1) Austin Beerworks
Austin Beerworks is always the correct answer. Even if the question wasn’t “Who’s the apex predator of Austin beer right now?” Recently named “Best Brewery” in The Austin Chronicle‘s Readers Poll, ABW took all the helicopter big distros to task by helping pass the Beer-to-Go law in the 2019 legislative session after consecutive failures over the last five sessions. Absolutely, there were many hands on deck for that fight, but ABW was justly the face of the campaign, concluding with Gov. Abbott making it rain Pearl-Snap at a wrap party in their own taproom.
Does Beer-to-Go become law without ABW? Maybe. Did it happen because of their indisputable cachet? Irrefutably. Hell, making beer is what ABW does in their spare time. And like everything else they tackle, they do it with aplomb. From their plan to release a new beer in the taproom every Tuesday as a big ol’ Come and Take It Big Distro crowler flex, to their Killer Strains bottle series, to three – count ’em, THREE – varietals of the pants-shittingly delicious Einhorn Berliner Weisse in Ginger Lime, Sour Cherry, and Tropical. As the brewery celebrates its eighth anniversary this year, they’re still achieving the hype of a blue chip recruit as purple drank Flavor Country hoppy pale ale (now offered in 12-packs by the way) was recognized nationally by Forbes as one of the “Top 11 Beers of the Year” and locally by Austin Beer Guide readers as “Best New Beer.” Those readers also claim ABW to be the “Best Brewery” and “Best Brewery Taproom.” But was that enough for ABW? Nope. The brewery also constructed an all-inclusive, safety-rated, and ADA-accessible playground while also finding time to officially host the supporters group of future neighbors Austin FC. Now I suspect all you sweet parents and bawdy soccer fans are thirsty. So what’s the answer? Austin Beerworks.
2) Jester King
What’s it like when serious craftspeople own and operate a farmhouse brewery? They brew beer, sure. Then they sell the beer, yes. Then they dig out a sustainable farm on-site, populate it with little artisanal crops that are later hand-coddled into high-end dishes curated by master chefs in a rustic kitchen, buy ranch land that preserves the property’s natural beauty over the foreseeable future, innovate a vineyard, build a wedding hall, and anchor at least a half dozen outdoor festivals, including the prestigious Cantillon Zwanze Day, an experimental music festival, and platinum standard Funk n’ Sour Fest. Also, goats. Lots of goats. Yep, Jester King is still out there doing that rural hustle, while also setting the eternal benchmark for what it means to not only own a world-class brewery renowned for its fruited sour ales, but to be resolute leaders of the community. Co-founder Jeffrey Stuffings was nominated for a 2019 James Beard Foundation award for Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Producer which recognized Jester King’s masterwork in producing beers that make beer nerds scrupulous in Fen Táo sour peach ale, Atrial Rubicite sour raspberry ale, and their perpetually underrated chef d’oeuvre, Le Petit Prince.
3) Pinthouse Pizza Collective (NEW)
Last time, we justly ranked all the PHPs as independents, given the variety of brewing philosophies between each of their storefronts. But now that their brand is on pace to expand to 63 stores by the end of 2022 (‘sup Pinthouse Mueller Phase 7 District 2), we narrowed them down to a single collective, as we see their obvious attempt to commandeer our Power Rankings as simply an index of their IPA wizardry. Can’t fool us, PHP! The newest and northiest PHP in Round Rock is a gigantic homage to what has come to define the PHP empire: the hazy IPA (with a bit of wholesome IPA thrown in there for parity), thanks to the masterwork of PHP’s director of brewing, Joe Mohrfeld. You see, Joe just directs the IPAs to be great and reach their natural potential, like the Scorsese of hops. After Mohrfeld brainwashes his beers, then they start winning awards, like GABF gold for Green Battles in the “Best Fresh Hop Beer” category, “Best Overall Beer” for Electric Jellyfish by Austin Beer Guide readers, “Best Brew Pub” by Austin Beer Guide editors. And hell, throw in a 2019 “First Plates” win courtesy of us. And with all the special-release canning they’re doing with hefties – Crispy Boi Cold IPA, Southern Tropic IPA, Diamond Dust Hazy Double IPA, and Sacred Delicacies Dry Hopped Pilsner, to name a very few – they should really think about even more expansion.
4) St. Elmo Brewing
Beer-to-Go kerfuffle aside, perhaps the most stunning local beer story this year was St. Elmo’s 2019 GABF Gold in the Fruited American-Style Sour Ale category for its pink guava sour named Roxanne. Not that St. Elmo isn’t full of brewing talent and deserving of the award many times over, but it’s a category where, given the giant wash of 215 separate entries into that particular category, a beer would have to be utterly magnificent to rise above a group that features some of the most distinguished breweries in America. And yet, the very best detail about St. Elmo as a brewery isn’t just one particular beer, it’s their ever-evolving beer wall that features the widest range of styles in the city. To call them the most talented brewery in town is to call Klay Thompson a pretty good shooter. St. Elmo is so much more than that: bottling 10 different barrel-aged beers in a single month, winning “Best Overall Beer” with Carl kölsch in the Austin Beer Guide, collecting “Best Drinking Hub” according to Austin Monthly. Heck, they even cobbled a couple of hard seltzers together for the people who also think Skyline Chili is cuisine. Keep shooting your shots, St. Elmo.
5) Zilker Brewing
Zilker’s clout comes from its heavy rotation of seasonal beers, from last summer’s Pilsgnar pilsner to Snake Juice Double Hazy IPA to UTOPiAFest sanctioned Utopian Festival Ale to its recent Icy Boys rice lager collab with on-site food truck babes Spicy Boys Fried Chicken. Best of all, they’ve lassoed all those beers (and many others) into to-go cans straight from their taproom point-of-sale. Thus far, it’s been our favorite example of a production brewery using last September’s Beer-to-Go law to their advantage, and we expect that Zilker has many more flavors to push onto its fans in their slick and stylish take-away cans. Zilker is the reigning “Best Brewery Taproom” picked by Austin Beer Guide editors, and the condo builders of Austin seem to agree, making Zilker the true nexus of urban beer drinking in town. Zilker’s greatest contribution to the city this year? It’s their Friends With Benefits hazy IPA collaboration series with pals Southern Heights.