional beer-sharing trip to Austin Beerworks. I’d found them on the Internet and liked what I read so thought it would be fun to bring a bunch of San Diego Craft Beer to share. I live in the region with the most breweries in the United States, and several of them are recognized internationally for brewing incredible beer. Come to think of it, several more (like Societe Brewing Co., Alesmith and Mother Earth Brew Co.) that don’t quite as much national and international acclaim yet are also just killing it with their beer. Having so much quality at home really causes me to want to seek out similar quality when traveling. And Texas did not disappoint.
One thing I need to point out is how much help I got from Craft Beer Austin. It’s a local website that provides a one-stop source for everything to do with Austin Craft Beer. I found it through the site’s Twitter feed and they pointed me to Craft Pride (and its 54 Texas handles) as well as a few other places I found on the trip. A really big hat tip to this great source for local craft beer in Austin.
I’ll be writing a separate post about the six or seven styles and breweries I tried at Craft Pride, so I’ll stick to some of my favorites for now. Actually, the first thing I’ll mention is the photo at the top of this post. I co-founded the Craft Beer Association of San Diego (CBA-SD) to ensure more things like this happen in San Diego. My rockstar property management company (Flint Rock) knew from our conversations that I was into craft beer. I was pleasantly surprised to find all these Texas beers in the fridge when I arrived. This even led me to create a my own impromptu flight for tasting purposes.
This nice gesture by a property management company doesn’t have to be a solo example of excellent customer service. How easy would it be for brewers to work with property managers to let them purchase at commercial rates so that these types of welcome packages could let more people visiting a city appreciate its local craft beer? This collection is the Real Ale Brewing Fireman’s #4 (actually the second time I tried it), the Independence White Rabbit, the Hops & Grain Alteration and the Deep Ellum Rye Pilsner. My favorite of this particular bunch was probably the Alteration followed closely by the Rye Pilsner. But the larger point here is how cool it was to have this opportunity when I arrived in town.
This was one of the highlight beers of my trip. I didn’t make it to 512 Brewing, but will definitely put it on the list the next time I’m in Austin. If the porter was this good, I can only imagine what the other styles are like. I managed to make my way through a couple Deep Ellum brews from the Dallas area as well as a pretty nice English IPA (much more subdued than its feisty little brother, the San Diego IPA) from Austin Beerworks. I liked that better than the ABW Black Thunder that recently won a medal at the World Beer Cup. (random aside: here’s a cool site from a guy in Austin about beer)
Having had a chance to sample several of the local breweries in town, I could see part of the reason why the Texas Craft Beer scene is coming on strong. Then I had a conversation with the Executive Director of the Texas Brewers Guild and was able to see the other major reasons.
Texas Brewing Community
While looking for people to share my San Diego Beer with, I happened upon the blog Bitch Beer. I didn’t end up connecting with these women who were very into craft beer, but I was impressed by how involved and passionate about the craft beer community they were and how much the effort reminded me of friends in San Diego. I decided to reach out to the Executive Director of the Texas Brewers’ Guild to learn a bit more about the work he was doing across the state, what their challenges were and how things were going. The way I see it, there is plenty of room for growth and development for all craft brewers – and the communities that surround them – so my focus was on collaborating to benefit everyone in this world rather than trying to rank one community or another.
The most interesting things I learned about the Texas brewing community are:
- The Texas Guild is a statewide organization with members in all the major cities and several rural locations;
- They realized the value of helping their legislature understand the industry better so that the legislature could bring the laws into the 21st century. And there was actually an acknowledgement ceremony for a state legislator in a brewery while I was there. Very smart of them to embrace working with the government;
- Initial funding came from a few larger breweries who accepted their role in creating a professionally staffed entity to work on growing the industry and helping raise awareness; and
- Like San Diego, the people in the industry are as essential as the product to its overall success. Texas brewers generally seemed from my conversation to be supportive of internal collaboration across breweries to improve the overall community.
It was a great trip and I was pleased to have met and spoke to so many people who enjoyed Texas craft beer. I hope that trips like these in the future lead to greater collaboration and sharing around ways to help more people understand and enjoy the excellent work in the craft beer community – in national strongholds like San Diego and regional powers like Austin. Cheers. And thanks for reading. Return to my index of Four Days in Austin here.