Live Oak is out of the center of Austin and much closer to the airport. It is so close to the airport that for beer drinkers it is a bit of an unofficial cell phone lot, a great place to stay while you are waiting for your flights to depart. They have a wide variety of beers available, though no food. They also server their flights featuring half pints of beer, rather than 4 ounce pours. If you don’t feel like taking the trek outside of central Austin you can always find their beers on tap and in cans all around town.
Their pilsner was dry with notes of toast and crackers with light spice and herbal hops and a medium body. This is one of their flagship beers and available around Austin and I can see why. Their Berliner Weisse has some smoked malts though they are quite mild. The beer has light citrus notes with a tart finish though i would have preferred to try what they would do without the smoked malts it was quite good.
The dopplebock had notes of caramel and plum with a nice dry finish and notes of molasses and mild herbs. I preferred this to the weizenbock which I found was overpowered by the flavor of cloves. The weizenbock had a clean amber base and was nicely done. My husband preferred the weizenbock so if you don’t mind cloves that is a good beer to try. The Vienna Lager was dry and tasty with a light herbal finish, and an excellent example of the style.
Though this is my third time visiting Austin, this was my first time visiting Live Oak. I will certainly try to visit again next time I am in town as it makes a great stop on your way out of town if you enjoy a good German style beer.
Lazarus is a block away from Zilker, in an area of Austin that is up-and-coming. They are known mostly for their Belgian styles and traditional beers to style. I started with the English Mild on Nitro. It was creamy with tons of dark fruit and a nice dry finish. The beer had some light smoke and notes of floral hops on the finish. This is a beer to order pints of rather than drink in tasters.
The German style smoked beer was too overpowering in the smoke category for me, though it had a light sweet finish. The English Bitter was overly sweet with a bitter finish. It seemed to be lacking the malt backbone characteristic with the style and I didn’t much care for it.
The pilsner was crisp and bready with a light sweetness and mild floral hops. The saison was earthy with notes of bitter gourd and light funk on the finish. The scotch ale had a nice mix of smoke and roast at the front and tons of dark fruit on the finish, without being overly sweet. The porter was dry and lightly smoky with notes of dark cherry. I quite enjoyed the dark beers.
Lazarus was a solid brewery though I didn’t taste much that would put it above some of the other standard local breweries. I quite enjoyed the darker beers. Parking can be an issue so if you are close by I suggest you get a ride or take an Uber.
Austin Beer Garden Brewery
ABGB has a massive indoor space plus a large outdoor seating area. They have a wide array of food plus a good variety of beers. I started with a flight and got a full pour of the Helles before leaving.
The Rocket 100 Pilsner was dry and bready with an assertive bitterness on the finish that lingered. I thought the bitterness was a bit much for the style. The Industry Pils was a bit milder with light fruity hops and a clean finish. The Pale Ale was a good mix of citrus and melon hop flavor with a light bitterness. It had a mild herbal bite on the finish and overall was a nice clean pale.
The dunkel had a light amber brown color with notes of caramel and toast and a dry finish. I quite enjoyed this one. The Imperial Stout had notes of caramel, molasses, and roast without being overly sweet or thick. This was quite impressive. The helles was my favorite of the bunch with a light bitterness and bread and biscuit malt base with a light floral hop character. The beer was super drinkable. The Grodziskie, a smoked wheat style beer, had a mild smoked malt flavor with light wheat base and a clean dry finish, quite easy drinking.
The helles was quite impressive at ABGB and the special pizza options when I visited were quite good as well. This is a great spot to visit if you like traditional German style beers.
I visited a number of breweries in 2017. Some have amazing beer but can be quite hectic to visit. A smaller number both serve excellent beer and have a welcoming tasting room that you could easily spend hours enjoying. Out of these breweries, one might be unfamiliar to readers in the US who haven’t heard of a small Canadian brewery in an even smaller town. This list also specifically focuses on breweries outside of San Diego. Each of these also has a full blog post, which is linked to in the name of each brewery.
