Top 25 Austin Breweries of 2021
Our annual list of Central Texas’ top beers returns
By Eric Puga,
12:01AM, Tue. Oct. 12, 2021
Psst, hey. You hear the latest Austin Chronicle Power Rankings dropped? You’re looking right at ’em, pal. And this is the year, at long last, that brought us a true Top 25, just like in SPORTS!
That’s right, the corollary here is that brewing is a game tough as nails – so tough, you can eat the nails. Then wash ’em down with one of Austin’s magnificent lagers being brewed right here in the capital city.
You see, reader, this is a lager town. We’re of the Lagerpeople, which, back in the founding days, ended up being like a 25-letter compound word in German, so the leaders just decided on “Austin,” a shorthanded tribute to Sam Adams’ famous Boston Lager. Later, the Czechs brought their spicy lagers to the region, along with the Mexicans who brought their own biscuity amber lagers. Fully anticipating midnight lager munchies, kolaches and tacos were created, and that’s how Austin’s famous food trucks came about so that they could get delicious lager-friendly cuisine to the settlers. It’s a beautiful history of melding cultures, really. Recently, the French and the Italians have entered the local lager chat, but we’re still processing how to integrate them, so be on the lookout for future historical columns like this one.
Anyway, all of that is to say that Austin began as a lager town and it remains a lager town. Even when it snows. Twice. In one year. Sure, it’s a challenging task to drink a crispy boy in the cold, but not an impossible one! And all of those photos up on the ‘Gram of temporarily snow-shuttered Austin breweries with cans of beer smooshed into fresh powder like wholesomely dressed neighborhood kids experiencing it for the first time inspired us to create a more elevated power rankings. Because those breweries worked so hard to get back up and running through a sweeping pandemic and a paralyzing winter storm, we had to match their tough as nails energy.
Per usual, we rated Austin(ish) breweries within the county and the counties that immediately border Travis according to Google images (we’re beer knowers, not geographers). Our rankings are based on breweries' commitment to evolving as local legends as based on their seasonal, rotational, and specialty beers, along with interesting brews that have been pushed out to market within the last year (“What’s New”). We considered how a brewery maintains its quality of product, particularly with its mainstay beers and the quality of experience in its taprooms and beer gardens (“What’s Consistent”). Finally we noted the accolades a brewery has collected in 20-21 (in the year of a darkened Austin Beer Guide Awards, no less!), what the brewery provides culturally for the Austin beer scene, and any other important intangibles, like a notable food truck, great branding, live music, live art, or heck, live animals (“What’s Unique”). These are Austin’s best 25 breweries, POWER RANKED!
Others Receiving Votes: Independence Brewing Co. Indy’s branding is clutch and Convict Hill oatmeal stout is still a big, fun bastard; Nomadic Beerworks Peak Season Juicy Tropical IPA slaps, brewery has it dialed way in; 4th Tap Add Sound Check Crispy Boy to the upper totem of Austin’s highest quality lagers; Frontyard Brewing Most entertaining beer garden in Austin, Coffee Milk Stout is a rated rookie; Yokefellow Beer Absolutely love Garrett Crowell’s delicately handcrafted beers and minimalist vibe, but perhaps too minimalist. Where’s the beer?
Dropped from Rankings: Yokefellow Beer (18), Nomadic Beerworks (20)
Trend Tracker: The “AC Power Rankings Trend” move from oldest to newest. GREEN indicates a brewery moved up in the rankings; RED indicates a brewery moved down; and BLUE indicates a new entry or no movement. Looking for previous Power Rankings? See 2020, 2019, 2018 (Part I), 2018 (Part II), and 2017.
25 | Beerburg Brewing
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ NEW ENTRY
What’s New: The Mother Earth-doting, 15-acre-having Beerburg Brewing has expanded the breadth of their beer program while you were away on pandemic, growing from three core beers at their debut in January 2020 to over 15 offerings, including their foraged-ingredients “Wildcraft” program. The 3.5% Mugwort ESB is a low-octane fist bump to a classic pub ale. Beerburg has long had an evolving, in-house, scratch kitchen concept, but landing on Taqueria la Violeta, Beerburg’s Mexican-style kitchen, has been a smash. Their barbacoa birria tacos with consommé are petite works of art.
What’s Consistent: Beerburg’s shady beer garden is one of the best in the region with its Ashe juniper trees providing the merciful shade during Austin’s unreasonable summer days. The brewery’s “nature-style”’ playscape of fallen cedar balance beams and rope course make it a nice team-building exercise for your little shits who have to work together to survive until the queso arrives.
