Since lockdown ended, our out-of-town brewery adventures have taken on something of a hallowed status. Absence has, indeed, made the heart grow fonder. The sudden, unexpected loss of the ability to get out on the road at any given moment has created a new sense of immediacy, a need to get out and go everywhere we want to go, no more hesitation or procrastination, and to live within every minute of each trip, to take nothing for granted. Our woeful lockdown hand-wringing over missed opportunities due to laziness and complacency has fired us up with vim and vigour not seen since our first heady months of living in Texas, when we were permanently giddy over the very fact that we had actually made it here and literally tried to go everywhere at once. Salado and Belton have been on our list for a while, and both are a relatively short drive from Austin – in Texas terms pretty much right on our doorstep in fact. Hopping into the car and heading up north, we arrived into Salado so quickly that it didn’t really feel like a road trip per se. Not that this is a bad thing – it’s great to discover new easy escapes from the city, and both Belton and Salado have proper Texas small town ambience, with Salado Creek and Nolan Creek respectively running through their centres. With just a 15 minute drive between the two, it’s easy to visit both Salado and Belton in an afternoon, even for late starters like us.
Barrow Brewing, Salado
Barrow have a truly enviable set-up in the centre of cute, picturesque Salado – a simple taproom with a generous beer garden and a wide expanse of green space leading straight into the creek. With several food trucks (although you can bring your own picnic) and a monopoly on creekside libations, Barrow have everything you need in one place for a glorious afternoon relaxing by the water. The creek is shallow and clear, and sitting on its shaded bank, beer in hand and feet in the water, feels positively idyllic. Unfortunately due to Covid-19 flights were not available during our visit, but both the Mystery of the Deep DIPA and Detour Dunkel were yummy enough that a full pint did not go amiss – the DIPA firm, fragrant and floral and the Dunkel smooth and sweetly malty. I also really like their punchy, persimmon-forward Farm to Market Saison, and look forward to trying more beers on a return visit. Barrow is a place to spend time. In fact, time almost seems to slow down as you combine a taproom visit with a swimming-hole trip – fresh, cool draft beer as you laze in the fresh, cool water. Oh my, they have it good in Salado. With live music to keep you busy as the sun goes down and 12 draft beers (and a spiked seltzer!) to choose from, there is plenty to stick around for. Barrow isn’t the cheapest taproom around, but not bank-breaking either, and its unique setting alone makes it worth a few extra dollars.
Bold Republic Brewing, Belton
A short journey north of Salado lies chilled college town Belton, larger and busier than Salado but still very local and relaxed. Most of the modern mid to upscale bars and restaurants are clustered around the creek, but the centre is just a few blocks square so you’re never far from anything. Bold Republic is just a short walk from the waterfront, with a simple café-style taproom and plenty of shaded picnic tables on neat astro-turf outside. We arrived mid-way through Bold Republic’s second anniversary shindig and it was obviously the place to be. A jolly mix of students and families were kicking back, enjoying the fun live music and ‘famous’ home-made chilli dogs along with a great selection of in-house brews. Our top pick was the spicy-moreish Jalapeno Cream Ale – warm, bright and super-crushable at just 5.9%. We couldn’t resist bringing a crowler of this lil beauty home with us, and I will be checking their social media for future releases. I was also very keen on the William Shakes-Pear – an interesting perry-graf hopped with pear cider – something we hardly ever come across here in Texas. I personally think perry is highly under-rated and miss Brothers’ monumental version terribly, the mainstay of so many Glastonbury adventures, so this was a most welcome treat for me! Much more tart and dry than Brothers, it still really hit the spot and weighed in at a respectable 6.2% – more please. The 5th Coast and Island Time IPAs both went down nicely, although the Grand Cru didn’t live up to expectations. Pricing was varied, seemingly ABV-dependent, with the majority of brews costing $6.50 or less, making it affordable if not super-bargainous. We did indulge in a chilli dog, and I have to say that I was impressed – famous or otherwise, a visit would not be complete without sampling the sweet n spicy meaty goodness. The good beer and friendly atmosphere kept us lingering til closing, and I have no doubt we’ll be back in town again soon.