Sunday, January 10, 2010

Beers Texas Needs

In case you had not noticed, the young Texas craft beer market is currently flourishing. We are seeing an unprecedented number of national brands and imports arriving almost weekly, and our in-state commercial brewers are the strongest they have been since the reckless microbrew expansion of the dot-com era.

Naturally, all the stylistic basics seem to be covered. Amber ales and Vienna-style lagers are quite popular and widespread, as are many variations of the well-liked wheat or weizen styles. We have plenty of quality helles lagers, and fall brings an abundance of new Oktoberfest beers each year. We have a couple of decent IPAs (although we could always use more) and a few great stouts, albeit with the latter not truly in high demand with our grueling Texas summers.

So where do we go from here? What direction should Texas brewers take with their products, and which will prove the most successful? What gaps remain to be filled? The good news is that many market niches have already been identified and satisfied most profitably. We have schwarzbiers and Dortmunders and variations on the kölsch, all of which are great additions to our landscape. But we have still missed a few of the obvious.

Bock. The historical settlement of Central Texas is one of German and Czech immigrants, imparting a long and noble history of Germanic brewing to the Lone Star State. Yet too few breweries today embrace this heritage, particularly with respect to bocks and their subcategories. We do have maibocks and limited spring seasonals, but it seems craft brewers are content to relinquish the bock style to Spoetzl (even though Shiner is no longer categorized as a bock) when instead this state should have a market flooded with bocks from every brewhaus. And a popular state-brewed doppelbock is long overdue.

Münich dunkel. The dunkel, a slightly darker, roastier cousin of the Vienna lager, would make a fine competitor for either the dark, sweet lager that is now Shiner or as an alternative to brewing a true bock-style beer. Unfortunately, the only dunkels to be found in Texas are either imported from Germany or from Mexico, which has embraced its German and Austrian brewing heritage better than Texas has.

Berliner weisse. To brew a Berliner weisse for the scorching Texas heat should not even be debated. This low-alcohol wheat beer brings a refreshing lemon and citrus lactic tang to the traditional weizen already popular in hot weather. The proven success of hefeweizen and witbier in our state should prompt local craft brewers to explore all the variations of the weizen styles.

Rauchbier. Another seemingly obvious choice is the rauchbier, a German lager similar to a bock that is brewed with smoked malt and often with an addition of rye. The smoky flavor can be anywhere from subtle campfire to full bacon-flavored beverage, and its obvious pairing with native Texas barbecue should make it a commercial success if only for cooks building their marinades.

Czech pilsner. Despite being the most numerous commercial beer style on the market today, pilsners have drifted too far away from their authentic Bohemian origins. Instead of being smooth, sweet and forgettable, true Czech pilsners can be hopped as strongly as American IPAs using Saaz and other noble hops yet can remain equally as refreshing as a tame marketable lager.

Eisbock. Including an eisbock on this list is a guilty indulgence on my part but still one that may be economically competitive. A traditional strong bock is brewed and then held below freezing for a duration, after which the frozen water content is physically removed as ice (ethanol has a much lower freezing point than water). What remains is a high-gravity commercial competitor to barleywines and imperial stouts that is as smooth as schnapps and relatively unique to the marketplace.

Granted, a few of these styles have already been attempted by in-state brewers—even with ongoing success—but few remain as permanent products on the state’s large landscape. If existing and future brewers adopted German styles more, perhaps a unique national identity could successfully arise for Texas craft brewing.

1 comment:

Debbie Snax said...

Love the new blog look! I was stopping by because I thought you had a book event scheduled for Austin - did I miss it?

In case you hadn't heard, the newest to the Austin brew scene is Hops and Grain, and they are starting out with an Alt, Schwarzbier, a "true" Kolsch, i.e. full lager process, and a red ale.