June of 1996 was a good month for San Antonio beer lovers. Fifteen years ago this weekend, Blue Star Brewing Co. opened its doors in an old warehouse on the edge of the King William district and Real Ale Brewing Co. started brewing just up U.S. Highway 281 in Blanco.
One was a brewpub and the other a microbrewery at a time when both types of breweries were all the rage.
Few survived. And that’s what makes surviving a decade and a half so impressive in a state full of backwards, protectionist beer laws and light beer drinkers.
Blue Star was launched out of Joey Villarreal’s passion for fresh, handcrafted beers. The owner of Joey’s bar on North St. Mary’s Street since 1988, Villarreal was making beer with a small setup in the bar even before he opened a full brewpub and restaurant in the now-thriving Blue Star Arts Complex.
European-style pilsner, pale ale, stout, and the celebrated King William Ale were all an awakening for the tastebuds of San Antonians. Who would have foreseen a light-beer city embracing the 11-percent ABV barleywine embodied in the King William?
Real Ale, likewise, was making a splash in Austin and San Antonio at the little brewery started by Philip and Diane Conner and son Charles. Brad Farbstein bought the brewery in 1998 and turned it into one of the most successful micros in Texas. A much-enlarged brewery opened just down the road from the original in 2006.
The Conner’s three original beers — Rio Blanco Pale Ale, Brewhouse Brown, and Full Moon Pale Rye Ale — are still centerpieces for the brewing program, although sales of the blonde ale Fireman’s #4 now outstrip all others.
An inspiring cast of seasonal brews emerged, including current seasonal Devil’s Backbone Belgian Tripel and the Mysterium Verum series of barrel-aged creations.
Blue Star will celebrate its milestone on Saturday and Sunday with the sale of special 15th-anniversary pint glasses and T-shirts (and free commemorative buttons!) Thursday through Sunday.
Real Ale will hold its usual anniversary bash at the brewery on Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. Parking is $5, but the event is free and includes food and a succession of rare Real Ale beers they save for the occasion. Bring a chair, a hat, and sunscreen.
Lüke/Real Ale dinner
Lüke restaurant on the San Antonio River Walk has teamed up with Real Ale for a June 28 beer dinner.
Lost Gold IPA, Brewhouse Brown, Fireman’s #4, and Devil’s Backbone will star alongside Chef Steven McHugh’s menu, which includes heirloom tomato and watermelon tasting terrine, gazpacho, Tarte Tatin, grilled cobia with Pearl Market succotash, and shrimp-stuffed okra.
Tickets are $50, but space is limited, so reserve them now.
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].