Meet the Tastemakers
Maybe its the preponderance of sunny days or the boots-and-jeans culture that permeates even the fanciest digs, but it’s impossible to think of a libation more uniquely suited for Austin than craft beer. That’s what made selecting the nine nominees for the CultureMap Tastemaker Award for Brewery of the Year the most difficult.
Each with its own philosophy, these breweries and brewpubs are the definition of craft. But only one of them can take home the coveted trophy. Read up on the contenders below, or better yet, spend a weekend visiting their taprooms. Then join us on April 1 as we raise a glass to the winner at the Bullock Texas State History Museum.
Austin Beer Garden Brewing Company
Referred to simply as ABGB by Austin’s many hopheads, this South Austin brewpub has been racking up wins in national competitions. Still, it’s not all that gold that drives the drinking drove out every weekend. The spot is always hopping because of its unique mix of quality pizza; easygoing atmosphere; live music; and, of course, the beer. Whether it's a mainstay like the Hell Yes helles or the playfully named Goochie Meow Meow session IPA, each of the beers are just what one wants to relax with outdoors. Luckily for Austinites, they get to do it in ABGB’s backyard.
A combination of smart product design and tongue-in-cheek promotions, like the release of a 99-pack of Peacemaker Anytime Ale, has made this brewery a local household name, but Austin Beerworks isn’t just a savvy marketer. Its brews have won multiple medals at the Great American Beer Festival, and the seasonal releases are some of the most anticipated in town. To understand the reason for the acclaim, just sip one of its core beers. Peacemaker and Pearl Snap are crisp and clean, whereas Flavor Country and Fire Eagle are hoppy and bold. All four are what a Capital City beer should taste like.
The Brewer’s Table
So many column inches have been devoted to this The Brewer’s Table’s food that it can be easy to forget about the other integral part of the equation. Under the helm of head brewer Drew Durish, this East Austin eatery walks a fine line between approachable and innovative. There’s no denying that the Vor Ort lager is quaffable, but it surprises with a wink of mint. Likewise, the Baltic Hash uses roasted sweet potatoes to create a liquid breakfast. All offerings are brewed with a sense of humor, a rare trait in the obsessive world of craft beer. A standout SMaSH (single malt and single hop) variety is said to be inspired equally by Death Metal band Cannibal Corpse and friendship.
Hi Sign Brewing
This brewery’s name is a nod to a cabin in Lincoln, Montana, where founder Mark Phillipe would spend weekends fishing with his dad. As the story goes, the road was so remote that someone took it upon themselves to put up a literal “Hi” sign to mark the way. The two-year-old operation may be hundreds of miles from that road, but it retains its charm. Hi Sign’s beers are amongst the friendliness in Austin, greeting drinkers with strikingly twee cans and some of the brightest flavors in town. The IPAs are particularly notable, whether the juicy Hi-C or the fruity Super Astronaut Double.
Hops & Grain Brewing
At the two locations of this East Austin-born brewery, nothing is more important than community. For founder Josh Hare and team, that first means responsible stewardship of the Earth by running the operation as sustainably as possible. It also means taking a moment to connect, whether donating product to nonprofits, taking time to volunteer, or just spending time personally engaging with the neighborhood. It’s a powerful message, one that’s needed now more than ever. That the beer is so easy sipping is just a major bonus.
Jester King Brewery
This world-renowned brewery, located at the edge of town near Dripping Springs, specializes in funky farmhouse ales — a statement too bland to really capture the essence of what they are doing. Here, a beer might be spontaneously fermented then re-fermented with Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Or an ale might be made with tarragon, ginger salt, and cantaloupe. No other local outfit has so stretched beer’s possibilities. No wonder founder Jeffrey Stuffings has earned two James Beard Award semifinalist nods.
What began as a side project at Adelbert’s Brewery is now a full-time gig for co-founder Taylor Ziebarth, but that doesn’t mean the brewery’s funky focus was watered down. The cozy brewpub still relishes in oddness, whether playing with wild yeast strains or seeing what flavor profiles it can cull from wood. Notably, while details are given on everything from available board games to strombolis, guests won’t find a single beer offering listed on its website. Mystery is just part of the equation, and words don’t fully give the brews justice anyway.
Although each of Pinthouse’s hoppy IPAs have something to recommend, none of the offerings have quite inspired the near religious fervor of Electric Jellyfish. Made with newer hop varieties (nerds can see dig into exactly which ones online), it drinks with bursts of citrus and tropical fruits with a whiff of floral perfume on the back end. Simply, there’s no better example of a hazy/juicy IPA in town. Saying otherwise would be sacrilege.
Vista’s beers can certainly be enjoyed outside its Driftwood home. The Adair kolsch is a worthy sip while you binge Game of Thrones and the Laissez Faire barrel-aged Brett is as affable a dinner party companion as a dry rosé. Still, there’s just something about enjoying it out in the Texas Hill Country, with the buzz of bees in the background and a gentle breeze darting between the oaks. Even though they use techniques that were born long ago in Europe, each of the taps have a sense of place. Vista may be a destination brewery, but it feels like home.