Austin Beer Adventures -- August/September 2012 Part 1 - Brain Sparging on Brewing


Sour beer, saisons, farmhouse beer, homebrewing, ramblings

September 4, 2012

Austin Beer Adventures -- August/September 2012 Part 1

Good times are always abound in Austin, especially when beer is involved. Although most people think of drinking in Austin as limited to partying on 6th Street in college bars with cheap drinks, Austin sports a very diverse nightlife from extremely cheap drinking to live performances to college bars to upscale clubs to beer bars and other more casual drinking environments. It's also home to a vibrant and still growing beer community with a growing number of local and almost-local breweries putting their beers in local bars. In Austin, most places beyond the national chains seem to stock at least one local brewer on tap or in a smaller package. Since Dallas and Fort Worth have very nascent brewing scenes (Fort Worth less so than Dallas) we get a few Austin brewers breaking into our bars but we don't get all of them or all the limited releases. (Oddly enough, you're almost more likely to find Austin beer in Dallas bars than you are Dallas beer. The same is true of Fort Worth but in Fort Worth you're likely to find Rahr in a lot of places with no other craft options.) So it's worthwhile to visit Austin, among the many other reasons, just to score some of those beers. My wife and I, if you can't tell, both really enjoy checking out taprooms and trying to score some limited releases or secret tastes of yet-unreleased beers. So we get the added benefit in Austin of getting to drink at the breweries and sampling beers unavailable in our own area. So this trip we carefully and onerously designed our Labor Day weekend trip around maximizing our exposure to Austin beer. We were damn close to knocking it all out, too. We would have gotten through it all if not for the foreseeable effect of drinking too much...

Flix Brewhouse

Located just north of Austin in Round Rock, Flix Brewhouse takes the bar/restaurant plus movie theater combination to another level by running a brewery in the theater. We stopped here first because my wife was on the hunt for Twisted X's Fuego, a jalepeno pilsner, and Flix was one of the few places that claimed to have it on tap. They did and it was pretty good. Like jalepenos, there was some good flavor but also a lot of heat. So it was well made but one she felt was best drank in limited quantities. I took the opportunity to try a beer brewed in house and chose a berliner weisse. I've talked a bit about sour mashing and berliner weisses before but I can say before this weekend I've never drank one. Well, I ordered it and then took a more careful look at the menu and saw it was actually a recipe designed by one of the Austin Zealots (the major homebrew club in Austin and a major player among Texas clubs). It was light with a lot of lemon and yogurt-like tartness. It was fairly clean in flavor, which suggested to me it was sour mashed and then given a full boil treatment to produce more of a clean beer. Nobody else at the table was a fan of it. I realized it was a well made berliner weisse but I'm not as much of a fan of the style as I thought I would be.

North by Northwest Brewpub

We then stopped back off at North by Northwest because we liked some of their beers and they are just a short drive from Adelbert's, our next destination. The seasonal offering was supposed to be a wit but they were out. Instead, we resigned ourselves to more of their Jack Daniels barrel-aged porter. I have no idea what they did differently but the beer this time was tremendously better than last time we tried it, even though we liked it the first time around. The barrel and whisky flavors seemed to fit better with the porter, coming through as more distinct flavors but without being overwhelming. It was a nice blend of the chocolate and dark crystal malt in the porter with the vanilla-oak and the Jack Daniels sweet whisky flavor. Maybe they were newer barrels or they let it mature longer. No idea what changed but it was excellent. We hit NXNW at happy hour so our beers were extremely reasonably priced as was the food. Good times.

Adelbert's Brewery

Adelbert's is a small Belgian-focused brewery that seems to focus a lot of its production on bottling rather than its keg accounts. It's unique in that regard whereas so many young breweries focus on keg account and grow into a bottling line. Their tours run 5-8 on Friday evenings and $10 (but $8 for AHA members) for six half pint pours. Well, that's what they say at least. We definitely received more than six pours. The bartenders were extremely nice and extremely willing to keep up the pours. Between the taps and bottles available on the "tour" we were able to sample each beer produced by Adelbert. I say "tour" because there doesn't seem to be an actual tour scheduled. It just seems like an opportunity to make some cash giving away beer (an idea I am very much ok with). I thought the staff seemed familiar and it was confirmed that most of the staff, at least those available that night, were former Austin Homebrew employees. I don't know if they are still employees or on what terms they left. They might have left because Adelbert's hired them away or they may have been part of the alleged housecleaning that occurred a year or so ago at AHS when people went from believing AHS could do no wrong to believing AHS was doing very little right. Nonetheless, they were all extremely nice. We eventually asked if we could have a tour of the place and since it is a small operation we assumed it wouldn't take too long. Before I get into the tour, I'll talk a little about the beers.