What’s Unique: Few of Beerburg’s beers ebb over the 5% ABV mark, making Beerburg a much-welcomed low-ABV experience. Nobody is trying to get smashed on a Sunday afternoon. People just want some refreshments to go with their tacos.
24 | Blue Owl Brewing
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ 6, NR, NR, 18, NR
What’s New: Blue Owl went out and found their niche and then perfected it. But lately, they’ve given themselves little bit of leeway with non-sour beers, like Bob’s Fine Pilsner, a classically clean lager that made its triumphant debut in Sixties-era evocative cans at the latter end of summer.
What’s Consistent: Okay, so sours are still your flavor. Great! Blue Owl continues to shine with gorgeous summertime jams, like Little Gose and Tropícal Brut. But the brewery’s weekly discounted growler deals makes sampling their entire lineup a very soft landing on a tight beer budget.
What’s Unique: Blue Owl is Austin’s 2021 Brewery of the Year according to Austin CultureMap, taking home the award over local powerhouses Austin Beerworks, Holdout, and Meanwhile Brewing.
23 | Circle Brewing Co.
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ NEW ENTRY
What’s New: Circle’s plan to leave* Austin altogether for the chillass Elgin countryside got the rug pulled from under when Austin FC announced plans to play right at Circle’s front yard. But the reprieve from decamping Brewery Row has allowed the 10-year-old brew house to refocus on updating uppercuts like Hop Overboard, a West Coast Style IPA (now in cans!), and drove them towards iconic Austin beer status with Austin Anthem, a golden ale made in collaboration with one of the football club’s larger supporters groups.
What’s Consistent: We’ve been enjoying Ladybird American IPA and Epic Playlist Pale Ale (now in volume 3 flavor!) as we exit the stadium and get into post-game celebration mode. The goals are infrequent, but not the party.
What’s Unique: *Ok, the Circle is still leaving for Elgin, but not completely abandoning Austin. The new site is currently in the foundational stages of buildout, but the original brewery will stay on as a small-batch, experimental operation right off the MetroRail Red Line. That’s plenty visible enough to grab a “walkie” beer on the way to Q2 Stadium.
22 | Family Business
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ NR, NR, 16, 17
What’s New: We’ve been appreciating all the new accounts and larger visibility for Family Business around Austin-proper. That’s important because driving out to Hamilton Pool Rd. from anywhere north of the river IS. A. TREK. Besides, enjoying a Golden Age Pilsner in an urban setting has a sense of place, too.
What’s Consistent: A Family Business’ mainstay lineup is one of the best in the biz, with Cosmic Cowboy American IPA and Hamilton Pale being stylistic 10s. However, Golden Age makes a strong run at being the best prepackaged, midweek, grilling pilsner in town.
What’s Unique: It’s hard to match the vibe of Family Business’ ethereal taproom and beer garden with frequent country/Americana live music bookings. Just be on the lookout for our errant horseshoe tosses.
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ NEW ENTRY
What’s New: A second storefront for this beans/hops juicery recently opened in Leander with a very Starbucks-y nine-minute door-to-door from their other store in Cedar Park. That’s okay – the ‘burbs need nice things, too – but we’ve been craving all of the new experimental stuff going up constantly on the tapwall, like Oranges & Cream Trail Runner Golden Ale, a riff on their flagship beer. We also like that the extra brewing space allows for more to-go packaging.
What’s Consistent: The giant, 20-plus-beer tap wall of Red Horn’s serves a huge spectrum of palatal desires, from the golden ale puritans to the double IPA goblins. All of it has been top quality throughout the brewpub’s six years of service.
What’s Unique: Providing high quality beer and service up north without indulging in Austin’s lecherous need to have everything centralized to its own beer culture has been both necessary and alluring. We need more great beer up north. Way more.
20 | Lazarus Brewing
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ NEW ENTRY
What’s New: This four-year-old, turquoise curio mined right out of the hub of E. Sixth has had an intriguing progression from bar-hopping stopover to destination brewery. An ever-expanding outdoor area and evolving beer program has helped to make Lazarus the best urban beer garden experience in the city.
What’s Consistent: Lazarus’ flagship beer, Prodigal Pils, is one thought to have been inspired by Victory Brewing’s Prima Pils, but stands on its own merit as one of the superstars in the Austin pilsner scene. This crisp cold boi pairs flawlessly with Lazarus’ marvelous tortas, tacos, and enchiladas that fly out of the brewery’s kitchen, a triumph given the competition with Mexican cuisine on the Eastside.
What’s Unique: Yet another Austin-area brewery looking to expand locations, Lazarus will be popping up in North Loop sometime in the near future and looking to replicate their urban beer garden vibes.
