Beer festivals in Texas have received a notoriously bad rap over the years. Some events have been organized by profiteers not concerned by guest experience or quality offerings, while others have been built by well-meaning (but overwhelmed) groups who simply couldn't deliver on their promises. How nice it was to visit the 2014 Texas Craft Brewers Festival — an event that was well-planned, well-structured and executed with an experienced and thoughtful hand.
Perhaps the least surprising entry in the top five, this Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout with Cuvee Coffee made an encore appearance from 2013 for the VIP session. The prominent flavors here are roasted coffee and dark malt with a chocolate accent. The hop and malt balance is well done, and we're already excited that Sputnik will return to Austin bars this winter.
Ranger Creek's OPA has always stood out as unusual in the pale ale category, mostly because using oatmeal as the grain gave it a nutty, malty and distinctly English quality at odds (in a good way) with the most standard American approach. This limited cask added a pineapple green tea, which gave the beer a drier finish and showcased the green tea very well. A unique and unusual entrant.
We're not generally fans of American Strong Ales, but the mix of power and balance in this offering from Magnolia's Lone Pint was first rate. A big, hoppy start leads to a sweeter, malty finish that's complex rather than cloying. The bitterness was pronounced but not overdone. Let's hope that Craft Pride can talk them into getting some here in Austin.
San Antonio's 5 Stones takes the farmhouse ideals of Jester King and applies them to an emphasis on sweeter styles of brewing. Their offerings include beers with pineapple, grapefruit, cocoa, pumpkin and vanilla. The Frederick Burg updates the German Kölsch syle with fresh Texas peaches, resulting in a beer that is heavy on sweet peach flavor, but still balanced. The medium-bodied beer was perfect for the mild park weather and showed the 5 Stones point of view to good effect.
This face-punching Imperial Pumpkin ale isn't for everyone. At 9.3% ABV it's pretty assertive, but the spicy cinnamon flavors and savory pumpkin finish mask the ABV well. The beer is a worthy counterpoint to Texas' reigning pumpkin beer champ, the St. Arnold Pumpkinator (which was also poured to wide acclaim at the fest).