Hophead: Beer Across Texas Guides Brew Lovers To The Lone Star State
Writing a guide to Texas brewers would seem an obvious choice for a textbook author with such an extensive knowledge of the subject. As it turned out, though, his friend and fellow beer blogger Travis Poling had the same idea. So the two decided to collaborate on the authoritative, comprehensive map of the Texas beer landscape, dividing the state geographically by the regions where each lived and had family connections.
The result, Beer Across Texas: A Guide To The Brews And Brewmasters Of The Lone Star State, was recently published by Maverick, and proves to be a valuable resource to anyone curious about the state's breweries, beer pubs and brewing history.
I asked Hightower about his thoughts on Texas beer, his favorite places to pick up a six-pack, and why the self-proclaimed "National Beer Of Texas" merits just a passing mention in his book.
What made you want to write a book about Texas beer?
The Texas beer scene is just getting off the ground, and it's really fascinating to watch it develop before our eyes. I think it's a little bit of a change in culture. This has always been a Bud Light state, a light-lager state. Some of it's the German heritage, some of it's the weather, some of it's the culture. We've got two major national breweries (Anheuser-Busch in Houston and MillerCoors in Fort Worth) here, and they tend to dominate the landscape. But I think it's part of the slow-foods movement that is just now starting to take hold in bigger cities.
What are some of the challenges that Texas brewers face that are unique to the state?
I hate to point fingers, but the simple answer is the TABC (Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission). The paperwork, legislation, the rules they have to go through, and the expense--Texas is the most expensive state to get a beer approved, even for out-of-state brewers. So that's a deterrant for a lot of people. Plus, we tend to tie our own hands with strange laws, like brewpubs can't bottle, whereas other states are a lot looser and give them a lot more flexibility. Number one, I'd say legislation. Number two, I'd say money.
There's not a whole lot about Lone Star, which proclaims itself as the National Beer of Texas. You just describe a little of the history of being bought by Stroh's and Pabst. Do you not consider Lone Star to be a Texas beer because of the ownership?
Yeah, because it's contract brewed by one of the larger breweries. Our focus was more on beers brewed in Texas for Texans. Some of these Texas-branded beers like Lone Star, they have a market and a history here, but they're not part of the brewing environment. There is no Lone Star brewery that you could go take a tour of, unlike Rahr or St. Arnold.
Is it actually brewed outside the state?
I think it's brewed by Anheuser-Busch or Miller here in Fort Worth. They do a ton of contract brewing for different labels.
So that's the same reason you did go in depth about Anheuser-Busch and Miller, even though people don't think of them as Texas beers.
You kind of have to, because they're the major players in the market. And major players in the legislature too. If they want a law passed that's beer-favorable, they get that law. Smaller breweries, or even something large like Spoetzl--which brews Shiner beers--don't have that leverage.
You keep a pretty even tone throughout the book. Was it difficult to stay objective, even though you obviously have strong personal opinions about different beers, and about legislature?
It's not difficult. We're trying to establish a written history, something we can update every couple of years. So we didn't want to throw a bunch of opinions about something that is maybe just a one-time event. Someone may not like Brewery X because they got a bad beer there that's not indicative of the brewery's capability. And we didn't want to get into the political realm, because there are arguments on both sides. We didn't want to put a position on that.
What are some of your favorite Texas beers?
I'm a big fan of Real Ale down in Blanco. Just about everything they do, I'm a big fan of. I also like Live Oak down in Austin. They're going to fall behind if they don't start bottling and distributing their stuff commercially. They've had plans, saying, 'Maybe in a couple years we're going to start bottling and distributing.' But they've been saying that for about 15 years now. They've got a couple of accounts [where you can try it on draft] up here at the Gingerman and Flying Saucer, but it's pretty much just in Austin. Real Ale just put out a coffee porter, and that's a huge step forward. It's one of my favorite Texas beers.
Where do you buy beer?
One of my favorite places to buy in bottles is Central Market. And Whole Foods. You can buy single bottles, so you're not committing yourself to a whole six-pack. There's a little place in Colleyville called Hall's [on S.H. 121 and Glade Road]. It's one of these legendary stores where they have everything under the sun, but you wouldn't know it because it's a gas station. It's a little more expensive, but if there's something you absolutely have to have and you can't find it anywhere else, you're almost guaranteed to find it there.