HBS Road Trip: Austin Series – September 2018
I’m back with my impressions of another three Austin breweries for the fourth of a planned nine-month series on my visits to Texas‘ capital. For my September trip my first choice was Texas craft beer veteran, North By Northwest, who have been open an outstanding 19 years, claiming the title of Austin’s oldest brewpub. I then stopped in at Austin Beer Garden Brewing Company, who recently celebrated their fifth anniversary and have received plenty of national acclaim since their opening. Finally, I visited Lazarus Brewing Company who opened back in December 2016, finalizing an interesting trio of breweries that range from relatively new to one of the oldest craft breweries in Texas.
North By Northwest – North Location
I am specifically writing about their northern location located at 10010 Capital of TX Hwy N, Austin, TX 78759. The Southern location is very similar in terms of menu items and atmosphere, but has a separate brewhouse, a slightly different beer menu and a different lay-out. North By Northwest (NXNW) is probably the most upscale of all of the Austin area brewpubs. It’s not super fancy, but is definitely what I would call a “nice restaurant“. The inside resembles a Hill Country lodge with an elegant use of stone and wood. It feels warm and inviting, with a nice dash of posh without seeming fussy or pretentious. High ceilings and smart lighting provide a great open feeling to the restaurant. In addition to seating in the main dining area, there’s also a full bar with additional bar area seating, a front patio and a huge covered patio to the side of the restaurant which has it’s own bar that opens up for events. Parts of the brewhouse are visible in glassed in sections behind the bar and near the front of the restaurant. NXNW did a great job of incorporating the brewhouse into the style of the restaurant. The atmosphere makes NXNW a great to visit for a drink with friends or coworkers, a huge family meal or to take out that special someone for a date.
The food is probably the true star here. NXNW is foremost a restaurant, and features upscale pub food. Pizza from their huge brick oven is a popular choice, and you can’t go wrong with any of their burgers or sandwiches. They also have a fairly wide selection of salads and appetizers, but what has always stood out most to me are their entree selections. During past visits, I have enjoyed an excellent filet mignon paired with mushroom risotto, cedar plank salmon, and grilled chicken penne pasta. The prices are just a little higher than most Austin brewpubs, but the quality, service, and atmosphere is there to make the juice worth the squeeze. If you’re looking to save money, look into their rather extensive happy hour that has many food and drink options. If you’re a sweets person, don’t forget to check out their selection of desserts which have never disappointed me.
NXNW has seven year-round brews: Northern Light Helles, Py Jingo Pale Ale, Bavarian Hefeweizen, Duckabish Amber Ale, Red Zeppelin Irish Red, Okanogan Black Ale and Zombie Dragon IPA. My favorite is Zombie Dragon, a bright, low IBU IPA with a great juicy, citrus flavor. Okanogan is another I tend to return to often. It has plenty of roasty flavor and just enough hop bitterness to provide a good balance. NXNW’s remaining year-round brews are solid rotation choices and match nicely with their seasonal and rotating offerings to create a beer menu with a solid variety.
I tend to have more fun drinking their rotating and seasonal beers. Whiskey River Stout was my absolute favorite from this latest visit. It’s an Irish Dry Stout aged in bourbon barrels for one year. The result is an excellent 6.0% brew that’s packed with malt and bourbon flavors, but won’t knock you out. I appreciate seeing more and more breweries experiment with barrel aging of lower ABV beers like this. Another seasonal, Bohemian Pilsner, is the type of crisp, Saaz-packed Czech Pilsner that I always appreciate. There was also a raspberry version available which works as a good fruit beer, but loses a lot of the flavors of a Czech Pilsner that excite me. Planet Caravan IPA joins Zombie Dragon as another reason for hopheads to check out NXNW. It’s another bright, low IBU American IPA, this one brewed with Mandarina Bavaria and Mosaic hops. Star View Blonde Ale, Pedal Bite American Pale Ale, Prost German Pilsner, and Brutylicious Brut IPA rounded up the brews available during this visit and are solid examples of their styles.
I’ve been coming to NXNW for a little more than ten years and have always enjoyed their food and brew. They have continued to add variety to their beer options and improve their core beers since I’ve visited them. The combination of quality food and beer in an impressive location will continue to bring me here until something changes. There’s a reason NXNW has been open for almost 20 years and have been able to open a second location; they provide a great overall experience and are well worth a visit even when considering the myriad of options in ATX.
Austin Beer Garden Brewing Company
This is probably currently the hottest brewery in Austin in terms of Great American Beer Festival awards. They just finished pulling off a three-peat in winning Brewpub of the Year. Their beers have also done well at GABF. Rocker 100 just won gold in the American Pilsner category for the third time, Hell Yes Helles also just won a gold to join the bronze it won in 2016, and Industry German Pilsner won a gold in 2016. I was equally as impressed as the GABF judges with Austin Beer Garden Brewing Company’s (ABGB) lagers. All three of these year-round lagers are excellent style examples showing a supreme balance and flavor. I’ve had them all a few times over the years and consistently rate them very highly, just as I did during September‘s visit. Even their seasonal lager, Happy Pounds, a decidedly craft interpretation of an American Light Lager, is impressive. I was skeptical when I saw the 4.0% ABV and pale straw color, but ending up impressed with it’s body and hop flavor. It’s one of the best beers I’ve had to be identified by a brewery as an American Light Lager that actually has the appearance of what everyone thinks of as an American Light Lager.