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ 14
What’s New: Batch’s new and improved beer garden has a breath of feng shui probably meant to harmonize Batch’s blossoming mixed culture beer program with its airy outdoor aesthetics. Or maybe we’re overthinking that. But now, with a full year under its belt and a dozen interesting beers on the wall, Batch has really dialed into its theme: Boozy Breezy Bakery. Those are three things we like! Azios, an ale co-fermented with Syrah Grapes and Lavender, and Comal Blanc, a wild saison ale with Texas-grown Blanc Du Bois grapes, have been notable standouts.
What’s Consistent: Kolaches! And beer! A very sensible pairing. And apart from all Batch’s new saison-y stuff are the beers that put ’em on the Austin beer map in the first place: hazy IPAs. Shogun Assassin, a juicy brew made with mango and sticky rice, is a beer you can practically eat if you’re still feeling hungry. But that’s only after a half-dozen pours of their inimitable hallmark beer, Sjöfn, a farmhouse ale made from strawberries, lavender, and a single grandmother’s hug.
What’s Unique: Batch is Austin Monthly’s Best of ATX 2021 readers poll winner for Best Kolaches. You’ll need a soft landing after all of those Sjöfns.
18 | The Draught House
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ NEW ENTRY
What’s New: Even though The Draught House is over 2,000 years old, it is still adapting extremely well to current times, particularly in its small-batch, seven-barrel brewhouse which appears to be slinging out as many as 20 house beers at once. Though we love beer bars with guest taps, we appreciate that early-2000s-era Draught House terroir. We’ll take as much of it as we can get! We’ve been especially enjoying Nut Bush ESB (brew a great ESB, get a power ranking!), Guy Smiley English Dark Mild, and Red Planet Red Ale with Rye. They may not be new beers, but they are revitalizing our memories of Draught House’s peak.
What’s Consistent: Draught House beer has always been up to par, but their classic Trophy English Bitter exceeds the desire for just a single pint. It’s comin’ home, baby! Right to our mouths. Pub-owned, onsite food truck Little House provides all the sopping mechanisms for brewer Josh Wilson‘s classic English ales – their pitch perfect fish & chips, in particular.
What’s Unique: Draught House’s uncanny ability to stay embedded in the neighborhood in the era of haughty NIMBY-ism is a testament to how fantastic this brewpub truly is. Every effort should be made to keep this half-century-old beer palace upright.
17 | Hi Sign
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ NR, 15, 13, 15
What’s New: This four-year-old East Austin brewery has improved on its iconic New England IPA, Hi-C, by transforming its thirst-terminating DNA from T-800 to T-1000. Hasta la vista, dry mouth! For its brewing cycle, Hi Sign has shifted Hi-C’s compounds from something far less superior to pinnacle hops, Citra, Sabro, Mosaic, Azacca, Loral, Simcoe, and Cryo. All of that leads to a pillowy smack of mango and stone fruit up front, with a kiss of peachy-citrus Galaxy hops at the end.
What’s Consistent: Violet Blueberry Blonde Ale remains an Austin day-drinking staple, particularly when waiting out Disch-Faulk rain delays over at Sour Duck Market, where the Violet is always a-flowin’. Then again, Hi Sign has always been laser-focused on creating easy-drinkin’, game day beers, especially with another crushable mainstay in El Berto Mexican Lager.
What’s Unique: Hi Sign’s taproom and beer garden has long been an underrated feature of the Austin beer scene, complete with ample elbow room, a smattering of hammocks, plenty of shade, and an occasional eventful buzz of low-budget carriers screaming into ABIA. We’ll miss it when it moves to its larger, more conveniently accessed, Govalle digs sometime in 2022.
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ NEW ENTRY
What’s New: It was an eventuality that (512) would start packaging their classic, OMG-OLDAUSTIN brews for retail, but it practically took the threat of catastrophic financial ruin to give this old-skool brewery the slightest nudge. And look at ’em now! Twelve deep into a bottled beer roster that includes catchy bastards like Helles Lager, Cascabel Cream Stout, Black IPA, and their legendary Pecan Porter.
What’s Consistent: (512) is unabashedly the least flashy brewery in Austin. If this brewery was a head football coach, it would be Bill O’Brien. But that’s what we love about (512). We can count on every bit of beer that leaves the floor to be in top form and tasting perfect by the time it reaches us. Hey, maybe they’re less Bill O’Brien and more Eric Taylor after all.
What’s Unique: (512)’s Pecan Porter is on the Mount Rushmore of Austin beers. That’s it. That's the whole hot take.
