Boasting more breweries than any other city in Texas, Austin has emerged as one of the main pulse points of craft brewing in the country. Credit is due, perhaps, to the region’s German and Czech roots, or maybe to our well-earned reputation as a city that takes pride in its homegrown visionaries and innovators. Or maybe it’s because we’ve clearly mastered the art of having a good time.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a damper on some of those good times, to be sure, but Austin brewers are doing their best to weather this storm. Having to yo-yo back and forth between closed and open, with new statewide orders to close bars again affecting many brewery taprooms in the area, the future remains uncertain for many.
Difficult times, however, do not diminish the valorous accomplishments of this year’s finalists for the CultureMap Tastemaker Award for Best Brewery of the Year. These stalwart artisans have had to adapt in a thousand ways to the new environment, and have worked hard to keep their fans in a steady supply of fizzy fermented refreshment.
Tune in on Thursday, July 23, at 7 pm as we reveal the winner during our first-ever Tastemaker Awards — Virtual Edition. It's our way of celebrating the extraordinary spirit of the Austin restaurant and bar scene during this challenging time. Tickets to the virtual event are on sale now and include a Tasting Tote featuring bites, sips, and more to enjoy at home. After all, couldn’t we all use a cold one now more than ever?
Austin Beerworks is a mainstay on best-of lists — and for good reason. Its core lineup of beers, like Pearl Snap Pilsner and the award-winning Flavor Country Pale Ale, are go-to’s for many Austin beer enthusiasts. The North Austin brewery offers an ever-changing selection of taproom exclusives and rotating seasonals. In April, ABW also pulled off a virtual collaboration with St. Elmo Brewing to create a quarantine hazy pale ale called No Touching.
Currently: The taproom and patio at ABW are currently closed again due to renewed lockdown measures, but you can find ABW beer in cans at most grocery stores in Austin. To experience taproom exclusives, you can order crowlers (and merch!) to go from the website, with drive-thru pick-up available.
The Brewer’s Table
The Brewer’s Table is one-of-a-kind in Austin: an upscale restaurant and adventurous brewery where the beer is as good as the food, and vice versa. The two sides of the business are made to pair perfectly with each other, and ingredients like spent grains from the brewery frequently find their way into restaurant menu items.
Currently: Unfortunately, the business has suffered during the pandemic, and the operation is currently closed. You can still find some recent creations at craft brewpubs in the area, like the savory koji lager, Oooooo Mommy, and a malty amber ale called All the Grains.
Central Machine Works
The newest operation on the list, East Austin’s Central Machine Works might fool you into thinking it’s been around for 80 years. The massive brewery, restaurant, and beer garden is housed in a World War II-era machine shop that produced airplane parts for the war effort. Preserving the site’s heritage is reflected in the industrial open design of the space, as well as in the no-frills approach to “working man’s beers” like the house favorite Pilsner.
Currently: CMW has been able to stay open at reduced capacity due to its restaurant status. Social distancing is not an issue at the colossal space, especially out back in the sprawling beer garden. Just make sure you wear your mask and tip heavy when stopping in to sample the offerings.
Independence Brewing Co.
Independence represents the vaunted old guard on this list, but after 16 years, it continues to produce consistently great beers that are synonymous with Austin’s reputation for brewing excellence. The core collection of beers — including the well-balanced Austin Amber and the tart West Coast-style Stash IPA — are standard-bearers among Austin’s aficionados. The taproom features more experimental styles, with fruit-infused plays on the brewery's Redbud Berliner Weiss leading this season’s menu.
Currently: Most Independence beers are available in cans at Austin grocery stores. You can pre-order beer and merch for curbside pickup at its Southeast Austin taproom Wednesdays through Sundays.
Jester King Brewery
Located on 58 acres in the Texas Hill Country, Jester King is the original farmhouse brewery in the area, specializing in mixed culture and spontaneously fermented beers. The brewers draw from strong European roots to create dozens of innovative and unique styles. In June, they released the Cornbread Kvass, an interpretation of a Baltic-style brew traditionally made with rye bread. Jester King also unveiled the Moderne Dansk Batch 2, a sour ale fortified and re-fermented with Danish Stevnsbær cherry juice.
Currently: Make a reservation to visit Jester King and enjoy a beer in widely spaced outdoor seating. You can also order beer to-go every day, and enjoy a limited number of newly released cans, instead of the usual large bottle format.