I’d like to think I earned two degrees when I graduated from college last May: one in journalism and the other in beer. Drinking craft beer has been a major hobby of mine since I turned 21. While my buddies in school were drinking Steel Reserve, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Rolling Rock. I was sipping on some Sam Adams, Leinenkugel’s, and being a Texan, some Shiner.
I love traveling and exploring different breweries, tasting their delicious new brews, and enjoying the company of the interesting people I meet along the way. Unfortunately for me and fellow Central Texas residents, we do not have any breweries nearby. Luckily, Austin is a short drive away and has been a growing beer mecca the last few years.
This Memorial Day weekend I took the opportunity to travel down I-35 south and experience a new brewery with friends and family. The lucky find this time was Thirsty Planet Brewery in southwest Austin.
Walking up to the front door of what looks like an upscale factory, I really had no idea what to expect. A delicious smell of one of Austin’s famous food trucks filtered through the packed parking lot. The dark gray clouds held off the hot Texas sun, and a breeze left the air a cool 78 degrees. What a great day to drink some beer.
Upon entering, I immediately noticed that this was not like any other brewery tour I had ever been on. The “cozy” tasting room was packed with young Austin hipsters and college-aged guests. Classic rock filled the speakers and after I handed the doorman my $7 entrance and tour fee, I was given a pint glass and three sampling tickets.
I immediately headed to the bar and ordered their most famous beer, Thirsty Goat Amber. After a few sips of the tasty dry-hopped beverage, I sat down and got comfortable; this was definitely a fun place to kick back and hang out.
Our tour didn’t start for another 25 minutes, but that was just fine with me. As if drinking beer wasn’t fun enough, Thirsty Planet offers a variety of pub games to pass the time. The best thing about this “down time,” however, was the chance to interact with some fellow beer snobs and the owner and operator of Thirsty Planet. These guys always interest me. They have the ability to brew thousands of gallons of delicious beer, and yet I can barely get through cooking spaghetti without something catching on fire.
When our tour began, the tasting room cleared out almost immediately. A young bearded tour guide led our group to the massive back room. This space housed all of Thirsty Planet’s 1,000-gallon brew kettles, mash tuns and bottling line. The tour was nothing special. After you’ve been on a few, you quickly realize that the beer-making process has been the same for thousands of years. However, there was one exciting moment. With the tour winding down, our pint glasses empty, and our mouths quite dry, our tour guide provided us with a fresh beer from one of the 1,000-gallon stainless steel drums. Of the many brewery tours that I have been on, that was the first where I got to taste a virgin beer, one that had never been bottled, canned or kegged. It was quite good and immediately left me feeling happy. Whether that was the great atmosphere or the alcohol I will never know. But I will be back again, ready for more great times.
Erik Papke is a Herald correspondent and beer connoisseur.