15 | Hopsquad
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ 19
What’s New: Hopsquad’s clout has increased by becoming Austin’s unofficial soccer brewery. It's a rightly deserved ego! They rise early for Premier League games over in England and stay late for post-Austin FC celebrations with their own supporters club Los Verdes coming back from the ol’ footy grounds a few blocks away. Their rapid ascent in reputation as The People’s Brewery is only outdone by their developing tap wall, including the Los Verdes collaboration Mexican Lager, Zapatista. They also developed a very crushable, very pregame-friendly michelada recipe. Who else is doing that? No one else, that’s who.
What’s Consistent: Hopsquad’s quality of service is unmatched for a brewery, particularly on overpopulated events, like game day at Q2. Which is good, because when there are too many Verdes keeping us apart from one of our favorite beers in town, Architetto Ruffini Italian Pilsner, we tend to get a bit “CAH MAHN” [pinches fingers in Italian].
What’s Unique: Hopsquad has sort of embraced their cult hero status amongst football fans, hosting pre-match serenades by FC supporters’ band La Murga and semi-regular festivals dedicated to enhancing the Brewery Row football experience. Still waiting on that first Minister of Culture cameo, tho.
14 | The Brewtorium
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ NR, 15, 16
What’s New: An astonishing outcome of the last 20 months of unpredictability and large-scale anxiety was that The Brewtorium actually found a way to, uh, improve their daily German beer hall volksfest, complete with an expanded beer garden and a rotating menu of classic German-style lagers on the big board. One low-key hack before an Austin FC match driving from other parts of the city is to street park on the cul-de-sac; pregame with some dark lagers, soft-baked pretzels, and flammkuchen; then take the rail all the way up to the front door of the stadium. Very Euro. Thank us later with a round of pilsners!
What’s Consistent: Dark lagers are the best play at The Brewtorium, so if you run across co-owner/brewer Chris Rauschuber’s Biscuit Eater ESB, Schwarzengiggles Schwarzbier, Confabulator Dopplebock, or Electric Lederhosen Vienna, to name a few, dump all other ideas you had about IPAs or Hazy IPAs or Black IPAs or Hazy Black IPAs and get some of the best beer available outside of Bavaria. That is the move.
What’s Unique: The Brewtorium are the U.S. Open Beer Championship gold medal winners in the Old Ale category for their beer Old Whistle Britches. The Chronicle also designated the brewery as Best “Dinner for the Kids Too” Brewery being that The Brewtorium provides for abundant breathing room, Honest Kids juices, and a menu that reads like a greatest hits for small, picky humans.
13 | Vista Brewing
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ 11, 12, 11
What’s New: Three years in the biz, and Vista felt like there was still plenty of meat left on the beer garden bone. Then, in the year since the last rankings, Vista went off and opened not one but two new tasting rooms beyond their OG masterpiece in Driftwood. The first new concept is an open-air, great-lawn, live-music beer garden out in Bee Cave, while the second is a more urban, hipster-y warehouse approach just west of downtown San Antonio. All of it is a really creative gradient of ways to enjoy Vista’s top shelf ales. And you know what? Maybe it's time San Antonio got something cool to be proud of, too.
What’s Consistent: Vista is a brewery all about balance. The aesthetics of OG Vista’s polished/unpolished design elements set a mood when visiting the brewery where the narrative is that of a refined, well-executed, and consistent beer program all while in the setting of the rugged, rustic outdoor elements of Hill Country. Its charming as FUCK! Vista’s approach as a destination is cemented with beers worth traveling all the way to Driftwood for – Stonewall lambic-style peach ale, for one, but especially one of our favorite Austin beers, Dark Skies, black “pilsner.” How’s that for symmetry?
What’s Unique: Vista is Austin Monthly’s Best of ATX 2021 winner for Best Outdoor Getaway, which totally plays because Vista is always coquetting with live music and Americana vibes. The brewery was also selected as a national Good Food Award winner for Hive Mind honey ale, an award that takes into account the quality and flavor of the beer as well as local sourcing, sustainability, and socially responsible creation of the product. This is the second consecutive year that Vista has won the award (Stonewall, 2020).
12 | Meanwhile Brewing
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ 13
What’s New: Meanwhile has kicked into galactic gear now that they’ve removed the training wheels from the brewhouse. Week after week is an introduction to finely tuned lagers and well-calibrated hoppy ales. Sometimes they’ll get brash and combine the two, like the hop-forward pilsner Galactic Disruption. But mostly, we enjoy the leafy beer garden through the lens of Meanwhile’s mandate on west coast IPA, given their pedigree. Still yet, Odin’s Hammer Kveik Hazy IPA has been Meanwhile’s standout beer of the year, as far as we’re concerned. We like to move our creaky old bones working off all those Nordic carbs on their on-site mini-football pitch.
