February 10, 2013
Five years ago, I pissed off Texans during an Austin trip by claiming that Texas beer wasn’t all that great. Maybe minutes after I blogged from our hotel room, angry comments began appearing. After our recent trip to Austin a week ago, I can say that there is more Austin beer to choose from than five years ago, that there is good and interesting Austin beer, but that, overall, Texas still is not up to par with other areas.
And I say that point as someone who was excited to revisit Austin after so many new beer places have opened. On my agenda was Black Star Coop (which we visited) and if possible, Hops and Grains (which we didn’t), Whole Foods for shopping (which we did) and maybe Central Market as well for shopping (which we did, but which, despite a decent selection, has no good beers to have on its patio). We showed up to Draught House at 2 in the afternoon, three hours before opening. Texas law doesn’t seem conducive to regular hours or serving food with beer (in some cases). Food and normal hours are usually a pre-requisite for me when travelling. I’m not interested in waiting until 5pm.
During this Austin trip, I have not yet pissed off Texas beer nerds (we’ll see). But I did piss off Texas Facebook friends (including my mostly Texan wife) by saying Tex-Mex isn’t good food. Dry rice and refried beans don’t make a culinary experience. I find the whole Tex-Mex approach to cooking baffling. A mound of unseasoned food with cheap cheese or jarred products used. Tex-Mex is not Mexican, of course, nor is it necessarily indicative of other Texas fusion ideas, like the idea that barbecue is really brisket (an idea I totally support). And while Tex-Mex puts me off completely, Texas beer does not. I am not anti-Texas. That’s right, as Lyle Lovette, might say. I am not from Texas whether it wants me or not. But I’m not against the state that reaches triple digits in temperature in the summer or that thinks Lone Star is a local beer.
A list, from my Ratebeer page, of what I sampled in Austin.
And where is the Jester King? We get Jester King in Kentucky, and I already know and like Jester King, so I didn’t seek them out. I did, however, buy a bottle of RU-55 at Central Market, only because I’ve never seen it around here.
The biggest and most pleasant surprise was the Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap I had in the Whole Foods bar. That’s right: Whole Foods bar. I’m not a Whole Foods fanboy (though I like John MacKey for all kinds of reasons). But I love the idea of a Whole Foods bar. Our Whole Foods in Lexington will serve you a pint from one of four taps behind the cheese counter or fill a growler, but there’s no bar. This Whole Foods, in the chain’s flagship store that is as big as a Macy’s and that has a shopping cart escalator as well as a chocolate fountain, has a bar. My biggest letdown of the trip might have been Adelbert’s Scratchin Hippon, a 750 cork and caged bottle that looked attractive and intriguing on the Whole Foods shelf, but lacked any real character or flavor.
These purchased bottles were consumed in the hotel in the evening when our eating extravaganza was over. There is nothing like chilling a beer in a hotel bathroom ice bucket, and then snapping a blurry iPhone picture as evidence of one’s evening indulgence. For a married couple on the road in Austin without their kids, you’d think we’d take advantage of the opportunity and be out all night in my wife’s favorite town listening to blues rip off bands or indie bands unknown to anyone over 40 (such as me). Nope. We tend to opt for a 750 cork and caged bottle chilled in a hotel bathroom ice bucket.
Even more evident of my lack of enthusiasm for much of Austin’s beers are my few iPhone pictures. Black Star Coop, above, may not have wowed me with the beer, but the fish and chips was very tasty. Both Black Star and Hopdoddy, below, ask you to wait in line to order, sit, and wait for your food. At Black Star, with no table service, this means that when you want another beer on a fairly busy Friday night, and you look up at that line stretching out the door, you might be less inclined to have another beer. Hopdoddy, to its credit and tasty $12 burger, had only Texas beers on tap.
Austin people, don’t hate me. You still have a cool, if not traffic heavy, city that my wife dreams of living in once again. And you have a Whole Foods with a bar, a culture devoted to eating tacos for breakfast (can’t go wrong there), and a city where food trucks are everywhere (if I weren’t so full, I would have eating at either the dosa food truck or the venison in a cone food truck on Congress). All of these points are worth our admiration. You have a lot of beer choices, but soon, hopefully, the quality will match the quantity.