This trip through Austin was a wave of beer tours and most were new visits for me (and all new visits for our friends who flew down to see us/drink with us from their beer-filled home outside of Denver). Austin's beer scene is growing at exponential rates. It is even substantially bigger since I last visited about six months ago. New breweries and brewpubs are opening. Established brewers are moving into new facilities. Breweries have grown enough to expand their line up beyond their core. Lots of new beer-focused bars and restaurants are competing mightily with the old guard of college bars serving only BMC.
Austin's beer scene is growing at almost the same pace as other more established beer cities around the country (e.g. Denver, Portland, San Diego) but unlike the more established cities, the local brewers have a couple powerful competitive advantages. First, Austin has a booming beer scene but it's still small enough that each new brewery opening is still a pretty big deal. Austin brewers are not opening into a more established market where there might be another brewery down the block (although in a couple parts of town that isn't true anymore). There is a lot less local competition than those other cities but a huge market of college students (a market increasingly being won over by craft beer), upper middle class neighborhoods and the overall local demand to "keep Austin weird".
Second, Texas in general is a harder market for outside craft brewers to come into so there is sort of an unintentional embargo against the craft brewers of other states. Our state laws make distribution very challenging to get into for small breweries, if you are out of state you cannot drive your beers into the state and sell direct to retailers, nor can you even show up at our beer fests without paying thousands of dollars in licensing. (Still, it should be pointed out there are a few small California and Colorado brewers who are trying to tap the under-served Texas market over their own more saturated markets by distributing more beer here than their home states.) As beer drinkers these laws are terrible because we lose out on access to a lot of great craft beer that is slowly working its way in (e.g. Founders is about to show up, Goose Island and Firestone Walker just appeared weeks ago). For local brewers, it's advantageous because there's less competition on the shelves. Ironically, it was the BMC brewers who pushed for these laws to protect their internal competition in Texas and now it's fostering local competition that is driving down their sales.
The result of these issues is that Austin has lots of local craft beer available and lots of local beer drinkers who passionately defend the local brewers. There are some great breweries, some mediocre breweries and even a few pretty bad breweries. As much as the locals support their own, a few locals are being pushed out of the market for putting out consistently bad beer. Perdenales is a great example. It showed up, started getting accounts all over town about a year ago, put out some mediocre to bad beers, and now it's pretty much non-existent. It's good that people are willing to support the locals but also not willing to support anything just because it's local. Unfortunately, we haven't hit that place locally in Dallas/Fort Worth where people are willing to discard mediocre beer but I think sooner rather than later some of our local brewers will break under the pressure of a more competitive market.
There's so much good beer going on in Austin we've done several rounds of tours over the past couple years of visits that we still haven't hit everything and there's more and more places opening so we can't even keep up despite our Tetris-like tight fitting schedules of tours. San Antonio is also emerging as a beer hotspot so we need to start working those tours in, too. This time we shoved in nine breweries/brewpubs: Hops & Grain, Flix Brewhouse, Thirsty Planet, Jester King, Live Oak, Freetail, Pinthouse Pizza, Black Star Co-Op and Whip In's Namaste Brewing. Today I'll leave you with my introductory thoughts above but I have lots of pictures, reviews, brewing commentary and other babble to offer about the above places and a few other good beer spots around town. I intend to post these up daily this week until I run out of Austin fun. Then I'll return to homebrewing content and I have lots of stuff backed up to write about and some new stuff I want to do.