Monday, February 7, 2011

The State of Craft Beer in Texas - Part 2, San Antonio

We recently flew down to the San Antonio and Austin area to attend a conference and look for rental homes for our impending move.  I also took advantage of the trip to scout out the beer scenes in both cities. I am somewhat familiar with the Austin beer scene from frequent trips for SXSW and ACL Festival.  On the other hand, the San Antonio beer scene was entirely new to me.

We started off with cheap oysters and beers for happy hour at Luke - a new restaurant along the Riverwalk from New Orleans chef John Besh.  Luke opened just before the new year and has received great reviews for both the food and impressive beer selection.  The taplist featured numerous TX craft beer options as well as some national and import choices.  They also have an extensive bottle selection including several Belgians.  I had been hoping to visit new San Antonio brewery & distillery Ranger Creek, which hosts weekly tours on Saturday.  However, the tour was early (before we arrived) on this particular Saturday.  As luck would have it, Luke had two Ranger Creek beers on tap.

I started with the Oatmeal Pale Ale which had a subdued citrus hop aroma.  The subtle oatmeal comes through and helps accentuate the malt flavors.  A nice flavorful pale ale.  It was the Mesquite Smoked Porter that really shined and just killed in combination with the oysters. A perfect balance of smoke and chocolate.  It was so good, I returned to Luke a few days later for another dose of oysters and Mesquite Smoked Porter!  Later in the week in Houston, I was able to sample a third beer from Ranger Creek - La Bestia Aimable.  This Belgian dark strong ale is a boozy treat with strong tastes of pit fruit.  A successful and adventurous beer from such a young brewery.  Well done.

Sunday we ventured to the Northern outskirts of town to watch the NFL playoffs at Freetail Brewing Co.  Open since November 2008, Freetail has been making a name for itself by creating a wide range of well crafted beer.  Owner/brewer Scott Metzger is also spearheading the movement to change the stifling beer laws in the current TX legislature (as I detailed in Part 1 and Scott chronicles on his blog).  We started off by sharing two taster trays, which allowed us a taste of all 10 beers on tap.  The beers included standards such as a pale ale, golden, amber, and IPA; as well as a few more adventurous beers like an old ale, doppelbock, black IPA and a chili infused lager. 

All the beers were above average (I exclude the amber which I didn't care for but I never care for ambers) and a few were standouts.  The Old Bat Rastard old ale/winter warmer is a nice full bodied beer with caramel/toffee malt flavors overlying some fruitiness.  Very nice.  The black IPA was very well done also.  We had a great time watching football, drinking beer and eating pizza.  I look forward to returning to Freetail Brewing in March.  I also look forward to scoring some bottles from their exclusive bottle release from this past weekend - Old Bat Rastard, Barrel Aged OBR, and Fortuna Roja (barrel aged pickly pear wild ale)!

The next stop in San Antonio was The Friendly Spot. This funky icehouse is located in the King William district, which is probably the most Portland-like area of San Antonio.  Situated less than a mile from the Riverwalk, this long up and coming neighborhood features all of the telltale signs:  a little sketchy, old Victorian homes in various stages of restoration mixed with gentrified new housing, funky independent shops/restaurants/bars, and a contemporary arts complex.  The Friendly Spot is a similar funky mix of craft beer, BMC drinkers, bikers, cyclists, families, and sports fanatics.

Two bars - one inside a small shack, one outside - spill out onto the sprawling patio that includes lawn chairs, tables, bar stools, a music stage, and a giant projection screen for movies, football and their beloved Spurs.  There is even a playground in the front corner.  The best part is that all of this mixes seemlessly and everyone is having a good time.  Grab a chair and a warm Mexican poncho if the weather is brisk!  I was enjoying another Ranger Creek OPA while watching sports next to a table of leather clad Mexican bikers pounding the $1 Lone Stars and laughing up a storm.  It was fantastic. 

The craft beer selection includes Texas allstars like (512) Brewing, St. Arnolds, Real Ale, Ranger Creek alongside larger breweries such as Stone, Sierra Nevada, etc...The only negative is the use of plastic cups.  Regardless, I could see bringing the family here and enjoying some good beer while the kids run around the playground on a warm spring day.

The final stop in San Antonio was Blue Star Brewing Company for lunch.   It is located in the back of the Blue Star contemporary arts complex and has a great deck overlooking an adjacent greenspace and stream.  We didn't explore the beer options much as there was not much on tap that day.  Regardless, the sun was shining, the chicken fried steak and green chile stew were delicious and the stouts we drank hit the spot.  I do not have much of a clue to how the rest of the beers taste (not the greatest reviews on Beeradvocate) but it is worth a stop for a beer on the patio on a nice sunny day.

All in all a great time in San Antonio.  Freetail and Ranger Creek are working hard to earn San Antonio and all of Texas a better reputation in the craft beer community.  They still have a lot of work to do though.  Besides the restaurant Luke, it was near impossible finding a decent beer along the Riverwalk.  If you know where to look though, there is great beer to be had in San Antonio.

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