Austin is Texas’ state capital. It’s home to the state university, some legendary BBQ, musicians, artists and other assorted weirdos. Which is to say, it’s a city that’s perpetually overrun by professional drinkers of every sort.
It’s also one of the best cities in Texas to grab a beer that tastes like beer. Historically, much of Texas has belonged to Shiner Bock, Lone Star and the macros. Austin, birthplace of the state’s first brewpub, is leading the charge in toppling tasteless brews. Beer bars give ample tap space to Texas’ up-and-coming breweries, like Saint Arnold and Real Ale, and there’s a pack of young brewers doing wonderful things at Austin brewhouses North by Northwest, Uncle Billy’s, Live Oak, Independence and (512). Here’s where to grab a pint of something good—the top beer destinations in Austin, as ranked by the BeerFly user reviews on BeerAdvocate.com.
The Germans and Czechs who settled Austin and the surrounding Hill Country left two gifts—a taste for BBQ, and a taste for beer. Their legacy is felt closest in the city’s two old-school beer halls. The Draught House is an old, Bavarian-style timber house with massive wooden tables and a lovely biergarten. There’s always house beer on cask, and parking lot tailgating is encouraged. Scholz Garten, nestled between the state Capitol and the University of Texas, has a century or so on the Draught House: It was founded the year after Civil War ended. Down the street from the LBJ Presidential Library, the ancient bar is a longtime favorite of Austin’s Democratic establishment. These days, the besieged minority has a lot of pain to drink away.
The best place to drink in the city is in the middle of it all—the thickly settled downtown streets on the north bank of the Colorado River. This is Austin for the ears and for the stomach. Grab some world-class BBQ at Iron Works or Stubb’s, and catch a show at the myriad clubs centered around Sixth Street. There’s no better place to start than Beerland, an aptly named club with fully stocked coolers. The cool kids hang at Lovejoys Tap Room, a beloved dive that brews some great beers on the side. Down the street are the Ginger Man, the beloved Donleavy-inspired beer hall, and Opal Divine’s, which serves quality food and beers on a porch built for gawking at ambulatory throngs.
Draught House Pub and Brewery
When Austin-based Beer Advocates aren’t gushing about the 40-year-old Draught House’s brews, they’re whipping up righteous indignation over the bar’s absence on national top-50 lists. We can’t fault either reaction.
North by Northwest Restaurant and Brewery
A Pacific Northwest-inspired brewpub deep in Texas BBQ country. The regular tap lineup is solid, though the rotating seasonals are far more adventurous and sought after.
Uncle Billy’s Brew and Que
Heaping plates of BBQ play nice with Brian Peters’ house brews. The three rotating handles—one for hopheads, one for dark beer fiends and one for seasonal enthusiasts—never disappoint.
Lovejoys Tap Room and Brewery [closed]
Any dive that serves good beers to the crowds that gentrification left behind is OK in our book. But a dive that serves its own quality brews to hardhats, techies and artists? That’s a rare find.
Live Oak Brewing Company
Like much of the area, Live Oak is a nice mixture of German and Czech influences. You’ll find their two flagships, Pilz and Hefeweizen (a spring-summer seasonal), all over town.
(512) Brewing Company
The new kid on the block, (512) debuted in mid-2008. The brewery is already scoring high marks for its IPA, Belgian-style Wit and Pecan Porter.
Independence Brewing Company
Another of the new generation of Austin brewers, Independence’s husband-and-wife team, Rob and Amy Cartwright, brew a deliciously chocolaty Brown Ale.
The Ginger Man
JP Donleavy’s Ginger Man, Sebastian Dangerfield, was a rotten, overdrunk and undersexed lout who enjoyed good times. The bar he inspired offers 80 taps, the best selection of Texas beers around, and good times. Bar conquers book.
Dog and Duck Pub
An oasis of good beer and even better people, the Dog and Duck pours from three dozen taps and boasts a fireplace, deck, biergarten, free WiFi, a loaded jukebox and award-winning grub.
BB Rover’s Cafe and Pub
Uninspired tap selection and largely inaccessible from downtown, but a healthy bottled menu will reward determined travelers.
Scholz Garten is a 142-year-old landmark sandwiched between the state Capitol and Darrell K. Royal Stadium. The beer selection is unadventurous, but the action—tailgaters colliding with politicians and activists—isn’t to be missed.
Crown and Anchor Pub
A UT institution. Two dozen taps of good beer are served up with cheap burgers on a dog-friendly patio. This cannot be good for one’s GPA.
Flying Saucer Draught Emporium
The Austin incarnation of this Southern beer chain is a typical example: The service is occasionally spotty, but the selection is out of this world.
Opal Divine’s Freehouse [closed]
A tiny downtown bar with a nice pub menu, 25 taps, a bustling patio and seasonal live music outside.
Billy’s on Burnet
Twenty-five taps and one hell of a burger from the guy behind the shuttered Waterloo Brewing Company and the Dog and Duck. ■