While I mostly think of excellent lagers when I think of ABGB, they offer some other solid choices. Superliner is always on-tap and features German malts paired with Simcoe and Amarillo hops resulting in a quality citrus forward American IPA. Seasonal Double IPA Luxury Liner is also recommendable, this one featuring Simcoe and Citra. Big Mama Red, a 7.9% “Hoppy Red”, and Day Trip American Pale Ale round-up their solid year-round line-up. Siouxsie’s Strawberry Girl was the final beer available during my latest visit. It was even lighter than Happy Pounds at a miniscule 3.8% and about as thirst quenching, but was an entirely different brew than Happy Pounds. Siouxsie is a Sour Ale brewed with strawberries from Poteet, Texas. It’s assertively tart, refreshing and a nice change of pace from ABGB’s lagers and IPAs.
ABGB’s appeal goes beyond their beer. The actual beer garden at their brewery is a chill spot with plenty of picnic tables, many of which are shaded with trees. There’s also some cool art to be seen on a small building in the beer garden. The inside of ABGB is a giant beer hall with a stage at one end. Usually live music occupies the stage Wednesday through Sunday nights. In addition to the many tables, there’s also plenty of bar seating. The brew house occupies the same structure and can be seen behind the stage. Most evenings, ABGB is busy, loud and active. If you want a more low-key experience, lunch is a better bet.
ABGB is yet another brewpub that specializes in pizza. Their pizza features a soft, thin crust and most of their eight standard and additional few seasonal pizzas are available by the slice, as well as in various sizes. I’ve had their pizza a few times with no complaints, but I find myself enjoying their sandwich options the most. The Italian sub I had during my September visit was one of the best I’ve ever had. ABGB’s menu also features a fairly large variety of appetizer options and a few salads.
ABGB is an excellent option to visit in Austin. Their beers are quality, the place is really cool and they have a variety of quality food choices. Coming hot off a three-peat of GABF wins for their brewpub, it’ll be fun to see where ABGB goes from here. If I wasn’t clear, lager fans don’t want miss this place.
Lazarus Brewing Company
Lazarus Brewing Company is located on a busy stretch of E. 6th St. and is one of many located in East Austin. Zilker Brewing Company is located less than a block away and Hops and Grains and Blue Owl Brewing Company are also within a mile. Go one more mile and you can reach Friends and Allies Brewing and Brewer’s Table. Lazarus stacks up pretty well with this group of quality breweries. First off, the atmosphere is great. The brewpub sports a nice shady patio with beer hall style seating, as well as outdoor porch seating and two separate indoor areas. The main indoor area houses a long bar and additional seating. There’s a comfortable sofa area that looks more “coffee house” than “brew pub” that’s almost always occupied. This is appropriate as this area faces Lazarus’ espresso bar. The brewhouse is behind the bar in the main building. The second building is across a breezeway and is the former home of a famous Austin convenience store, The Cool Store. This building holds additional seating and can be reserved for private events. Lazarus’ new foeder and barrels of aging beer are also in this building. There’s cool painting on the outsides of both buildings that stand-out when you’re driving the neighborhood. The overall look of the entire establishment is sleek, yet laid-back and inviting. It fits in well with what I expect for the Austin scene.
In addition to brewing beer and coffee, Lazarus also offers a limited food menu. Food options consist of tacos and tortas with an option of five types of filling: carnitas, al pastor, pollo verde, carne asada and black beans. There’s also breakfast taco options available until 2:00 PM and a few starters like chips and dip. I tried 4 of the five filling types and was happy overall. Pollo verde and black bean were personal favorites over the pork options. The tacos are $3.50 apiece, but are quite large and generously filled. Austin has many taco options and you can find better, but they’re worthwhile at Lazarus.
During my visit there were 11 brews on-tap and one bottle pour release. Lazarus also has wine options and makes their own root beer. The beer selections rotate a bit, but there’s a handful of brews that tend to always be on tap: Amandus, a Belgian Strong Golden Ale, 40 Days and 40 Nights IPA, Double Predestination Double IPA, Despereux, a Saison, Shackelton Bitter, Nottingham English IPA, and Achilles Heel Irish Dry Stout. Amandus might be their most well-known beer, it won a gold medal at GABF last year. It’s a quality example of a Belgian Strong Golden Ale and should not be missed. I really enjoy Double Predestination and 40 Days and 40 Nights. I’ve noticed with so many quality IPA choices available in Austin almost everyone who chooses to do one, does a fairly high quality example of whatever IPA style they’re going for and Lazarus is no different.
At Lazarus I find myself more interested in their rotating and seasonal beers. My absolute favorite was their first foeder beer and the only one sold as a bottle pour: East of Eden. This is an absolutely beautiful brew, with a lightly hazy golden color topped with a fairly thick head. You get a ton of flavors with funk, fruit, oak, spice and earth making appearances. I also loved Cool And The Gang, a collaboration with neighbor Blue Owl Brewing. This one plays to Blue Owl’s wheelhouse by going the kettle sour route, this one a sour English Mild brewed with Earl Grey tea. Their goal was a refreshing beer similar to an Arnold Palmer and they succeeded. There’s a great mix of tart, sour lemon and tea flavors that converge to make a great beer. Prodigal Pils, one of the German style variety, also stood out. It’s hop forward for the style and uses Tettnanger, Hallertauer, Spalt and Saphir hops. Jolted Phoenix, a Golden Ale infused with coffee, and Raging Wallaby, an IPA brewed with five Australian hops rounded out the beers available during my visit.
Lazarus is another great spot to visit in Austin. The location is cool and it’s hard to beat a combo of coffee, beer and tacos. I absolutely loved their East of Eden and hope to try more brews from their foeder in the future. All three places I visited this month have different vibes, specialties and different tenures in the Austin scene, but all serve as great examples of why Austin has such a captivating beer scene. I’ll be back next month with three more places to consider for your next visit to Austin.