Opinion Rankings

Opinion: Chris Barrett breaks down best Austin craft breweries

Chris Barrett
Chris Barrett

Chris Barrett (@atxbeerguy) gives his take on the newly-released Texas Craft Brewery Rankings and best craft breweries in Austin.

My take on the Texas Craft Beer Report

Where to start?

I’m really proud of Austin for being so well represented in the top 100 best craft brewery rankings. As a long-time resident in Austin, I can attest to the crazy amount of growth of craft beer in the area. In fact, when I first moved here in 2006 there were only around five craft breweries in the area, and so having 32 of the top 100 breweries in Texas is an incredible feat!

The Overall Brewery Rankings – no surprise Jester King #1

It’s no surprise that Jester King took the top spot. While I don’t really dig on their beer personally, it’d be a crime not to recognize the impact they have had on the craft beer scene. I am really stoked to see that both Pinthouse Pizza and Austin Beerworks made the top 10!  You have to love the IPA that Pinthouse puts out on a regular basis and it is crazy that it has taken this long for them to get State-wide recognition. Austin Beerworks consistently puts out great beers that are super drinkable, and the seasonal beers that you can get in their taproom are the best around.

Outside of Austin, I see Brash sitting in the top 20 and that pleases me. That place just oozes rock and roll. Their beer is adventurous and… well, Brash. On the disappointing side; I am definitely surprised that Tupps didn’t rank a little higher. Their DDH Series beers are pretty amazing and definitely deserve attention. Overall though the top 10 is a list of great breweries and I’ve noted a few places that I need to seek out! 

Flight of Beers

Some quick thoughts on the top 50 Texas Craft Brewery Rankings:

  • Zilker Brewing is ranked too low! Ranked 23rd doesn’t do them justice. Their IPA game is spectacular. 
  • It’s good to see Hops & Grain right there with the likes of Oddwood Ales, Zilker, and St. Elmo. I think they are an underrated brewery that does a lot for the beer community. They are also super into sustainability, which is pretty rad. 
  • I’m a little sad to see that Skull Mechanix Brewing didn’t crack the top 50. They are a highly underrated brewery that kills the lighter styles. Their Lager/Pilsner game is on point!
  • And where the hell is The Brewtorium on this list!? The only explanation is that people don’t know about them yet. If not for their beer, the ambiance is high on the list. Wake up, people!  

Texas Top 10 New Breweries

The New Breweries List – if you have been, you agree!

In the “Best New Breweries” list Austin comes through with strong representation as well. As far as ambiance 12 Fox Beer Co. really can’t be beat.  If you’re ever headed to Jester King, do yourself a favor and drive the extra 5 miles or so – it’s a pretty little spot with great beer.

For me, the best-tasting beer from a new craft brewery in Austin is definitely Nomadic Beerworks. The brothers that run the place are super cool and they are cranking out some tasty brews. They have picked up some awards already this Fall. They are on their way to being one of the best craft breweries in Austin and thoroughly deserve to be named one of the top 10 Best New Breweries in Texas.

Breaking down the ranking data

Reputation for Producing Best Beer – I’m 50/50 on this

The Beer Reputation section is really interesting. I love that it’s broken down between consumers and brewers. I was actually shocked to see it was not unanimous in favor of Jester King! It’s pretty great to see that brewers put Pinthouse in the top spot, I agree with that placement! On the flip side of that, I am really surprised to see Real Ale and Saint Arnold representing in the top five from both brewers and consumers. I love both of those places, but with everything trending towards new and daring beer styles it’s surprising to see some of the oldest craft brewers in the state representing so highly. It warms the heart! 

