There are nearly three hundred breweries in Texas, and many are pumping out new offerings weekly. To help narrow these new beers down for a top ten list, I enlisted a few experts around the state: Harrison Civick (founder and creative director of SA Beer Magazine), Tiney Ricciardi (until this month a writer and beer nerd at the Dallas Morning News), and Joshua Justice (manager at the Houston Flying Saucer). To be clear, this really shouldn’t be considered a list of the ten best beers; rather, these are brews that made an impact this year.
When it came to trends in 2019, low-alcohol choices were huge. Hazy IPAs began as a trend a few years ago, and, like them or not, it looks like they are here to stay—Shiner even makes them. It’s hard to call lagers a trend—after all, they’ve been around for hundreds of years—but more and more breweries are making good ones, pilsners mostly. Session IPAs and low-ABV pub ales are nothing new, but after years of pushing the limits on ABV (alcohol by volume), drinkers seem to be burned out and looking for something more drinkable. I’d mention alcoholic seltzers, but really, those are not craft beer. Here’s a well-balanced list of hype beers and classic styles. There is something for everyone.
Training Bines by Pinthouse Pizza, Austin
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Pinthouse Pizza is the undisputed “King of IPAs” in Texas. Its Electric Jellyfish is an Austin classic by this point, easily found on tap walls around the city, from grocery stores to barbecue joints. It’s good, really good, but my favorite this year was Training Bines. At 7 percent ABV, it’s a bit boozier than its hazy cousin, but not quite as fruity, which makes it more drinkable.
Concha la Flor by Islla Street Brewing Company, San Antonio
Big-flavored stouts were a huge trend in craft beer a few years ago. And like hazy IPAs, they maintain a strong following today. Concha la Flor, from San Antonio’s Islla Street Brewing, weighs in at a chunky 12.5 percent ABV and is made with conchas (the pink ones!), vanilla, and coffee from Longroad Coffee. Civick describes it as “a mix between pastry and party, the perfect break from the sea of macro lagers that flood our city.”
5 O’Clock Pils by Saint Arnold Brewing Company, Houston
The keen-eyed observer out there might notice there is no “a.m.” or “p.m.” listed on the can, leading to the conclusion that this beer is suitable for early mornings or happy hour—a beer for any hour and any occasion, whether you are at the ball game or your family’s posada. But it’s not just your average American pilsner. According to Justice, “The amount of depth and character Saint Arnold coaxes out of a single hop here is bonkers. It’s a beer you can recommend to casual drinkers and hardcore beer people alike.”
Best Maid Sour Pickle Beer by Martin House Brewing Company, Fort Worth
Every year-end list needs a controversial pick(le). Martin House’s sour pickle beer fits the bill. The beer was met with derision and fanfare this summer, but even skeptics were won over. Notes Ricciardi: “I’m not a huge pickle person, but this beer was downright delicious and a delightful pairing for summer weather this year.” Good news for pickle heads: this seasonal beer is joining Martin House’s year-round offerings in 2020.
Rainout Hazy IPA by Westlake Brewing Company, Dallas
Sorry to all the hazy IPA fans, but Westlake’s Rainout Hazy IPA is the only one on the list. Just a few months old, this Deep Ellum brewpub is churning out some tasty bevs. Plan a visit to try their taproom-only beers and sip on their core lineup at peak freshness. Rainout is a hazy IPA that will please any IPA lover out there. It has “a nice balance of bitterness and fruitiness to satisfy IPA drinkers from West Coast to East Coast,” Ricciardi says.
Mini Boss by Eureka Heights Brewing Company, Houston
Like the eight-bit hop character adorning its can, Mini Boss is a classic. This double dry-hopped IPA from Houston’s Eureka Heights is bursting with plenty of hops flavor and aroma, thanks to its Citra and Mosaic hops. Justice says: “It’s an IPA that you can have three of and not feel fatigued by, but if you want to change gears, it’s not going to wreck your palate and make everything you drink afterward taste like tennis balls.”
Bitter Soul ESB by Mad Pecker Brewing Company, San Antonio
Not many new breweries are making an ESB (Extra Special Bitter) these days, especially in San Antonio. But Mad Pecker went old school, and that’s worthy of a mention here. At just 4.8 percent ABV, this beer is perfect for a pub session with friends. Civick says the beer “takes me back to a time when the market wasn’t as flooded with new styles and trends. It’s a great take on a classic that finds harmony between the malt and hops while still boasting a unique character.”
Night Fog Black Hazy IPA by Austin Beerworks, Austin
Remember black IPAs? Now that was a trend that burned hot and quick. There were plenty of good ones, though, and it’s sad that most are not around anymore. Well, Austin Beerworks brought one back this year and mashed it up with a hazy IPA. Admittedly, it was hard to tell it was hazy, you know, because it was black, but the juiciness was there. It was also roasty, as black IPAs are prone to be. And somehow these flavor profiles worked well together, really well. Night Fog was a taproom-only beer. When asked if the beer would return in 2020, Michael Graham, a cofounder of Austin Beerworks, responded: “Maybe?” Fingers crossed.
Firemans Light by Real Ale Brewing Company, Blanco
The largest craft brewery in Texas to jump on the aforementioned low-alcohol beer trend was Real Ale Brewing. Firemans Light weighs in at a scant 4 percent ABV and 110 calories. It is often mistaken as a lighter version of the Central Texas classic Firemans #4, but it is in fact an entirely different beer. The beers are two separate styles bearing the Firemans branding. Firemans Light is a clean and crisp American light lager that still carries enough flavor to have you reaching for another, guilt-free.
SPON Beers by Jester King Brewery, Austin outskirts
This entry is kind of cheating, as it’s not just one beer. It’s the entire line of a spontaneously fermented beer. There are not many breweries in Texas (or the country) making beers as unique and place-defining as Jester King is in the Hill Country, just outside Austin. They just began their latest season of spontaneous brewing, which can take place only during Texas’s short winter. SPON beers are limited and highly sought after, but that should not stop you from making the trip to see what’s on offer. If they are currently out of SPON beers, get a Le Petit Prince and pet some goats.
This story has been updated to correct the Flying Saucer location.