Austin as a Beer Destination

Yesterday, my friend sent my a link to an interview with Joe Mohrfeld that went up recently on Bitch Beer.  Joe is the brewer for the brewpub Pinthouse Pizza, which is opening soon.  I’m very excited about this place opening up and will definitely go there once it opens.  I think Austin is lacking in the number of brewpubs compared to the number of commercial breweries that have been opening recently.

My friend was wondering my opinion about weather Austin can become a national brew destination place, based off what Joe said in his interview.

“There are some really great, young talented brewers here [in Austin], and there’s obviously some talented veterans who have been around, but I think we have the opportunity to become a destination beer city in three to five years,” Mohrfeld said. “In a way we are now, but I think we have an opportunity to be on the level of like a San Diego or Portland, or Denver-Boulder.”

“I think the next step is to take it from a really exciting regional scene, to now making people nationally excited about that’s going on here, he said. “It’s a really exciting moment to be on that front edge.”

I must say that it is a really awesome dream, but if Austin is to become a national destination for beer it is probably closer to 10 years away, and never on the level of the cities he listed.  I hope I’m proven wrong, and that I am just being pessimistic about it.  I’m kind of a pessimist.  I would love for Joe’s statement to become a reality, but I just don’t see that happening for several reasons.

First is the limitations set on breweries by Texas laws.  A brewery can be either a Brewpub or a production facility. Many of the famous american breweries started out as brewpubs, learned the craft and experimented before growing to a size where they were comfortable getting into packaging and selling. Brewpubs also encourage creativity. Being able to test a batch on a small scale and see how they like it is much easier than the time and investment needed to brew a full batch and get packaging approval for something you aren’t even sure if it will sell.

Texas beers aren’t available very much outside of Texas.  Between the 2 biggest breweries in Texas, Real Ale is only in Texas, and St. Arnolds is in Texas and Louisiana.  This can be compared to Allagash, produces about the same amount, and is available in most states from Maine to California.  Unless more people from outside the state are able to drink our beer on a regular basis, we will remain a regional beer destination and not a national one.

I don’t see either of these things changing anytime soon.  I think Texas beers are about 5 years away from being able to produce enough to meet demand and expand beyond regional and distribute on a national level.  As for changing the laws, that won’t happen until it would become profitable for the big brewers to think it’s profitable to open craft distribution houses.

The other thing is the growth of craft beer everywhere.  While the number of breweries in Austin has more than doubled in the past 5 years, the same trend has been happening across the country.  People used to want to travel for beer to certain places, because those were the only places to make a beer vacation out of.  As the market gets closer to saturation, people can take a vacation and find good beer anywhere, not just the cities listed.

I think the idea of beer vacations is moving more towards beer events instead of just a cities reputation for good beer.  Denver will always bring in people for the GABF.  I think other beer events are more the future of beer tourism.  I think the Texas Craft Brewers Festival was great last year and will only get better, and bring more people in.  If Texas does become a national destination, the Craft Brewers festival, and other non-shitty events will be the key to making it happen.

And Joe, if you read this, I hope that you’re right and I’m wrong, and I look forward to drinking all your beers.

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