HBS Road Trip: Austin Series – July 2018
Welcome back for the second update in our Austin series. This time I hit up a couple established breweries, Hops and Grains Brewing, and Black Star Co-op, as well as a newer brewpub, The Brewtorium.
Hops and Grain Brewing
Hops and Grain is the granddaddy of the many breweries and one cider mill that have popped up in East Austin. Friends and Allies Brewing, The Brewer’s Table, Blue Owl Brewing Company, Lazarus Brewing, Zilker Brewing Company, and Austin Eastciders all call this area of Austin home too, but Hops and Grains was the first to establish in the area. These East Austin spots are all fairly close to one another, making for easy brewery hopping. Hops and Grain is located in an industrial mixed use complex that features a couple of restaurants and another store or two. It appeared to be under construction during my visit, so maybe some changes are on the horizon, but in the past it has always seemed as if the concept did not take off as well as hoped.
The brewery itself is similar to many that feature a taproom in a warehouse-type setting, with beer hall seating and a medium-sized bar. There’s also a small patio. They do not serve food, but often feature a food truck Thursday through Sunday. Hops and Grain also has a variety of coffee options, which is fitting as they open at 10:00 AM daily. Another interesting aspect of Hops and Grain is their goal to be an environmentally sustainable business. In addition to utilizing environmentally sustainable processes in their brewing, they also donate 1% of profits to local environmental non-profits and sell dog biscuits (called Brew Biscuits) made at the brewery using spent grain.
There’s always a solid selection when I visit Hops and Grain. During my latest visit 15 brews were on-tap. Their selection always includes year-round brews, The One They Call Zoe, a hoppy Pale Lager, River Beer, a clean American Lager, Porter Culture, a Baltic Porter, A Pale Mosaic IPA, Pellets and Powder IPA, Hazy County Double IPA, and Lupulin Rodeo IPA. You really can’t go wrong with any of these brews, but they’re also all easily found in cans throughout Austin and have limited availability in the Houston area, so I recommend checking out the remaining taps which feature one-off, seasonal, and rotating series releases.
Their year-round line-up is APA/IPA heavy and the remaining brews on-tap also skewed in that direction. The most interesting of these was A Peach of A Pale, which is a collaboration beer with Pinthouse Pizza. It’s a peach IPA that’s bursting with fruit flavor. Dispensary IPA, part of the rotating Dispensary series that always features a different hop-forward beer, is always a tasty tap-only find. Bangin’ Pale Ale goes for a smooth, easy-drinking approach to the APA style and succeeds. Terepene Dream, a dry-hopped Pale Ale, was one of my favorites, featuring a ton of bright hop flavor.
The last few brews covered a wider range of styles. Suerte Lager is a light and easy drinking brew modeled to be a craft version of a Mexican Lager. Their Maibock, part of Hops and Grain’s Pilot Series, is an excellent example of the style featuring a complex malt flavor matched by a crisp feel and touch of German hop. Hurt Locker was the one malt bomb on the menu, a 10.5% Imperial Stout aged in Eagle Rare Whiskey Barrels. It’s a tasty barrel-aged stout with big roast flavors with notes of oak and just a little heat. The final brew was Fruited Kettle Sour which was made with multiple types of berries. While the overall selection is hop forward, there’s plenty of quality options in a variety of styles to make Hops and Grain a worthy visit for almost any beer fan.
Black Star Co-op
Black Star Co-op is definitely an Austin original. When they opened in 2010, they were the world’s first cooperatively owned and worker self-managed brewpub. Their numbers have swelled to 3500 people, and it’s still possible to become a member of the cooperative. Members are able to vote on beers that are produced and receive a discount on their “Rational Beers,” which are their year-round and main seasonal brews. More limited run and one-off brews are listed as “Irrational Beers”.
Black Star Co-op is a modern feel brewpub consisting of a medium-sized bar, plenty of tables, and a patio. The food options are fairly standard gastropub fare, but the quality is great. Some items on the menu rotate, but their Black Star Burger and Fish and Chips are favorite stand-bys. In the past I’ve enjoyed excellent coconut curry and shrimp and grits. During my last visit I tried an Impossible Burger which is a patty that is a proprietary blend of vegetable items that creates something that tastes like actual meat. I was skeptical before I tried it, but now give it a hardy thumbs up. It doesn’t taste quite like beef, but definitely akin to some form for ground red meat.
