Tapping the Texas Craft Brewers Festival
Eric Puga answers your burning questions about the local beer fest
Despite what feels like a lifetime of uttering, "OK, let's just get on with this shit" in 2017, it's only been a year since we last emptied our reader mailbag to address questions about Texas' best beer party: The Texas Craft Brewers Festival. Presented by the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, this year the bash falls on Saturday, Sept. 30 at Fiesta Gardens. Let's answer your burning inquiries about the region's showcase of beer so local you can taste the localness!
Reader Mail: I went to this festival last year. What's new that I can Instagram, so I don't tweet the same post twice to Facebook?
Austin Chronicle: Nice! A beer fest veteran. Well, you should know that the TCBG realizes that an intrepid consumer such as yourself is prepared to register his or her instant delight or disgust to social media within 12 seconds of entering the festival grounds. This is why the guild works so diligently to keep this festival fresh and innovative, yet consistent with the most exciting elements from years prior. This year, the festival will feature the largest number of breweries since the festival's inception in 2003: sixty-eight booths serving nearly 200 beers. Remaining true to its ideology, the TCBF features only breweries from the Great State, and as the number of breweries grow in Texas, so does the number of festival entrants.
Some of the newcomers include: Altmeyer & Lewis from San Marcos, Lorelei Brewing from Corpus Christi, Pegasus City Brewery from Dallas, and the long-awaited TCBF debut from local deities Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co., who are coming in hot with two "sometimes" beers in Sassy Tugboat IPA (with a proprietary dry-hopping blend!) and Velvet Revolution pilsner. As any beer fest vet knows, nothing pairs better with sweat and Chacos than a pilsner.
After a multi-year rock hiatus, TCBF will once again feature live music – because any festival without music and ass-clapping is boring and limp. You see the way those Germans beer fest? It's like they won a World Cup every damn day in October. Music whisperer DJ GrossYall will be on hand to whip everyone into a froth before the live acts take to the mic.
RM: For years, IPAs were the big beer festival trend. Then it was those brick-hittin' bourbon barrel-aged stouts. What will be the trend for this year?
AC: While IPAs and big barrel-aged beers will always have a seat in the business-class section of every beer festival on the planet, sour beers are showing up in earnest worldwide. Such is the trend at TCBF, where sour ales will be showcased. Tart royalty – Jester King and Blue Owl – will, naturally, be on hand, but so will several other breweries who enjoy experimenting with the wildlings: Austin Beerworks' Latin Words tart brett beer, Zilker's Chaos Magic blackberry sour, and the Collective Brewing Project's Cup o' Beer Japanese gose (brewed with ramen noodles, lime zest, ginger, lemongrass, and Japanese sea salt cured in seaweed). They may have even mashed in their own bong water, but we didn't see it on the media sheet so we can't be certain.
By the way, you will inevitably come across something called a Northeast IPA, or as the Calvinists called it, a New England IPA. That will be next year's festival beer-of-the-nanosecond, but right now they're just flying economy plus. Engage these temperamental bastard beers with caution as brewers are still experimenting with their skill at them, and the quality ranges from Chris Berman to Bob Costas. That said, anything Northeast IPA or otherwise from Pinthouse Pizza is worth diving in tongue-first.
RM: What are some underrated breweries I should be looking out for at the festival?
AC: Yes! A ratings task just for me! Who doesn't love poring through the steadfast opinions of a singular individual? No one, I say! If St. Elmo Brewing Co. is anywhere outside of your top 10 favorite Texas breweries, then you are drinking beer wrong. I would recommend their classic interpretations while at the festival, including their heat-slaying Carl kolsch. Round Rock's Red Horn Coffee House & Brewing Co. often gets overlooked by Austinites based on proximity alone. They have true talent at the brewery, and bring to the festival a stout that incorporates their two in-house features, uppers and downers. Last Stand with their Citra SMaSH IPA is worth saving a ticket for and the recently resurrected Celis white will take you back to prom night 1992, which may or may not get you ass-clapping to Styx.
RM: Has the craft beer bubble burst yet?
AC: Nope. At least not in Texas. This festival sold out in advance the last three years, and it's expected to again this year, so grab your $35 GA ticket ASAP (which includes a commemorative tasting cup and eight 3-oz. beer sample tickets). Beyond that, craft beer is smack dab in its post-snob form. Core and mainstay beers are not only doing the task of keeping the lights on with the strength of enormous brand loyalty, but bringing the more casual partakers over from the light lager realm with consistent legacy beers. All those special, one-off beers are great, but it's the pillar beers that are the backbone of the industry right now. It's not difficult to observe that the breweries who focus on this aspect are amongst the most revered in the industry, including festival stalwarts Live Oak Brewing, Real Ale, and Saint Arnold. Plus, you know, people are even willing to drink bacteria-inoculated sour beers and pay a premium for it at this point. There is almost nowhere craft beer wants to take us that we aren't willing to go as consumers. Just check out the special rotating tap list that TCBF is offering as a glaring example.
RM: Wait, there's a "special rotating beer" list?
AC: Yep! And we're grateful that you asked that fortuitous question, dear reader! The full list of rotational one-off beers can be seen online at austinchronicle.com/daily/food. It is one of the features that truly sets this beer festival apart from the others, and one of the obvious signposts that the breweries participating truly care about the viability of the TCBF and not just faking heartfelt delivery like some kind of Adam Levine jackass. Sure, a brewery can stuff a couple of brewer assistants in the back of a windowless Econoline and send them along with promotional kegs of their taproom IPA at minimal expense, but not these Texas brewers. You can tell everyone takes this party seriously by delivering neat plot twists to their festival beer lineups. You may see a core beer here and there, but for the most part, the breweries want to sell you on their brand by impressing you with their talent. Then you can go to the market and pick up all their core beers for your Settlers of Catan game night.
All that's left to do is pick your favorite emoji ahead of the festival so you don't miss your 12-second window of oversharing.