A few thoughts on this year’s Texas Craft Brewers Fest
The Texas Craft Brewers Fest came back bigger and better this year, and it seems like everyone had a good time despite early scorching heat and the subsequent torrential downpour of rain.
Over 130 craft beers were poured from 39 breweries, including 13 new breweries from around the state like Buffalo Bayou and Karbach from Houston and Community Beer from Dallas.
I had very few critiques of the annual event. There was plenty of water to go around, dump buckets for not-so-delicious samples, and a good selection of food vendors available should one need help soaking up some of the booze.
One point of contention was pours that cost multiple tickets due to the beer’s higher ABV. I asked a few booths if I could just get half-pours, and was faced with skewed glances and a few refusals. I’d like to see this discrimination against the “less is more” mentality change. Why not offer different sized sample options? With so many new breweries attending from around the state, I wanted to have the chance to really get to know beers that aren’t distributed here yet and get a feel for the bigger flavor and quality picture of Texas beers as a whole. I don’t feel like I really had this opportunity without blowing a ton of cash and wasting beer. I might be alone in this particular camp though, a thought that struck me after one festival worker said “I’ve never heard of anyone asking for less beer at an event like this.”
Beer-wise, I saw a couple of themes worth noting. One of which, barrel-aged beers, seemed quite pervasive. I counted a whopping 16 barrel-aged beers tapped this year, which spanned styles beyond your typical porters and stouts. In addition to the Barrel-aged Strong Ales, Belgian-style Tripels, Dubbels, Goldens, Sours, Sour Barleywines, Imperial Porters, Sour Scotch Ales and Old Ales, I tried a barrel-aged IPA that took on the oak personality of the barrel very nicely (props to Ranger Creek), and a barrel-aged marzen that frankly tasted rather flat and unappealing.
The other trend I happily noted was the increased handful of sour beers represented at the tents this year. The sour trend has been on many beer loving lips this summer, and I anticipate it will only gain ground over the next year or two as people realize they are an addicting flavor once you get used to the slight pucker. While I thought the Sour Barleywine from Hops & Grain was a pretty good introduction to the style but kind of muted and mellow, the Ru-55 from Jester King knocked my socks off with heaps of funk and acidity. The Jester King Crew also brought their Funk Metal, the barrel-aged sour version of the Black Metal, and Atrial Rubicite, the barrel-aged sour refermened with raspberries released earlier this summer. Ranger Creek brought the Small Batch No. 6, a Flanders Red, and Real Ale brought another one of my favorites, the Scots Gone Wild barrel-aged sour Scotch Ale.
Final thoughts? It’s great to see Texas’ craft beer business booming, but I worry about the level of overall quality coming out of new breweries. I had very few beers that I thought stood out as notable or interesting. A few were so displeasing that I simply dumped them out and moved on to the next sample.
One of the standouts was Branchline Brewing’s Oso Knotty Oyster Stout, a relatively thin stout with a lovely salty cloak of brine. One of the Branchline crew said they will also release a Pumpkin Hatch Chile Rauchbier in bottles to the Austin market towards the end of October, which sounds like an interesting take on the seasonal pumpkin craze. The other beer that stood out as particularly interesting was Lone Pint’s Pioneer Po-Cha-Na-Quar-Hip. Named after a Cherokee Indian Chief who forged peace between Texans and Native Americans, the Braggot style beer is a hybrid beer-mead brew. Co-founder Heather Bolla told me they added 1200 pounds of honey to the mix after adding the hops, and before putting the beer into a fermenter. The result was a lovely medium-bodied brew with soft honey notes, but a round balanced body.