Editor’s Note: Porter Ale House closed on July 27, 2017.
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 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: Porter Ale House and Gastropub
The 78704 zip is home to plenty of good bars and some of the best restaurants in town, but it was never quite considered a craft beer destination. The opening of ABGB last year started to change that reputation and the recent debut of Austin’s first dedicated craft beer bottle shop, Whichcraft, further solidified this status. Further south, just within the boundaries of the 78704 zip code on South 1st near 71, Porter Ale House and Gastropub is another welcome addition to the now thriving craft beer scene in South Austin.
Debuting at the beginning of 2014, Porter Ale House and Gastropub combines 30 taps with high-end pub food to bring a unique bar experience to South Austin. The pub sits on the first floor of the new Tree Apartment Complex, which helps give it a neighborhood bar feeling.
Porter is run by a trio of non-native Austinites who were brought together by their love of craft beer and the emerging culinary scene here in Austin. Neil Joiner, Trevor Lane, and Joe Bixel all have varying experience working in all aspects of the restaurant industry, but this is their first foray into owning and running their own place.
Neil and Trevor bring home brewing experience to the table, while Joe focuses on the liquor side of the house, curating an extensive bottle selection that includes three different bottles of the infamous Pappy Van Winkle bourbon.
Most of the craft beer joints I’ve reviewed so far stick to the tried and true formula of serving pizza or your typical pub fare. Porter Ale House and Gastropub’s take on pub food is a markedly different approach, one that is delivered with mixed results. Am I at a high end restaurant with an extensive beer selection? Or is this a craft beer bar with expensive food? The answer is both, neither one standing out. But when combined, the food and rink may just be enough to make the drive down to South Austin worth it.
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 Porter Ale House and Gastropub
Beer Selection = 8.25. Porter is sporting 30 individual taps, with two reserved for wine (Joe Bixel is a sommelier). In any other city, 30 taps would be considered a vast selection. Here in Austin, this is considered about standard. They do have one of the better selections of European draught beers in town, with at least half a dozen choices consistently displayed on the big board. The rest of the line-up is a good variety of local brews and some of the bigger craft brands from around the country. Prices hover around $4-$7 for the American brews and upwards of $9 for their European (mainly Belgian) counterparts.
Food = 7.5. The food is great; there is no denying that. But am I really jonesing for a Roasted Beet Salad while enjoying my 512 IPA? Black Mussels aren’t the first thing that come to mind if I want a Thirsty Goat Amber. The “Snacks” section of the menu is more in line with your typical bar food, but it still has a fancy twist with offerings like Truffle Popcorn or Oxtail Croquettes. During my last visit, I tried the Risotto cheese balls and the Thai Chili Sauce wings, both good choices and slightly discounted during happy hour.
Ambiance = 8.0. They have the neighborhood pub feeling down pat. A large patio that can seat up to 30 people sits on the perimeter, and the inside boasts a long bar that can accommodate over a dozen. The decorations inside remind me of something out of South Congress – trendy, yet slightly understated. Large floor to ceiling windows face west, letting in a ton of light during your typical happy hour as the sun is setting.
Value = 6.25. It’s hard to get excited about $1 off draughts and an abbreviated, less expensive, appetizer menu during happy hour. But it’s the bar menu that warrants such a low score, almost $15 for a burger and $18 for fish and chips? Thats not the kind of cash I want to drop when going out for a few good beers. But I guess that’s not the market they’re after. I can see this being more of a nice dinner spot that just happens to offer an extensive beer selection. It’s great food no doubt, just not what I would expect to pay at a craft beer joint.
Service = 7.5. Nothing in particular stood out about the service. It was what you would expect at your typical restaurant. The bartenders aren’t quite as knowledgeable as you would find at dedicated craft beer joints, but they were quick and attentive. I’ve had some problems getting service out in the patio, but once they know you are there, they’re pretty good about checking in.
Bottom Line on Porter Ale House and Gastropub = 7.5
When reviewing bars for this series, I approach it from the craft beer angle first. Is this a place I can have a good overall experience enjoying a craft beer in Austin? How does it compare to the rest of the pubs around town? Those are the two main criteria points I use when scoring the bars I review. Porter Ale House and Gastropub blends two distinct concepts that don’t always go together, craft beer and gourmet food, and does an admirable job combining the two. If ever I am in the mood for a 512 Pecan Porter and an Oxtail Croquettes, I now know where to go.
Overall Score = 7.5
- 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
- Porter Ale House & Gastropub: 7.5
What is your favorite place for a craft beer in the 78704 zip?