This guest blog article is by Edgar Barguiarena.
The craft beer scene in Austin is blowing up. For every new brewery that opens, there are at least three bars that pop up, eager to serve you the best local beers Austin has to offer.
Continuing the tradition that Eric started with his Best Burger Joint in Austin series, I’ll be profiling and reviewing the best craft beer joints in Austin, with the occasional stop or two at bars that have room for improvement.
I’ll take into consideration everything from beer selection to ambiance to overall value, and everything in between.
Please join me as I try to catalog your favorite watering holes in Austin, and let me know what you think in a comment below.
First Impressions: Craft Pride
It’s the smell that hits you first, which wouldn’t make a good first impression at most bars. But as you first step into Craft Pride, you can’t help but take in the rich “woody” aroma. One look around and it’s easy to see why. From the custom-cut Live Oak wood bar top to the indented wood panels on the wall, you can tell that Craft Pride put just as much pride into the woodwork as the brewers who stock the 54-tap wall did with their beer.
By Austin standards, 54 taps on the wall isn’t necessarily impressive. After all, Whip In has 72 and Banger’s just down the road has over 100. However, 54 Texas-crafted beers on the wall? Not only is that impressive, but it would have been downright impossible to do just a few years ago.
That says a lot about the state of the craft beer industry in Texas, and the fact that typically more than half of the tap wall is owned by beers brewed in Austin and the surrounding areas says even more about what is happening in Austin. Folks, we are in the midst of a craft beer renaissance, one that is much bigger than what we had going on in the 90’s. And with quality establishments like Craft Pride opening up with the sole purpose of selling Texas brews, I have a feeling these breweries will stick around for a lot longer than they have before.
Narrowing your focus to serving only Texas beers is a risky proposition. Sure, Austin has great taste when it comes to drinking and brewing beer, but is it really enough to base your entire business model on? Craft Pride is betting on it, and if you don’t know enough about the local beer scene, this is the perfect place to start. Not only is the entire staff Texas friendly (that’s almost expected here in Austin), but many of them have the beer certifications to make selecting that perfect brew a snap.
Still not sure what to go for? Ask for a sample or go for a custom flight of beers. You can also order a half-pint or go for the full “Texas Pint” pour of 20 ounces. If you are new to Texas beers, I recommend you give Guadalupe Brewery’s Texas Honey Ale a try. It’s a crisp ale with a fantastic honey finish. Just watch out for the ABV, which clocks in at a hefty 7.32%.
While their Texas draught selection is practically unrivaled, Craft Pride takes it one step further by incorporating a Bottle Store in the back. The bottle store isn’t limited to beers from Texas. You can find some of the better craft breweries from around the country represented here, as well as a few special selections from Europe.
Like any self-respecting craft beer joint in the city, you can also bring your own growler to get filled with just about anything in the house. The backyard has a large covered deck along with ample seating, and more than enough room for a band to setup for the live shows hosted a few times a week.
Then there is the food. Oh boy, if you love pizza, they have you covered. If you haven’t heard of Detroit style pizza, you have to check out Via 313, which just had their grand opening at Craft Pride last week (the original trailer is still located on East 6th St. in front of Violet Crown Social Club).
Rating Your Craft Beer Joint
Just as Eric did with his burger series, I’m using a grading scale of 1-10 to rate Austin’s favorite watering holes. With a 1 being “avoid at all costs!’ and a 10 indicating you are officially in “craft beer nirvana.” Remember, this is simply your humble, craft beer loving author’s opinion on the bars around town. Please feel free to disagree and let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear your take on these venues. The bars will be rated using the following categories:
1. Beer Selection
Reviewing Craft Pride: Everything IS Bigger in Texas
Beer Selection = 8.25. If you want something brewed from the great state of Texas, then you have one of the best selections available anywhere. If you are looking for something else, you’re outta luck. I almost feel bad for slightly penalizing Craft Pride here, since they make it obvious which beers they make available and why. But we are reviewing craft beer joints overall, and no matter how you look at it, Craft Pride’s selection is inherently limited. However, the Texas beer selection is spot on, with two firkins (small casks kept at room temperature) available for limited releases. Craft Pride is very particular about the selection in the Bottle Shop, as well. Pretty much anything you find in there will be well regarded.
Food = 7.75. Again, the menu is highly focused here, with pizza being the only option. If they were slinging Little Caesars pizza out of the back, I might be inclined to give them a 4 in this category. But the fact that they now have Via 313 making pies almost doubles their Food score. If you haven’t tried Detroit style pizza (and let’s face it, who even knew this was a category of pizza before Via rolled into town?), then you have to try Via 313. Detroit style is best described as heavy on the marinara sauce with a square deep-dish style crust. Doesn’t really sound too unique, but this pizza must be tasted to be believed. The chef must have been having a really good day when he baked my pie because it was utter perfection. Seriously one of the best and unique pies I’ve had in years. It’s crispy outside and cheesy perfection inside.
Ambiance = 8.5. This is a manly man’s bar with wood accents all over the place. Even the bar stools are made out of tree trunks. The lighting fits the decor just right, and the giant wooden Texas on the roof really brings the theme home. The bar itself looks deceptively small, as the building isn’t very large. But Craft Pride makes clever use of the outdoor space, with plenty of patio room both in front and in the back of the property. Just like every other bar on Rainey Street, Craft Pride is very dog-friendly.
Value = 7. Craft beer ain’t cheap, y’all. And unfortunately, without a consistent happy hour, you can very easily rack up quite the tab at Craft Pride. Specialized, high ABV beers come in smaller glasses, but most of what they offer comes in “Texas-sized” 20 oz. pint glasses and average about $6. Even though you typically get slightly more beer, it also comes at a slightly higher price, and the perceived value just isn’t there. Nonetheless, fans of craft beer are used to paying a bit more for their beer and anything you find at Craft Pride won’t really produce sticker-shock.
Service = 9.5. The friendly bartenders administering that perfect pour of Texas craft beer take a certain pride in their craft, jumping at the chance to suggest a new brew to try. Many of the staff are Cicerone certified, which is the beer equivalent of a Sommelier, only without the snark. No matter how busy they get, you’re never waiting too long for your next pour.
Overall Score = 8.2
Located on the south end of Rainey St., Craft Pride makes a perfect first (or last) stop during a Rainey St. Pub Crawl. The bottle shop and amazing Via 313 pizza in the back make it a destination in and of itself. For fans of craft beer and Texas brews alike, you’ll be hard-pressed to find much better than Craft Pride.
What are some other unique craft beer joints around Austin that I should check out?
Edgar is an avid world traveler with a deeply rooted love for the city of Austin and the amazing craft beer scene that has sprung up recently. You can follow him on Twitter at @Crafty_Ed.