Editor's Note: This story was originally published in Digital Issue V.
Austin’s oldest craft brewery, Live Oak Brewing, opened its doors in 1997, but it wasn’t until the last decade that the city’s craft brewery scene exploded. Almost a dozen breweries have opened in Austin in the last 10 years.
Story by Julie Gomez
Illustration by Ryan Hicks
As smaller breweries expand they add on tap rooms, usually attached to the warehouse where the companies brew their beers, to allow customers to taste the freshest brews available. The breweries also give patrons the chance to try new recipes before they ship the beer to stores and restaurants. Best of all, because there are no shipment or resale costs, it’s the cheapest way for a broke 21-year-old to enjoy good beer.
Here is our list of a few of the best tap rooms in Austin.
Austin Beerworks — North Austin
$10 for 3 pints
Open Thurs 5-9 p.m., Fri 5-11 p.m., Sat 1-7 p.m., Sun 1-7 p.m.
Austin Beerworks is located in the warehouse district north of 183 on Lamar Boulevard. Like most warehouses districts, it’s a bit hard to differentiate Austin Beerworks from the other 20 warehouses around. There’s not a lot of signage, so look for the Coca-Cola warehouse, then follow all the cars and noise to the beer.
For $10, you can get a souvenir glass and three chips to exchange for refills. If you think three pints is a little bit too much for day drinking, Austin Beerworks is the best brewery for your buck. The chips can be redeemed all at once, or you can come back another day.
Visitors are greeted with a giant wall of beers, large silver wheat silos and a spacious opening leading to the bar. The seating, mostly picnic benches, is limited. Early 2000s Britney Spears and NSYNC blasting over the speakers makes the whole experience feel like a nostalgic party.
One of Austin Beerworks signature brews, the Pearl Snap, is a German-style Pilsner with 5.7 percent ABV. It’s tart, like a Jolly Rancher or unsweetened Kool-Aid, but refreshing. If you don’t love sour beers, try the Sputnik, a Russian Imperial Coffee Oatmeal Stout with 8 percent ABV. The oatmeal in the stout reduces the acidity that’s pretty common in stouts, and the addition of coffee to the oatmeal makes it a perfect day-drinking beer.
Independence Brewing — South Austin
$10 for a souvenir glass and 3 pours on the first Saturday of each month
Open Thurs and Friday 4-10 p.m., Sat 1-10 p.m., Sun 2-8 p.m.
Independence Brewing is one of Austin’s oldest craft beer companies, and it’s only been around since 2004.
The brewery offers tours at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. There is not a big announcement when the tour begins or obvious signage, so we recommend waiting in front of the entrance to the brewery 10 minutes before each tour to be sure you don’t miss it.
Independence Brewing is constantly trying new recipes that are only made available to visitors in its tap room. The brewery will create a new beer recipe and try it out on the tap room patrons. If there is enough demand, the brewery will consider bottling it and shipping it out. Right now, for example, the tap room serves a $10 pint of Bourbon Barrel Stout, which is aged in Jack Daniels bourbon barrels. The sweet whiskey cuts the stout like butter. Since the Bourbon Barrel stout takes so long to brew, Independence Brewery will not be shipping it, so the only way to sip this sweet, buttery beer is at the tap room.
Black Star Co-Op — North-Central Austin
$8 for a flight of four beers
Open Mon 4-11 p.m., Tues - Thurs 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Fri and Sat 11 a.m. - midnight, Sun 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Black Star Co-op calls itself the world’s first co-operatively owned brewery. This means that the employees and patrons who buy a membership are part owners of the company. Member-owners are given shares of the Black Star Co-op and have voting power on business decisions.
Unfortunately, Black Star Co-op doesn’t offer tours of their brewery. It’s much more of a sit-down establishment than the warehouse feel of other traditional breweries. The upside is that their hours are much more accommodating. Black Star Co-Op is open every day. The brewery also has a full kitchen with all the quintessential pub food, from burgers to fried pickles. Meal prices average about $12.
Right now, the brewery has six original brews on tap. Vulcan IPA is a blend of citrusy hops and Rye that tastes crisp and light, and made the top four in the Austin’s Favorite IPA contest. Black Star Co-op also has an award-winning porter, the Recalcitrant Dockhand, which won in the Robust Porter category at The Great American Beer Festival in Denver last year.