Adelbert's makes eight beers and they were all available that night except the biere de garde, which we have a bottle at home from our last Austin adventure. I hate to be sour about a brewery where the people we so nice and freeflowing with the beer but sadly, these are not great beers and some were downright awful. We had tried the wit prior and thought it was a decent wit. It's not great, but it was ok. That's really the high point for their beers. The other beer we thought was ok is Flying Monk, a quad aged on local rum barrels. I suspect the barrels have a lot to do with the quality of the flavor.

Here's where it gets bad. The saison (Philosophizer) reeked of coriander and bitter orange peel with no real saison character to it. It wasn't bad but not good, either. The tripel (Tripel B), similarly, was overwhelmed by coriander and bitter orange peel. It was much, much darker than a tripel should be. The typical yeast esters were missing. Instead, there was a slight dirt character to it. The dubbel (Dancin' Monks) had the same flavor profile as the tripel but with some slight dark fruit flavor. The blonde (Rambler Ale) tasted like a very plain blonde but then you were hit with a terrible sewage flavor that made me think it was infected. The worst was Black Rhino, what they call an "earthy dark ale". Whatever that means, it was pretty accurate. It tasted like old black tea mixed with compost. Honestly, I can't figure out why anybody would think that beer is good. Like I said, I really hate to be that mean about their beers but I would be doing a disservice to anybody to be less than honest about those beers. I should have known the beers would be poor quality when I saw all the Austin Homebrew expatriates and when we said we were from Dallas they all remarked how great they think Deep Ellum Brewing is (we are, as you can imagine, not fans). 

Ok, so after drinking quite a bit more than we thought we would, we were given a private tour of the brewing space. My wife was kind enough to whip out her iphone and take some pictures along the way. I figure you can never have too many pictures of breweries. I think what makes me most disappointed about Adelbert's is that I could really get behind their brewing process.

All Adelbert's beers follow a decoction mash and as you can see in the picture to the right (sort of) there are two mash tuns. The vessel closest to the control panel is the main mash tun and the vessel on the left is the decoction mash vessel. They pump from one to the other and when it is time to return the decoction, there is a switch they throw -- located behind the beam in the picture -- and it allows them to pump it back in. I am a fan of decoction mashing, especially when it comes to Belgian beers, so I like the idea of a brewery that decoction mashes everything. Too bad there is just something going wrong with the beer design or brewing process. Maybe a yeast issue.

I was told Adelbert's uses two proprietary strains between their beers although our guide didn't know which strains were used in which beers. I suspect the wit does not include whichever strain produces all the dirt flavors in some of the beers. I am suspect of the brewery using proprietary strains in the sense that they were cultured from some secret monastery or Belgian yeast bank. They were probably the owner's homebrew strains he bought from Wyeast or White Labs. Who knows. I do plan on using the yeast I cultured out of the bottle of their wit in my wit. I just hope it doesn't make my wit taste like dirt.

As I said, Adelbert's does a lot of bottling. The bottling line is spacious and designed to handle those stubby Belgian bottles and 750ml Belgian bottles. However, they do also keg their beers in both 1/2 and 1/6 barrel kegs.

There is no cold storage on site. All the beers are packaged and kept at room temperature. Since the bottles are bottle conditioned and kept around for several weeks before they are released to the distributor, this makes tremendous sense.

Adelbert's also has a small barrel program where they are experimenting with some different kinds of barrels and different critters in the barrel. Unfortunately our tour guide had no idea what was in which barrels but we did convince him to let us have a taste out of a couple barrels.

One barrel had a lighter beer in it. It was somewhat sweet. I suspect it is either the blonde or the tripel, but possibly the wit, aged in the barrel simply for barrel flavor. It was pretty good.

The second barrel was definitely more interesting. Judging by the small white chunks floating in the sample, it looked like he had to break a pellicle to reach the beer. It was darker, suggesting it might have been the dubbel or quad getting barrel treatment. It was slightly sour but there was definitely a brett funk in the beer. That was easily my favorite beer at Adelbert's. Too bad I'll never know what exactly it is.

The exterior of this barrel vexes me. If you can't read it, the writing on the right ends with the following statement, "failed keg beer lost". Does that mean the keg was infected or bad and they decided to sacrifice it to a barrel in hopes that the barrel or souring it would make it better? Will it be sold away to unsuspecting customers as a premium offering, as some breweries have been known to do? Or is it an experiment that will never leave the brewery doors? Is it perhaps a meaningless statement? I'll never know.

Most of the barrels had red stains coming out of it, which suggests to me most of their barrels are pre-used red wine barrels (my powers of observation are that good) although I know they do use rum barrels from a local rum distiller for at least the barrel aged quad.

Well, at a minimum I hope you enjoyed the pictures. After Adelbert's we decided we had too much to drink so we skipped our late dinner plans at Banger's, a downtown sausage-based restaurant sporting one hundred taps. That's the only part of our weekend plan we failed to complete.

I'll try to get the rest of the trip up and running in the next few days but as I always complain, I have a lot of school work to get done. I meant to knock out brewing my wit on Labor Day but I ran out of time to get everything done today. Maybe I will also knock that out later in the week as well.

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