My wife and I recently returned from a nearly two week trip to Houston and Austin, Texas. We were volunteering at a large youth conference in Houston and then spent a couple days in Austin visiting family that we don’t get to see very often. Given the nature of the Houston part of the trip, volunteering and working with high school aged kids, we chose not to drink during that part, so we only had one day in Houston that we were “free”. We still managed to find three places that were pretty close to where we were staying, in the Heights neighborhood, in NW Houston.
Playtpus Brewing: This was an interesting place, run by a group of Australians (much like Todo Santos brewing in Mexico) there was a blend of southern comfort and exotic Pacific rolled into one. The beers were pretty straight forward and the food menu was mostly pub food but a few Aussie twists like meat pies and lamb skewers.
Standout Brew: Hey Helga – Saison dry hopped with Southern Hemisphere hops.
Eureka Heights Brewing: I was excited to go here as soon as I saw the online menu. My wife had found it on Google maps and when I looked at the beer list they had a pale ale called “Mostly Harmless” and the logo was a dolphin wrapped in a towel. Three-layered Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy reference? Sign me up! Most of the other beers followed with the video game/sci-fi theme. The brewery was a wide open warehouse with long picnic tables, corn hole, pinball, other games etc. I can imagine this place would be hopping at times. Google told us it was “less busy than normal” and after we got there we realized why. The space is not air conditioned and it happened to be close to, if not over, 100° that day. The open garage doors didn’t really help much. It was really a shame, because the beers were fantastic but it was just too uncomfortable to stay long, so we finished our taster flight quickly and then left.
Standout Brew: Buckle Bunny Cream Ale (Recent GABF Winner, perfect for hot weather)
Town in City Brewing: The third and final Houston brewery was the Heights oldest brewery. The name is a reference to The Heights Neighborhood which is called a “town in the big city”. A small but cozy place with a crowded taproom and patio. They were just finishing a round of Geeks who Drink trivia, so we missed out on that but it was fun to listen to the last couple groups of questions. They also had a cidery on site, which is the Houston Cider Co.
Standout Brew: Dampfit Bobby! Dampfbier. I had to ask what a Dampfbier was, and it’s a Hefewiezen but with no wheat. Same yeast profile but made with barley. It was darker and clearer than a traditional Hef. Plus, who doesn’t love a King of the Hill reference?
The unfortunately theme for the Austin portion of the trip was “Why is nothing open?” We were there Monday-Thursday and it seems like a lot of Austin breweries only have weekend hours. Some places Thurs-Sun, some just Friday-Sun, one place was open Saturday only for 3 hours only (production brewery with tours only, no taproom). Throw in the July 4th holiday on Wednesday just to make things interesting. We did manage to make it to two open breweries that just happened to be across the street from each other.
Oskar Blues Austin: Oskar Blues jumped onto my radar when they started building their North Carolina brewery a couple years ago. I don’t think it had opened before I moved to Oregon, but it had been announced. I’ve enjoyed several of their beers when I found them. I had hoped to visit the Colorado (original) location when we were in Denver but it just wasn’t in the cards. Nice location with an outdoor patio, live music stage and really great staff. I will definitely put this on the repeat list.
Standout Brew: Bourbon Barrel Aged Ten-Fidy Imperial Stout
4th Tap Brewing Co-Op: Literally across the street from Oskar Blues this was a small brewery and tap room with a comic book/video game feel. Co-op to me sounded like something where multiple different brewers were sharing space, but when I asked they told me it was all employee (“worker” as the barkeep put it) owned, which is still super cool. The beers ran the gamut from light Berliner Weisse to heavy Russian Imperial Stout and being small obviously lends itself to being experimental. Several of the beers included a spice, fruit or nut.
Standout Brew: Biere de Gardeless – Biere de Garde with Vanilla and Pecans. Sounded bizarre, but I had to try it and it worked really well!
Draft/Bottle/Cans: We did get to try some local beers at restaurants and bars since a lot of the places were closed. I won’t list them all, but some of the highlights.
Karbach Brewing: This Houston brewery was very popular in Austin. We tried the Hopadillo IPA and the Love Street Kolsch. The lighter Kolsch was perfect for the hot weather and then IPA was a major hop bomb, in a good way.
Pinthouse Pizza Electric Jellyfish IPA: Sadly, I didn’t make it to one of their locations after meeting someone from the brewery in Montreal, but when I saw one on the menu I had to try it. Hazy but not full-on milkshake, very nice modern hop flavor without being overly bitter.
Live Oak Brewing Big Bark Amber Lager: I’ve really been digging on Vienna and Vienna-style dark lagers lately, pretty much since we had super fresh Modelo Negra in Mexico. This one was true to style and really hit the spot.
Lone Star: Texas’s version of PBR because, well… it’s basically PBR. Brewed by Pabst and I’m not convinced it’s not the same beer in a different can, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “Cheap” beer has its place. Bar hopping down 6th Street is one of those places.
Austin Eastciders Original and Blood Orange: This local cidery makes some great products. They have several flavors available in cans around town and the two we tried were great.
Austin Beerworks Pearl-Snap: This German-style pilsner is another one that was ubiquitous around town. You weren’t “Austin” if you didn’t have this on tap. A clean crisp light lager that’s just perfect for hot weather. An Austin staple.
Shiner Heat Wave Summer 6-Pack: You come to Texas you got to get Shiner right? I’ve had Shiner’s famous Bock, but that’s all we can get in Oregon. Found this mixed sixer at the liquor store (surprisingly the best place in town to find beer, the grocery store selection was abysmal and not refrigerated). Three light, fruity styles to beat the heat. Shiner Prickly Pear, Hill Country Peach Wheat and Mango Kolsch. They were all nice, the prickly pear had an interesting flavor. The peach and mango went down way too easy.
Several of the Austin stars such as Infamous Brewing and Jester King weren’t open while we were there, so we’ll certainly have to go back. Having family in the area makes for a really good “excuse”. We will absolutely be back to Austin in the future. Just not in July.