What’s Consistent: Though in its infancy, Meanwhile has shined with the quality and consistency of a seasoned beer program, but one should never overlook grabbing a to-go coffee whenever the opportunity presents itself. Which is always. Always grab a coffee.
What’s Unique: Meanwhile are winners of the GABF gold medal in the German-Style Pilsner category for their aptly named beer, Pilsener, while also bringing home a silver medal for their Helles at the North American Beer Awards. Wait, are these Austin’s true Lagerpeople? The townies over at Austin Monthly named Meanwhile Austin’s Best New Brewery in their Best of ATX 2021 issue as well as denoting Dough Boys’ neapolitan pies as Austin’s Best Pizza of 2021. An impressive resume for the year-old brewery.
11 | Southern Heights
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ 9, 9, 7, 9
What’s New: Southern Heights has been tucked away and semi-quiet over the past year, yet clearly busy concocting inventive little stunners like the tropical New Zealand hazy IPA, Waka Taua, that uses notes of pineapple, guava, and passionfruit like a three-card monte. We’ve also enjoyed the fruit-aggressive hazy IPA, Chasin Bunnies, that summons hops Vic Secret, Strata, Simcoe, and Chinook the same way “Dawn” summoned Ric Flair out of the Astrodome tunnel. Feel free to keep focusing on your business over there, Southern Heights, don’t let us bother you.
What’s Consistent: Like many Austin breweries, this operation demonstrates elite skill with the two primary Austin food groups: IPAs and lagers. Tahitian Dreamin’, the brewery’s closest thing to a flagship wall dweller, is a gorgeously constructed hazy that uses Citra, Centennial, Simcoe hops the way Belle and Sebasian use soft drums, gentle piano, and plucky horns. On the lager side, I Just Want a Pils is both a declaration and an appeal. In the face of all these complex ales, sometimes we just need a beer flavored beer, man. Southern Heights can give you that wide world of experience right in their cozy little taproom.
What’s Unique: With each visit to Southern Heights, one can anticipate something imaginative and assertive up on the tap wall since this brewery likes to keep things fresh by rotating their beers often. While unconcerned about mainstays, you might find some of the brewery’s biggest hits getting a shorter cigarette break than others, like Where’s My Flannel Pub Ale and the aforementioned Tahitian Dreamin’. That said, we’re up for a year round post for our favorite stout in Austin, Hoodie Weather.
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ 2, 6, 6, 9, 11
What’s New: My favorite new beer of 2021 is Real Ale’s unfussy little tropical number called Small Victory low-cal IPA. That’s worthy of this entire blurb, but we won’t stop there. It’s a wonderful poolside or pregame beer that turns just the right knobs as far as ABV and flavor are concerned (4% and excellent, respectively). This year, Real Ale made Small Victory a year-rounder and put ’em in canned sixers because they are a kind and just operation. We love any beer that gets a “Swifty pale ale evolution” from “exclusively on tap” to “bottle-only” to “mixed-pack” to “canned-sixer mainstay.” Next year, we’re hoping that their Crispy Business helles gets that Swifty treatment.
What’s Consistent: The brewery is a back-aching 25 years old, for crying out loud. Please don’t retire! Truly, Real Ale is the model for consistency: a brewery that regularly delivers quality brew in a variety of flavors to all Texans alike. And any brewery that brings Hans’ Pils to the masses has a permanent spot on the power rankings as far as we’re concerned. Their coffee porter always keeps a permanent spot on the fall drinking calendar, but we’re still hoping that one day the Phoenixx double ESB will return to our fridges.
What’s Unique: As is an annual tradition, Real Ale took home a Great American Beer Festival medal (silver) in the Scottish ale category for their eternal scotch ale, Real Heavy. They also earned a GABF bronze for their Oktoberfest beer in the German-style Märzen category. A legacy brewery that is still peaking.
9 | Hold Out Brewing
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ 10What’s New: Hold Out’s side gig making great little small-batch one-offs apart from their extraordinary collection of mainstays has been a welcome addition from the year-old brewery. Tiki TV, a cocktail-inspired collab with sister pub Little Brother, uses a hazy IPA base with orange peel, key lime purée, Tahitian vanilla, rum-soaked oak staves, and tiki spices. Oops! All Berries! is a lightly hopped pale ale with titanic amounts of strawberries, raspberries, and vanilla, mimicking that fruity, bottom-of-the-bowl jackpot. And in other charming news, Hold Out sells takeaway “beer flights” in adorable 8-ounce mini sixers. It’s like beer for ants!
