A beery Austin day started off with a hike along the reservoir that cuts through the Texas capital near its center. A few nearby beers nicely complimented the exercise.
Austin’s beer history goes back to pre-Prohibition times owing to the strong, German cultural presence in the region but most of the pre-craft beer scene here was dominated by the same brands that were strong throughout Texas — San Antonio’s Lone Star and Pearl. Both of those breweries are now defunct although beers with those names are brewed by Miller Brewing in Dallas for Pabst which owns the brands. Austin’s first craft brewery, Celis Brewery came along in 1992 when a Belgian immigrant started making a witbier and other Belgian-style beers. Nowadays, there are more than forty breweries in Austin proper but only a handful are in the center, where we decided to walk and there are none along the route.
On-site consumption at Texas breweries has only been legal since 2013. Austin’s population grew from 800,000 then to 970,000 now so I guess drinking beer at breweries must be good for population growth. The Austin metro area population is much larger at more than 2.1 million and as a visitor, the growing pains were inescapable.
People did drink at breweries before 2013 but it was a somewhat arcane process involving souvenir pint glasses, coupons, and/or plastic bracelets — you couldn’t buy and drink beer on-premises, but I guess that if you bought something else you were allowed to drink a free beer or something like that. I remember needing a local guide to figure it out on a prior visit many years ago. That helped to “Keep Austin Wierd” (a local slogan) in a way, but thankfully those days have passed.
Related stories on Prime Passages: Texas Hill Country Hikes & Beers – German Tradition in the Lone Star State – Out in Luckenbach Texas, There Ain’t Nobody Feelin’ No Pain – Texas Six Pack – other Texas stories
Ladybird Lake Walk
My body was demanding exercise, so we picked a segment of what is arguably Austin’s most prominent walking route — the Roy and Ann Butler Hike and Bike Trail. The route is on both banks of what is called Lady Bird Lake, a dammed-up section of the Colorado River (not the same Colorado River that flows through the Grand Canyon) that forms a reservoir in the center of the city. It looks more like a river to me, but whatever floats your boat as they say. A loop is formed by bridge crossings and the full loop is about ten miles. We hiked about four miles out-and-back on the south bank from Auditorium Shores to Zilker Park. This is a busy stretch so you have to keep an eye out to avoid potential crashes and keep an appropriate social distance. However, it does offer great views of central Austin across the water and is also good for people watching. There is a memorial to guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn along the way.
Some Beers in Austin – Beery Austin
The first and closest stop for a beer after the walk was not at a brewery, but at Scholz Garten, an old school pub with pleasant outdoor tables. This is a downtown spot with a long history dating to 1866 and I read that it is the oldest operating business in Texas. A local German singing club, the Austin Saengerrunde owns the property and has operated a six-lane bowling alley in their clubhouse next door since 1904. The Saengerrunde tagline is, “Singing, Dancing, Bowling & Gemütlichkeit” which all sounds pretty good to me. The Texas State legislature, in one of their more sensible acts I have heard of, recognized Scholz Garten as “a gathering place for Texans of discernment, taste, culture, erudition, epitomizing the finest tradition of magnificent German heritage in our State.” A nice variety of beers is available — I counted 14 German drafts. The giant fresh-baked pretzel made an excellent shared snack.
By the time we conquered that pretzel snack, it was a little past lunchtime so we headed to nearby East Austin for a beer and a bite to eat at Lazarus Brewing Company. This is a taco and torta kind of place where you order your beer and food at the bar and take it to a table either outside or in. I had a tasty rice bowl. Lazarus is a compact business set on a corner on a busy neighborhood shopping street. The Lazarus range includes a healthy number of German-style offerings but also many popular craft styles.
Live Oak Brewing Company is a long-running Austin craft brewery that specializes in German style beers. They have an attractive brewery set-up located on a grassy property with lots of shady spots. There is a frisbee golf course on the farther reaches of the property and I understand that frisbee golf events are often held here. Live Oak is located near the Austin airport and accessed off of a congested expressway. My blood pressure went down considerably once I sat down with a nice wheat beer.
Oskar Blues Brewing-Austin was not the easiest place to find. Located on the backside of an industrial property in the far north of the city, my Uber driver was stumped for quite a while getting us there and the Uber driver who came to pick us up was lost for quite a while too while trying to find us. The pleasant taproom adjoins the brewery floor and has a big stage and performing area. Oskar Blues has grown into a pretty big deal over the years since its start as a brewpub in Lyons, Colorado. They now have breweries in Austin and Brevard, North Carolina as well and are generally recognized as a pioneer in canning of craft beers.