Posted: 11:31 p.m. Sunday, June 30, 2013
We've got about 2 months until the return of Fightin' Texas Aggie Football. Sure, that might not sound like it's all that far away, but when the only sport left is Major League Baseball and your team is 22 games under .500 and on pace to lose 100 games for a 3rd straight season... Yeah, that's an eternity away. So, what do we do in the interim? We drink. Out of the goodness of my heart (and thanks to a reminder from cuppycup), I want to help all of you find some delicious Texas-brewed beers to get you through this nightmare that we call offseason.
Anyone who follows me on Twitter (which you should @jzimmermann11) knows how I feel about craft beer, and I enjoy introducing mainstream beer drinkers to this brave new world. I think the best way to organize this primer is to break it into three sections. We'll call the first part "Entry Level." If your normal beer selections have words like "Light" or "Dos" in them, this section will be a good place for you to start. The second section will include "Tread Lightly" beers. These are delicious beers, but this probably isn't the place to start if you're new to craft beer. Finally, I'll include "My Wishlist" of Texas beers. These are beers I need to try but haven't yet. I'd love to discuss those and any others with y'all in the comments.
The location that you'll see listed next to each beer is where that particular brewery is located. You'll probably find the list to be a bit Houston heavy - that's not so much by design as it is by inevitability. Not all Texas breweries have the capacity or desire to distribute across the entire state. Living in Houston, I'm not as familiar with, say, Peticolas or Lakewood beers from Dallas because they aren't available here. In my beer descriptions I'll do my best not to get too nerdy, but I make no promises. And with that, we're off!
When people ask me how I got started drinking craft beer, I tell them that Lawnmower was my gateway beer that kickstarted the addiction. Saint Arnold is Texas' oldest craft brewery and is certainly one of the most popular breweries in the state. Lawnmower is a refreshing beer that is a nice starting point for someone brand new to craft beer. You'll get a malty sweetness that dominates the flavor along with some citrus flavors in the finish. Saint Arnold distributes across Texas and in parts of Louisiana. I also recommend trying their Santo - classified as a "black kolsch" although not really a kolsch at all, it's very malty and incredibly unique. And if you want to see what kind of effect yeast can have on the brewing process, try the Weedwacker after you've had Lawnmower. Those 2 beers have the exact same recipe with the exception of the yeast strain, and the processes yield 2 very different tasting beers. I'll mention Saint Arnold again in a bit.
Image via texasbrews.org.
This Austin brewed hefeweizen is another very drinkable choice and it is a perfect beer for the hot Texas summer. This beer pours a cloudy or hazy yellow color, and you will immediately taste a blend of banana, citrus, and cloves from the yeast that Live Oak uses. This is another beer that I would recommend for someone just getting started in craft beer. I actually don't believe that this beer is bottled, but you can find it on tap at bars and restaurants across Texas. Other Live Oak brews worth checking out include the Liberation (American IPA), Primus (Weizenbock), and, although I'm not at all a fan of the pilsner style, their Pilz.
Image via beeradvocate.com.
Karbach joined the Houston beer scene in late 2011 and has been one of the fastest growing Texas breweries. This particular beer is another great entry-level choice. Similar to the Live Oak HefeWeizen, you will taste banana and clove when drinking this beer, but Weisse Versa (pronounced vice-ah verse-ah) has some more spice to it. Another enjoyable summer beer, I'd say. Karbach is still really only available in the Houston area, although they are working to ramp up production to begin distributing elsewhere. In addition to their Hop Delusion which I'll talk about in a bit, their Hellfighter (Imperial Porter) - and especially the bourbon barrel aged one - and their Rodeo Clown (Double IPA) are worth giving a shot. You'll notice that most Karbach beers are packaged in cans, but don't think of this as a bad thing! Cans, unlike bottles, cannot be permeated by UV light which can have an effect on the taste of the beer.