What’s Consistent: There are some excellent brewing tandems in Austin: Hold Out’s Brent “Schmitty” Sapstead and Hayden Winkler are one of the best partnerships out there. Together they created an immortal flagship beer in Ol’ Gil Euro Pilsner, which is a professional development seminar on how to annihilate thirst inside a dimpled mug. And now Hold Out is packaging Ol’ Gil in sharp-looking six-packs so that you can get in a little extra learnin’ on the weekend.
What’s Unique: Hold Out was named Best New Brewery by the Best New Brewery Knowers of The Austin Chronicle. Austin Monthly critics also noted in their Best of ATX 2021 poll that Hold Out made some fantastic grub, saying that the best wings in town are made RIGHT THERE.
8 | Oddwood Brewing
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ 10, 10, 8What’s New: “Oil in the boil, dank in the tank.” Oddwood’s brewing tagline denotes the brewery’s signature move: super aromatic and flavorful IPAs using specialized hop resins and oils. It gets deeper than that, of course, but that’s the gist. Sure, go to Odd-wood for the dankass hazies, like Triumph of Venus, but stay for the dad lagers, like the inventive Wolfmobile hoppy oat lager. Oddwood might be bitter on the streets, but it’s crisp and clean between the sheets.
What’s Consistent: Beyond all those IPAs and lagers crowding the tap wall, Oddwood excels at its mixed-culture foeder-aging program. Perfect Strangers, a blonde sour, and Relic Hunter, a tart lager, are just two of many memorable foeders released in 2021. Combined with the strength of their Italian kitchen, Oddwood is a powerhouse dinner date hot spot for people whose favorite film director is Federico Fellini.
What’s Unique: Pool Dad Pilsner is way, way up on the list of Austin’s Best Lagers, which isn’t a real list, but maybe it should be. But don’t sleep on, uh, Asleep in the Deep helles, which would definitely grace that imaginary list as well.
7 | The ABGB
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ 8, 1, 1, 5, 6What’s New: Not much. But due to ambitious lagering, the ABGB continues its streak of six straight appearances aboard our Top 10 rankings. And despite the brewery’s lofty annual ranking, it’s the type of place that couldn’t give less of a crap about exactly a list like this. We salute that mentality! Because all these folks wanna do is listen to a shitload of live Americana on their handsome stage and get a little drunk on cold Pilsners. We’re delighted music has returned to the ABGB stage, which honors the legacy of its original, magnificent curator, Mark Jensen.
What’s Consistent: The ABGB’s “Always” tap list reads like some sort of beer version of the starting sheet for the French national team: Mbappé, Pogba, Kanté, Benzema, Hell Yes helles at right back, Industry Pils in left, Rocket 100 at center. There are eight – eight(!) – GABF medals between that back line alone! And comically still, the talent on the “Sometimes” bench – like Velvet Revolution Czech-style Pilsner and Captain Ivan Drago Russian imperial stout – is as up to the task as second-besters Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud.
What’s Unique: The three-time Brewpub of the Year champs once again graced the stage at last month’s 2021 GABF awards as bronze medal winners for Rocket 100 in the American Pilsner category, by far the ABGB’s most decorated brew. And in a blind panel by industry magazine leaders Craft Beer & Brewing, Industry Pils was rated a rare 100 out of 100 perfect score.
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ 1, 3, 8, 8, 7What’s New: No other brewery in town has a better relationship of faith with their customers than the 24-year-old Live Oak. Which other brewery can resurrect 652 different lager recipes a year from the dustiest corners of the planet and be like, “Look, this is what we made because this is who we are,” and people are like, “Fantastic, we’ll drink it!” Then they go bonkers over it. That’s legitass trust. I trust my mom less than Live Oak. Anyway, it was semi-difficult to keep up with all of their debuts this year because they were so frequent, but Kleines Bier (a light summertime lager), Jiggleproofer (a lemony, herbal Lithuanian wagon lager), and the Putter Blaster Pilsner were instant classics. Live Oak also made pretty much anything they brewed available in takeaway six-packs, including their mainstay promoted, God-tier lager, the Pre-War Pils.
What’s Consistent: Even as Live Oak finds new ways to charm us with European-style lagers, it’s their iconic beers that keep us day sippin’. Few experiences are better in the Austin beer scene than idling away in Live Oak’s leafy biergarten taking big swallows of Big Bark amber lager, or their American treasure Hefeweizen, or their understated, low-ABV, oak-smoked tribute to Western Poland, Grodziskie.
