When Toolbox first opened they had a variety of beers available including a milk stout, a pale ale, an IPA, and their various sours, kettle and barrel aged. At the time, the idea of eventually having an all brett brewery (brett stands for a form of wild yeast that is common in sours and wild ales) seemed extreme. I still think so, even though now I have gotten more familiar with the style of beer. Though I and many beer drinkers enjoy a good sour, there are still people who want a stout or IPA and who may visit Toolbox with their friends who enjoy sours. Now, some time later, they have brought back the traditional styles along with a line of North East style hazy IPAs, a sweet stout, and a barrel aged imperial stout.
This is a subtle shift because they still have their numerous core kettle sours and various barrel-aged sours. The change in the menu should help them attract a wider audience and over time convert more people to the delicious sour beer side as well. In my visit I tried a few of their new offerings and overall they were quite impressive. In total I tried their wild lager, hazy IPA, sweet stout, barrel aged stout, and hazy double IPA.
The wild lager had delicious fruity notes that blended nicely with earthy funk in the background. It was a crisp, clean, lager that I would enjoy having more of. The hazy IPA was soft and full of aromas while not too bitter. I enjoyed it though the galaxy hops came through with a lot more herbal notes than I expected, which I don’t particularly care for. The sweet stout was sweet with a thin body that presented just the right amount of chocolate and vanilla while finishing with a mild lactose sweetness.
The bourbon-barrel-aged imperial stout was sticky and thick with a fantastic balance of fudge, caramel, mild salt, and subtle bourbon. I was quite impressed for their first release of the style. The double IPA was hazy and started off with intense fruit and a mild acidic finish though I got some of the same herbal notes as I did from the single IPA that pushed me off. It had a properly thick mouth-feel and is well on the way to joining other local hazy offerings.
Toolbox succeeded in adding to their already impressive lineup of beers with their solid hazy IPAs and stouts to push them further past other Vista breweries in quality. They will go nicely along with Burgeon to bring hazy beers to the area.
My trip to Georgia was mainly to visit some breweries in Athens, but since I was flying out of Atlanta it made sense to hit a brewery there before leaving. To avoid driving with too much beer, I kept to one brewery and so I went with my friend’s recommendation to try Scofflaw. They are in an area of Atlanta a bit North West of downtown, a ways away from anything. That didn’t stop people from coming out and enjoying beer though. The crowd was quite respectable.
During my visit their tap list was almost all IPAs with the exception of an imperial wit and a barrel-aged strong ale. All of the IPAs I had were quite well-done, juicy but not hazy, in the modern West-Coast style. I might have even brought back some cans of the IPA they had available if I could have done so while still buying the strong-ale bottles, but since I had to pick I got the strong ale. Your preference between the varioius IPAs they make will come down to your hop profile of choice. Their double IPA was also quite impressive, fruity, mildly sweet, and not really boozy at all.
The barrel-aged strong ale was good and medium body, mildly sweet, with a good mix of caramel and light whiskey character. It was also barely boozy despite the high alcohol content. I left with a bottle because it was quite well-done and the price was right. If you are in to the juicy (not hazy) style of IPAs, Scofflaw hits the spot nicely and should satisfy any hop-head who ends up in Atlanta.
Come visit for modern-style IPAs and barrel-aged stouts
Athens Georgia is a small college town about an hour and a half drive East of Atlanta. I visited mainly for Creature Comforts and while I was planning the trip I read about The Southern Brewing Company and their barrel aging program. People rave about the Tropicalia IPA from Creature Comforts, though when I tasted it, it didn’t blow me away, perhaps because I assumed from the name it was going to be a hazy IPA. I had two IPAs at Creature Comforts and they were both excellent examples of the West Coast style of IPA, hop-forward, low malt bill, and crisp dry finish while not too bitter.
What really impressed me though was their berliner-weisse. I didn’t drink any of the base while I was there but when I visited they had a number of versions available. Both the Terry Swish, with three kinds of fruit, and the dry-hopped variant were fantastic. I enjoyed both of them so much that I brought back a six pack of the base to explore it further. I enjoyed the cans so much that I wished I had brought back a second six-pack. This is the new standard against which I will rate berliner-weisse beers for some time.
San Diego breweries sell a lot of fruited berliner weisse and gose but usually they go a bit too light on the fruit for my tastes. This one was bursting with fruit and so good that I got two of it out of the tour. The dry-hopped version was perfectly balanced, with tons of hop aromas and no bitterness. The fruity hops went nicely with the citrus kick of the gose.
