Lee Nichols' Top 10 Austin/Texas Craft Beer Happenings
2011 through the eyes of a beer-loving Austinite
1) Pro-Brewer Legislation Failed ... Again For the third straight legislative session, microbrewers tried to change Texas' laws forbidding them from selling their product on the premises of their breweries, but the third time wasn't the charm. And this year, brewpub owners sought the opposite right: to sell their brews off-premises. Someday, perhaps our "pro-business" lawmakers will unshackle the beer business in Texas.
2) And So the Brewers Tried the Courtroom Route Failing to change the law under the dome, Jester King Craft Brewery, along with Zax Restaurant & Bar and distributor Authentic Beverages, took the state to court. Besides the on-/off-premises laws, they also challenged laws forcing brewers to arbitrarily label anything under 4% alcohol as "beer" and anything over 4% as "ale." Jester King lost on the premises laws, but they did get the labeling laws – as well as laws forbidding them from saying where their beers can be purchased – overturned. ."
3) New Breweries Congrats to Austin Beerworks, Circle Brewing Co., Twisted X Brewing Company, and Hops & Grain Brewery for evolving from homebrewers' dreams to actual businesses and getting their products into stores and/or bars. (And to Black Star Co-op on reaching its first anniversary in style.) And 2012 holds the promise of even more new ventures taking flight.
4) The Texas Craft Brewers Festival Returned This on-again, off-again event was definitely on this year. Held in September at Fiesta Gardens, it was bigger and better than ever. While it may not be anywhere near a Great American Beer Festival or an Oregon Brewers Festival, it was a great coming-of-age moment for Texas' craft-brewing industry.
5) So Did Austin Beer Week Because a one-day festival just isn't enough. For the second straight year, this weeklong celebration of good beer – including some innovative, one-off brews – spread itself across the city, kind of like a South by Southwest for beer.
6) So Did Rahr & Sons Brewing Company In the great 2010 snowstorm, this Fort Worth brewery's roof collapsed, temporarily putting it out of business and off store shelves. A year later, Rahr is healthier than ever with more products, more distribution, and a 10,000-square-foot event space for weddings, brewery tours, and the like.
7) Great American Beer Festival Medals Speaking of the Great American Beer Festival, Texas beers brought home four medals this year. Congrats to Dallas' Humperdinks Restaurant & Brewery, Austin Beerworks, Uncle Billy's Brew & Que Lake Travis, and North by Northwest Restaurant and Brewery.
8) Convenience Stores Became Craft Cool Okay, this one's actually been building for a while but seems to have reached critical mass this year. The little Stop 'n' Robs finally realize there is more to the world than Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coors Light, and some have selections that compete with the superstores (see "Beer Convenience," June 24, 2011).
9) 'Austin Beer Guide' Launched You know your beer scene is coming along when it has its own magazine. www.austinbeerguide.com.
10) Pierre Celis, R.I.P. The veteran brewer famous for saving the witbier ("white beer") style at Belgium's Hoegaarden brewery in the 1960s later moved to Austin and helped kick-start the Texas craft beer scene. Celis passed away April 9, 2011, at age 86.
Lee Nichols blogs about beer at www.i-love-beer.blogspot.com.