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What’s Brewing in the Hill Country?

Follow the Texas Hill Country Beer Trail
Written by Melissa Gaskill. Photographs by Will van Ovebeek.

hilco brewing 102016

Texas boasts a strong German heritage, which naturally includes a long history of breweries and beer. Recently, 20 independent breweries in Central Texas created the Texas Hill Country Beer Trail, a meandering loop from Boerne to San Saba and Dripping Springs to Fredericksburg. Twenty is too many to visit in a day or even a weekend, but it’s easy to break the list into a manageable trail of favorites. On a recent jaunt with my daughter (and designated driver), I explored Save the World Brewing in Marble Falls, Pecan Street Brewing in Johnson City, Real Ale Brewing Co. in Blanco, and Fredericksburg Brewing Company, which lie a reasonable distance from each other along a scenic loop.

Texas Hill Country Beer Trail

See www.hillcountrycraftbeertrail for details about the trail.

Save the World Brewing is in Marble Falls. Call 830/637-7654.

Pecan Street Brewing is in Johnson City. Call 830/868-2500.

Real Ale Brewing Co. is in Blanco. Call 830/833-2534.

Fredericksburg Brewing Company is in Fredericksburg. Call 844/596-2303.

Save the World Brewing

Dave and Quynh Rathkamp met as medical residents in 1996 and worked as physicians in the Dallas area. He had brewed his own beer for years, and she aspired to work at a nonprofit. A few years ago, the couple decided to start a brewery and give all proceeds to charity. Ergo, Save The World Brewing.

The couple chose Marble Falls for its beautiful scenery and started brewing beer in 2014. On a tour, Dave told us how they make Belgian-style beers with malt from Europe, yeast from a Trappist monastery in Belgium, and Marble Falls water. Post-tour, I tasted a flight of six, including Agnus Dei (Latin for Lamb of God), a classic Belgian wheat beer brewed with orange peel, coriander, and an unnamed spice, and a medium-bodied traditional farmhouse ale called Fructum Bonum (Good Fruit), with sweet malt, zesty citrus, and peppery spice flavors.

The tasting room has bar stools and table seating, with cards and board games to encourage lingering. It filled up with several groups of trail-followers by the time I finished up my tasting. Outside, a dozen or so people claimed shaded picnic tables and enjoyed games of cornhole, big-block Jenga, washers, and ring toss with their brews. I’ve never had so much fun drinking beer for a good cause.

Pecan Street Brewing

The bar inside this restaurant and brewpub on the Johnson City courthouse square faces a bank of windows providing a view of the brewing operation. Fans of both live music and cold beer, owners Tim and Patty Elliott met while working at Austin’s Armadillo World Headquarters in the 1970s. They bought the old Blanco County Supply building in 2008 after running an export business in Houston for years.

“We saw this building sitting empty, which seemed a shame,” says Patty. “We just started brainstorming and decided to do something revolving around beer. Tim spent three years working on the building while our son Sean went to England for a brewing course.”

As Pecan Street’s brewmaster, Sean rotates about 50 recipes, many with names riffing on the nearby Courthouse, like County Jail Pale Ale, 25 to Life IPA and No You’re Out of Order! Porter. I ordered a tasting flight of four, and the bartender threw in a shot of a rich, delicious root beer that could qualify as dessert.

The restaurant serves lunch and dinner, including brick-oven pizzas, sandwiches, and burgers, and classics such as chicken-fried steak and meat loaf. Behind the restaurant, picnic tables line a spacious indoor area for live music.

Real Ale Brewing Co.

Started in a downtown Blanco basement in 1996, this brewery moved to new digs just outside town in 2007. Its tap room debuted in 2015 after state legislation allowed breweries to sell their product for on-site consumption. Real Ale doesn’t filter or pasteurize its beer and currently sells its beers only within Texas.

The spacious tap room offers a revolving cast of 14 regular beers, seasonal releases, and brewer’s cuts, which are new recipes the brewers are still tinkering with. I carried my four-beer tasting flight to an indoor picnic table near windows overlooking the production facility, where I played checkers with my daughter. Folks at other tables helped themselves to the board game selection as well, while several couples sampled flights at the long metal bar. A dog-friendly outdoor seating area offers views of the surrounding Hill Country.

Real Ale offers free tours on Friday and Saturday and a food truck some Saturdays; you’re welcome to bring a picnic anytime.

Fredericksburg Brewing Company

This elder of the brew trail opened in 1994 in a restored 1890s building on Main Street.

A row of enormous tanks along one of the brewpub’s limestone walls includes copper brewhouse tanks, shiny stainless cooling tanks, and pointy-bottomed fermenters. Doors, floors, and the base of the long bar feature long-leaf pine recycled from the original building. The bar serves a rotating selection of the brewery’s ales, lagers, and tasting flights, which can be ordered from restaurant tables as well.

The food menu features beer-friendly items like soft pretzels, burgers, and pizza. If the bar fills up, head for the enclosed biergarten out back, or, since Fredericksburg laws allow it, take your beer with you on a stroll down Main Street. If you book one of 12 rooms in the “Bed and Brew” above the Brewing Company, you can simply head up the stairs when your evening ends.

Early Hill Country immigrants brought many good things to Texas—historic missions, Longhorn cattle, limestone architecture, pastries, the polka. And beer. Prost!

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