By Rob McCorkle
Savvy brewers, beer aficionados, and discerning diners have turned what a decade ago was merely a novelty—the brewpub—into a full-fledged, taste bud-tingling phenomenon replete with fresh, artisanal brews and sophisticated cuisine. The Texas boom in craft brewery-restaurant combos can be enjoyed today from Amarillo to South Padre Island.
These aren’t your daddy’s beer joints serving mass-produced beer and subpar “pub grub.” Not by a long shot.
The Lone Star State’s beer Dark Ages ended in 1993, when lawmakers gave restaurant owners the nod to brew and serve their own ales and pilsners on-site. Today, Texas brewpubs number 29 and counting, according to Southwest Brewing News.
Since many of them operate in German-settled, Central Texas communities, that’s where my wife, Judy, and I headed to get a taste of the action.
Fredericksburg Brewing Company
It’s a warm afternoon when I meet up at the brewpub to chat with brewmaster Rick Green while Judy hits the shops. Fredericksburg Brewing Company, which opened on Main Street in 1994, reigns as the state’s oldest brewpub. The space evokes an international feel: Hundreds of foreign flags dangle from the ceiling, an elk mount hangs over a rustic stone hearth, and German sayings such as Das bier! and Hier Wird mit, Liebe Gekocht advertise the beer choices and proclaim, “Here with love, we cook.”
Green brings me a pint of the seasonal, caramel-colored Balanced Rock Maibock, while he sips the dark, sweet Pioneer Porter. The porter, along with the Peace Pipe Pale Ale and my favorite, Enchanted Rock Red Ale, flow year-round from the brewpub’s six taps. Green’s copper and stainless-steel brewing vessels, which are on view inside the restaurant, produce seasonal varieties to round out the establishment’s beer selection.
Green imports German hops and malt for his German-style brews, such as the award-winning Helles Keller beer and the perennially popular Oktoberfest, as befits the city’s Teutonic heritage. The restaurant’s chef even incorporates beer into several dishes, such as Oma’s Meatloaf and the cheddar ale soup.
That evening, I return with Judy for dinner. Judy chooses the Sausage Sampler (using locally made knackwurst, bratwurst, and pepperwurst), with red cabbage and sauerkraut, along with a glass of pinot grigio from Messina Hof, which just opened a winery in town. I opt for another mellow maibock, along with the Uberbacken Schweineschnitzel, a pork chop stuffed with cheeses, bell peppers, and mushrooms, with an apple-cider cream sauce. Crisp onion rings and tangy red cabbage prove perfect side dishes.
Sated, we need only climb a flight of adjacent stairs to take advantage of the brewpub’s “Bed and Brew” promotion in its adjoining 12-room bed-and-breakfast. The tropical décor of the Admiral’s Suite pays homage to World War II Pacific Fleet commander Chester A. Nimitz, a native of Fredericksburg.
The Dodging Duck Brewhaus, Boerne
Boerne’s 10-year-old brewpub practically named itself when owners Keith and Chandra Moore witnessed the feathered denizens of Cibolo Creek braving River Road traffic to visit their restaurant, bar, and brewery. Today, the Dodging Duck Brewhaus offers beers and eclectic cuisine in a wood-frame bungalow that dates to the early 1900s. An expansive front deck offers al fresco seating, as well.
“In 2002, we used to have people stop by and ask for a Miller Lite, Coors, or Bud Light,” Keith Moore says. “Many would say they’d never tried a craft beer before, but not anymore.”
Moore keeps four beers on tap at all times, rotating special beers as the season dictates. This fall, you should move quickly to get a glass of the popular Oktoberfest before it’s tapped out, but you will always find his hoppy, slightly bitter IPA (India Pale Ale) on draught.
We head to the L-shaped bar for a sample, and the bar manager serves us small glasses of the day’s offerings. The almost-opaque Luckenbacher Hefeweizen, a Bavarian-style wheat beer, tickles my taste buds with just a hint of banana.
For lunch, Judy orders the Philly cheesesteak on a jalapeño-cheese sourdough bun and a side of sweet potato fries. I go with the succulent beef tenderloin medallions served with a spicy Argentinean chimichurri sauce. A generous portion of sautéed vegetables and brown rice complete the hearty offering.
The Faust Hotel & Brewing Company, New Braunfels
“You Don’t Have to Go Home. You Can Stay Here,” reads the Faust Hotel’s marquee. We decide to take this advice during a recent visit to find out how the revamped Faust Hotel & Brewing Company is faring after a recent renovation.
A lively Wednesday clientele quaffing to the accompaniment of an acoustic guitar player in the enclosed beer garden shows all is well. In fact, veteran brewmaster Ray Mitteldorf has already pocketed two silver medals at the prestigious World Beer Championships for his German-style Oktoberfest and Altered States ale.
I sip a pint of Altered States, and the malty brew upholds its reputation, proving smoky and smooth on the palate. “I brew pretty much everything, from pilsners to Oktoberfest to chocolate stout,” explains Mitteldorf, who makes three varieties available daily.
The Faust Brewing Company’s extensive menu features everything from soups and salads to German nachos, crab cakes, and pulled-pork tacos. Cozied up to the handsome, antique bar, Judy and I share an order of dumplings stuffed with potato, cheddar cheese, and jalapeños and served over crispy onion straws. Next, we dig into the brewpub’s highly touted kartoffelchips—thin, lightly salt-ed potato chips dipped in beer-cheese sauce. It’s hard to stop eating the subtly tangy morsels, but entrees await.
Judy can’t resist ordering a tapas plate of shrimp prepared with garlic butter, diced tomatoes, and Parmesan; and I tuck into the Faust Wellington, a juicy bratwurst wrapped in puff pastry, served over a bed of sautéed onions and topped with sauerkraut.
To satisfy my sweet tooth, I finish my meal with a slice of deep-fried cheesecake sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and drizzled with caramel.
Later, as we drift to sleep in our cozy room upstairs, I wonder if we’re sharing our quarters with the benign ghost of hotel namesake Walter Faust Sr. On my next visit, I’ll have to try Walter’s Ghostly Pale Ale, the libation named for him.
See full article in the October 2012 issue.