What’s Unique: Live Oak’s Schwarzer Rauch made Bloomberg’s list of the 15 best beers of 2020, which called the brewery “one of the preeminent makers of American smoked beers.” Now that Live Oak has established that they are absolutely committed to making the best lager in Austin, it has been wild to see all the ways in which they can be inventive with such a classically simple brewing method. At least they make it seem easy.
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ NR, NR, 7, 6, 5What’s New: Zilker’s forte is the hazy IPA, and no brewery on Earth worked as hard as these folks to bring you a new freshie practically every week. The roll call is too extensive to print here, but juicy rapscallions like Neon Summer, Over Asking, More Houseplant, and Birthday Sauce were just a very few to be added to Zilker’s extensive roster of delicious hazy babies in 2021. Us, uhh, well, we loved those clears: Killer Light Kölsch, La Beer American Pilsner, and Wunderbier festbier lager, specifically. The new branding looks sharp, too, and Heavenly Daze hazy IPA promoted to a full-timer in cans was a great addition (and need) in the marketplace.
What’s Consistent: Sure, we are astonished by the quantity of Zilker’s beer production but even more amazed that all of that brew is top bin quality. Zilker is consistently pushing out fresh, creative, high-character brew within scooter distance of like 98% of Austin’s disposable-income-ennials. If this is your locale and, in addition to spot-on beer, you can also get some fried bird from on-site food truck heartthrobs Spicy Boys? Well, we’re super jealous.
What’s Unique: The North American Brewers Association decorated Zilker’s Killer Light with a silver medal in the German Kölsch category during this year’s Inter-na-tion-al Beer Awards while the lemme-upgrade-ya Hazy Marco IPA brought home the bronze in the hazy IPA category. That’s a competitive category! Now how about putting it in one of those badass personal 5-liter kegs?
4 | Austin Beerworks
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ 3, 5, 4, 1, 3What’s New: Given access to enough funds, excellent business instincts, a spectacular team of beer industry all-stars, and a floppy disk of stale dad memes, ABW would be how many of us would design our own fantasy breweries. Perhaps the heavyweights over at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport thought that, too, as they re-created an unofficial ABW at the airport called “Beerdrop” (wink, wink), trolling all the sad little shits flying back to Irvine and Cleveland. Well played. As always, there’s never a dearth of action over at the brewery, with an impressive card of small-batch hits released like Pils Junior leichtbier; Pasteur, a French-style lager; and Moonshark black IPA. ABW also upcycled their OG taproom into a footy-themed “Verde Room” where they (gasp!) show live sports (but really only Austin FC matches). In tribute to their new footballing neighbors, ABW released 17 uniquely wrapped cans in collaboration with Austin Anthem to commemorate each home match.
What’s Consistent: ABW’s core beers are great, but have you had all their core beers at once? ABW’s recent and justified release of all its mainstay beers in one variety 12-pack is a reprieve from having to choose just one color from the H-E-B stacks. If you know, you know. Now, we’ll begin to anticipate a variety 12-pack of ABW’s elevated seasonal beers – the city’s best seasonals program – like Super Awesome Lager, all three Einhorn Berliner weisse varietals, and Black Thunder schwarzbier.
What’s Unique: Sure, you’ve had Pearl Snap Pilsner on your couch, but have you thrown your Pearl Snap onto 5,000 of your closest Austin FC supporters section pals? Using all that beer in more creative ways ($$$) has allowed the club to go out and find a No. 9 and a No. 10 so that you can throw more beer when they score. It’s all basic math. Thanks, ABW!
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ 7, 7, 5, 4 4What’s New: With a lengthy tap wall of finely tuned lagers, sours, and IPAs (and a dozen or so packaged beers in the cooler covering the rest of the bases), St. Elmo offers the best on-style beer menu in all of Austin. New to our palates this year was a modernized version of St. Elmo’s first-ever lager, Ponyboy gold Pilsner, using a contemporary, new-world noble hop bill this go-round. We also were introduced to Trinity West Coast hazy IPA, which did what hip-hop couldn’t do: harmonize both coasts into a fire beat. And on our livers’ infrequent recovery days, we enjoyed St. Elmo’s in-house Hop Water concoction in handy portable cans.
What’s Consistent: Is Carl Kölsch Austin’s best beer? It’s impossible to know until we’ve dumped every drop of it into our system, but we’re getting there! Apart from the hectoliters of summertime Carl we’ve been enjoying, we’ve also carved out some room for what we will definitively call the city’s best double dry-hopped hazy IPA, Canopy. And look! Another Spicy Boys truck! You can’t go 10 feet in the town without crushing a Hot Gai.
