Texas boasts more than 80 microbreweries, each one distinct from the next. Sampling brands at brewpub wonderlands and embarking on tours in Austin and Houston, we navigate the foam-flecked craft beer scene, hunt for hops, and discover the joy of pizza pairings.
Craft beer sales climbed to 14.3 percent of the national beer market in 2013, and it's no surprise that Texas, a state known for its independence and creativity, boasts more than 80 breweries. We stopped by some of our most celebrated pubs and beer-makers, and discovered how this once-niche hobby has become the toast of the masses.
An Austin Mecca
For years, Rainey Street has been siphoning off some of the cool from downtown Austin districts. Essentially a block of houses that have been converted into nightspots, it's a gastropub enthusiast's dream that balances a passion for the hip and ultra-local with a respect for history.
Near the intersection of Rainey and River Street sits a bastion of Texas beer: Craft Pride. Open since early 2013, the pub serves 54 craft brews representing more than 24 Texas breweries on tap. No out-of-state beers in sight. With an interior covered in pine wood, including a giant cutout of the shape of Texas on the ceiling, the bar's attention to the artisanal announces itself from moment one.
For an affordable price, we tried a variety of concoctions from all over the state, including the palatable Gone-A-Rye by Seven Points' Cedar Creek Brewery; the coffee- and chocolate-based Buried Hatchet Stout of Conroe's Southern Star; and the Live Oak Hefeweizen, a hazy, orange-colored drink with a savory lightness.
Those are just drops in the deep reserves at Craft Pride, whose beer list rotates and whose bartenders pepper newbies with suggestions. Pints go from 20 ounces for most brews down to 13 ounces for Belgian-style and high-ABV beers. (ABV stands for “alcohol by volume, “which means the higher the ABV, the more carefully you should drink.) The pub also offers five-drink flights, which gave our party the lay of the land in Texas beer.
Fermented fluids, of course, are only most of the equation. Also important? Pairings. Craft Pride's chosen grub can be found on the patio, which opens out to the heavenly sight of a Via 313 Pizza food truck, one of two in the city. We tried the Cadillac, a lavish disk of gorgonzola cheese, fig preserves, shaved prosciutto, shaved parmesan, and balsamic glaze. Paired with a rich Guadalupe Scotch Ale, it triggered a moment of unqualified bliss.
Straight from the Source
Craft Pride isn't the only stop for the hops-obsessed. To stretch your legs and deepen your beer knowledge, you can catch one of several regular brewery tours within and far beyond the capital city. Two days a week, Hops & Grain Brewery gives a 45-minute tour of its East Austin locale. Independence Brewing Co., maker of the beloved Convict Hill Oatmeal Stout, and Austin Beerworks, best known for its canned-only policy and solid line of IPAs, both have regular tap room hours. Austin mainstays Thirsty Planet and Jester King also open their doors to the thirsty throngs.
Venturing outside the Hill Country, we visited Houston's Saint Arnold Brewing Company, which after 20 years in operation, is the state's oldest craft brewery. It's also recognized by some as the most consistent, with a wide variety of year-round beers and bolder specialty choices. If you don't try the Endeavour, a strident double IPA, or the flavorful Pumpkinator, you just don't love yourself.
Almost every major Texan city proudly claims at least one local brewery. San Antonio has Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling, Fort Worth has Rahr & Sons, Dallas has Peticolas and New Braunfels can brag about 5 Stones Craft Brewing Co. And so many have been left out here because of space constraints—which just shows that no matter your taste, no matter the region, Texas beers are frothing over. Discover your favorite, and tap into joy.
Got your growler primed and ready for a Lone Star brew to go? Consider Lakewood Growler in Dallas, a growler-filling station with 36 taps, every single one dripping with Texas craft beer. The digital-tap beer board shows you what's on tap and how full the keg is, and the staff is courteous and knowledgeable