For a state so mythologized as a bastion of the wide open West, including silver screen gunfights fueled by whiskey and beer in saloons, there’s been an odd relationship between Texas state laws and alcohol.
In recent years, the tide has been turning, due to loosening regulations and increased access to quality beers from other craft conscious states and countries. If the awareness of craft in Texas has been accelerated by festivals, Houston has become that movement’s epicenter.
An explosion of new breweries in Space City has helped fan the flames, with upstarts like Buffalo Bayou Brewing Company (named for the waterway that served as the lifeblood of Houston’s early shipping industry) and 8th Wonder Brewery (a tribute to Houston’s Astrodome) adding some local flair.
With beers available like Summer’s Wit, brewed with hibiscus flowers by Buffalo Bayou, and a Vietnamese coffee porter called Rocket Fuel from 8thWonder, Houstonians are taking full advantage of new drinking opportunities, which started with the establishment of St. Arnold Brewing Company in 1994. Beer drinkers have been lending their support to local brews and imports, in bars and restaurants across the state, and now in an ever-increasing number of festivals designed to show Texans a good time in a big way.
Presented roughly in order of size, longevity and proximity to Houston, those who live in Space City are lucky enough to consider these ten festivals local.
Houston Beer Fest
The fact organizers massively oversold the tickets to the first Beer Fest in 2012 was a testament to Houston’s burgeoning craft scene. Long lines, frustration over pricing and negative online reviews led to lessons learned and festival organizers have had smoother sailing every year since.
Beer Fest boasts over 300 selections, including macro brews that also prove popular. The craft covers the gamut of Texas breweries and a good smattering of big names from around the country, many of which are only recently available to Lone Star state drinkers. Held in the shadow of Houston’s city hall, Beer Fest asks ticket holders to brave the early June heat, but rewards them with a great selection of beers and a bevy of big name bands. Dip your toes in the reflecting pond, take another pull of that Founders All Day IPA – new to Texas, and last year’s beer of choice for many Houston drinkers. It’s possible to check out local acts like The Beans, blues rockers, or sidle up to the main stage for a rap legend like Rick Ross.
Paste Untapped Indie Music &Beer
The Untapped festivals now in cities around the state of Texas are predicated on the assumption that good beer and music make a good combination. A recent outgrowth of the home grown Camp Beer tasting events and its offshoot, Houston Beer Week, Untapped promises to continue delivering big on the beer front, while also giving Houston another star on the music festival map.
Last year’s event, nestled among the sky scrapers surrounding Houston’s Discovery Green, brought groups like Band of Heathens and The Walkmen to the stage, supported by some of Houston’s better known local acts, including sultry rockers The Tontons and The Suffers, a party fuel ensemble. Untapped promises a well curated list of beers, with last year’s event including many rare offerings like a slew of Bishop’s Barrel and Divine Reserve brews from Saint Arnold. This festival offers many Houstonians their first taste of some of the newest brews to hit the market, with perhaps a few sneak previews thrown in for good measure. This festival also does drinkers the favor of waiting for the (ever so slightly) cooler temperatures of early fall, with this year’s date set for September 21.
Houston Press BrewFest
Houston Press BrewFest, held in early summer before the Texas heat really has a chance to crank up, is establishing itself in the festival landscape. In its second year, BrewFest is meant to be an inclusive experience, catering to those just dipping their toes in the craft beer waters as well as more seasoned aficianados. The festival list runs the gamut from tried-and-true Casual Friday beers like Shiner Bock to the fleet of new Texas breweries and those newly available in the Texas market. Blue Moon drinkers rub shoulders with those who grab a Rocket Fuel from the tap wall.
Houston Big Brew
Big Brew is the new kid in town and indicative of the festival fever in Houston. If its older brother BrewMasters Craft Beer Festival held in Galveston is any indication, it’s bound to make friends. Scheduled for a week in October at the George R. Brown Convention Center, Big Brew is trying to one-up its brother, and Houston may benefit from this particular sibling rivalry. With over 1,000 beers from more than 200 breweries, Big Brew just might turn out to be the biggest beer festival the city has ever seen.
A week full of pub crawls, craft beer dinners, food and beer pairings, beer education seminars, intimate meet-and-greet opportunities, a Best in Texas event with in-state offerings only and two grand tasting sessions are some of what the festival promises. Big Brew offers VIP packages that grant early entry to the festival and first dibs on all those beers.