I am legitimately shocked to see Austin Beer Garden and Brewing ranked #3 from brewers in Beer Reputation. It’s not that I dislike their beer at all, I just don’t see how they beat out places like ABW, Zilker, Celestial, B52, Brash, or TUPPS. But hey, brewers are professionals and I’m just a guy with an average palate that loves his beer! 

best Austin breweries

Excited for the next 12 months – some surprises here

If I’ve learned anything at all in this report it’s that I need to seek out Martin House Brewing beers! The fact that they unanimously took the top spot for new beers in the next year is pretty telling. I will definitely be looking out for their stuff… can I get it here in Austin!?  And if so, where?! The biggest surprise in the “Excited about the next 12 months” area is definitely Live Oak Brewing! There is definitely a “trend vs tradition” argument brewing here – how can consumers rank them 62nd but brewers ranked them 8th!? It makes me wonder what Live Oak has up their sleeves in 2020. I’ll be watching, that’s for sure. 

Contribution to Texas craft beer – they got this one right

It’s great to see Austin Beerworks tied with Saint Arnold for the top spot here. ABW did so much to change the beer laws here in Texas. It was awesome to have such a big supporter of “Beer to Go” here in the Capital City. If there’s one thing that I know about ABW, it’s that they truly care about the beer scene in Texas. They are one of my favorite breweries for reasons other than just their beer. 

Breaking down the rest of the report

Best craft breweries in Austin by atmosphere – depends on what you mean by atmosphere!

  • This “Breweries by Atmosphere” list is perfect for Austin. All of the places listed absolutely ooze with ambiance. If I could add a few to this list I’d definitely add 12 Fox and Oddwood. Oddwood is super clean and they have Mario Kart on N64. How can you beat that!?
  • Seeing Brash listed as one of the breweries with the best atmosphere in Houston is amazing! It makes me laugh a little though, because that place is super rock and roll. If you like clean streamlined spaces Brash will be a shock to your system. It’s all in the name… The whole experience is pretty Brash! Heavy Metal music and gnarly beers all day. Rock on Brash! 
  • Real Ale out of Blanco is a great visit. Nestled out in the middle of nowhere it makes for a perfect day trip out of Austin and has everything that you need on site.

Kid friendly – it’s important to some of us!

  • I have kids so this category is pretty crucial for my beer-drinking habit. The fact that 12 Fox isn’t on this list is a travesty. They have a full-on hand-built playscape out there!  Plus there’s plenty of open space for the kiddos to run around without worry. It’s not too far from Treaty Oak and Suds Monkey who both did make the list and so that’s a great day out for you and the kiddos!
  • Austin Beerworks is also suspiciously missing from the list. They are notoriously known for being kid friendly. Hell, they even put in a small play area for the little ones recently!

Live music – lots of places in town to rock on

  • It’s great to see Skull Mechanix representing with the Live Music! Their setup is similar to Oskar Blues, but 100% local (no offense OB).  It’s really a perfect setup for watching music. Definitely go there to catch a heavy metal show. 
  • I’ve been to a couple of shows at ABGB and can vouch for it being a great spot for music as well. I believe they even do old-school Texas two-step once a week! 

So to wrap it up…

I love the craft beer scene and I am happy we have some of the best craft breweries here in Austin, but it’s also fantastic to learn more about the beer scene around the rest of the state. I really could go on and on about the beer in Texas and how it has absolutely boomed in the last 10 years or so, but I now need to get out there and visit more of these great breweries that I’ve been able to read about.

When I came here from Minnesota (Surly represent!) in 2006, Texas was sadly lacking in craft beer (shout out to the OG Austin brewers: Real Ale, Indy, Live Oak, 512, etc), and so the fact that craft breweries have taken off and grown so quickly here is incredible. It appears to be sustainable at this point as well, which is really great to see. I am curious to see how much more it can grow before it gets too competitive.

If the rankings have made me think about one thing, it’s that I’d really love to see more Texas breweries collaborate with out of town partners.  Come on guys and gals… let’s get ABW and Celestial together, or have Zilker and B52 mixing it up! 

