With so many new breweries popping up in Texas’ small Hill Country towns, the urge has been strong to slip the bonds of the city and head for breweries with a strong bucolic aesthetic.
On the latest quest for fresh Texas beer, I hit the road with Faust Brewing Co. head brewer and fellow New Braunfelser Ray Mitteldorf to follow the Hays County beer trail where we discovered a ranch road runs through it. That’s Ranch Road 12 in Hays County, a winding stretch of road flanked by pastures, live oaks, prickly pear cacti … and breweries.
First stop is Middleton Brewing Co., a small brewpub just outside Wimberley, where San Diego transplants Dennis and Kim Middleton brew Belgian-style ales in 20-gallon batches and serve them at a tiny bar. Unlike most brewpubs doing double duty as restaurants, this one eschews the labor-intensive food side and houses a home brew supply shop upstairs.
Though the idea to relocate to Texas was percolating while they were still in California, Kim Middleton said they made the leap after six new breweries opened within peddling distance. They were drawn here for the people, she said, and like the heat.
Upon sampling, all of the beers shined, and the use of spices and herbs like chocolate mint gave surprising touches to familiar styles.
What is so unusual is that they are immediately next door to existing brewpub Brewsters Pizza/Wimberly Brewing Co. where former NFL player Bruce Collie is brewer and serves as the Middleton’s landlord.
Wimberley Brewing first opened in 2009 in a sprawling complex of wood and native stone at the intersection of Ranch Roads 12 and 32. It closed soon after and reopened two buildings away as Brewsters before moving again to a slightly larger space between the first and second locales.
This Flying Dutchman of a brewery isn’t nearly so wayfaring when it comes to the beer.
On this visit, a hefeweizen that drank more like a Belgian wit thanks to the coriander and orange and lemon zest, was refreshing. A chocolaty porter made for a nice finisher. They were in between brewing cycles, so some of the hoppier of the usual six offerings weren’t on, but the signature Red Bitter is a good place to start for something with a good hop and malt balance.
Continue north on RR 12 and the beer trail ends with The Barber Shop Bar. The former automotive garage and haircut haven features beers like Mullet Mild and Bald Spot ESB. The web site barbershopbar.com offers insight into Texas guest taps, but you’ll have to go to the Facebook page before venturing out to make sure they have house-made beer on tap.
Next road trip: U.S. Highway 281 from downtown SA to Marble Falls holds plenty of surprises.
Travis E. Poling writes about beer weekly for the Current and is author of Beer Across Texas: A Guide to Brews and Brewmasters of the Lone Star State. You can reach him at [email protected].