Blue Owl Brewing
Blue Owl is a brewery that does all sour mash beers, which means for every style of beer they make a kettle sour even their pale ale, or their stout. Both Blue Owl and Zilker are very close to each other so they are easy to visit in one trip. The last time I was in Austin I brought back a six pack of the Blue Owl sour pale. I enjoyed it but it wasn’t particularly delicious. I decided to return to see if some of their other beers in cans grab me enough to buy some and if not save the six packs for those who like it. Blue Owl does not sell individual pours so you must buy a glass and they will fill the glass four times for the price. Thankfully they offer multiple sizes. I went for the half pint size, or 8 ounces.
I started with the sour red, which was malty, mildly tart, and easy drinking. The sour stout was an interesting mix of caramel roast, light sweetness, mild cherry notes, and a mild tart kick. I enjoyed this the most of the beers I tried and considered grabbing some cans. The raspberry Belgian strong tasted like cough syrup, sticky and notes of cherry. The sour wee heavy I couldn’t finish even though it was a bit more balanced than others. It had notes of cherry and caramel and a strong acidity that was a bit overpowering.
Blue Owl is worth a visit if you want to try some kettle sours but I would recommend going for the smaller taster option. I also think the sour mash works better with the lighter core beers.
Blue Owl brews exclusively kettle sours, which means this is not a brewery to visit if you crave IPAs or stouts.
I visited Zilker the day after their second anniversary party. They serve flights without needing to buy the glass. I started with the blackberry kettle sour, which had a gorgeous dark purple color and a great mix of berry flavor and mild tart kick. I ended up ordering a full pour of this before I left. If you see a fruity kettle sour on tap, be sure to try it. The Marco IPA was a nicely done classic IPA with a malt balance and notes of pine and herbal hops. The anniversary IPA was a solid example of the classic West Coast style IPA, blending citrus and pine with a light malt backbone. The coffee stout was nicely done with a good mix of roast and coffee.
Zilker was my last stop for the day so I didn’t try their numerous lighter options, though they had many on tap. Everything I tried was well-made. If you are more into classic styles of hoppy beers, Zilker is the place to visit, otherwise those looking for the juicy hazy IPAs should visit Pinthouse Pizza. If you can schedule your visit to Zilker when they have a fruited kettle sour on tap, it is worth it.
Blackberry kettle sour
Red Horn is in an area about 30 minutes north of downtown Austin. Though they are open at 7:30AM most days for coffee, they can’t serve alcohol until Noon. I was recommended Red Horn for their stouts so I focused my tasting on their dark beers.
Their coffee stout was velvet smooth with a nice mix of roast and coffee. This is a nicely done 5% coffee stout. The rye whiskey aged rye IPA was delicious with tons of oak and whiskey notes and a mild hop kick. I wasn’t sure the style of the base beer when I ordered it but the balance of flavors was perfect.
The SUN with coconut was a delicious soft stout with notes of vanilla and coconut. Like all the other high alcohol stouts here, I was surprised how well this hides the 12% alcohol. None of the high alcohol stouts were thick and sludgy like they are elsewhere. The imperial stout with coffee was smooth and delicious, almost like drinking cold brew coffee. The Mexican Chocolate version was a perfect mix of cinnamon, vanilla, and some mild warmth at the finish from chili peppers.
Red Horn is worth the drive to try their delicious lineup of stouts. When I visited, they had a note that they will have crowlers of beer to go soon. I would have loved to bring back either the coffee or Mexican chocolate stout.
Come for delicious adjunct stouts. They use their own house-roasted coffee in some of the beers.
Pinthouse Pizza has two locations in Austin and I visited the southern location. They have a spacious interior and a broad menu of house beers and guest beers. I stopped by for a flight of five of the most interesting beers on the menu and was quite impressed by their IPA.
The pilsner was crisp and clean with a mild hop bite. This is an excellent example of the style. The alt beer was a great mix of caramel malt and mild smoke with a clean finish. This is a style that I’m not too familiar with but every version I’ve had in Texas so far has been great. The IPA was soft and juicy haze with citrus and tropical fruit notes. The hazy IPA was up there with a lot of what is coming out of San Diego lately. I was very close to bringing home a few crowlers of this beer.
