What's Brewing in Austin

What's on tap for the Texas Craft Brewers Festival and the 6 beers you've gotta try

What's on tap for Texas Craft Brewers Fest and 6 must-try beers

Hops & Grain Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter Culture
Hops & Grain Volumes of Oak Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter Culture. Photo by Matt McGinnis

The 2015 Texas Craft Brewers Festival returns to Fiesta Gardens on Saturday, September 19, 2015. The state’s largest craft beer event serving beer made exclusively in Texas got even bigger this year with 65 breweries pouring around 170 brews.

There will definitely be a style of beer to suit any palate, as brewers will bring out their year-round beers, seasonals, and special beers to pour at the fest. In addition to the beers poured at each tent, there will be more than 20 special brews that will be tapped on the half hour.

To help you narrow your quest at the fest, CultureMap has selected six top beers to seek out at the Texas Craft Brewers Festival. Here are our picks:

Blue Owl Brewing: Spirit Animal Sour Pale Ale
I’ve been salivating with anticipation of the brews from Blue Owl Brewing and now we have our first chance to taste them at the Texas Craft Brewers Fest. This sour pale ale is made with a mix of GR Magnum, Crystal, Centennial, Citra, and Galaxy hops along with pale, Munich, honey, and Carahell malts. Blue Owl calls it "the marriage of sour-mashing and dry-hopping" to create a "truly unique animal." This quenchy, low alcohol (5.1 percent), citrusy hoppy ale will be great on a hot summer afternoon and will be released at the upcoming grand opening. 

Independence Brewing Co.: Reaper Madness
Independence always brings out something interesting for the Craft Brewers Festival. Head brewer Brannon Radicke brewed a black IPA for Independence’s ninth anniversary party way back in October 2013; the beer was so popular that it was resurrected and reincarnated into Reaper Madness. A gorgeous blend of Columbus, Summit, and 07270 hops and Vienna, Carafa III, and Midnight Wheat malts give it dark and bold, piney and hoppy flavors balanced with mild biscuit and roasted-malt flavors. Its moderate alcohol of 6.1 percent won’t be crippling in the afternoon, and it'll pair well with boudin balls from the Red’s Porch food truck at the festival.

Hops & Grain: Volumes of Oak Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter Culture
The Volumes of Oak series is all about bringing out complexity in beer with oak aging. The brewing shamans at Hops & Grain converted their delicious Baltic porter, called Porter Culture, into a lush brew with layers of chocolate, coffee, oak, tobacco, and vanilla with a velvety smooth finish by aging it in heavily charred American Oak barrels that were previously used to age bourbon whiskey. It’s made with pale and Munich malts with a touch of chocolate wheat for a smooth vanilla and coconut flavor to balance the heat of the bourbon booziness. Speaking of booziness, this one packs a punch at 9.4 percent ABV, so stick to just one 3-ounce taster of it.

Jester King Brewery: Amicis Mortis
Jester King is well known for its creative beers made with atypical ingredients. This year Jester King is bringing Amicis Mortis to the fest. It’s made in collaboration with the brewers from Brasserie Dunham in Quebec and inspired by a sweet potato, chili pepper, and coconut dish the folks at Jester King enjoy with Dunham. The unfiltered, unpasteurized, and naturally conditioned farmhouse ale is made with Zythos, Saaz, and Cascade hops along with organic pilsner and raw wheat malts fermented with a mixed culture of brewer’s yeast, native yeast, and bacteria harvested from the air and wildflowers around the brewery. The dry, mildly tart, earthy, funky, and mildly spicy beer is versatile and food friendly. Only 2,400 750-milliliter bottles of this were released last month, and the fest is one of the few occasions where it is available outside of the Jester King tasting room.

Save the World Brewing Co.: Froctum Bonum Saison Ale
This 1-year-old philanthropic brewery is starting to show up in more locations around Austin, but it’s still one to grab at the festival. Its Saison, made with Czech Saaz, East Kent Goldings, and Perle hops and Dingemans Pale, Dingemans Cara 20, and Briess Red Wheat malts, is a refreshing example of the traditional farmhouse ale. It’s a robust and versatile ale with assertive aromas and sweet malts, zesty citrus, and peppery spices with a hint of earthiness followed by a crisp dry finish. This will go great with The Knuckle Sandwich at the Nobel Sandwich food truck at the fest. If you miss it on Saturday, it's available in cases of 12 22-ounce bottles year-round in stores, bars, and restaurants in Austin.

Whole Foods Market Brewing CompanyNo Escape Imperial Coffee Stout
What’s that? A grocery store brewing beer? Yep! Whole Foods Market has an in-house brewmaster, David Ohmer, who will pour a massive stout, billowing with molasses, vanilla, and milk chocolate flavors. It has more than enough hops to keep it from being too sweet with a blend of Horizon, Pacific Gem hops, and pale, Special B, Carafa II, Crystal 77, and roasted barley malts to give it those rich chocolatey flavors. If the initial rush of flavors doesn’t wake you up, the blitz of coffee will: It’s made with Ethiopian Suke Quto espresso beans for a big coffee flavor. Speaking of big, this bruiser packs a 10.8-percent ABV punch.

If you are looking for the No Escape Imperial Coffee Stout, you'll only find it in the "Whole Foods Market presents: What’s Brewing?" interview series. Austin American-Statesman drinks-writer Arianna Auber and I will each interview brewers throughout the afternoon, including Ohmer.

The event starts at 11:30 am for VIP ticket holders and 2 pm for general admission and closes at 6:30 pm. VIP tickets are sold out. General admission tickets sell for $30 on the Festival site and entitle guests to admission, eight 3-ounce sampling tokens, and a tasting cup. Tickets will not be sold at the door.