February 25, 2016

Revisiting Austin 2016

Among the many reasons why I haven't brewed in three months (at least at the time of this writing) has been in part due to sneaking away on a couple vacations with my wife that have consumed two different weekends. One was a visit to Las Vegas that I felt did not warrant adding info to what I have already discussed beer-wise in Vegas while the second was a trip to Austin that I thought was worth a brief post. We're pretty set on how we dissect Austin to drink a lot of local beer so we end up visiting many of the same places I've already discussed on prior posts so I'll avoid spending space regurgitating how much I like all the same things I liked last time. I'll just point out that both Hops & Grain and Pinthouse Pizza are still putting out excellent beers and continue to be great destinations. We also hit Whip In, which has had some changes to their brewing staff and brewing direction. I don't know the details about those changes enough to feel comfortable discussing them here so I'll just point out that the beer lineup has changed considerably and many of the award winning beers do not seem to be a part of Whip In's beer lineup. There were four Whip In sour beers on tap but they were all unfortunately terrible sours. I would have personally dumped all four. That made me sad; but then I drank more delicious beer. So with that out of the way let's talk new.

Austin's brewing industry is one of the fastest growing brewing industries in the nation. It's not quite Denver or San Diego but breweries are popping up quickly and many breweries are in the planning stages. If I can toss out a hypothesis here I think much of what is fueling the rising numbers so quickly in Austin is that Austin has reached a sufficient number of quality breweries that the older breweries have trained the next generation of brewery owners and attracted enough high level brewers from around the country that the local brewing industry can act as its own incubator for new breweries. It is no longer necessary to import brewers from other regions to find somebody with needed experience and education and brewers no longer have to commit themselves to the tribe of whatever brewery elevated them from homebrewer to pro brewer. We're definitely not there in Dallas but maybe a little closer down in Houston.

So with all these new breweries available we had options and picked two breweries that are not entirely new but are new for us plus a new location on an old brewery that I think is worth discussing a little if only to compare the quality of the new location versus the old.

Infamous Brewing Co.

Infamous Brewing has actually been operating since 2013 but has grown itself from a small handbuilt 1BBL brewing system to a brewery that sells in Austin, Houston and Dallas and is contracting to brew beer at a Dallas area brewery to help service our market. Infamous is located in the northwest side of Austin near Lake Travis which is a sleepier and less urbanized area of the Austin metro. The brewery itself is wedged into a small industrial park in a space that seems entirely too small for a brewery pushing as much product as it does. The brewing space seems to ooze out of every door into the parking lot and exterior walkways. The taproom is small but space is well used. The brewery provides a grill for customers to use to make their own food which is a fun idea. As a whole it is probably not a must-see brewery experience in Austin but likely does very well serving the local community around their corner of the lake.

Infamous's beer lineup is an interesting mix of classic craft styles and new styles. Plenty of staples like IPA, amber and cream ale intermingled with more contemporary demanded styles like session IPA and adjunct stouts. What's most interesting about the lineup is how much the beers reminded me of the way these beers are often brewed in the PNW. The IPA was the traditional PNW pine-citrus flavor rather than unloading the popular fruit bomb hops (which do appear in the session IPA). They also serve up a great American stout which tends to be a difficult style to find outside of the PNW (at least in my experience) when it's not used merely as an excuse to produce a barrel aged beer and/or a base for adjuncts. That said, Infamous's best beer is an adjunct stout and that is Sweet the Leg which takes their American stout and adds peanut butter. It's the best peanut butter stout I've had and leans towards a real peanut flavor over the oversweetened peanut butter flavor I've tasted in a few of these peanut butter stouts.

I would definitely go back to Infamous and spend some more time drinking their beers. They probably aren't wowing anybody with their lineup of easy drinking beers but the beers are solid and this could easily be a neighborhood brewery almost anywhere in the country.

Oasis Brewing Co.

You might know Oasis as the brewery that faced off against New Belgium over the name "Slow Ride" but it's location is probably even more well known. Oasis Brewing is set in the Shops at the Oasis in northwest Austin (close to Infamous) which has been the site of The Oasis on Lake Travis since 1982 and is an iconic landmark in Austin. The site began as a little restaurant perched above Lake Travis and has since grown to a moderate sized multi-use shopping and dining enclave with spectacular views of the lake and a number of decks taking advantage of the view. Oasis Brewing (and we'll just call it Oasis now) has a two story taproom with two outdoor areas that face out to the lake. It's a really cool location. It's a place you want to go to drink beer and let's talk about those beers.

Most of Oasis's lineup are the kind of beers you would classify as lake beers: light and easy to drink. They even market themselves as focusing on session beers. The core beers share no particular commonality except their all, well, session beers. My wife liked London Homesick Ale, an ESB, that I didn't particularly like because it had a dirty hop taste to it that I would describe in the way many people describe Fuggles, although this beer uses challenger. I was more a fan of Luchesa Lager, an unfiltered Czech pils. They also had some Belgian beers that I felt didn't really fit their session beer focus and weren't particularly great but these are taproom only to my knowledge.

As a whole the beer lineup isn't bad but isn't memorable either. They are making the right styles (in the core lineup) for the brewery location but they also can for retail and those beers are going into a tough regional market where there are already plenty of excellent competition. I can't say I would grab Oasis beers over many of their direct local competitors but it's hard not to want to go out to the brewery and enjoy the atmosphere and a iconic location.

Live Oak Brewing

Live Oak isn't a new brewery but the grand opening on the new location was the weekend we were in town so I thought it made sense to talk a little about the new location and how radically different it is from the old site. The old site was located on the east side of town in a building that was much larger than it appears from the outside but was terribly dingy. The ceiling was covered in mold from hanging on to the steam from boils and it looked like a brewery far, far older than it actually was. I guess that was convenient given that their brewing focus is primarily German beer.

The new location couldn't be more different. I was too excited to drink beer to take pictures (sorry) but my wife caught one that shows the ceilings are mold-free.

With the new location they have the space to package their once draft-only beers which means you can get their wondrous hefeweizen and pils in cans (in Austin). The new site not only expands capacity but expands the consumer's experience. In the old site you could only drink by taking the tour in which you bought a glass and received a whirlwind of beer. Here Live Oak has a full taproom with long biergarten type seating inside and a huge outdoor space with smaller wooden tables. The interior seating area is nice but the weather was unseasonably warm so we sat outside. The seating outside is in a sunken area beneath oak trees with open green space beyond. There was a lot of security outdoors which was weird. I wasn't sure whether they were afraid the crowd would get out of control on grand opening weekend or if they are required to provide a certain level of security because the new location is right behind the Austin airport. I didn't see them harassing anybody and sometimes were chatting with patrons so no big deal.

The beer is still delicious as always. The taproom has a full line of Live Oak offerings from the staple core beers through seasonals and other limited releases. It's one of the few places you can find a grodziskie or lichtenhainer beyond homebrewing circles and both are tasty. I'm particularly partial to the hefeweizen and pils. Wifey loves the IPA. Prices on the beers are extremely reasonable at $4 pints for most beers and they will give you half pints as much as you want at half price.

Definitely going on the list of must-stops in Austin.