The stout was a bit unusual with prominent tart cherry flavors and some mild smoke in the back. It was almost a sour stout. Though I enjoy a good sour stout, this was simply labeled as a stout. The porter was good and roasty with a fairly dry finish, done nicely to style. Though dry it wasn’t nearly as dry as the classic dry Irish stout.
Besides the beers I tried, Pinthouse had a number of lighter alcohol options, but I did not have the capacity to try everything. If you are looking for excellent hoppy beers in Austin, Pinthouse Pizza is the place to go.
Prairie opened their brewpub in Tulsa fairly recently. Currently it is the only place in Oklahoma that has regular hours where you can get all the Prairie beers. They are working on a taproom soon in Oklahoma city as well. Due to regulations that require them to buy beers through a distributor the on-tap prices are high here as well. You will pay $17 for a flight of five tasters. Beers to go are more reasonably priced and they have crowlers of their lower alcohol pub beers available as well. Beers brewed in house are limited to 4% but they serve other prairie beers brewed elsewhere. I visited at 3PM because I heard the place gets crazy crowded at dinner time. I was out before it got too busy.
Because I make a note to indicate independent breweries, it is important to point out that Prairie was sold to Krebs Brewing in the middle of 2016, which funded the opening of the brewpub and allowed the head brewer to go off and start American Solera. This is not in the same league as a sale to larger breweries like Heineken or ABInBev but worth pointing out. I’m not familiar enough with Krebs to say but it sounds similar to Alpine Brewery’s sale to Green Flash out in San Diego.
I started my flight with their house pilsner, a flavorful bready pilsner and very easy drinking with a mild hop bite. The saison on tap was light and effervescent with notes of lemon and white wine. Their 4th anniversary sour was well-made but I didn’t realize it was made with lemongrass and ginger until I ordered it. I probably would have gotten something else since I don’t care for ginger in my beer. Still, it was a balanced beer that blended the two flavors well. The Phantasmagoria juicy double IPA started off with tons of mango and melon but I got a salty caramel finish that I didn’t care for so much. It has great reviews from friends so it may have been an older keg or the end of a keg.
The Pekan stout was thick and delicious with tons of caramel and maple notes though not too sweet. Paradise was delicious with notes of vanilla and coconut and a chocolate finish. Both of these had little detectable alcohol taste. If you are going to visit Prairie for beer don’t go during the dinner rush as they tend to get very crowded. It was a nice chill quiet visit at 3PM though even on a Friday. Depending on when you visit they sometimes have barrel aged variants of the stouts as well. For locals the brewpub is also a great way to try other interesting beers because they had a solid guest tap list as well.
American Solera was named best new brewery in 2016 by Ratebeer. So naturally I had to visit to try for myself. The hype is well placed. Thanks to recent changes in Oklahoma laws they can now have a tap room and serve beer. The beers are on the expensive side on tap but so good I didn’t care. This probably has something to do with local taxes. Thankfully to-go prices are very reasonable. American Solera is in an area of town by itself but people have no problems finding it. I visited twice in a row because the main other Tulsa attraction is Prairie Brewpub. Thursday was of course much less crowded than Friday, with lines out the door at times on Friday.
Beer wise, I tried most of the things on tap and a few bottles for on-site consumption. The Foeder Apricot was tart and not too acidic, pretty standard for the style. The blackberry sour was jammy and not too acidic. The beer had tons of berry flavor. I left with two bottles for myself. The Brett ESB was earthy with citrus and fruit notes and a mild tart kick. I didn’t love this one but it wasn’t bad. The barrel aged pale was tasty with tons of funk and citrus notes
The Terp Surp IPA was one of the best IPAs I’ve had in a while. Tons of hop flavor coming through with tropical fruits and melon without much bitterness. The beer is soft and juicy. I rarely bring home IPAs to San Diego but this one was worth it. The IPA is up there with Cellarmaker and Fieldwork quality. The Mocha Dilema was thick and packed with chocolate, fudge, and coffee notes. Despite the high alcohol it had very little alcohol taste. When I came back later I ordered two bottles to drink on site. The foeder golden was an excellent example of the style. Their spontaneous fermented lambic-inspired ale was true to the Belgian style and excellent with tons of funk.
Thankfully American Solera beers have been coming to San Diego on occasion but it is worth visiting them at the source to hang out with a crowd of beer enthusiasts. The tap room is laid back at times and then gets really busy on Friday nights as most places do. With excellent beers across the board there is something for everyone. The quality is high enough to warrant a visit to taste these beers on site and bring home a suitcase full of bottles and crowlers.
Terp Surp IPA
When I first visited Quantum brewing soon after they opened, they had a decent lineup of beers with nothing better than average and a few that missed the mark. For a time they had some growing pains and the word online was that they got worse. Thankfully I never experienced that part of things. Now they have a new brewer and had a grand re-opening to let everyone know things are new. I stopped by and had four tasters and the beers are a little better than they were at the beginning, more in line with the local standards, though still not at the level of Council or Societe down the street.
The blood orange wit had tons of orange flavor with a gorgeous red-orange color. It had the flavors right but there was a flavor in the finish that should not have been there. The session IPA was light and clean with mild citrus and grassy hops without too much bitterness. This was a huge improvement over the extremely bitter session IPAs they had with the previous brewer. For a new brewer coming out with a session IPA like this is quite impressive. It is about what you would expect around San Diego.
The IPA was a bit malt-forward and while it had some apricot notes from the hops it had a heavy bready malt character. Considering it is not West Coast in style at all, it is a nicely balanced English style IPA and is well-crafted. Since most hop heads crave something either juicy or classic West Coast style this is a huge miss. I would even say that labeling this an IPA in San Diego without calling it English or Red is borderline deceptive though I know it wouldn’t sell as well if they did. The Imperial Stout was a good mix of caramel and roast with a sticky sweet finish. While it had a good balance with bitterness, I thought it was a bit too bitter for the style. Still, this was one of the better of the bunch.
Quantum retained all of the quirky names for the beers and added a bunch of fruited beers. Still, I tend to judge a brewery based on their ability to brew a beer without adding any fruit, thus my focus on their hoppy beers. The people in there drinking were enjoying the fruited options. Their session IPA is well-made but in San Diego you need to do something a bit more to stand out and the blood orange beer suggested they still need some work on their fruity beers.
Wren House is a new brewery in the area and the quality of the beers were about what I expect from a new brewery. However, I came in with higher expectations. This is because the brewery has been hyped like crazy online. While the beers didn’t live up to the hype, Wren House is still a solid place to visit. They have a tiny location and they get loud quickly both from people talking and loud music. This, combined with beers that didn’t blow me away meant I didn’t stay very long during my visit.
I tried four beers, their grapefruit berliner weisse, porter, unfiltered IPA, and imperial porter. The grapefruit berliner weisse was dry and bitter, primarily bitter grapefruit. with lots of carbination. I didn’t care much for this but then I am not as big on fruited berliner weisse as others. This was quite popular with others in the room. The porter was bitter and smoky with a dry finish and prominent hop character. It was almost more of a black session IPA than a porter. If they had labeled this as hoppy on the board I would have tried other styles. The bitterness is far too much for what I like in a porter.
The IPA was a good combination of fruit and pine while not too bitter over a soft mouthfeel. There was a lingering mouthfeel that I didn’t like but that I can’t identify. It did signal to me that something was off ith the beer though. The imperial porter was the best of the bunch with notes of marshmallow, cherry, and burnt toffee. It was not too sweet or too boozy. I would have liked to have been able to try their base berliner weisse so I could judge it that way but the fruit varieties didn’t grab my interest.
Wren House is a solid new brewery worth checking out if you are in the area but don’t expect it to live up to the hype spreading about it online. I’m unlikely to return more for the tiny loud space than anything. It is not the atmosphere where I want to sit and sip a pint.
Most visitors to Puerto Vallarta will stay in the Hotel Zone where all the big hotels have their resorts. In those areas you are better off bringing your own beer from home if you are there for a while and want to drink something other than Corona. Make sure you read the amounts that Customs allows you to bring with you if you decide to do that.
We decided for a visit that gives us a true feel of the town and stayed in the Romantic Zone, where Los Muertos sits surrounded by other restaurants and shops. I enjoyed a flight of beers at Los Muertos and they are much better than any of the other Mexican craft beer available locally in bottles. While they don’t live up to the quality of breweries in Tijuana, Ensanada, and other parts of Mexico, they are good enough to satisfy your craving for craft beer.
