This is CHAPTER 1 of a MULTI-PART SERIES entitled "Tell Me How My Craft Taste", which features extensive profiles of Texas craft breweries. You can read more about the premise here.
Anyone can build a brewery these days.
Anyone can draw up artwork and a t-shirt and put a weird spin on an ale and deliver it in a can that opens all the way on top. It can all be done.
But in this expeditiously exploding craft beer market, having a gimmick only allows for enough inertia that persuades people to give you a chance, but not nearly enough to force them to like your stuff.
In the end, a brewery needs two qualities to push through the imminent decline of hype: good beer and a genuine personality.
The charm of Hops & Grain started with the founding of the brewery itself in 2011, a classic DIY enterprise from veteran backyard brewer, Josh Hare, who ostensibly started Hops & Grain to placate the alt-folk carousers of Austin's emergent brewing scene.
Hops & Grain was built from the rustic and modest beginnings of a typical start up brewery, whose stories are familiarly exalted in trade circulars and weekly press mags, but ballooned to soaring popularity on the strength of two handsome flagship brews, Pale Dog Pale Ale and Alt-eration Altbier, the latter of which captured the gold medal at the 2012 World Beer Cup in their very first fiscal year of production.
Just like that, Hops & Grain had great beer to match their charming wit; a "How the jolly old fuck have you been, mate?" meeting of the two essential characteristics of brewery survival. After all, that is the general precept of Hops & Grain as a brewery, anyway -- friendly, approachable, accomplished -- doing beer simply, but doing it very well -- which, in the end, is actually a pretty difficult thing to achieve.
This is the reputation that Hops & Grain has carved for itself in the Austin craft beer community: the propensity to hew these clever little mainstay beers that allow the drinker to habitualize into routines of well-balanced, full-bodied ales and lagers. You don't choose their beer so much as it chooses you.
It is clear that Hops & Grain's long-term goals are guided by simplicity and merit, with a nasty streak for experimentation (for those hatin' ass hipsters), after all, they are one of just a handful of craft breweries to host their own beer lab on premise, a measure that ensures nearly spotless quality control for the brewhouse.
The result is crisp and clean beers with the most compelling ingredient being the absolute care and precision that goes into each can.
And yet, while Pale Dog and Alt-eration kept the lights on and the brewery sustainable throughout the initial years, Hops & Grain truly came to the forefront of the Austin beer scene with the canning of their American Pale Lager, The One They Call Zoe, which, after extensive field research, [AA] dubbed "Austin's most important beer" in 2013 due to its pervasive gateway capabilities for the nescient macro-guzzling Austin crowd. Well, the few that were left, anyway.
Still yet, despite the smash-hit success of their original repertoire as well as Zoe, Hops & Grain found the courage of eagles and the strength of black tigers to release their fourth mainstay beer -- Porter Culture -- a roasty, chocolately Baltic Porter that drives Ferraris and bangs 11s.
Look, we're not in the habit of acting like some sort of product placement service for any brewery, but damn it all to hell, Hops & Grain seems to have got their shit all figured out.
And then, when Hops & Grain feels the tickle to press every single tank in the whole damn place into service, there is the matter of their small-batch rotational IPA project called Greenhouse IPA, which utilizes a broadly similar base beer for each batch brewed (several weeks apart), but through a polygamous Big Love hop marriage, utilizes different hop varietals each go-round, characterizing each finished product with its own unique kiss. It is like having a new seasonal every other month, right about the time when the human brain persuades itself that it needs a change.
The Greenhouse project also signals that Hops & Grain is fully adept at arranging some rather interesting side projects, primarily for showcasing in their taproom and during special events.
Perhaps the best beer I've tasted in 2014, Vino Weisse, is a wine barrel-aged cherry berliner weisse that chills me to the bone with glee. Their not-oft Kolsch has inspired a twitter campaign to #CanTheKolsch. And actually, Both Zoe and Porter Culture were originally showcase-only beers, so hope remains for some of Hops & Grain's more pervasive one-offs to see the canning line at some point.
But perhaps [AA]'s favorite Hops & Grain seasonal was their Horchata Milk Stout, which if you had tried it, Avenuelings, would agree that it was aces.
This is also the benefit of visiting Hops & Grain's taproom, the accessibility to their most special beers and seasonals. For a boorish sum of $10, one can get a brewery glass to keep, and with it, six drink tickets that will grant a person a half-pint per. And going only off of an often-fuzzy memory, one can also combine two tickets together for a full 16oz pour.
Thats just plain ol great economics for the consumer right there. Hatin' Hipster or not.
Saturday brewery tours are offered at 1PM, 3PM, and 5PM, which last approximately 45 minutes, and, according to the Hops & Grain website, "sometimes include special samples not available in the tap room". It's true, we've tasted it with our own eyes.
Tip: there is also a food truck on premise for Saturday patrons who like to keep running on digital, and not analogue.
Finally, it needs to be mentioned that Hops & Grain defers their entire production of beer to ecological sustainability -- or at least as much as one brewery can under the limitations of expenditure and need.
The average brewhouse averages six to eight gallons of water per gallon of beer produced. Hops & Grain currently dips below that at five to one. The brewery's target goal for water usage is to reach 3.5 gallons of water per one gallon of beer.
Hops & Grain allocates 1% of its annual revenue to local environmental non-profits and supports local community growers and producers. The brewery recycles spent brewing grains into Brew Biscuit dog treats and it packages beer in aluminum, which is the most efficient vessel for recycling.
Combined with their outstanding quality of product, if ever a brewery perfectly encapsulated the character of Austin's beer scene and Austin's ethos overall, this is the one that would be emblazoned on the capitol dome.
Hops & Grain Brewery
507 Calles Stwww.hopsandgrain.com