We were really excited for this event and came back to Austin early so that we wouldn’t miss it, as we were super-psyched to get our hands on beers from some of the many far-flung and little-distributed Texan breweries that aren’t readily available even in Austin. Texas is a huge state, and we regularly travel through small towns where the local brewey taproom is the equivalent of the English village pub – where everyone’s hanging out, day or night. While Austin has more than its share of outstanding breweries, we were really hoping for a glimpse beyond the city and into these unsung local heroes. Sadly, while we had some great beers from breweries we know and love, overall we were a little disappointed. We arrived at the festival shortly after the advertised opening time of 2pm, and in what we’re increasingly realising is local convention, there was already a stupendous queue.
Fortunately it did move quickly, assuaging some of our initial misgivings, and once we were inside queues were minimal for everything except the time-released beers, and even these moved relatively quickly, with most lasting well beyond their allotted half hour.
It was an overcast and rainy day, unusual for September in ATX, but this was undoubtedly for the best as the shaded area provided was under a metal canopy that became uncomfortably hot the moment the sun peeked out and would have been unbearable on a regular Autumn day. We were also slightly befuddled by the site-umbrella ban, which prevented us from providing our own cover against both rain and sun. I’m still trying to figure out how much damage I can actually do with an umbrella, I’m sure my high heels are more dangerous but let’s not give them ideas.
Most of the 60-odd breweries present showcased a mix of their core range and seasonals, meaning there was plenty for both locals and out-of-towners, and the timed release of specials and rarities provided a well-organised and orderly focus for those like myself seeking out something a bit different. Yes, we were a bit disappointed that the majority of the breweries present hailed from Austin, but the time-released specials went a reasonable way towards mediating our sense of having paid for something we can get on a regular basis.
One of the absolute highlights was the Spotzel Balcones barrel-aged Marzen – what a combination of flavours, and so rare to find a Marzen that’s been barrel-aged, never mind with one of my favourite bourbons. Austin Beerworks also pulled it out of the bag with the latest addition to their outstanding Heavy Machinery series, a gloriously dank and sticky DIPA. NXNW also shone with the sweet, juicy mango version of their popular Zombie Dragon IPA, and the lovely Freetail Brewing’s La Muerta 2017 rum barrel aged imperial stout was decadently rich and boozy. I was also a big fan of the Tupps DHH IPA series 3, which they have now very sensibly released in cans.
Food choices were above the usual beer festival standard, with local favourites including Four Brothers Arepas, offering decently priced good quality fare, handy as Fiesta Gardens isn’t super-close to many other eating options. Entertainment didn’t feel like the organisers’ top priority, with super-cool local indie-punk band Lola Tried completely wasted in a slot at about 3pm, music at lowish volume and just the one stage under the hot metal roof. This was really different to our other beer festival experiences in Texas where local music and often arts and crafts have been seamlessly integrated to create more rounded events with a wider appeal.
While we appreciate that they wanted to keep the focus on the beer at this event, it was a shame they didn’t feel able to have a little more going on in parallel. This may or may not have been related to the very short running time of the festival – just 4 hours for general admission ticket holders, which seems a little restrictive having paid $35, and made us feel under pressure to cram in everything we wanted as fast as possible. Again, this isn’t something we’ve experienced in Texas before, with most festivals and brewery parties lasting all day and often into the night, for the same cost or less. The only plus side of this was that it gave us the chance to hit up some fabulous beers at the Craft Pride after party!
If, dear reader, you are thinking that I shouldn’t be complaining about stuff that I could and in some cases did establish well in advance of the festival, you make a fair point. Nonetheless, if there’s a large craft beer festival on your front door, you’re honour-bound to check it out at least once, especially if you spend most of your time traversing the city and the state seeking these events out. For visitors, this is an excellent opportunity to check out the great and good of the Austin craft beer scene in one easy (if brief) trip, with a few other breweries thrown in for good measure. For beer-savvy Austinites it’s a chance to hob-nob with your own, to see and be seen, and to get your lips round some special editions that will make your mates jealous. It was great to meet and catch up with beer friends, try some cool new stuff and yeah, basically I just love being at a beer festival, but it really should be known as the Austin Beer Festival, as that is what it is.