This Saturday, the Texas Craft Brewers Festival kicks off near downtown Austin serving up an endless array of craft beers made by some of the state’s top breweries. It seems every day brings new brewery permits across the state. Especially with recent law changes that have helped bring more economic freedom to brewers. And this year, beer fans at the festival will see that growth with a 54 percent increase in participating breweries serving up almost 150 different beers with 24 special brews being tapped on the half hour throughout the day.
It’s a festival that not only spotlights the great brews produced in the Lone Star State, but also serves as a perfect seguey to the fall, with beer-centric festivities, such as Octoberfest, celebrated all over the world.
To catch up on the state of local beer, we sat down with two experts, Master Sommelier Craig Collins, beverage director for the ELM Restaurant Group, which owns Austin’s 24 Diner, Easy Tiger, and Arro; and Master Sommelier Melissa Monosoff in Dallas who serves as the associate examination director for the Court of Master Sommeliers and is a certified Cicerone, or beer specialist.
Texas Monthly: We still have a few hot days leftover from summer. What have been a few examples of good summer beers from Texas?
Craig Collins: Summer is really about the pilsners. The lighter style, clean, crisp beers. Fruit beers also work well on hot summer days. I’ve really enjoyed Austin Beerworks Einhorn, a Berliner weiss beer, as well as Real Ale Brewing Company’s 18th Anniversary Gose, a really cirsp beer that has a little salt, lemon and coriander. For something fruitier, I really like Live Oak Brewing Company’s Hefeweissen, a wheat beer style that’s unfiltered with really nice fruit characteristics.
Melissa Monosoff: A lot of it has to do with malts and also the types of food I’m eating. In warmer months, I’m eating lighter foods and I like beers that are refreshing with citrusy, aromatic hops. Hefeweissens have that floral, citrusy edge and other wheat beers have this great crispness. I love the High Brass Bock from Revolver Brewery in Granbury.
TM: What sort of beer should we be looking to as we move into fall?
CC: Right about now people start clamouring for Octoberfest and Pumpkin beers. While Pumpkin beers tend to be a little too sweet for me, I really do love Octoberfest beers. I also like to switch into more of the IPA style beers. I find that I can drink them all year, but when temperatures start to dip, they’re a little more aggressive and have more weight.
MS: In cooler months, I am eating heartier dishes, so I like darkly roasted malts. They create more chocolate, caramel, nutty flavors and match really well with the food. When I think of fall, I think of roasted pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and squash that show off sweetness and braised meats that have a caramelized flavor to them. There’s nothing better than dark beers with food like that. I love porters, German doppelbocks and Belgian quadrupel beers.
TM: Are there any fall styles that you are seeing right now that are good?
CC: Live Oak Brewery does an Octoberfest that’s really good. We’re also realeasing one for Easy Tiger in collaboration with Austin Beerworks this weekend. We’ve got 14 kegs ready to go. Austin is such a hop-heavy town and Real Ale Lost Gold IPA is a really balanced beer for this style. I also like Austin Beerworks Wet Hop and when I’m looking for a non-Texas beer, I’ve been loving the Deschutes Fresh-Squeezed IPA. It’s juicy, fruity and has a nice acidity.
MM: Being from Philadelphia, I’m used to seeing fall releases in August and even in late July. But here in Texas, I’m still waiting for a lot of these to come out. Back home, I was always a big fan of Dogfish Head Punkin Ale. It’s been consistent from year to year and is something I look forward to every year. It just came on the market here in Dallas, which feels late for me.
In Texas, my favorite beer from last fall was Lakewood Brewery’s Punkle. It was fantastic. I also love the Gordzilla Belgian brown ale from Deep Ellum Brewing and the Revolver Bock from Revolver Brewing. In Austin, I like the 512 Brewing Pecan Porter and Houston’s St. Arnold’s Pumpkinator is pretty great.
TM: Talk about some of the breweries in your part of the state that are raising the bar.
CC: In Central Texas, I think Real Ale and Austin Beerworks are doing a great job. I also like Live Oak Brewery and they’ve been around for a long time. I’m constantly tasting new beers that are coming to the market as we update our beer lists at the restaurants and I tend to find these produers doing a consistent job.
I’ve also become a fan of Houston’s Karbach Brewing Company. Their Symphony Lager was something I really enjoyed this summer, but they have a Hoppadillo beer that’s fantastic for the fall.
MS: In the Dallas area, Revolver Brewery is for sure a solid producer. People have really caught on to their Blood and Honey wheat ale. I saw it a Pappas Bros. steakhouse a few weeks ago and was blown away that it had made their list. Lakewood Brewing Company is also great. It’s amazing to me that their Temptress Imperial Stout, is as popular as it is all year round, but people really love it.
The list continues to grow here. Grapevine Brewery, Rabbit Hole Brewing, Cobra Brewing Company, I’m always shocked by how many new breweries keep coming on the market, but it’s really great. Dallas has a really tight beer community.
TM: What are you thoughts on the current state of Craft Beer in Texas? How do we rate wtih the rest of the country?
CC: I think we’re really starting to see some breweries who are hitting the mark with beautiful examples of appropriate styles of beer. Real Ale and Austin Beerworks are just a couple of those breweries. They all need to focus on the end consumer and what people want. I feel like craft has seen an amazing explosion nationwide in recent years. But that bubble will burst eventually. If brewers are only focused on serving a niche market, they’re not going to survive that burst.
If we don’t want that bubble to burst, we need to focus on bringing the main stream beer drinker into the fold with things that are approachable and easy to drink. We have space for 36 beers on our board at Easy Tiger and it’s hard to choose what is going to work for a greater number of people.
MS: I think we’re hitting a stride in Texas. Of course, so many are popping up, that we’ll have to see what the quality is. There are plenty of beers I’ve tasted that I think are just ok, but I still route for them. I think it’s been so excited to watch the evolution in Dallas and the rest of Texas.
TM: What does Texas need to do to move into the lead or at least sit alongside states like Pennsylvania, New York, Colorado and Oregon?
MS: It has to do with Texas state laws. Unfortunatly. In some ways craft breweries are hampered. It’s hard to imagine these smaller outfits getting very big. It seems there’s so much against them to grow. Distribution is difficult, too. There are some distributors who are trying to take on some of the smaller breweries, but it’s still a long uphill road to see these beers on the shelf. Big distributors tend to squash the little guys when it comes to keep the beer they want on the shelves. But things are slowly changing in some places. It’s so cool that I’ve seen breweries around the country gettig label approval in Texas from places like Michigan. I hope that means things may be changing.