One thing you can say with certainty about the 2010s — that they delivered a bona fide brewery boom from coast to coast. Breweries proliferated all over the country and especially in Austin, where there are more breweries within city limits than any other city in Texas.
Brewpubs flourished (and then largely failed) in the 1990s, when the Texas Legislature OK’d their existence. The ’90s also saw the arrival of local pioneers such as Real Ale Brewing and Live Oak Brewing. In the first decade of the new millennium came Independence Brewing and (512) Brewing. But it wasn’t until this most recent decade came along that Austin’s brewery scene truly exploded.
One trend has emerged among the breweries that have opened in the last 10 years — their taprooms are kid-friendly places where families can make a day of it together. Otherwise, there’s great variety in the breweries that seem to have popped up in every corner of the city. Just this spring, house beer returned to downtown Austin.
Here are the five breweries and brewpubs, founded sometime during the last decade, that have made the biggest impact on the local beer scene.
Jester King Brewery, 13187 Fitzhugh Road
When Jeff Stuffings and his brother, Michael Steffing, opened the brewery in late 2010, the Texas Hill Country wasn’t the mecca for breweries, distilleries and even cideries that it is today. Jester King is a model for what these places can be. Its farmhouse ales and barrel-aged wild ales — many of which are sought out around the country — are, no doubt, the brewery’s bread and butter. But they are just part of what Jester King brings to the table.
A rustic kitchen helmed by one of Austin’s most lauded chefs produces pizzas and other dishes featuring items from the on-site farm. Jester King sits on 165 acres of farmland where Nigerian dwarf goats roam, a vineyard develops and almost 100 fruit trees grow, one day to be used as ingredients in Jester King beer in addition to the food. The whole enterprise became solar-powered in 2017. In all of these ways, the brewery has become a sustainable operation.
Austin Beerworks, 3001 Industrial Terrace
One of the anchors of North Austin’s brewery hub, Austin Beerworks has become a ubiquitous presence at local bars and retail stores. The four co-founders packaged their solid lineup of mainstay brews (R.I.P., Black Thunder!) in Helms Workshop-designed cans that pop on the shelf. They recognized early on the importance of smart, eye-catching branding to stand out.
Besides having a rigorous self-distribution team that keeps Austin Beerworks plentiful across Central Texas, the almost 9-year-old brewery also has a large taproom with a food truck, kids’ play area and — added this summer — a couple of fridges storing beer that can be taken to go. Austin Beerworks was instrumental in a grassroots efforts this year to push the state to allow for beer-to-go from manufacturing breweries.
Pinthouse Pizza, 4729 Burnet Road, 4236 S. Lamar Blvd. and 2800 Hoppe Trail, Round Rock
Now boasting three brewpubs peddling housemade beer and pizza — and an upcoming location that will be the largest one yet — Pinthouse started as a cozy, brick-accented pub on a budding section of Burnet Road. It wasn’t until the South Austin location opened, however, that the Pinthouse brand exploded. Now, it’s known as arguably the best maker of juicy, hazy IPAs in town. And those hoppy beers are what the people want.
Just this week, Pinthouse released the numbers on its best-selling beer, the Electric Jellyfish IPA: "There were more than 1.3 millions pints of Electric Jellyfish sold on draft alone in the greater Austin area this past year. That’s 3,500-plus pints of EJ ordered every day in just one city. That’s crazy, guys. You keep drinking it, we’ll keep trying to make enough of it."
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There’s no doubt Pinthouse is developing a mini-empire in Austin, and this sunshine-hued brew loaded with hops has a lot to do with it.
The ABGB, 1305 W. Oltorf St.
What happens when a couple veterans of Austin’s early beer scene decide to open their very own brewery? Some of the best beers in town come out of the ABGB. The South Austin beer garden won a brewpub of the year award three years in a row at the Great American Beer Festival because of its lagers — clean, subtle beers that go down easy but can be hard to get right.
The ABGB has also distinguished itself as a live music venue offering free shows a few times a week. Musicians ranging from Warren Hood, who has a Wednesday residency there, to Little Mikey and the Soda Jerks take the stage in front of the ABGB’s massive brewing tanks. Enjoy their tunes with a pizza and pint of the Industry Pils, and you’ve scored a classic night in Austin.
St. Elmo Brewing, 440 E. Saint Elmo Rd. G-2
Though this South Austin space is younger than the others on this list — having celebrated three years in business last month — there’s no question St. Elmo can hold its own. In fact, is there anything these guys can’t do? At any given time, the taproom has a wide mix of well-made styles on draft ranging from a coffee IPA to an award-winning pink guava sour. (There are even a couple house-made hard seltzers.) And remember that time St. Elmo released 10 different barrel-aged beers in a single month? Just wait and see what the brewery does in year four.