Not Every Brewery Visit is a Winner

No beer

(Image pirated from the internet)

Every beer geek knows the experience. You make your way to that brewery, pub or taproom for the first time, eager to explore, to treat your taste buds to unfamiliar brews—and the whole visit is a flop, beginning to end.

That’s where I was a couple of weeks ago in Austin, Texas. I’d gone home to the city where I was born and raised to spend time with a close family member just diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. After a full day of visitors, including my daughter who had flown in from Portland, Oregon, the patient needed rest. The daughter needed supper. I needed a beer and an emotional break.

Yelp

(Image pirated from the internet)

A Yelp check turned up a nearby brewery with 4½ stars. Under “Alcohol,” Yelp listed “Beer & Wine Only.” Perfect for my wine-drinking daughter and me. A glimpse of the brewery’s website showed a “Food” link. There was a patio, although my love of outdoor dining is exceeded only by my dislike of hot weather. With the temperature at 93o, it was going to be an indoor evening.

At the brewery, we found a large patio crammed with drinkers at long rows of picnic tables. We joined the line of soon-to-be drinkers that stretched the length of the aisle bisecting the patio.

While my daughter went to check out the food truck, I studied the crowd and the vibe. Friends, families and dogs were clearly having a good time. Only one person sat alone, utterly engrossed in his laptop screen on a bench by the wall of the building. Minutes later, my daughter was back empty-handed. “They’ve sold out of everything. They’re just cleaning up.”

“Everything?” I echoed, mopping the sweat rolling down my forehead.

Part of the 15-minute line

Part of the 15-minute line

When we were finally close enough to glimpse the taproom menu, there was no mention of food or wine. “That’s okay. They have cider,” my daughter said gamely and definitely not looking okay. Once we got inside, it was wonderfully cool—and ridiculously loud in the packed taproom. Packed, as in, every table was filled with drinkers settled in for the long haul.

Finally, after fifteen minutes in the line, a bartender yelled, “Next!” and I was up. I stepped forward and shouted our order, mistakenly resting my hands of the wet, sticky bar. Forget asking for a photo op. The bartender slapped the beers down and grabbed my twenty. “Next!” he bellowed, holding out my change.

Outside, we spotted a couple of seats, “Mind if we sit here?” I asked a group of young women across the table as I threw a leg over the bench. “Those seats are taken,” one replied, looking beyond me to the guy approaching with beers.

No problem. I turned and noticed the computer loner had vacated his bench. We settled in, and I took the first sip of…a very unimpressive black lager. Bummer. I was stuck with another 15 ½ ounces.

I focused on the barback making the rounds who was somehow managing to swoop in between seated bodies, retrieve empty glasses and add them to a towering stack with impressive speed. I jumped up. “Hi, I live in California and write a beer blog. Mind if a take a photo of you with all those glasses for a post?”

“Me?” Mr. Friendly asked, looking like I’d just demanded his wallet. “No,” he said, moving on.

I slinked back to the bench where heat radiated from the brick wall behind us. The Loner returned and set his laptop and a fresh beer on the wide arm rest at his end of the bench so he could pull out a cigarette. He lit up and took a long drag, slowly exhaling the smoke in the direction of an exhausted woman who was sweating like a sumo wrestler and whose sister the former smoker was dying of lung cancer. I bolted for two newly vacated seats at a table. Alas, we were beat to them.

Get out

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“Back there!” my daughter called from behind. We raced to the far row of tables and proudly snagged a spacious area. I managed two sips of the ho-hum beer before a guy came up. “Sorry, we have a large group and we’re planning to sit here.”

Like the losers we were, we moved on, finally squeezing into one corner of a table in the middle row. By the time my daughter finished her cider, rivulets of sweat dripped steadily from my neck and forehead. “Let’s get out of here,” I said, happy to head for the air-conditioned car. Mr. Friendly could toss the warm beer I left behind.

* * *

In all fairness to Austin, which has a great and growing craft beer scene, I had plenty of good beer while I was in town. Shout-outs to these breweries and the restaurants that carry nice selections of local craft beers:

I won’t list the trendy restaurant where I tried what would have been a delicious Zoe if it hadn’t been too flat and warm. To the embarrassment of my second daughter, at the end of the meal, I gently suggested to the waiter that he should let whoever handled their draught lines know that this particular beer needed more carbonation. He responded with a slight grimace and, “I know, we’ve been having trouble with that.”

Finally, I’ll readily admit a bias for Jester King, stemming from a previous incredible blog interview and one-on-one tasting with founder Jeffery Stuffings. Besides, they create some of the most innovative beers anywhere in the U.S. I had another fun visit and some great beer this time, too, chatting with bartenders Brad, Travis, Marcus and a female bartender whose name I failed to ask, plus Omar Lyons, a community college English instructor who directs traffic at Jester King on weekends. Yep, the brewery gets so busy that they hire traffic directors to bring order to an unpaved parking lot.

If you’re looking for a terrific brewery visit in Austin, make the drive out to Jester King.

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Jester King bartenders Brad, Travis, Marcus

Omar Lyons

Jester King traffic director Omar Lyons

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