March 9, 2013


Whip In/Namaste Brewing

Saturday night we closed up our drinking at Whip In, a staple of the Austin beer scene. Whip In has spent most of it's long life as a combination Indian restaurant, Belgian-focused craft beer bar, wine bar, small music venue and bottle shop. Recently they ventured into brewing with Namaste Brewing (which I kept intentionally mispronouncing like "nasty" but with "ma" in the middle so it was like "I'm getting so namasty up in here"). Sadly I don't know where the brew house is hidden and they were out of several of their beers but they are doing some interesting things with beer.

I was really after the tripel with rye and rosehips but settled on Sita's Revenge, a pilsner and strisselspalt saison. It had a real sweetness and body that was unusual for a saison but also worked really well. I'm not sure what was contributing to either of those, probably some late boil additions. It wasn't like any saison I had ever had but probably closest to the saisons of Funkwerks. Unfortunately we were really full after drinking and eating all day so I didn't make it through more of their beers this trip but next time we will have to save stomach room to get as namaste as possible.

We also tried a St. Arnold's Divine Reserve barleywine from 2008 on tap that was delicious. It was probably a good beer before but age definitely made it a fantastic beer. My wife also tried Guadalupe's Rye Ale, which was excellent. It's a rye IPA but definitely more focused on the late hop additions over the bittering. One thing I really dislike about many rye IPAs is that the rye spicy flavor and lots of bittering hops just takes the beer to a bitter place I don't like. I was really pleased not to have that experience with this beer.

Live Oak Brewing

We started out Sunday with a noon tour of Live Oak. Live Oak is pretty well known internationally for their German-style beers, especially their hefeweizen. The beers are glorious and I've tried for like four years to get into a tour. They quit doing tours for a while and only in the past month or so have gone back to regular tours. They give out sixty tickets for each Sunday tour and release the tickets Thursday morning. I was up early for the bar and captured our four tickets. By nine in the morning when my wife checked the tickets were all gone.

Live Oak is in east Austin a few blocks away from Hops & Grain in a building they have occupied since they first opened in 1997. You can tell they have been there for a long time. The brewing equipment is very...rustic. It's not the high tech, efficient system like Hops & Grain. When they do decoction mashes, they have to hook up a hose to run wort from mash tun to kettle and back. The system is small so they are brewing every day of the week. The picture to your right is how they vorlouf. Yeah, it is wort running through a strainer into a pot that then is pumped into the kettle. It felt a lot like brewing at home.

They are going to construct a larger brewery in the eastern outskirts of town because they need a larger system to support demand for the beer and expand into a bottling line, since they only bottle beer at this time.

When I say this brew house shows it has been there since 1997, I mean this place looks well worn. When you walk in you could easily mistake it for some old, dank European brewhouse that has been running since the late middle ages. The ceiling is wood, so as you can imagine, this dank room with a mash tun and kettle running all the time gets very humid and moist so the entire ceiling and all the pipes are covered in a tasty black mold. If you look at the picture below and check out the ceiling you can kind of see how dark it is. That's mold. I'm not sure how safe all that mold is for the workers who have to breathe the mold spores all day but it sure makes delicious beer.

You can also see the kettle, which says it is one thousand something gallons. Probably a 35-40 barrel kettle. Scroll down for more fun...

I think you can see the mold a little better in this picture, along with the other side of the brewing system. That's the brewer peeking into the mash. They were brewing an amber during the tour, which is pretty cool.

The tour is interesting. They break up the explanation of the brewing process with beer breaks to refill your glass. For $5 you can buy a pint glass plus five half pours and a sixth full pour. Cheap beer brings out a lot of college students, so the tour was probably 80% college students and 20% beer nerds. Some of the college students got a little drunk and rowdy mid-way through the tour but the staff seemed used to it.

The tour featured the standard and seasonal line up. The all-mighty hefeweizen. The well regarded pilsner. The well balanced Big Bark amber. The Liberation IPA that we really liked for it's hop character and reasonable bitterness. The spring seasonal Schwarzbier with it's great roasty character.

We were also treated with a small pour of an experimental batch of doppelbock. Holy shit. This was the best doppelbock ever. It was magical. It was full of rich caramel notes but also tons of raisin, grape and currant character that either came from the best use of Special B on earth or the perfect amount of oxidation of melanoidins. Maybe both. We were lucky enough to find it on tap at Black Star later in Austin so we made sure to deprive Austin of some of that deliciousness before we left.

Live Oak is a little guarded about their recipes but happy to discuss the processes they use. The hefe, for example, is not decoction mashed as many claim is necessary for a good hefeweizen. The pilsner, Pilz, is decoction mashed. They use only horizontal tanks for all beers to produce the right flavor profiles from the yeast. Horizontal tanks are not as easy to work with as the cylindro-conical tanks commonly used but the wide body gives the yeast a wide surface for top fermentation, which is especially important for the hefeweizen to get that perfect clove-banana combination they get. (The importance of fermentor geometry is discussed in Brew Like a Monk.) Interesting stuff.

Freetail Brewing

Freetail is a brewpub in north San Antonio I have wanted to visit for the longest time. I heard nothing but good things about the beer and pizza so I was glad we could work it into our schedule. Freetail is fairly well known for their sour beers, which I was really hoping to try but they didn't have any on tap right now. I did find plenty of other excellent beers -- and excellent pizzas -- to consume.

If you didn't know any better you would expect Freetail to be some sort of Chili's establishment. It's in an upper middle class suburban area in a shopping center with lots of chain stores and chain restaurants. It's unassuming but when you walk in you know you're somewhere that brews. I didn't take any pictures inside, unfortunately. The brewhouse is clearly visible through windows behind the bar. There are palates of grain along the walls mixed with racks of barrels with airlocks sitting dormantly on top.

I started off with Ontono Anejo, a pumpkin saison from 2011 aged sixteen months in wine barrels. It was a great beer. The pumpkin still showed through well with some saison yeast character all mixed with some light barrel character and some smoothness from aging.

Next I rolled up on the End of the World imperial porter, a delicious imperial porter with chiles and chocolate. It is probably the second best chile-chocolate beer I've had (closely behind Copper Kettle's Mexican Chocolate Stout). Each flavor stood out as a distinct and perfect component. The chile flavor really came through with just a little heat on the back.

I took a trip through some of their less exotic beers. From left to right is EXXXtra Pale Ale, a very hoppy pale ale, Broken Treaty IPA, a tasty English IPA, Rye Wit, exactly what it sounds like, and La Rubia, an American Blonde. La Rubia was a really flavorful blonde ale but the favorite of these was the Rye Wit. It was a great balance between rye and wit flavor. It was sort of like a roggenbier with a balance of rye and weizen flavor. It was light enough you could drink it session-style but tasty enough to really work through and savor.

I don't know how they do it but every beer was just perfectly constructed. I couldn't find a flaw to complain about and that's really a feat when you run the gamut of brewing incredibly complex beers, sours, hoppy beers and very light beers without any flaws or room to improve. What I find equally as impressive is how they are able to get such distinct flavors in the beer. There is some flavor melding -- which is desired -- but also ingredients stand out on their own and can be easily detected and called out. To me, that is the sign of a well constructed beer.

It makes me really sad that Texas doesn't allow brewpubs to distribute off-site because that means I have to drive all the way down to San Antonio just to get more of these great beers. It's really worth the trip.


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