Monday, March 17, 2008

The Draught House, Austin

I found myself in Austin last weekend, not for the South by Southwest festival, but for a friend's wedding. A wedding on Leap Day, another on the Ides of March... I wonder why none of my friends is getting married on April Fool's Day or 9/11. The wedding was lovely, and it was great to visit old friends and fortify myself with Tex-Mex food and a dip in Barton Springs. It was also great to sit outside on a breezy spring day and drink some beer. My friend Lance took me on a Burnet Road pub crawl that ended up at my favorite Austin pub, the Draught House.

It's been a respectable beer bar for decades, but I didn't start going there until the late '90's. A change of ownership had required the new owners at that time to change the name, so they swapped one letter on the sign and called the place the Draught Horse. When they changed the name back to the original "House" a few years ago, it completely flummoxed me, and if I want to invite someone to go there, I just have to say both names because I can't seem to remember which name is current.

It was during the Horse era that they started brewing their own beers, and our regular Austin Pub Night was Thursdays, when the horse -- er, house brews were just $1.75 for a 22 ounce hefeweizen glass. How's that for an honest pint? It was a pleasant 2-mile bike ride through the neighborhood for me, then we would drink our beer out in the parking lot with dozens of other tailgaters because the pub itself was so smoky. This was real craft beer, endearingly inconsistent. Sometimes it was amazingly good, other times embarrassingly bad. But in the bad times, the Draught Horse offered a safety net that I haven't seen at any other brewpub: sixty guest taps. Good ones, lots of classic imports: a couple Paulaners, two or three Spatens, and Newcastle, to name a few.

Things change, of course, but many of the changes at the Draught House are for the better. A city ordinance dragged them kicking and screaming into the smoke-free world, and they added outdoor seating, though tailgating is still a popular option. The guest taps still include plenty of good imports, but also more and more interesting beers from Texas and the rest of the U.S. On the downside, that $1.75 price is long gone, and I was disappointed on this visit to find the 22-ounce glasses had been replaced with 16-ounce fake-imperial-pints (like at Laurelwood). I'm pretty sure they still had the 22-ouncers when I went there last November, so that's a pretty new development.

They've also been tinkering with their house offerings, if my visit yesterday was any indication. I expected to see familiar choices like the Vanilla Porter, or Bedell's Best Brown, or with any luck, the Weizenbock or Marley's Gnarley Barleywine. But I didn't recognize any of the names: Hop Gold, Red Planet, and a Brown and a Pale that I didn't recognize the names of (or write them down). That's OK, I'm up for something new, so I tried the Red Planet and was quite impressed. It was a very hoppy Red Ale, and was easily the best Texas beer I had over the weekend -- I almost thought I was back in Portland. It reminded me of Lagunitas Imperial Red, and was that hoppy, but not quite as heavy -- maybe like if you crossed the Lagunitas with a Laurelwood Red. I'll take Red Planet's ascension as a good omen for the future of the Draught House.

Writing about the Draught Horse/House really brings up a wealth of great memories for me. I won't bore you with talk of the pizza-roll guy, stopping at Ginny's to listen to Dale Watson (website), or peeing off of a little-known footbridge on the way home. But I will recommend a trip to the Draught House if you're ever in Austin. Oh, and one more thing: don't drink more than one Weizenbock.

No comments: