With young guns busting out the gates with freshness, and old-school breweries upping their games, there has never been a better time for craft beer in Texas. So we asked a panel of professional beer connoisseurs to weigh in on exactly who’s the best in town, errr, in state.
Here’s how it works: each expert ranked their top craft breweries from one to 10. Then, because we’re really good at math, we tallied all of the answers up to come up with the 10 best rankings you’ll see below. If we had a tie (and we did), the breaker went to the brewery named in more top 10 lists. To keep things kosher, we’re hiding the experts’ individual rankings, but be sure to check out their bios/proof of beer cred at the end (many thanks again to our awesome brew gurus!).
The competition was tough, with heavy hitters like 512 Brewing, Lakewood Brewing, and Southern Star just barely missing out, but that only further speaks to Texas’ incredible roster of brewers. Now on to the rankings.
Austin, TX Points: 13
This sustainably minded brewery continues to live the dream and pump out some of the greatest hop-forward suds in Austin. Malt maven Courtney Strange notes that it “probably has the most Label approved beers in Texas,” all of them being drinkable and mostly way above average. Take their unassuming Watermelon Brown Ale, a beer he calls “delicious beyond belief.” Plus, their focus on environmentally-friendly practices (they even make dog treats -- “Brew Biscuits” -- from filtered grains) help keep your drinking guilt-free.
Beer picks: A Pale Mosaic, The One They Call Zoe Pale Lager
Dallas, TX Points: 15
This brewery was founded on the idea that beer brings people together (hence the name). With an impressive brewing process complete with an in-house yeast lab, their beers most definitely do.
Beer expert Keith Schlabs believes that “everything they brew is a great representation of the style,” even stating head brewer Jamie Fulton could be “one of the best brewers in the state.”
Magnolia, TX Points: 15
The fact that this eco-friendly brewery uses renewable energy, composts hops, and recycles spent grain to feed a local dairy farmer's cows is pretty incredible. But perhaps the most incredible thing about Lone Pint is their beloved Yellow Rose IPA. It’s highly regarded as one of the greatest beers in all of the Lone Star State.
Beer picks: Yellow Rose IPA, The Jabberwocky Imperial IPA
Houston, TX Points: 22
Though it's only been around since 2011, this Houston brewer has already made a name for itself as one of Texas’ fastest-growing breweries, fast enough to have recently completed a $15 million dollar expansion. That’s thanks to a solid core of monster brews, including the crisp and refreshing Sympathy for the Lager and rich and hoppy Rodeo Clown Double IPA, plus some excellent barrel aged series. Suds savant Kevin Floyd dubbed it the “New York Yankees of Texas craft beer,” which is the result of “decades of experience in distribution/sales partnering with one of the best head brewers in the country.”
Beer picks: Hop Delusion, Rodeo Clown, Weekend Warrior, Sympathy for the Lager, Hellfighter Imperial Porter
Austin, TX Points: 25
Hop heads go crazy for this Austin brewer’s complex, hop-forward suds, but pale ale drinkers will be just as satisfied. As Sarah Wood, writer/co-founder of BitchBeer, put it, “no decision is a bad decision when it comes to Beerworks.” She goes on to say that the brewery “is not kidding around when they say they are hell bent on making exceptional beer. However, they are able to do so without sacrificing their laid-back charm and unrelenting sense of humor and fun, making any drinking experience with the crew and their brew unforgettable.” It’s one of the few breweries that will always pass beer guru Jake Rainey’s “shelf test,” meaning that if he sees a beer from them that he’s never had before on a grocery store shelf, he’ll buy it knowing nothing about it because he knows it's going to be excellent. Rainey notes, “You can't say that about every brewery on the shelves.”
Beers to try: Sputnik Russian Imperial Stout, Einhorn Berliner Weisse, Peacemaker Extra Pale Ale
Houston, TX Points: 32
Founded in 1994, Saint A is Texas’ oldest craft brewery, and to this day it remains one of the baddest. Specialty releases like the barrel-aged Bishop’s Barrel and single-batch Divine Reserve series keep beer geeks on their toes, while a sturdy selection of year-rounds and seasonals lure beer drinkers of all kinds. Floyd suggests searching for the everyday beers 5 O’Clock Pils, Art Car, and Boiler Room, the last of which he says is “an excellent example of an entry level sour beer.” Rainey praises the brewery for its consistency, asking “When's the last time you ever got a Saint Arnold beer that tasted off?” The answer: never.
Beers to try: Pumpkinator, Endeavour, Santo, 5 O’Clock Pils, Art Car, Boiler Room
Houston, TX Points: 32
This edgy brewery came out guns blazing in 2012. Floyd said it best: “From the insane mind of Ben Fullelove, owner of Houston’s famous Petrol Station, comes Brash, a brewery that pulls no punches. If you don’t like big ass hoppy beers, you will hate this brewery.” Looks like the majority of our panel likes big ass hoppy beers.
Beers to try: Pussy Wagon American Double/Imperial IPA, EZ-7 American Pale Ale, Vulgar Display Of Power Imperial Stout
Austin, TX Points: 44
One of two breweries named on every single expert’s top 10 list (along with the overall winner), this pioneer of the Texas craft brew scene absolutely crushes it with a range of old-school lagers and cask ales. The traditional German-style hefeweizen is an absolute staple year-round. According to Strange, “even if one does not like Hefeweizens, they have to respect Live Oak's. There are few better in the world.” Couple heavy-hitting brews with the recent canning program, and things are only looking up for Live Oak.
Austin, TX Points: 45
Wood had some kind words for this farmhouse brewery, and a word to the wise about what brew to jump on. “Between their lush destination brewery set in the Texas Hill Country, their highly sought-after fruited and re-fermented ales and the impending release of one of America’s first totally authentic forays into the Belgian brewing tradition of spontaneous fermentation, the energy around Jester King is as evergreen as it is far-reaching" she says. "I think it goes without saying, but if they have a bottle of Atrial Rubicite or one of its fruited brethren available, you’d be wise to jump on it as well.” Pedro Longoria of The Hoppy Monk says, “The fact that a brewer allows the environment dictate the flavor profile or entire outcome of their beer is both pretty radical and at the same time very true to the roots of beer.”
Beers to try: Atrial Rubicite, RU-55, El Cedro, Das Wunderkind
Blanco, TX Points: 50
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Hill Country brewer’s entry into the Texas craft beer game. Or maybe we should say, the domination of the Texas craft beer game. “Real Ale has been putting out very well made beer from before the time that many new Texas brewery owners could legally drink,” says Floyd. Its long history shows through a solid lineup of classics, and more recent exploratory numbers including sours and barrel-aged brews using rare ingredients. Take for example, The Kraken, a favorite of Longoria’s which he goes on to explain “is part of their barrel aged series, Mysterium Verum. The base is their barley wine Sisyphus, aged in new, toasted American oak -- it is literally liquid creme brûléed grapefruit.” Every single one of our experts put Real Ale in their top 10, with three even honoring the brewer with a coveted spot in the top 3. Long story short, Real Ale is the real deal.
Beers to try: Fireman’s #4, Hans' Pils, Devil’s Backbone, The Kraken, Gose
Our panel of judges
Courtney Strange - Courtney is the Beer Buyer for Banger's Sausage House and Beer Garden in Austin, where they boast very well rounded 104 tap wall, with unique picks for both the casual beer drinker and the craft connoisseur.
Jake Rainey - Jake has worked in craft beer for 19 years, his longest tenure being with Flying Saucer for 12 years, finishing there as their National Beer Director. He’s now the COO and Partner of Cottonwood, La Grange, and Liberty Station in Houston, helping the group do everything they can to advance the growth of the city’s craft beer scene.
Josh Yingling - Josh is the co-owner of awesome beer-centric spots The Blind Butcher, Goodfriend Beer Garden & Burger House, and Goodfriend Package Store in Dallas.
Keith Schlabs - Keith has been serving craft beer in Texas for a good while and is operating partner and beer guru for Flying Saucer, Meddlesome Moth, Rodeo Goat, Lark on the Park, and Mudhen & Bird Cafe in Dallas.
Kevin Floyd - Kevin is the owner and head beer master at Hay Merchant in Houston. In addition to an extensive knowledge of brew, Kevin also brings operations expertise to the table, having worked previously as a manager of Logan's Roadhouse, opening 25 restaurants throughout the Midwest. Kevin manages the operations of both Hay Merchant and sister restaurant Underbelly.
Pedro Longoria - Pedro oversees, educates and leads a group of passionate and special beer drinking people at The Hoppy Monk in San Antonio. But most importantly, he visits independent craft breweries to see first hand what their culture and values are all about, drink and share beer, and build strong relationships with them.
Sarah Wood - Sarah is a writer/co-founder of the women-run beer blog BitchBeer based in Austin. She and the ladies co-wrote Austin Beer: Capital City History on Tap in 2013 and are soon to release a detailed history and guide to the 11 Trappist breweries of the world.
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Brooke Viggiano is a Houston writer who is Jessie Spano-level excited to have this insider info on Texas brews. Follow her quest to drink all the beers @BrookeViggiano.
Hops & Grain's 2000sqft tap room is open seven days a week for you to enjoy their handcrafted brews on-site. Their super-sustainable practices (they even make dog treats -- "Brew Biscuits" -- from the delicious grains that are filtered from the finished brews) will keep your drinking guilt-free. Plus, they have free tours of the brewery Tues-Fri at 5pm and Saturday.
Creating what it calls "beer for the greater good," Community Beer Company truly believes that beer brings people together. The microbrewery and taproom in Dallas' Design District offers year-round core beers, but its seasonal brews, like the State Fair of Texas Funnel Cake Ale are praiseworthy for both their Lone Star pride and taste.
More than anything, Lone Pint Brewery loves hops. So much so, they only use whole, raw cone hops without filtration, and you can taste the difference in every single brew. This Magnolia brewery is perfect for IPA fans, and the Yellow Rose IPA -- made from a malty base combined with blueberry, pineapple, and grapefruit -- is one of the greatest beers brewed in the Lone Star state.
The brewmasters at this German-style brewery have decades of experience, resulting in high-quality craft brews -- and a genuine celebration of their beer and its drinkers. Since 2011, this northwest Houston spot has been serving up mainstay beers like Hopadillo IPA, Weisse Versa Wheat, and Weekend Warrior Pale Ale. They also host brewery tours, and have a gift shop and restaurant on the premises, which serves gastropub-style fare like charcuterie plates and wood-fired pizzas.
Hop heads go crazy for this Austin brewer’s complex, hop-forward suds, but pale ale drinkers will be just as satisfied. These brewers are hellbent on excellence and showcase this from their brewery tours to their exclusive use of cans. They do this to preserve the quality of their beer and to keep them cold as long as possible. Stop by the taproom for exclusive seasonal brews and eats from various Austin food trucks.
Texas’ oldest craft brewery remains its baddest. Specialty releases keep beer geeks on their toes while a sturdy selection of year-rounds and seasonals keep everyone coming back (and even pub-crawling) for more. They've got a restaurant with great eats from poutine to burgers, and at the brewery you get access to beers unavailable for sale anywhere else.
This edgy brewery opened its doors in late 2015 under the leadership of Ben Fullelove (of Houston's famed Petrol Station). In its tasting room, otherwise known as Brashland, you can try a handful of beers with creative names, such as the dessert-inspired Vulgar Display of Power (a Russian Imperial Stout with a whopping 14% ABV), Pussy Wagon (an Imperial IPA) and Adopted Arrogant Bastard (an American Strong Ale). The space, a haven for '80s kids, features a variety of retro games like the Terminator 2 arcade shooter.
This European-style microbrewery in Del Valle, TX provides quality beer for thirsty patrons in addition to brewery tours. They feature a rotating selection of Austin's finest food trucks to sate any hunger that arises after sipping HefeWizen and Pilz, the brewery's most popular beers. There's a biergarten open in the warmer months, and the expansive two-acre property is perfect for roaming with beer from a choice of 10 taps in hand and playing disc golf.
Located in the heart of Texas Hill Country, this bespoke craft brewer puts out both year-round and limited edition beers with witty monikers. Get your hands on these sough-after ales and lagers, including a heavy metal inspired farmhouse imperial stout ("Black Metal"), a mild, lemon-y Pilsner malt ("Vulgar Affectation"), and a fig-fermented smokey Munich style brew ("Figlet").
In the game for 20 years, Blanco's Real Ale Brewing Co. is craft brewery beer aficionados have routinely praised as one of the country's best. Producing several top notch ales and lagers, Real Ale's long history has a solid lineup of classics, and more recent exploratory numbers including sours and barrel-aged brews, to show for itself. Real Ale is the real deal. Stop by on Fridays to check out the tasting room and take a tour.