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Lone Pint is one of the newer Houston area breweries, and this beer has quickly made its way into my Top 5 - maybe Top 3 - Texas beers. Yellow Rose features a fairly new style of hops called mosaic hops, and Lone Pint did a fantastic job of keeping this beer from tasting overly bitter despite using a massive amount of these hops. You will taste some tropical and citrus flavors, like grapefruit and pineapple, and the finish is very smooth. This is a fantastic entry-level Indian Pale Ale (IPA) for someone new to craft beer or to the IPA style. Since Lone Pint is newer and still relatively small you won't find this outside of Houston at the moment and you'll only find it on tap, but it's a must-try. I also suggest trying their Jabberwocky (Imperial IPA - it's a serious one), Gentlemen's Relish (Brown Ale) and 667 Neighbor of the Beast (American IPA) - Lone Pint is clearly doing some seriously excellent work.
Of course a beer with a name like this would be brewed in Austin. This beer is technically classified as a lager, but it is kind of a unique rendition of a traditional lager. Zoe pours a nice golden color, and you'll get a good combination of bready malt flavors, a little bit of citrus, and some smooth hop flavor as well. You can definitely find this one around Austin, and they've started distributing to Houston as well. It's also a cool little brewery to go check out if you're in the Austin area. Their Pale Dog (American Pale Ale) and Alteration (Altbier) are their 2 other regular beers and are both solid, if slightly unspectacular, choices.
Although a porter isn't generally a beer I'd recommend to try during the summer, this one may be an exception. 512's Pecan Porter pours quite dark, but don't let that scare you away - it doesn't taste like motor oil. There are quite a few flavors going on in this beer, including strong roasted malt, coffee and chocolate, obviously pecans, and even some caramel. It's surprisingly drinkable for a porter, not to mention very delicious, and it helps introduce you to darker beers without overwhelming you. You should be able to find 512 on tap in most places around the state, and their Bruin (Brown Ale) and Cascabel Cream Stout (Milk Stout - an interesting one) are 2 others worth trying, plus one more that I'll mention shortly.
Image via www.512brewing.com.
There is a good chance that you've seen Real Ale Fireman's 4 (a blonde ale) in bottles or on tap at bars or restaurants before. It's a pretty common Texas beer. The 4 squared is a fairly new twist on that popular brew. Real Ale took their Fireman's 4 recipe and added more barley, more hops, and a round of dry hopping (adding hops to the beer when it is fermenting instead of to the boiling wort - confused yet?) to create 4 Squared. What I like about this beer is that you get a lot of hop flavor and aroma and even a good amount of bitterness, but it's still relatively smooth and drinkable. However, due simply to the amount of hops in this one it will start us off in this Tread Lightly section. It's classified as an Amber Ale, but I think it really fits better as a Pale Ale. And it comes in cans! Other suggested Real Ale offerings are the Lost Gold (American IPA) and Devil's Backbone (Belgian-style Tripel).
Now we'll move into a trio of very solid American IPA's, the first of which is one of the better IPA's in the state. Like the 4 squared, the 512 IPA is also dry hopped, so expect a nice amount of bitterness - although it is still relatively smooth and painless. There are also some malt flavors present that help to balance out the hops, so overall this is a really solid IPA. It's one that I will definitely order if I see it on tap somewhere that has very few craft beer options, or if I'm having trouble making up my mind on my selection. As mentioned before, you can find 512 on tap across a good amount of Texas.
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Next we move to another American IPA brewed in Austin, but this one is far newer to the scene than 512. Austin Beerworks has been around since 2011 and I've recently stumbled into some of their beers as I continue branching out into breweries I haven't tried before. Fire Eagle is another pretty easy drinking IPA that features some nice citrus and piney hop flavors that are balanced well by bready and maybe even some caramel malt flavors. I was actually drinking this poolside last weekend so I really do find it to be a nice, drinkable selection. I've begun seeing some Austin Beerworks beers sporadically show up around Houston, but I don't believe they really distribute much outside of Austin at this time.
