July 3, 2013

More drinking in Austin -- part 3

And some more beers of note...

Hops and Grain Brewing

Hops and Grain is one of the few breweries in the state that has already adopted a new strategy for their taproom based on the new laws (and their new brewpub permit). They still let you have five beers for $10 although you don't get to keep a glass. It's too bad because they actually have some cool glassware. Anyway, let's get on to their beers. Hops and Grain has gotten into doing a lot of barrel aged and barrel fermented beers as part of their Greenhouse series of 3 BBL beers. Last trip to Austin I was stoked to taste so many great beers out of their Greenhouse series so I made sure to hit as many of them as I could this time.

  • French Oak Pale Dog: H&G took its pale ale and aged it in some French oak barrels, hence the name. I felt like this beer was aged in new barrels because it had a strong fresh oak character, with a lot of woody notes. I didn't necessarily love this one because I thought the woody notes distracted from the beer.
  • Red Rye Ale: Very solid hoppy amber rye beer. Not quite an IPA in my opinion but the hops were clearly noticeable. I love rye beers so I enjoyed this one a lot.
  • Barrel fermented 100% Vienna Malt blonde: You get the sense of what this beer is directly from the name. This beer was grainy and woody, from obvious sources. Again it felt like the barrels might have been new barrels due to the fresh oak character. It worked a lot better in this beer than the Pale Dog. If you're going to get a lot of tannins into a beer I think it works much better with a lighter, dry beer than a malty beer. Although I would have preferred less fresh oak character overall. 
  • The One They Call Zoe: This is one of H&G's regular beers. It's a pale lager in the CAP variety. It's light on flavor and refreshing in the 106F heat that day. While it isn't the most exotic beer it's also a brewing feat because such a straightforward beer leaves no room for flaws or errors to hide. It's easy drinking but like many pale lagers of quality there are plenty of gentle flavors to find.
  • Barleywine: I don't think there was a different name offered for this darker barleywine option. I really liked that this barleywine carried some darker malts to provide complexity and went easy on the bold sweetness common to many barleywines, especially when young. It wasn't quite an English barleywine but it lacked the overwhelming hoppy character of many American barleywines. I don't know if H&G would have given me a blend but I actually think this barleywine would have mixed excellently with either of the barrel beers.
  • Guest tap: Sorry to whoever provided the guest tap. It was another red rye type beer. It was good but not quite as good as H&G's version. 
I didn't think these beers were as strong as the lineup the first time I visited Hops & Grain but it was still a nice and diverse selection of beers. I like that they are playing with barrels beyond the usual barrel aged stout/porter or souring. Although I am a fan of barrel aged dark beers and sours, there is plenty of room to experiment with barrels outside of those categories.

Whip-In

Whip-In is a staple of my Austin visits. Great food, great beers, but as I found out this trip, terrible A/C. Dang it was so hot inside. However, the beers were well worth indulging the sauna.

  • Ranger Creek Strawberry Milk Stout: Let me start this off by saying I did not have high hopes for this beer. I expected it to either have a cloying, artificial strawberry flavor (like Fruli) or a very muddled berry flavor. Surprisingly, it was neither. Instead, this strawberry milk stout was a solid milk stout with a very clear strawberry flavor. There was no syrupy strawberry flavor and the strawberry flavor was not muddled. Granted, the milk stout base was not the most exciting milk stout I've ever had but it is the right platform for the strawberries. It is a well constructed beer.
  • Namaste Brewing Bitterama Extra Extra Special Bitter with earl grey tea: Namaste Brewing is the brewery arm of Whip-In. I was particularly excited to see this beer on tap because it's one I've wanted to try for a while. I'm perplexed at why I like these tea-based beers so much but I really enjoy them. This beer did not let me down. It is an EESB (?) which suggested it would be either a higher gravity ESB or a hoppier ESB. It seemed to be a slightly higher gravity ESB but not quite anything that would resemble an American or English IPA. Instead there was a straightforward ESB malt bill paired with the gentleness of English hops plus that something extra from the tea. It added an herbal note that played perfectly with the hops. The tea was subtle but present. 
  • Real Ale Sisyphus (2006): Sisyphus is an awesome American barleywine on its own but Whip-In brought it to a new level by putting on tap a seven year old keg. At $10 for an 8oz pour it was pricey but really not much more expensive than what many bars charge for an 8oz pour of other high gravity beers. It was smooth with almost a whiskey character that barleywines tend to develop with a little aging. What surprised me most about this beer is how much hop flavor was left. Most of the aroma had faded, allowing the malt aroma to dominate, but there was still fresh hop flavor. I was expecting the hop flavor to have faded or turned a little stale but it was fresh and vibrant. Well worth the price of the pour.
As usual, Whip-In's diverse beer line up proves to be a knockout.

Bangers

Bangers is a nifty little place on Rainey on the southeast corner of downtown that specializes in beer and sausage. Sunday brunch offered a kitchen sink special that included enormously thick cuts of bacon and beef tongue hash. There's also a manmosa that pairs a full bottle of champagne in a liter stein with OJ or cranberry juice.

  • Branchline Woodcutter rye IPA on cask with grapefruit and cocoa nibs: Yes, you read that correctly. An IPA with cocoa. It was too strange of a concoction to pass up. I'm glad I tried it. As much as I am not a huge fan of IPAs I like them on cask, where the bitterness is mellowed and the hop flavor pours through. In this offering the hop flavor intermingled with citrusy grapefruit, spicy rye and chocolate. The chocolate flavor was mellow and provided sort of an earthy sweetness that worked really well. I feel like the rye is what brings the chocolate together with the other flavors. Rye is sort of earthy itself so it plays well with chocolate. The cocoa also added a little body to the beer that was pleasant. Such a strange beer but so tasty. I haven't had anything from Branchline I haven't loved so I am especially sad we do not see them in DFW.

Flix Brewing

Flix has made itself a staple in my Austin trips, if for no other reason than it is conveniently located right of I-35 just north of Austin. They put out some interesting beers and often have some interesting tap options so I'm glad it makes for an easy fit into my plans.

  • Smoked Porter: I'm a big fan of smoked porters and this one was no exception. Well constructed with a lot of chocolate character that played well with the smoke. I don't think I've had a smoked porter that pushed the chocolate character so assertively but it really worked well. 
  • Fuyu sour with persimmons: I have been on the hunt for this beer for over a year now. It's never been available on other trips so it was a huge score to leave Austin on this beer. A very light sour with assertive acidity and low funk is aged on persimmons. Persimmons have a very sweet, sort of custard flavor that I find fantastic. In this beer the persimmon flavor was present without being overpowering in the way cherries and berries can sometimes dominate sour beers. The custard-like persimmon flavor created a very interesting balance with the acidity. It had a sweet-sour character that I liked. I don't normally enjoy those backsweetened Flanders reds that have that balsamic vinegar taste. This wasn't like that at all. The custard-sweet flavor kept itself separate from the acidity so it was more like eating a dessert with separate sweet and acidic elements that creates a nice balance. I'd love to play around with persimmons in a sour but locally they sell for $1 each. That is rather expensive for fruit that are slightly smaller than roma tomatoes. I don't imagine they used a huge amount of persimmon in this beer but it couldn't have been cheap to make. 
Ok, I know these beers were not as exotic as the beers I've discussed on other beer adventures but there were some unique beers with interesting ideas that I might want to incorporate into future projects. It was a good trip in spite of the heat and a nice opportunity to unwind. I also had visits to North by Northwest, Craft Pride and Pinthouse Pizza that were full of delicious beers but nothing exotic enough or unmentioned on prior trips that I wanted to add to the length of these posts.

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