Islla St Brewing have thrown out the rulebook, and this is 100% a good thing. One of San Antonio’s newest microbreweries, Islla opened its doors in January and was an immediate hit with their bold, experimental, culinarily orientated beers, brewed using locally sourced ingredients. Islla’s innovative flavour combinations, oft-inspired by Mexican-American sweets, fruits and spices, are a beery breath of fresh air, an inspiring taste of the diverse cultural heritage of the San Antonio region. Tamarind, coriander, toasted coconut, palm sugar, chamoy, Mexican Guava, horchata, epazote and tarragon are among the ingredients to be found in the Islla St oeuvre, and their small-batch production model means that you’re likely to find a new palate-tickling delight or two from visit to visit.
Islla’s owners, brothers Josh and Joaquin “J.D.” Peña, have conceptualised the brewery around their family history and culture. The name Islla St originates from the location of their beloved grandfather Ricardo Peña’s home in Corpus Christi, with the delightful baby-blue taproom interior also styled after the house. Our most recent visit on a Sunday afternoon found Islla St bustling with local beerfolks and a menu so enticing it was essential to sample all of it, of course it was. How could I resist the prospect of a Blue Raspberry Lemonhead Sour?! The Bluli Gurriel arrived with a raspberry on the side and a lemonhead sour at the bottom – the combination was addictively moreish, not to mention the appeal of the enticing blue-green colour, this was a total winner. I also loved the gorgeous Pumpkin Suavecito, a sweet-savoury pumpkin-pie dream served with a generous dollop of creamy carjeta along the side of the glass. Islla St do, in fact, serve several of their beers with foodie addendums, a precise, careful detail I absolutely love. The Saved Pie The Bell Milkshake IPA came with marshmallow syrup toasted against the glass, and we’ve tried their flagship Chola Blonde with sides of tamarind jam and tamarind liquorice – brilliant stuff. This concept of beer-food pairing as a regular feature of the beers rather than a special event or activity is one I’ve not come across anywhere else but I really hope catches on.
The practice of incorporating local gastronomic and cultural heritage into brewing beer is already common in Texas, with breweries like Aldstadt and Live Oak taking on the traditional German styles of early Texan immigrants and Roughhouse and Jester King brewing with ingredients farmed or foraged on their own land. Islla St’s celebration of their Hispanic heritage and cuisine is both importantly reflective of San Antonio’s diverse community and deliciously enjoyable to imbibe. The young, blossoming San Antonio beer scene has less rigidity than other, more established environments, and hopefully Islla St’s success will lead to more fusion-experimental breweries, both here and elsewhere. I for one intend to be here rather frequently indeed.