March 7, 2013

IM IN UR AUSTIN...DRINKING UR BEERZ Part 2

Time to get down to the good stuff: the beer. We started our trip off Friday morning with the expectation that we would hit town around mid-afternoon to start off with a tour at Hops & Grain but thanks to my Formula One-style driving down the interstate we got to town early and decided to make a nice little pit stop at Flix Brewhouse.

Flix Brewhouse

Flix is a movie theater/brewpub just north of Austin in Round Rock. They make a wide variety of beers that they serve along with a good mix of other craft breweries. Flix does a good job mixing up their beers and always puts a sour/wild beer on the tap list. It also has a good relationship with the Austin Zealots, the local homebrew club and a strong competitor in the state in homebrewing competitions. (A Zealot took the Ninkasi last year at NHC.) We stopped in at Flix on our last trip but they were out of the sour/wild beer at the time: a persimmon lambic. This time they had the sour available so I gave it a taste long with their Kill Shot Scotch Ale.

The Kill Shot Scotch Ale was an interesting take on the style. It had a very porter-like aroma but the flavor was more scotch ale with a burnt characteristic I didn't love but didn't hate. Not my favorite scotch ale but I have definitely had worse. My hypothesis is that the burnt flavor came from boiling down the first runnings to develop the caramel flavor but went a little overboard.

The sour beer was a soured version of their Luna Rosa wit. The aroma was a little funky and sour but the beer was actually fairly mild in both funk and sourness. It was less sour than a berliner weisse and certainly less funky than a no-boil berliner weisse is. I'm not sure whether the beer needed more time in the barrel or if it was just a low ABV beer that dried out at that point (my hypothesis leans to the latter). One of our friends tried the non-soured wit and it had a lot more wheat and spice flavor to it, which might be a product of spicing the fresh wit that faded during the aging process on the sour.

So overall, not the best beers on the trip but I'm glad we got to stop and try some other beers. Most of the beers I have tried at Flix are mediocre beers but I appreciate their dedication to trying to make a diverse line up and their close connection to the local homebrewers. I'd still like to try some of their other beers to get a better feel for them.

Hops & Grain Brewing

Hops & Grain is a small brewery on the hipster-coated east side of Austin near downtown. It's in a building with a school that teaches ladies how to do the curtain swing acrobatics like in cirque du soleil and some marketing firms. Hops & Grain focuses on ecological sustainability (for example they sell spent grain dog biscuits) and making great beer. The tap room is open 2-6pm Friday afternoons and then Saturday afternoon for a tour where they also give out samples not available in the tap room. Texas does not allow brewers to sell beer from the tap room so breweries offer to sell you a glass with a certain number of beers. They have to offer samples for free as well to prove to the state ABC that they are not selling the beer, just a glass full of free samples. Hops & Grain sells a cool glass for $10 plus five 12oz pours.

Hops & Grain offers just two beers in their core line up: Alteration Ale (an alt) and Pale Dog (a pale ale). They also brew several other beers in their Greenhouse line up in three barrel increments. Some of the Greenhouse beers are sold away to bars in kegs but very little leaves. After all, three barrels is six 15.5 gallon kegs so if it has to be split between the taproom and sales that's little to go around.

Since the Greenhouse beers are non-existent in Dallas and almost non-existent in Austin we had our fill of those beers. The core line up is really good but we had a hard time turning down the rare beer. There was a great doppelbock with some nice, deep caramel and stonefruit flavors. One of the bartenders told us the doppelbock was a blended beer and part of it came out of some barrels. It was very tasty. There was a nice Belgian pale ale with a solid blend of yeast esters and hops. A Burton-style pale ale with really great, fresh English hop character. A tasty English brown ale with big chocolate malt character I really liked. My favorite was a Belgian porter. It was a really well made English-style porter with Belgian yeast esters layered on top. The yeast character was present without being too in your face. You could accomplish a similar profile with a warm fermentation with an English strain but Belgian strains tend to give off a little more phenols and bubble gum esters.

We sat outside the brewery in the lobby where we could see the Hops & Grain barrels on one side and a free acrobatics show from the school on the other side. It's a great deal for $10. We also managed to sneak into the brew house and take a look at the equipment even though we weren't supposed to be back there. An employee came through and said hello to us so I guess it wasn't too big of a problem. We didn't touch, just looked and snapped a picture.

Behind the equipment is the tap room (enclosed off from the brew house) and to the left of this picture is the kettle and mash tun. Behind where I took the picture is the barrel room, full of full size wine and liquor barrels and some smaller five gallon whisky and wine barrels. You can see on the sign in the corner on the picture some of the cool stuff they do with the Greenhouse beers. I'm not sure when those are coming around but they all sound like good beers.

Overall, great beers and great value in the tap room. I'd love to take the tour to ask some questions about the system and try out the mystery samples they only offer on the tours. I was expecting to like the beers but I really loved the beers. Definitely among the top three brewers we visited this trip.

If I had it in mind to open a brewery I'd probably model myself on Hops & Grain. Just 2-3 core beers and then make different versions of those beers and some one off beers available very locally. I'd also do some sour/wild beers in larger quantity so maybe I would aim for a slightly broader line up in that regard. The 3 beer core line up is what most of the new Texas breweries are doing which overall I think is very smart.

Bangers

After Hops & Grain we went to Bangers, a sausage restaurant on the east side that specializes in awesome sausage and craft beer. Not a brewer but Bangers is well known in the beer scene. The food and service was fantastic. They bring in lots of interesting beers. I was able to track down Left Hand's barleywine, which is a fantastic barleywine I've never even seen for sale outside of Left Hand's own taproom. My wife nabbed Guadalupe's Scotch Ale. Guadalupe is a new brewery outside of Austin that makes just incredible beers. The scotch ale was no exception. Caramel, smoke, bread, toffee, toast, warming alcohol. Exactly what a scotch ale should be. Easily among the best scotch ales I've ever tasted.

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