There’s a solid selection of both house brews and other craft options, as well as wine, cider, and mead. During my visit five “Rational Beers” were available. Self Esteem is the house Blonde Ale and is unique because it’s brewed solely with malt from Blacklands Malt from Leander, TX. It’s definitely a cut above the average brewpub blonde with the kind of flavor that makes me want to come back for more. Pneuma, a West Coast APA, hits the right notes for the style. Van Dyke Brown is another one brewed with Blacklands Malt and lands on the sessionable end of the American Brown Ale style. Vulcan, an IPA brewed with rye, and Elba, a Wheat Ale brewed with lemongrass, orange peel, and grains of paradise rounded out the “Rational Beers”.
I tend to find the “Irrational Beers” at Black Star to be the most intriguing. Waterloo Berliner Weisse is a personal favorite, and one of the few “Irrational Beers” that seems to be brewed semi-routinely. It’s a great summer choice, clocking in at only 3.0%, refreshingly tart, and featuring a touch of the flavor from it’s special ingredient, apricot. As much as I enjoy Pneuma, its brother beer, It’s Not A Pneuma has it beat in pure hop flavor. It’s Not A Pneuma is also an APA, but features a much brighter hop flavor courtesy of Cascade, Amarillo, and Citra Cryo Hops.
Neighborhood Trolley, a Steambeer brewed with The Brewtorium, goes for a more malty approach than usually seen for the style, but still is crisp and geared to be an easy drinking brew. The most interesting was Dregs, a dark sour aged in oak. The flavor is complex, with malt, sour, and oak all getting some time to shine. There’s always a sour or two on-tap at Black Star and they usually end up being my favorites.
The combination of quality gastropub fare combined with solid beer makes Black Star one of my favorite places in Austin for a leisurely lunch.
Austin continues to impress me with the size and scope of their breweries with almost each new one I visit. The Brewtorium is another relatively new option, having opened back in February. The brewpub sports a large modern beer hall, as well as a sizable back patio, and a nice private room. The Brewtorium’s menu focuses on German-style pizza called Flammkuchen (pronounced flam-coo-khen per their menu). I didn’t try the pizza, but Ryan@HoustonBeerScene swears that a properly cooked Flammkuchen is amazing. The remainder of the menu is typical pub fare, with a few other German items like pretzels and brats. I sampled their mac and beer cheese with pork belly lardons and was quite happy with my choice. The atmosphere was very lively, especially considering I went on a Tuesday night. The vibe is, “great place for a group to grab pizza and pitchers of beer“.
During my visit there were nine brews on-tap that were divided into a category of either a “constant” or “variable”. Wine, cider, sake and mead were also available. Their beer selection represented a solid selection of lower ABV styles, with the strongest beer being their Propeller Head IPA, weighing in at 7.1% ABV. Speaking of Propellar Head, it was one of my favorites. An American IPA, with tropical and citrus flavors up-front, a piney finish and a moderate bitterness. Das Daydrinker, a Munich Helles, was another winner, featuring a tasty, grainy malt profile, and a pleasant crisp and clean feeling. Poolside Peach, a gose, was a great Summer seasonal choice. The peach flavor is mild, but distinct and plays well with the brew’s moderate sourness and touch of salt.
To my surprise, my absolute favorite was Dad Jokes, a Mexican-style Adjunct Lager brewed with corn. Often, a beer brewed in this style is a brew pub’s bland option, for those who may not want to venture far from BudMillerCoors, but The Brewtorium made an Adjunct Lager that still managed to provide plenty of flavor. You definitely can taste the corn, but there’s a much more pleasant flavor than you get from the major lagers from Mexico or the US.
The remaining brews are also quite good. The remaining seasonal brews, Knights Tippler, an English Dark Mild, and Köld Bier, a Kölsch, were both good choices for Summer seasonals. Köld Bier provided an interesting twist on the style by having a heftier grainy malt flavor and slightly less crispness than expected for the style. Lightning Wizard, a Witbier, is fairly standard for the style. Electric Lederhosen, a Vienna Lager, and Sol Surfer, an APA, are also well worth ordering.
One cool touch I enjoyed were the small cards that came with a beer flight that tell you the beer you choose. and a few facts and tasting notes on the beer. Austin has another winner on their hands, I’ll have to come back to The Brewtorium in a few months to try Flammkuchen and see what they choose to brew once the temperature starts to drop a bit.
I’ll be back in late August or early September with another update on a few spots in Austin. Share your favorite Austin spots with us on social media or e-mail me at Todd@HoustonBeerScene.com.