1997 Texas Brewers Festival - Austin

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Old Man Winter arrived as an uninvited guest for the 1997 Texas Brewers Festival in Austin, Texas on November 15th. Weather forecasters failed to predict the cold rains that started just before the noon opening time. The downtown venue did offer some shelter to brewers though. The intersection of 4th and Colorado was closed to vehicle traffic for one block in all four directions and this allowed for rows of blue canopies to shield the food and merchandise vendors, and most importantly, the beer pourers. The more permanent building awning at the corner provided protection from the inclement weather for the rotating bands who played all day and into the night.

Gloves and parkas were the dress of choice on Saturday as small numbers of truly dedicated patrons slowly sampled the four dozen brews on hand from over a dozen Texas breweries. This year's incarnation of irrational laws allowed any Texas micro to participate but brewpubs had to be from within the county only! As the daytime mercury struggled to top the 50 degree mark it was clear that Bocks and Stouts were the most popular. As night rolled in the rains subsided and the bands provoked dancing from the crowd. Not clear was whether this activity was motivated by rhythmic impulses or the self preservation instinct at warding off the numbness setting in on feet that were in soggy contact with the cold asphalt all day. Not surprisingly, the most popular booth all day was that of Southpark BBQ with its wood-fired stove creating a welcome comfort zone for those standing nearby.

By noon Sunday fall had returned to Austin and the sunny blue sky brought out the crowds that packed the streets. With temperatures in the mid-sixties the Wheats and Pale Ales gained in popularity. The volunteer pourers did a good job of keeping things moving and lines were scarce, even at the short row of 15 well-placed Port-a-Potties with their marijuana-scented air fresheners. The organizers clearly knew what they were doing and offered customers choices. With a $20 tasting pass came a four-ounce sampling glass, 25 tasting tickets and a 14 ounce plastic mug. $10 purchased a mug and three tokens. Additional 14 ounce wood tokens cost $2.50 each. There were no "beer police" lurking about and only two uniformed security guards were seen among the well-behaved crowd. Strollers and dogs seemed a bit too plentiful but families with minor children were obviously enjoying the beer, food and musical activities. The crowd appeared a 50/50 mix of men and women with all age groups represented. The youngest group of twenty-somethings made their presence known in a less than desirable way however as their second-hand cigar smoke polluted the breathing air along the two downtown streets. Many in the crowd were heard to express their desire for this fad that plagues so many events to end as fast as possible. Organizers seem to show little concern however, this event even had a Cigar of the Month booth selling cigars that were frequently the cause of the problem! Aside from this lapse in sensitivity, the Texas Brewers Festival was very well organized. Good advance publicity used Austin's print and radio media well. A variety of food vendors were on hand and that meant people could come taste beer and stay a while. The two days of free live music was incredible and appealed to a wide variety of tastes. The lack of "rinse buckets" didn't seem a problem, probably due to pourers serving mini tastes upon request and the lack of any truly "bad" beer.

While Austin's well-known beers made up most of the beer selection, some standouts could be found. The St. Arnold cask-conditioned Amber Ale showed off its dry hopping well via a smooth mouthfeel and medium body while their Christmas Ale featured a medium body, a fruity/malty flavor and a dry finish. The Hill Country Balcones Apple Ale required some tastebud adjustments but the Bitter End cask-conditioned IPA went down very well. Next year let's hope the good beers return while the foul weather does not. As for the guy with the cat-skin cap or the guy with the green nail polish, mini-skirt and shopping cart, well...it's Austin!

Breweries:
Anheuser-Busch Houston (ZiegenBock) Bitter End
Celis Brewery Copper Tank
Frio Brewing Fürstenbräu Brewing (Luckenbach)
Hill Country Brewing Live Oak Brewing
Lovejoy's Main Street Brewing
Old City Brewing Saint Arnold Brewing
Spoetzl Brewery (Shiner) Waterloo Brewing
Yellow Rose Brewing

Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - November, 1997

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