Sometime you find greatness through hard work, research and perseverance, and other times you just plain trip over it. Our journey brought us to Austin, TX and I found (512) Brewing Company out of sheer luck.
While we were in Austin, we found ourselves exactly eight months into our one-year trip around the US, with only four months to go. Since leaving Asheville, our brewery visits, as well as the breweries themselves, had been a little spotty. We stopped at some great breweries in Florida, but had not real found a “scene” until we arrived in Austin. To be honest, our plan had been to stop at South Austin Brewing, but we were unable to find it, and the RV needed fuel. So after filling the gas tank, we drove half a block down a narrow residential road and found ourselves at (512) Brewing, a company that was totally unknown to us.
I arrived at about 5:15 on a Friday evening, and was trying to slide in, fill the growler and get out before the employees started their weekend. What I found was a group of guys winding down after a week of work, and who were more than happy to host me for what amounted to a private tasting. They inquired who I was and what I was up to, and after I told them about my travels, some of them wanted to talk to me as much as I wanted to talk to them.
While my goal at any brewery is to fill my growler, I was stymied by Texas laws. It turns out that breweries are prohibited by law from selling beer directly to the consumer. Brewpubs, on the other hand, can sell directly to the public, but are not permitted to fill kegs for sale to other bars or establishments. At least, this is what I was told. I realize that the 21st Amendment left liquor regulations up to the states, but I am still amazed at the differences from state to state.
While I was there, I met Spencer, who offered me a pint to drink while I told him of my travels, but I talked him into small tastings of what they had on tap. The first beer he offered me was last year’s (512) Alt. He indicated that this was left over from last year and they were about to begin brewing the 2012 version, so the brew I was drinking had been aged almost a year. Alt beer is a German style ale that is cold fermented like a lager. This beer was smoooooth, with equal parts hops and malts.
The second beer he offered was their IPA, reportedly their best seller. Coming from the Pacific Northwest, I have tasted a lot of IPA’s and have found East Coast and Midwest IPA’s emphasize the bitterness and tone down the floral tastes of the hops, but not this one. There was a resin-y sweetness that I had not tasted since Vermont.
My third tasting was their Pecan Porter. While not their best seller, I attribute this to the warm Texas weather. This porter can hold it own with Deschutes Brewery’s Black Butte Porter, which sells well in a cold, high altitude town of Bend, OR. The (512) Pecan Porter had a smooth and nutty flavor and was not thick at all. While some porters leave the drinker with a “one is enough” feeling,
The fourth tasting was their (512) Black IPA and this beer was, in my opinion, the best they offered. It was dark, it was floral, it was smooth and it was fantastic. This category of beer is somewhat new and still evolving, but 512 already had a grasp on where it should be going.
In looking back at my favorite breweries I have visited, 512 fits the pattern for places I really loved. First, it is a brewery and not a brewpub. I suspect that this difference gives the owners one thing to focus on (beer only) rather than two (beer and restaurant). Second, the operations are small, employing only a few people who seem to have a passion for what they are doing. I would recommend taking a tour of this brewery if you find yourself in Austin. Better yet, I recommend buying a pint or two at a restaurant that serves their beer.