Brew, Still Slaking Thirsts After All These Years

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Choose the beer that's best for you.

It’s not just when the hipsters invade the city at SXSW or when Austin gets voted one of the “top 10 cities to live in” that conspires to make us too boutique, too craft, too anti-them, too super South Austin. It’s a state of mind that keeps popping up that says, “I know better than you know what you should drink.” That’s not to say there isn’t value in having something that only a few people have had or can have, or in having a beautiful cocktail that takes 10 minutes to make, or sharing a bottle of wine that was snuck back over the pond in a suitcase wrapped in sweaters. There certainly is a great value in that experience, but it’s not the only value. I’m writing for the intentionally untrendy. I’m writing just for the sake of slaking a thirst anyway you see fit.

Lately I can’t see the less through the more. In the democracy of technology where I am tagged, profiled, demographically targeted, and invited to become my own online celebrity, where texting has taken the place of conversation, and where everything moves so fast that slow is an adjective for a movement, I wonder if anyone else wants to just grab a good beer sometimes instead of a brand ambassador-stamped, celebrity-endorsed, or limited edition hand-signed bottle?

Throw it in an ice tub or a bath tub; keep it cold and keep it coming; and let me have space, time, and friends to savor it.

There are usually only four ingredients to worry about with beer: grain, water, yeast, and hops. There are ancient myths about who made it first and best: the Chinese, the ancient Egyptian priestesses, or the trappist monks. There are craft beers, local beers, Belgian beers, and dollar beers. And in Austin, Texas, there is a greater density of microbreweries than anywhere else in Texas.

Beer is not any less complex than beverages that might appear more sophisticated– from the number of styles and traditions there are, to the ways to serve and pair, to the strains of yeast that make the wildest flavors and variations. It’s just one of the oldest alternatives for an adult beverage, and the variations on the themes keep getting more interesting.

As in any traditional David and Goliath setup, for the longest time until the early 1990s, the big commercial breweries fought to keep the microbreweries and brewpubs from starting and growing in Texas, so we had a long way to go to catch up with the likes of the formidable Oregon and Colorado. Now we are holding our own in micro and craft brewing.

There are the veteran Central Texas breweries owned and run by Texas brewing legends: Real Ale, Live oak, 512, Independence. If you are interested in learning more or spending time tasting on site, most offer tours–check the websites for days and times.

There is also a great local chapter of home brewers and aficionados (known as the Austin ZEALOTS), where you can become acquainted with the goings on in the Austin beer world and even partake in a beer-a-long, a kind of voluntary apprenticeship and learn-as-you-go for home brewing (www.austinzealots.com). There are 8 to 10 new breweries and brew pubs under construction or that will be under construction soon.

There is the first co-op member-owned brew pub, Blackstar Co-op, that is already being built at the intersection of North Lamar and airport Boule- vard. Thirsty Planet brewery is open with its Buckethead IPA, a hop monster, and also its Yellow Armadillo and Thirsty Goat.

Draught House, Gingerman, Dog & Duck, Scholtz Beer Garden, NXNW, Billys, Opal Divines Freehouse, Lovejoys, 24 Diner, and Flying Saucer all serve a myriad of beers on tap and bottle. NXNW and Billys have cask nights. Frank has an incredible selection of blue collar cans and rare craft and import brews, and Whip In has perhaps the best beer selection in Austin. Sounds like the impetus for a good pub crawl to me. Where’s my bike? Bike pub crawls are easy to find and jump into at beertownaustin.com

 

Shandy

The great European summertime “cocktail” or lunch-time liquid snack: 1⁄2 Wheat beer or Belgian White and 1⁄2 lemonade

Home Brewing

If you want to have a go at a batch of brew: www.austinhomebrew.com the shop moved to North Austin off Metric.

Mead

a beverage made by fermenting honey, but often the honey is mixed with a grain mash, like a beer, and can be spiced or flavored in the same way beer is. Fresh fruit or other sugar sources can take the place of the honey, as in the old Bitter end’s famous Peach Mead–unforgettable.

Lambic Beers

Belgian beers produced from wild, uncultivated yeast said to be found around Brussels. Sometimes fruit is added, often cherries, but not always.

Experiment

After making the wort in the home brewing process, you can use it as a substitute for the sugar in making homemade
ice cream.

Lager Vs. Ale

Lager is not light and ale heavy. The difference is how they are fermented, meaning the temperature and yeast they use and
the way they taste. Lager is usually clean and crisp–zippy. Ale is heavier, nutty, more full bodied. Examples to make sure you can defend yourself from a beer snob or win a pub bet:

Lagers

Bock, Pilsners, steams, Oktoberfest

Ales

Wheat, IPA, stout, Porter, Barley wine, White beers

Cask Ale

Delicious brew served unfiltered right from the cask without the addition of Co2 (carbon dioxide) beyond the natural gas produced as a by-product of fermentation. Many local breweries have cask nights or parties: check Billys and NXNW.

Hops

Small flowers of the hop plant that look like minty light green pine cones. They are the flavoring agent in beer and are used to add bitterness to balance beer’s sweetness. Noble hops are the four varieties grown in Central Europe that are less bitter than New World hops and are highly aromatic.

 

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