The craft beer and barbecue movements in Texas have grown hand in hand over the past decade. Despite the similar devotion of their fans and dedication of their practitioners, however, they haven’t exactly had a symbiotic relationship but for the occasional barbecue truck parked outside of a brewery. San Antonio’s Granary ’Cue & Brew, which opened in 2012, received national acclaim for its handcrafted beers and barbecue before closing in 2019. Over the years, other notable operations serving both items appeared on the Texas scene, including Cowtown Brewing Co., in Fort Worth, and Brick Vault Brewery and Barbecue, in Marathon. The natural progression has since continued, with more brewers pairing their pints with smoked meats, spurred in part by the pandemic. (Barbecue proved particularly resilient during the dining restrictions, while craft beer production fell for the first time in recent history.) Here are three joints that do both well.
Mike Holt is relieved to have customers back in his taproom, near San Antonio’s airport. “It’s meant to be a real communal, conversational environment,” he says of Weathered Souls, so shutting down during the pandemic was more than just a monetary drag. At the beginning of 2020, Holt and co-owner Marcus Baskerville had welcomed one of the city’s best barbecue joints, South BBQ, to take over the kitchen. The new menu was slashed back to just take-out burgers and appetizers until the doors reopened for diners later in the year.
The O.G. Burger is no slouch. Andrew Samia, owner of South BBQ, uses Prime-grade brisket trim for the smashed burger (get the double), which comes on a soft bun with all the fixings. On the lighter side is the brisket-stuffed avocado. Okay, it’s not that light, but the perfectly ripe fruit comes nestled in a delicately dressed arugula salad. On top are chopped brisket, jalapeño salsa verde, cilantro, and queso fresco.
Baskerville, who also serves as brewmaster, notes that their tap choices cover the spectrum, from the crisp Hardwood Classic pilsner to the Black Is Beautiful imperial stout. Baskerville created an international movement with his Black Is Beautiful initiative to promote racial equity; breweries around the world followed his stout recipe and donated all the proceeds from their iterations to social-justice nonprofits. The beer has become part of the Weathered Souls identity and brought in a more diverse crowd. Baskerville most enjoys a glass of it all on its own. “I wouldn’t pair that with barbecue, because more than likely you’re not going to finish your meal,” he jokes. He recommends a meat pairing with the West Coast IPA or the Castling schwarzbier, a dark lager I liked so much that I brought home a couple of crowlers—large aluminum cans filled with beer from the taps.
Cary Hodson and his wife, Molly Malone, opened their joint on December 5, 2015—his thirtieth birthday as well as the anniversary of the Twenty-first Amendment’s ratification, which repealed Prohibition in 1933. You could say Hodson was born to brew beer. He loves barbecue too, so when deciding which route to take for his new venture, he chose both.
Intrinsic had naysayers in the beginning. Hodson remembers meat aficionados complaining, “They’re a brewery, so they don’t take the barbecue seriously,” and vice versa from the beer nerds. But time has validated his initial instincts. Brewmaster Travis Ehlers increased Intrinsic’s beer offerings from 6 to 21, and pitmaster Joshua Browning revamped a once simple barbecue menu to include an array of specialty sandwiches, including vegetarian options such as the smoked jackfruit, whose flavor is remarkably similar to that of pulled pork. There’s also a Sunday brunch.
After the pandemic hit, Intrinsic expanded its canned beer selection so it could offer more brews to go, a move that also helped its barbecue sales as diners searched for one-stop shops. For pairings, I would suggest the Froot Tart, a cherry-lime Berliner weisse, to cut through the richness of the fatty brisket, or the Tree House Brown, a classic brown ale, to go alongside the MacRib sandwich (macaroni and cheese mixed with deboned rib meat). When you leave, crack another beer to enjoy as you walk around Garland’s recently revitalized downtown, where open containers are allowed.
On a trip to Corpus Christi shortly after the February Texas freeze, the only palm trees I saw that had any color left were the ones painted on the exterior of downtown’s Nueces Brewing Company. They’re an homage to Tradewinds Ford, the car dealership that occupied the site until it closed decades ago. Owners Brandon Harper and Cale Moore knew it was the right building for the brewery they opened in 2019, but they didn’t envision using the parking lot to hold a smoker until later.
“When we opened, we had no intention of doing food,” Harper says. Their goal was to “make beer that the guys who had never really been exposed to craft beer may actually like.” Their original Mexican lager and the ultralight Supremo remain the most popular choices on draft, but they offer more creative options too, such as the salty and sour mango gose and the Malay Brown Ale, brewed with cardamom and coffee.
Barbecue entered the picture after COVID-19 restrictions for brewery taprooms began more than a year ago. The pair decided they would “do whatever we have to do to be a restaurant,” Harper says. Beer sales were down anyway after Nueces transformed into a to-go-only operation selling crowlers. “It took about 45 days from the time [the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission] told us we could only do beer to go to open back up as a restaurant,” Harper recalls proudly. They turned an old mop closet into a kitchen and acquired a couple of smokers.
Now the barbecue is almost as popular as the beer, especially during the week. The menu features the usual meats and sides, but the brisket nachos scratch the bar-food itch after a cold glass of the dark schwarzbier, which tastes lighter than it looks. Dubbed “Nacho Mountain,” the tray is massive and comes topped with brisket, cheddar cheese, pickled jalapeños, pico de gallo, and sour cream.
This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Beer and Barbecue: A Natural Pairing.” Subscribe today.