This was not, by any means, our first trip to Johnson City – a must-visit on any Hill Country tour and the hometown of the one and only LBJ, but with two newish breweries having recently opened in and around the town, we decided a return trip was more than overdue. The town, actually founded by the 36th President’s great uncle in 1879, might be small (it’s population is just over 2,000) but draws in busloads of tourists en route to or from the legendary Texas White House – LBJ’s stunning ranch that sits just minutes outside of town, and an essential part of Texas history. Right now the ranch is unfortunately closed to visitors – not Covid-related, it’s in dire need of repair, although the park and grounds remain open so it’s still worth going out there. Happily we found the many souvenir and antique shops that decorate the rather grand and ornate Blanco County court house were still moderately busy as visitors begin to trickle back into town post-lockdown, which bodes well for the new taprooms. While Johnson City is lovely at any time of year, their Christmas light display around the courthouse and through the square is really special – you just can’t resist getting into the holiday spirit!
Reck Em Right Brewing Company
Located just around the corner from Johnson City’s main square, Reck Em Right is Johnson City’s newest taproom, having opened its doors last October. The space is warm and rustic, with reclaimed wood furnishings, prints by local artists and a small stage, as well as a slim front-facing patio that catches the breeze nicely and allows one the privilege of knocking back a brew or two while admiring LBJ’s boyhood home. Reck Em are well-equipped, with eight of their own beers and a local cider on tap, crowlers to-go and Texas wines available, and although they weren’t serving flights during our visit, we were permitted tasters in specially purchased disposable cups. We enjoyed the warm, smooth Amber Red brewed with Kviek yeast, and both the Day 1 Hazy IPA and Backyard DIPA were decent, if a little on the sweet side for me. Our pick of the bunch was the Catamount Gap Imperial Stout – a dried-fruit-toffee delight that was super-moreish and incredibly light for nearly 10%. I had absolutely no problem putting this away at 4pm in the Texas sun and would happily go back for more. Reck Em is a most welcome new addition to Johnson City’s petite downtown, and its survival through Covid indicates that it’s been a hit with local folks.
Old 290 Brewing Co
Part of the rather fancy Carter Creek Winery Resort, Old 290 is located in a scenic spot just out of town – be careful you don’t miss the turning like we did! When they say Resort, they are not kidding – the positively colonial setup, all rattan recliners and manicured lawns, is a world away from your usual taproom experience. That said, Old 290 is neither pretentious not excessively expensive. Wine is obviously king here with the beer as happy add-on, so you kind of get the best of both worlds – table service in a stunning, opulent environment and solid, decently priced brews. We tried all six of their beers, a most reasonable $2 a pour, and although there were a couple that didn’t quite hit the right note (the pale and the lager), we were impressed with the majority, which stayed simple but on-point. The Back Porch Porter had a lovely creamy milk-stout quality, but it was the Towhead Blonde that was especially outstanding. I usually rail against Blonde Ales so was surprised at how much I enjoyed this one – its sweet, bright touch was tasty enough for me to order a full pint – a mere $5 if you please. The atmosphere was so inviting that we stayed for dinner, although the food wasn’t amazing, especially not by Texas standards – our burgers were small, unseasoned and over-cooked. Nonetheless this is such a lovely place to linger that we will definitely be back – but come thirsty rather than hungry!
Pecan Street Brewing
We’ve visited Pecan Street more times than I can remember, and it’s always great to stop by Johnson City’s original brewpub, a popular, bustling venue in the heart of the town square. Classics like their chewy-hopped Road Devil Red and malty, piney Frontier Justice IPA are a must on any visit into town, but my favourite on this visit was the fruity, boozy Narley Barleywine, a lip-smackin treat that made an excellent finish to our beer-day at a substantial 10.9%. Pecan Street run the full gamut of styles and I’ve enjoyed accomplished brews ranging from the Sunset ESB to the Munich Dunkel and the Judge & Jury Stout in their pretty, flower-filled beer garden, and they can be relied upon for a wide array of choice – on this visit they had 11 of their own beers available plus several guest taps. At $2 for a 5oz pour, beers are also excellent value, and on this visit I did not hold back and sat happily with my six-beer flight til closing. Food, again, is a little average, but does the job if you’re starving. A visit to Pecan Street is very much de rigour if you’re in town, and there’s something here for everyone.