Texas Beer Run: Exploring the breweries of Austin

by Jeff Spanier April 29, 2024 originally featured on The Coast News

Last April, I traveled to Ireland to visit a dream pub, Tig Bhric. This spring, I made it to another must-visit beer destination: Austin, Texas. Over the course of a week, I visited breweries big and small, including several iconic Texas beer venues. This is part one of my Texas Beer Run.

I based my trip in Austin, knowing that 60 breweries exist within a few miles in any direction. A visit with Jordan Golembeski, founder of the Austin Ale Trail Passport, helped set the course for the week. We met at Pinthouse Brewing, and after a tour of the facility, we had a chance to chat.

ILB: Jordan, you’ve seen the Austin beer scene explode over the last few years.

Golembeski: Yes. It wasn’t that long ago when there were only three or four breweries in Austin. Now, there are over 60 breweries in the greater Austin area.

ILB: How does someone know where and how to start experiencing Austin beer?

Golembeski: That’s why I created the passport. It gives people a way to visit and explore the beer scene. You go to a brewery, and you get your passport stamped. We also do passport perks, a little incentive for visiting a brewery. And at the end of the year, we have a party. If you’re headed to Texas, learn more about the Austin Ale Trail at atxaletrail.com.

Before heading into Austin proper, I had a destination brewery I had to visit: K. Spoetzl Brewery, home of Shiner Bock.

Shiner Beer, a family business established in 1909, is a Texas phenomenon. The company’s flagship beer, Shiner Bock, is ubiquitous in the state. The brewery features true-to-style German beers and its own Texas BBQ. The spacious grounds allow for relaxing with a beer under oak trees.

The tokens for beer practice – a call back to old Texas beer laws – is more annoying than quaint, and the plastic cups used to serve the beer didn’t do the excellent product justice. In fact, the best Shiner Bock I enjoyed was at the Stevie Ray Vaughan house at No. 88 Rainey Street while listening to Carly Jo Jackson put her comic twists on classic rock.

All the Shiner Beer employees I spoke with clearly took pride in their work and the beer they made. There was no shortage of Southern hospitality, either. And if the tour and overall experience lean toward the commercial, I am still very glad to have made the side trip.

Shiner beers can be found locally in San Diego and will not disappoint. When in season, my favorite – the peach wheat – can even be found on tap. (I had it recently at Belching Beaver).

My second must-visit destination brewery in Texas was near Austin in Dripping Springs. Jester King Brewing is located on a spacious 41-acre goat ranch in Hill Country. While they specialize in sour beers, they’ve expanded their beer lineup to include more traditional styles. Jester King Brewing also has an inn on the premises, so the visit lasted three wonderful days.

Jennifer Harlan, a member of the executive team and innkeeper, left a career in finance to join Jester King. She’s never been happier. She shared her story and Jester King’s.

ILB: Jennifer, this is clearly a special place. What makes Jester King so special?

Harlan: We focus on making great beer, good food and giving people an experience. I love helping people make memories — it’s my favorite thing. And getting to do that on this large scale is what everyone [at Jester King] is here for.

ILB: Where does the name Jester King come from?

Harlan: It was kind of a poke in the eye to some of the larger beer manufacturers — I won’t say which one — but it was a pushback because we believe in sustainability and the craft aspect of beer making.

ILB: Tell me about this beer I’m drinking now, Vernal Dichotomous [an unfiltered, earthy and slightly tart farmhouse ale].

Harlan: We put some interesting ingredients into our beers. We had one a few years ago called Snorkel, which had oysters, mushrooms and sea salt. It shouldn’t work, but I feel that way about a lot of our beers. But it does work. This beer we’re drinking is made with Oak bark and heartwood. Okay, we’re putting wood in beer. I am not sure if that’s edible, but it is delicious.

ILB: It might not be edible, but it is certainly drinkable!

As were everyone of the beers in the Jester King lineup. These beers are hard to find, but I occasionally run across a bottle in a San Diego area bottle shop. If you see one, do yourself a favor and take it home.

Three days with Jester King as base camp led to many more discoveries on the outskirts of Austin. More on that coming soon. Listen to the podcast below for more on my trip to Austin.

I Like Beer Podcast

Jeff Spanier is the co-host of I Like Beer the Podcast. For the entire interview with Jester King Brewing take a listen wherever you get podcasts. Follow Spanier’s adventures on Instagram: @ilikebeerthepodcast.