A note on the way breweries sell beer in Georgia, or at least while I visited, they can’t sell beer directly. Instead, they sell you a tour that includes a glass and six six-ounce pours. They have tours available but you don’t have to take one. It is their way around the silly laws. Other silly laws limit your ability to take home beers, so that you can’t buy more than 72 ounces of beer to go in one day per person. The tour thing should be changing soon for smaller breweries based on a law that has already been passed, which would allow them to sell directly. It will be interestin to see if they start doing taster flights like other tasting rooms.
Creature Comforts makes some great beers and everything I tasted when I visited was well-made. I also brought home a bottle of one of their sours to try later. They have a large open tasting room with plenty of seating inside and outside and it can get quite busy on weekends. I happened to visit on a particularly busy weekend because it was graduation time for many and they celebrated by going to breweries.
The Southern Brewing Company
Compared to Creature Comforts’ West Coast style IPAs, everything hoppy I had at The Southern Brewing Company was more malty in the classic style. I didn’t even bother with their IPA once I realized it was as malty as their pale ale. There is nothing wrong with the style but I don’t particularly enjoy drinking it. The pale ale was really well made and a good mix of fruity hops and biscuit notes from the malts.
What I really enjoyed was their Berliner weisse and their Cherokee Rose. The Berliner weisse was complex and balanced. The Cherokee Rose tasted like an earthy saison with some mild funk. They also had a barrel-aged saison on tap that was funky as expected and nicely done. I also enjoyed their mexican-chocolate stout that was left over from Cinco De Mayo. It was appropriately balanced and medium body with notes of spice and mild hot pepper heat on top of a nice roasty stout.
I wanted to try some of the sours they were selling bottles of but besides the saison I couldn’t try them. Thankfully I found a bottle of their peach sour at a local shop and brought one of those bottles home along with their bourbon barrel aged stout. Southern also had a nice tasting room with an even larger lawn area for people to hang out in the sun. It is a shame California has such restrictive laws that require enclosed spaces at breweries or we could have something similar. They used the space to put on live music and it was good and relaxing. The crowd was even more insane at Southern.
If the sours from both breweries turn out as good as I hope, it makes for a great visit to enjoy the laid-back town of Athens and have some great beer while you are there.
Since writing this post, I tasted the peach sour and barrel-aged stout I brought back with. The peach sour was well-made though pretty standard for the style. The barrel-aged stout was also quite tasty though a bit thin because I assume they blend it down after aging in the barrel. It is a nice change from some of the thick sludgy stouts I see a lot of. Both were nicely done but not something I would make a separate trip to buy bottles of.
Protector opened in the crowded Miramar area. All their beers are made with 100% organic ingredients. This makes the beers more expensive to produce and so the prices are slightly higher than other breweries in the area. People don’t seem to mind though and some batches of IPA have sold out in 5 days. Though Protector hasn’t had a grand opening yet, they have already proven that their brewers have an immense skill. My first visit they only had three beers, two IPAs and a pale ale.
The hoppy pale was grassy with light citrus notes and a solid finish. I couldn’t tell if it was the grassy notes I didn’t like or the choice of malts but it wasn’t much my style. The traditional IPA was a fantastic balanced beer with mild citrus and mild bitterness. Both this and the West Coast style IPA had a solid malt character without being overly malt-forward. The malts balanced perfectly with the hop notes. The West Coast style IPA had a great blend of resin and citrus notes with a light bitter finish that wasn’t present in the traditional IPA. While slightly more malty than the typical West Coast style it was quite a good beer.
Over the coming weeks, I returned a few times to try their new beers. First time back they added a porter and a session heffeweizen. The porter was good and roasty with notes of caramel and cherries and bitter dark chocolate on the finish. The hefeweizen had a good dry finish. Flavor of cloves dominated over banana and the beer finished fairly astringent. While very easy drinking, I found the beer a bit too heavy on the cloves.
I returned a third time and tried their coffee imperial stout. Though expensive at $3.50 a taster, it was quite impressive. It had intense coffee on the nose. The beer had a silky mouthfeel with notes of caramel, roast, and coffee. Traditional ipa batch dialed up the citrus character even more though still with mild resin on the finish. Bitterness is still mild.
In a crowded area, Protector stands out with an excellent lineup of beers. Their IPAs showcase hops while supporting them with a mild malt backbone. This balance is difficult to achieve and a rarity among local breweries. Their tasting room is spacious from the get-go.
Disclaimer – Though I did receive the occasional free taster while visiting protector, my views have not been altered in any way.
Update – Post has been updated to reflect the brewery’s change of pricing for the Imperial Stout. It is now $3.50 a taster instead of $5.
West Coast IPA
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.
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