Located an hour drive west of Portland Oregon, De Garde is a brewery visited mostly by fans of sour beers enthusiastic enough to make the drive outside an already exciting city of breweries in search of excellence. The brewery is located in an area selected specifically for the microflora in the air for their wild ales.
What makes a visit to De Garde so special is the delightful patio and bright indoor seating area where you can order numerous vintage bottles for on-site consumption. While there are beers on tap as well, there is something magical about sharing a vintage bottle with someone you just met. Visiting the source is also the most economical way to get bottles, that are priced quite reasonably at the source.
Since my visit, we have started getting occasional bottles from De Garde in San Diego but I still look forward to a future visit. I also quite enjoyed staying overnight in the area and soaking in the beauty of the Oregon coast.
My visit in 2017 was prompted by some ratings listing American Solera as one of the best new breweries. This should come as no surprise for those familiar with Prairie, the brewery where the head brewer got his start. Located in the small town of Tulsa Oklahoma, American Solera is nestled in an industrial area outside of town and for many will be the main reason for visiting the area.
Tulsa is so small that taking Uber around is cheap, making it easy for a solo traveler to visit. American Solera wowed me not just with their excellent sours but with their hazy IPAs, imperial pastry stouts, and barleywines. This is another spot where you would do well to order one of the vintage bottles for on-site consumption. If you are lucky, the person next to you will be a regular and can suggest a favorite.
The tasting room is relaxed inside and has some outdoor seating as well. Many locals visit the brewery regularly and the quality is such that you wouldn’t mind this being your primary brewery available.
I visited the small town of Kingston, Ontario solely based on a string of coincidences but the quality of the beers surpassed all expectation even with minimal hype behind it. Stone City is the only one on the list that served food as well and I quite enjoyed their hummus plate with my beers. To get to Kingston, most people will take a train from Toronto. My friend who lives in Kingston does not recommend the bus. Like others on this list, they are in a tiny town.
Stone city had some excellent examples of juicy modern West Coast IPAs like you find at Fieldwork when they aren’t making hazy beers. What really blew me away was their delectable gose, hazy and soft like a hazy IPA but balancing gentile ginger and lime flavors. The whole line up of beers was impressive, all favoring subtlety over intense flavors. I sat in the brewery for 4 hours on that day and loved both the feel of the place and the conversation with fellow beer-enthusiasts, both locals and those on beer vacations.
Holy Mountain and Jester King, my last 2 on this list, are the only ones I have visited multiple times. Both are so impressive that I can’t help but visit them when I am in their respective cities even if only for a short visit. Holy Mountain is in an area of Seattle that is not easy to get to by public transit but as soon as I walk in I am energized by the bright open tasting room with the rich wooden bar. My first visit I was blown away by the quality of their wild saisons and lagers. On returning, they had managed to blow me away with their hoppy beers, embracing the hazy trends while eclipsing many regulars.
Like others on the list, it is easy for me to spend hours at a time enjoying the variety of beers on their menu. With the price of half pours slightly higher per ounce than full pours, I often end up drinking numerous full pours. Since my most recent visit they started canning their hoppy beers as well. Holy Mountain oozes excellence out of every beer served and always delights.
Jester King is quite the drive outside of Austin and typically we rent a car to get there up the winding country roads. As soon as you get close to the entrance and see the wooden picnic tables out in the grass, the country charm takes over. Jester King is primarily a spot for fans of farmhouse ales and sours though they occasionally will tap a stout.
Each time I visit, I love the feel of sitting outside in the open air while enjoying the various beers available. Most of the time my tasters are purchased to help me decide if I want bottles of the various beers they have to-go. I am always impressed by the quality of beers both on-tap and to-go in bottles even though I haven’t even snagged some of the more sought-after fruited sours that sell out quickly. Since Austin is a quick flight from San Diego I try to visit Jester King every year.
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.
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.