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 that Austin has to offer. Continuing the tradition that Eric started with his Best Burger Joint in Austin series, I’m 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: Pinthouse Pizza
Pinthouse Pizza has quickly become a staple in the Austin beer scene, though they’ve only graced the Burnet strip for the last year and a half. This review is timely, since the infamous Odell Microbrewery from Ft. Collins, Colorado is throwing a launch party at Pinthouse this month. What some people don’t know is that Odell’s former head brewer, Joe Mohrfeld, is the cofounder of Pinthouse. What better time to revisit one of Austin’s great brewpubs, as Mohnfeld returns to his roots.
Thanks to restrictive Texas laws, brewpubs in Austin are still a relatively new idea. Despite the harsh climate, a few bold brewers have been willing to try their hand at running a restaurant and brewing their own beer on premise. Black Star Co-op and Billy’s are two that come to mind, and now conversations about brewpubs in Austin have to include Pinthouse Pizza.
The concept is simple, yet difficult to get right. Pizza and beer are already a great match, so what can Pinthouse bring to the table that’s new? Try a Great American Beer Fest Bronze Medal for their Blind Jake porter – on their first entry into the competition, to boot.
Head brewer Joe Mohrfeld is the mad scientist behind Pinthouse Pizza’s brew setup. He describes his brewing style as a “modernized American version of the Olde English style,” focusing on hop-forward beers that aren’t bitter. Joe likes to control every aspect of the brewing process, even maintaining a farming contact from his Odell days to ensure a consistent quality. Pinthouse has four mainstay beers that you can almost always find on the big board: the Calma Muerta session ale, Iron Genny pale ale, Bearded Seal dry Irish stout, and the Man O’ War IPA. They also have a rotating series of “Pilot” brews that are seasonals and a bit more on the experimental side, as well as the Fallen Cask which is a rotating series of IPA’s.
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:
- Beer Selection
Reviewing Pinthouse Pizza: Award-Winning Brews and Damn Fine Pizza
Beer Selection = 10. GABF award-winning beer? Check. Delicious variety of mainstay brews? Check. Experimental brews and seasonals? Check. Dozens of rotating guest beers? Check. Another perfect score for beer selection, but Pinthouse Pizza earns it. You can tell the Pinthouse team puts a lot of time into curating the tap wall. I’ve been at least a dozen times since they opened and I have always found a new and interesting beer to try. Hopheads will love the mainstays and you can find a beer for just about anyone on the guest wall. Growlers can also be filled and taken home.
Food = 8.75. You’re not going to find a ton of variety here – it’s a pizza joint. But they do have a healthy variety of pizzas and salads. The Pinthouse Salad (Baby spinach, dried cranberries, red onions, blue cheese, candied pecans, poppy seed dressing) is actually one of my favorite mixes in town, and I’m not even a big salad guy. My go-to pizza is the Hill Country, a delicious mix of cheese, bacon, spinach, mushrooms, and ricotta. They also offer appetizers like pizza bites and pretzels that pair well with your beer.
Ambiance = 9.5. I love going to Pinthouse Pizza. It has a comfortable, neighborhood-bar kind of feeling, even if Burnet isn’t your neighborhood. You walk in to what is essentially one large room, with the bar and brewing setup to your left and communal seating via picnic tables to your right. Arcades in the far right corner are a reminder of the pizza places you used to go to as a kid. The place is usually packed and can get quite loud as the evening draws on, but it all adds to the atmosphere.
Value = 8.25. The PHP brews are a downright bargain, with most running about $4-5 bucks. Guest beers are priced about what you would expect for a typical pint, anywhere between $5-7, with the limited releases topping out at about $10 bucks (I got a 12oz pour of the Prarie Noir for $10 on my last visit). Pinthouse easily has the best lunch special of any of the craft beer joints I’ve reviewed, and one of the best overall in the city. $9.50 gets you a personal sized pizza, salad, and a soft drink. Add in about another $2 bucks and they give you a beer! Their normal sized pizzas feel a bit overpriced for what you get, but the quality remains.
Service = 8.0. Nothing fancy or out of the ordinary here. Beer and pizza are ordered at their respective counters and you pick up your own food/drinks back at the counter. There are no servers here. The bartenders are always friendly and available for beer recommendations. On packed nights it can be difficult to make your way to the bar, but that’s the case just about anywhere.
Bottom Line on Pinthouse Pizza: 8.9
Joe Mohrfeld and the rest of the crew at Pinthouse Pizza are doing something right, as evidenced by the consistent crowds no matter what day of the week it is. Award-winning brews, damn fine pizza, and a great neighborhood bar feeling come together for one of the best places in town to enjoy a craft beer. If you are coming in from out of town and want to try something local, you won’t go wrong checking out Pinthouse Pizza.
Overall Score = 8.9
- Whip In: 9.4
- Pinthouse Pizza: 8.9
- Craft Pride: 8.2
- Wright Bros. Brew and Brew: 8.1
- Black Star Co-op Pub and Brewery: 7.85
What is your favorite pizza/beer combo at Pinthouse?