Riding the Beer Trail for a Taste of Shiner, with Stops for BBQ
We're living in the golden age of Texas beer. Seriously, we are -- there are craft breweries popping up all around the state, our major cities are seeing growler-filling shops opening up and giving us the chance to take home brews that aren't available in bottle or cans, and we're being graced by multiple beer-centric festivals this month.
With the Texas Senate passing a round of bills that would allow in-state brewpubs the right to sell to distributors and finally letting breweries sell their products on site (though with restrictions, and still pending approval from the House and governor, and knowing our governor who knows what will happen), I started thinking about the new tradition of spending a day touring a brewery, learning about its history and process, and then sampling some of the brewery's hard work in the form of frothy, delicious goodness.
It's sort of a goal of mine to go to each brewery in Texas. In fact, I've made it a point to drive into the Hill Country to walk around Real Ale's small operation, I've attended almost every tour in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and I've even had the pleasure of enjoying a warm pretzel in St. Arnold's beer hall. But there's one tour that I've always thought to be out of reach, one that I figured would be too much of a hassle to go to, and that was the tour at our state's most popular brewery, Shiner.
I came of legal drinking age too late for Shiner's music fests and hometown celebrations, and I'm not nearly confident enough on a bike to attempt the Great Austin to Shiner Peddle. And, to be honest, sometimes it feels as if Dallas is too big to escape -- as if the rest of the state is too far away to enjoy. This is a foolish thought, and with a little bit of research I realized that even with some must-stops, Shiner is just six hours away. The decision was made, I was going.
The drive came together quickly -- head down Interstate 35, make a stop in West, pick up TX-130 in Georgetown and then onto U.S. 183 into Lockhart for a bite to eat. From there it's country roads to La Grange, then TX-95 directly to Shiner. That's 329 miles, four iconic Texas stops. The only real question was whether I listen to Lift to Experience, Robert Ellis or Slobberbone once I lost The Ticket's signal.
My first stop occurred about 90 minutes outside of Dallas in West. You are implored to stop in West by everyone whom you tell you're going to Austin. "OH MY GOD" they say, "You have to stop and eat a kolache at the Czech Stop!" which means you have done this a half dozen times. I for one think we're overselling the real reason to stop in West; we've turned pastries into golden calves while ignoring our state's best vintage shop. We've neglected to insist we stop at the Style Station.
Located on the southern outskirts of West in an old gas station, the Style Station sits on a service road waiting to greet lovers of its eclectic assortment of vintage fashion and art. Long known to hipsters looking for a fashion upgrade, the stop has become sort of a rite of passage for those making the trip to catch a show or festival in Austin. Hell, it's where I bought my first pearl snap. I duck into the shop to look at its wares, making sure to avoid any political talk with the proprietor. Not finding anything to my liking, I hit the road. Lockhart isn't too far away, and I'm starting to get hungry.
Listen, I'm not Gavin Cleaver, I don't write about barbecue, but I know what's good, so let me sum up Lockhart like so. Barbecue is good, barbecue made in Texas is better than barbecue made anywhere else and barbecue made in Lockhart is good enough to constantly be raved about online, in print and on television. If you're looking for an in-depth take on whether Smitty's, Black's, Kreuz or Chisholm is better, wait for Gavin to make the trip down. (Editor's note: Check this space next week.) I'm sure the word "wicked" might show up in his review.