The brewpub scene in Austin has seen its ups and downs over the 15 years since legalization, with a particularly low point being the murder of the pioneering Waterloo Brewing back in 2001. Apparently the tavern/church ratio isn't as favorable to pubs as it is in Oregon, and entrepreneurs tend to start small breweries instead of brewpubs: Real Ale, Live Oak, and Independence are quality craft brewers in Central Texas with a good distribution to finer establishments.
On my latest trip to Austin, I paid my first visit to a relatively new brewpub -- about a year old -- Uncle Billy's Brew and Que on Barton Springs Road. It's a welcome development to see a brewpub open south of the river. The place has a great atmosphere, most of the front open to the street, and a huge patio out back with its own bar. The house beers when I was there were:
- Back 40 Blonde
- Haystack Hefe
- Organic Amber
- Ax Handle Pale
- Bitchin' Camaro
- Bengal Bout Stout
On Sunday, while we waited for the Draught House to open, Lance and I checked out the Flying Saucer -- not a brewpub, but a recently-opened beer bar. I have a built-in bias against corporate chain pubs like this, but I'll give the Flying Saucer credit for one thing: our waitress was friendly and could converse intelligently about the beers. That doesn't always happen at chain places -- Henry's Tavern and Rock Bottom, I'm looking at you -- so kudos to the Saucer for that. The beer list is certainly large, a couple hundred beers, with 50 or 60 on tap. But it's a tour de force, there's something soulless about the selection. Only a single Lagunitas, the bottled IPA? Only Full Sail Session stubbies and a couple of Rogues to represent Oregon? Come on, you can get three flavors of Widmer in the grocery store in Austin. Even the regional selection was a little thin: for instance, only two Saint Arnolds, and none of the new Shiner recipes. Sure they've got Hoegaarden, but why not make the local connection and also serve the resurrected Celis White, or Pierre Celis' Grotten Brown? The bright spot was that they did have a good selection from Real Ale; I enjoyed the Phoenixx Double ESB, it was fruity and malty and just slightly bitter.
After the Flying Saucer, Lance and I headed to Billy's on Burnet (that's prounounced "burn it" for you non-Austinites, not "burr net"). I applaud this trend of naming pubs after me; Austin is bully for Billy. I'm pretty sure there's no direct relationship between Uncle Billy's and Billy's on Burnet . Billy's is the latest brainchild of Billy Forrester, who also had a hand in Waterloo Brewing and the Dog and Duck. No confusing Billy's with a corporate chain, it has a relaxed, unpolished atmosphere. There are about 20 beers on tap, mostly locals plus a few wimpy downstream brews for the unlearned. There's a couple of dartboards and a pool table inside, but the weather was perfect for the outside picnic tables, so we headed out there, where I sipped on a tasty Live Oak Big Bark Amber. If you're hungry, Billy's greasy-spoon fare has a good reputation among the, er, greasy-spoon cognoscenti.
Although I didn't make it to the North by Northwest brewpub on this trip, it bears mentioning as another good beer spot in Austin. It's more of a restaurant than a pub, but if you are in the northwest part of town it's definitely worth a visit. Still, if I could make only one stop in Austin, it would be the Draught House every time.