The first three beers were all overly thin and lacking in flavor. The blonde was almost like water. The wheat beer was a little better with some mild citrus notes and hints of lemon. The chili beer was most likely chilis added to the blonde and the chili notes were very mild, giving it very little heat. The amber ale made with agave was more flavorful, mixing notes of caramel and honey on a soft light body with very low bitterness.
The IPA was light and soft and emphasized a mild bitterness instead of aroma in the traditional style. It is clean and easy drinking but compared to the modern style of IPAs being made it falls short. The Hop On strong ale was soft and mild with roast and mild smoke and very low bitterness. This was a standout for me compared to the rest. The stout was super smooth with mild roast and a dry finish in the traditional dry Irish stout style.
After trying a few other local bottles, I would say Los Muertos is your best bet for beer in the area. Otherwise you might as well order margaritas. They have a fairly americanized food menu so we didn’t eat there. They also sell bottles you can bring back with you to your hotel room.
Hop On strong ale
The Good Beer Company
Despite the completely generic name, The Good Beer Company is anything but generic. I had heard great things about them prior to visiting from those who love sour and wild ales, though like many breweries experimenting with the style, having a flight of tasters can get quite expensive. I decided to stick to one full beer and ordered an apricot sour they had on tap. It was tart and dry with a strong apricot kick and a high overall acidity. I found the beer to be solidly above average.
I could tell that the brewery makes things in small batches and the tap list changes fairly regularly. Everything on tap was either a farmhouse ale, a wild ale, or a sour. Tasters range from $2 to $4 and so it made more sense to order a full pour of the apricot beer. They are in an old brick building and the place gets quite loud. In a future trip I hope to try some more of their varied offerings but what I tasted suggests that they are on the right track.
This is a place to visit if you enjoy farmhouse ales, wild ales, or sours.
Located in the heart of Santa Ana it is easy to overlook Cismontane despite having been open for five years now due to its proximity to fan favorites in Anaheim. However, the short distance can take a long time to travel during peak hours making Cismontane a great stop if you are staying in Santa Ana since it is close to John Wayne airport. I had a flight of five tasters and overall it was solidly average. While beer geeks driving down from LA or up from San Diego may not always stop here, it is a good spot for locals.
The CA Lager was smooth and clean with notes of caramel and fruit, a great rendition of the style. The Rye IPA was a mix of floral and pine on the nose and sticky and dank mouthfeel. It is a well-balanced IPA and not too bitter. The Sour Brown anniversary ale was a perfect balance of caramel and citrus tartness and true to style. The porter was strong on the dark fruit notes with tons of cherry and mild molasses. It wasn’t really my thing. The imperial stout on nitro was excellent with tons of roast and caramel with mild smoke, though also a bit dry, thus not so sweet.
Breakside also came highly recommended for my latest Portland trip. Most of the beers I had when I visited were solid but it is hard to follow something like Great Notion. They didn’t have any of their sours on tap, though I did bring a few home with me so I finish with some information about those sours. I had six tasters, mostly a mix of hoppy beers and stouts.
The pilsner was quite good with a good mix of spice and fruit and a mild bitterness at the finish. The Breakside IPA was a good balance of pine and fruity notes, a nice modern take on the Pacific Northwest style of IPA. I preferred this over the Wanderlust IPA, which was more dry and had strong notes of citrus with a mild bitter finish. Though part of that might be that they call Wanderlust “West Coast style” and I think they slightly missed the mark here.
I was very excited to try their salted caramel stout but I found it to be smoky and quite mildly sweet with minimal caramel. The bourbon barrel aged salted caramel had a thicker body and a solid bourbon finish with a good amount of sweetness and some mild salt. This was the highlight of the stouts for sure. The Breakside Stout had some notes of caramel and roast but it was overpowered by a strong bitter finish that I didn’t care for.
From what I had on tap I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to visit Breakside for stouts, though they are doing a good job with the modern hoppy beer styles. They also have a restaurant so the place was full of brunch crowds as well when we visited on an early Sunday afternoon.
I came home with a brett pale ale and dark sour. Both were quite good for the style and I’m glad I picked them up. The dark sour was especially nice and smooth without being overly tart.
Bourbon Barrel Aged Salted Caramel Stout.