You can follow Chris on Instagram and Facebook at @atxbeerguy

Read about the Texas Craft Brewery Rankings by Metro

Read about the Texas Craft Beer Survey respondents


Jester King Leads The Way in first Texas Craft Brewery Rankings

Jester King Brewery captured top honors in the inaugural Texas Craft Brewery Rankings. The Austin brewery leads an impressive list of Texas beer-makers ranked based on the input of consumers and brewing industry professionals from across the State. 

Jester King ranked best brewery in Texas
Austin boasts 1st and 2nd place in Texas brewery ranking

Jester King was not only ranked top overall brewery but also voted #1 for producing the best beer in Texas. The Hill Country brewery leads an Austin-area 1-2 at the top of the ranking, appearing just ahead of Pinthouse Pizza. Whilst well known to Austin craft beer drinkers, Pinthouse has seen a huge increase in consumer interest across the rest of the State for their special release series, while their Electric Jellyfish was heavily mentioned by consumers as a favorite beer in the Texas Craft Beer Survey. 

Saint Arnold Brewing Company, who has been brewing beer in Houston since 1994 were listed in 3rd position, one ahead of another brewery with significant history in Texas – Real Ale Brewing Company of Blanco. Rounding out the top 5 breweries in Texas is Conroe-based B-52 Brewing Co

Ranking methodology designed for craft breweries

The Texas Craft Brewery Rankings were developed to showcase independent craft breweries for what they excel at. They are made up of 4 key categories; overall reputation among consumers, reputation for producing the best beer, the excitement that the market has about them for the next 12 months and their contribution to the growth of the Texas craft brewing industry.  

Jester King Brewery ranked #1 overall, with many consumers highlighting the brewery even if they didn’t list them as one of their favorite for beer. Jeffrey Stuffings, owner of Jester King Brewery, was happy to hear that the brewery was recognized by the Texas craft beer community. “We’ve strived to contribute something unique and meaningful to our local scene, as well as greater beer world, so it’s wonderful to be recognized for it.” 

Not Just About Beer

The fact that the ranking was not based simply on beer reflects the behavior of Texas beer consumers. Only half of the 900+ respondents to the Texas Craft Beer Survey listed the same brewery for “Best Overall” and “Best Beer” – suggesting the taproom experience plays a big part in what consumers think about a brewery.

This trend has been recognized by Brent Daniel, owner of B-52 Brewing Co. “Our philosophy is that craft beer is meant to be an experience,” Daniel says. “High-quality ingredients and processes are the foundation, but there’s so much more. You see that when you visit our brewery. We put a ton of effort into all of the elements that create a great craft beer experience. That includes everything from the chairs you sit in, to the music we play, the people you’re with, and much more.” This approach has helped the brewery develop a State-wide following and ensure that visitors to their taproom travel from far and wide. When asked what was in store for 2020 Daniel states “More experimentation, more pushing the limits, more innovation.” The brewery has developed a passionate following and consumers will be keen to get their hands on what comes next.

Clear differences in opinions of consumers vs craft brewing industry professionals

One of the most interesting things that the rankings highlight is the differences in opinion of consumers and brewers. When asked to choose the breweries they believe are making the best beer and those that they are excited about for the next 12 months, many brewers favored long-established breweries known for their high-quality and consistent recipes – however, consumers at times trended more towards breweries producing newer styles. 

This difference reflects a changing Texas consumer marketplace – but one in which Brad Farbstein, President of Real Ale, thinks that consumer trust is a key to continued growth. “I think our four basic core principles : Quality, Consistency, Innovation, & Value, transcend gimmicks and trends in the market,” says Farbstein. “I believe consumers are tired of spending their hard-earned dollars on beer that tastes different from batch to batch. I believe our core customers will always be willing to try new breweries and beers, but they always come back to a brand that they can trust.” Farbstein was mentioned by his fellow Texas brewers as someone playing a key role in the growth of the overall Texas craft industry.

View the Texas Craft Brewery Rankings

Read about the Texas Craft Brewery Rankings by metro

Read about the Texas Craft Beer Survey respondents

Read about the Best New Texas Breweries of 2019