Brigadoon Brewery at Texas Renaissance Festival
Texas Renaissance Festival is the nation’s largest Renaissance theme park. Every year, every weekend during most of October and November, thousands flock to Plantersville, about an hour north of Houston, to watch jousting tournaments and eat turkey legs.
For craft beer fans, though, the real draw is Brigadoon Brewery, a fully functioning 16th Century brewery using period-appropriate tools, techniques, and recipes to provide a unique glimpse into the history of brewing. In addition to the handful of beers brewed by Brigadoon (which have an intriguing tendency toward low alcohol similar to olden times), Brigadoon also partners with a different Texas brewery every weekend, turning the brewhouse into a collaborative mad science lab for some of Texas’ finest brewers while pouring samples of that brewery’s offerings. This year, Brigadoon is starting a cask program at the brewery, which promises to add another layer to one of the state’s most unique beer experiences.
DeFalco’s Firkin Fest
DeFalco’s, long Houston’s premier homebrew supply store and a stalwart supporter of the craft beer scene, has jumped into the festival game in a big way by hosting its first festival on June 28 . Partnering with the Texas Craft Brewers Guild and Brigadoon Brewery and Beer School, DeFalco’s will be offering a variety of Texas brews in traditional casks, likely the largest selection of “real ale” available anywhere in the state. With offerings from (512) Brewing Co., 8th Wonder, Buffalo Bayou, Cycler's Brewing, Karbach Brewing Company, Lone Pint Brewery, New Republic Brewing, No Label Brewing Company, Real Ale Brewing Company, Saint Arnold and Southern Star Brewing Company, DeFalco’s Firkin Fest is all but guaranteed to have something participants have never tasted before.
Katy Wild West Brew Fest
With a small and well thought out selection of beers, Wild West Brew Fest held in May in Katy, Texas is as much community outreach as it is beer festival. Hosted by the Katy Rotary, proceeds go to benefit a host of projects such as the annual Toy Drive and the Katy Freedom Park Project "Remembering 9/11.” Organizers want festival goers to try out a new brew and feel good about doing it. Twenty-five breweries were on tap for the inaugural festival in 2013; organizers also held a Best Brew of the WWBF competition, a homebrew contest and a food pairing contest featuring local restaurants. For those who like their beer with a charity back, Wild West Brew Fest is the right one.
King’s Biergarten BierFest
King’s, located in Pearland, has quickly established itself as the best place to get a stein of pilsener with your plate of wurst. King’s recreates the authentic biergarten experience with its Oktoberfest weekend in September (like the original in Munich, which actually begins the last weekend before October). King’s is the kind of place where men wear lederhosen, women wear dirndls, and beer can be had in a boot the size of a large baby. For their second annual Bierfest, King’s will be pouring a wide selection of German brews, all offered at one dollar. One lucky fan will even win beer for a year, which sounds pretty dang festive.
BrewMasters Craft Beer Festival (Galveston)
Galveston is the Gulf Coast beach outlet for Houston, and where better to host a Texas beer festival than at the shore in August? In its fifth year, BrewMasters is among the older guard of Houston area festivals, but that doesn’t mean it’s lost a step. With a focus on education as well as libations, BrewMasters combines its keg tappings with demonstrations and discussions on a wide variety of craft beer topics. Last year featured a seminar on session beers and a blind tasting challenge. With 400 or so offerings, festival goers are bound to find something to stimulate their palate as well as your intellect. Festival goers can get a taste of what the Lone Star state’s brewers are up to during the Texas Brewery Tasting Tour, or sample brews from all over during the BrewHaHa Grand Tasting.
Texas Craft Brewers Festival (Austin)
Each September, the Texas Craft Brewers Guild brings its festival to the state capitol in Austin, which Houstonians view as close enough to be a hip suburb. A celebration of everything brewed in Texas, TCBF is arguably the best place to sample the widest variety of Texas beers. If someone is brewing beer commercially in Texas, it can be found at TCBF. As a bonus, Austin is also home to or within a stone’s throw of many of the state’s best barbecue joints plus other unique eateries. Hruska’s on State Highway 71 in Ellinger, for example, is home to excellent Kolaches, the fruit-filled Czech specialty that pairs well with beer.