OK, Metroplex readers, this is the part of the program where I throw you a bone. Kidding - mostly. This is another really good Texas brewed American IPA, and it just happens to be the first (and only) beer from the Dallas/Fort Worth area to make my list. As I said before, that's in part because they aren't as readily available for me here in Houston and also in part because I just haven't been a huge fan of a lot of their beers. I did enjoy the Peticolas Velvet Hammer and Rahr & Sons have a few decent ones (Winter Warmer, Iron Thistle), but overall they didn't do enough for me to include them here. I'll encourage our Dallas readers to leave your comments below regarding the best beers in your area. As for this Deep Ellum IPA, you'll taste some tropical hop flavors along with some creamy malt and a moderate amount of bitterness as well. I'd also recommend Deep Ellum's Dreamcrusher Double Rye IPA if you can find it, although not for the faint of heart.
Image via beeradvocate.com
This is the newest Karbach offering to hit the craft beer scene in Houston, and they knocked this one out of the park. Their best beer to date, without a doubt, this might just be my favorite beer in Texas right now. Hop Delusion is an imperial/double IPA which has a ton of mosaic and simcoe hops and you're definitely going to get some bitterness up front when drinking it. Take a moment to enjoy the aroma of this one - really great citrus and grapefruit scents, which do come across when drinking and help balance out the bitterness. You can find this on tap or in bombers (22 oz bottles) around Houston if you're lucky. Fair warning - your taste buds aren't going to be able to taste much else if you have more than 1 of these. You may also be drunk.
Up until the recent appearances of beers like Hop Delusion and Yellow Rose, Endeavour had easily been (for me) the best IPA brewed in the Houston area and one of the best in the state. Without a doubt the best regular beer made by Saint Arnold, Endeavour is another double IPA that comes in right around 9% alcohol by volume (ABV). You'll get some creamy malt flavor in the taste before the hops take over with hints of citrus and some fruit notes along with the obvious bitterness. Endeavour is very well balanced so that the bitterness is not overwhelming and actually leaves you wanting that next sip. You can find this one in bombers or on tap in most places you'll find Saint Arnold, although it's perhaps a bit more rare than their others. In addition to their beers mentioned earlier, their Christmas Ale seasonal and Pumpkinator seasonal/special are definitely worth trying, as is their new Bishop's Barrel series (they have 3 so far).
Jester King has to be one of the most unique and interesting breweries in Texas, specifically because they brew primarily non-traditional beers. They will use ingredients such as wild yeast or souring bacteria to give some beers a very different taste, or they will blend together 2 styles such as farmhouse (with earthy and floral flavors) and imperial stout (with chocolate and malt flavors) into one beer (in this case, that's their Black Metal which is worth giving a try). As for the RU-55, it is one of their limited release beers but it's my favorite Jester King brew. RU-55 is a red ale that is aged in oak barrels with wild yeast and souring bacteria. The result is a rather crazy combination of flavors - various fruit flavors - like cherries, strawberries, and grapes - as well as a distinct tartness that makes for a truly unique beer. Jester King's Boxers Revenge, Le Petit Prince, and Funkmetal are all deserving of a taste if you're looking for something different, and they can be found in bombers in much of Texas.
Wrapping up the list is Buried Hatchet Stout from Conroe's Southern Star Brewery, just the 2nd "dark" beer to make the list. That's not to say there aren't some other solid stouts or porters brewed in Texas, but with our only real seasons being cool, hot, and surface-of-the-sun level sweltering, you can imagine that very heavy, dark beers aren't the most popular style in Texas. The nice thing about Buried Hatchet is that it is not particularly heavy for a stout, and it features a really nice mix of chocolate, coffee, and roasted malt flavors to make for a smooth and surprisingly drinkable option. Southern Star's Bombshell Blonde is a nice option if you're looking for something very light, and their Black Crack is tasty if you want something even heavier.
Image via texasbrews.org
These are the Texas brewed beers, just off the top of my head, that I really need to try soon. I'm confident that I'm forgetting some and I'd love your input in the comments.
Lakewood Brewery: The Temptress - Milk Stout (Garland, TX)
Austin Beerworks: Heavy Machinery - Double IPA; Einhorn - Berliner Weissbier (Austin, TX)
New Republic Brewery: All of their beers (College Station, TX)
Freetail Brewing - All of their beers (San Antonio, TX)
So, what thoughts do you have? What beers do you think belong on the list? What are your favorite beers made in Texas and what makes them special? What beers are you dying to try but haven't had the chance yet? Hit up the comments section and let's talk beer.