What’s Unique: The readers of Austin Monthly declared St. Elmo the Best Brewery in their Best of ATX 2021 poll. Meanwhile, St. Elmo’s Yolanda was named the 2021 U.S. Open Beer Championship bronze medalist in the specialty IPA category, while delicious lager items Vaughn German-style Pilsner and Carl brought home bronzes of their own at the North American Brewers Association International Beer Awards. Recently, Craft Beer & Brewing magazine called Carl “one of their five favorite examples of Kölsch worldwide.” Better get back to your Carl before everybody drinks it all.
2 | Jester King
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ 4, 2, 2, 2, 1What’s New: The evolution of Jester King over the past 11 years was like seeing it go from baby Charmander to a fun, plucky Charmeleon. But now, we are witness to JK’s final beastly Charizard form: a powerhouse of a brewery with world-class spontaneously fermented beer, an inimitable biergarten, a working farm with which they grow provisions for their top-shelf rustic restaurant, a wholeass winery, a fucking lodge somehow, a cidery, a live music venue, and, oh, a canned lager and hazy IPA program because, hell, why not?! Early in the ’21, JK even offered a little Easter egg to oldheads in the form of canned OG Black Metal imperial stout, the brewery’s first throwback to the time when they were just punk little shits.
What’s Consistent: “Come for the fruited sours, stay for the line” is a hymnal that most JK fans know well. That’s simply because JK is one of the most recognized wild ale makers on this half of the globe and the anticipation for each beer release is palpable. Bangers like Fēn Táo peach sour, Omniscience & Proselytism strawberry sour, and the perfect-100 Beer Advocate-rated Atrial Rubicite raspberry sour all command lengthy wait times on release days. That’s cool. But we’ve moved on to JK lagers, suckers!
What’s Unique: Jester King graced The Austin Chronicle’s “Best of Austin” awards as the 2021 Critics Pick for Best Free-Range Brewery, noting its “17 drafts and nearly as many wines and ciders [to] wash down the breakfast casserole, pizzas (including vegan and build-your-own), Bavarian pretzels, [and] rye sourdough chocolate chip cookies.” Jester King was also recognized by Craft Beer & Brewing as the “4th Favorite Small American Brewery,” according to their reader-generated poll, while the farmhouse brewery received RateBeer 2020’s award for Best Brewery Tap Room in the U.S., Best Brewery Tap Room in Texas, Best Brewery in Texas, and Best [overall] Beer in Texas for Montmorency vs. Balaton cherry sour.
AC Power Rankings Trend! ▶ 5, 4, 3, 3, 2What’s New: Opening a new storefront practically every year won’t necessarily get you to the very top of our power rankings, but stocking ’em all with top-tier beer most definitely will. Pinthouse Brewing at Ben White, the company’s fourth store, is already running on all cylinders as of print, and we feel confident that once this publishes, there will probably be a fifth, sixth, and seventh store serving the best IPA in the South-west as well. The companywide menu of juicy boys like Thunder World, Pineapple Grove, With Pulp, and the highly coveted Emilio triple hazy IPA demonstrate the brewery’s mastery over the beer style and make it one of the few can’t-miss breweries in town for beer tourists. We also like seeing the slow drip of out-to-market tallboys like Training Bines had this year.
What’s Consistent: Pinthouse thrives on consistency, starting with the city’s most ubiquitous beer, Electric Jellyfish IPA, a beacon of quality at any UT game, low-rent pizza joint, or underground secret warehouse rave in town. But for our money, it doesn’t get much better than a (Joe’s) Magical Pils paired with an Off the Map special pie. We especially prefer the Burg-ler, Pinthouse’s homage to a cheeseburger pizza that we swear you don’t have to be baked out of your mind to enjoy.
What’s Unique: Yep, Pinthouse is this beer columnist’s Best Brewery of 2021. But don’t just ask us. Ask our readers, who also voted it Best Brewery in The Austin Chronicle’s annual “Best of Austin” issue back in May. Likewise, the Statesman skimmers rated Pinthouse as the Best Brewpub in town who made the Best Austin Craft Beer and was, to cap it off, the Best Place to Have a Cold Beer in Austin. Jeez. In a year of high accolades for the brewery, Pinthouse’s Burnet location brought home a silver medal for their lager, Timbo Pils, in the hoppy lager category at last month’s GABF awards. That’s it. We’re calling the match now, Pinthouse. You’re the best!
March 1, 2024
Dec. 15, 2023
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