San Antonio and the surrounding region had a banner 2012 for new breweries and expansions, and even brewery-rich Austin is taking note with craft beer bars clamoring for kegs from even the smallest producers.
In the last 12 months, we've seen San Antonio, New Braunfels, Boerne, and Fredericksburg nearly double from six to 11 breweries and brewpubs in operation and a twelfth not far along into the startup process for 2013.
The newest addition to the lineup is Branchline Brewing Company, a microbrewery with a 10-barrel brewing system and an impressive tasting room in northeast San Antonio. Owner and home brewer Jason Ard has created three classic brews — an amber, a honey blonde, and an IPA with rye thrown in for good measure. Head brewer William Les Locke also brings his talent for off-beat brews to the tap with egg nog stout, oyster stout (yes, made with oysters), and smoked Hatch chile ale. The first batches should be on tap at specialty beer bars by the end of the year.
Another edition in the late fall is the culinary one-two punch of chef-driven barbecue cuisine and beer made on site at The Granary 'Cue & Brew at the Pearl complex off Lower Broadway. Alex Rattray is responsible for the beer, including solid classics like an old-school IPA and rarer offerings like the Rye Saison. Tim Rattray, brother to Alex, heads up the culinary side employing a 4,000-pound smoker to bring Texas and international flavors to barbecue.
Coming up next year is Busted Sandal Brewery, which started out in concept as a nano-brewery, but has expanded expectations even before they started interior demolition on their new space. A nano-brewery doesn't have a strict definition, but most commonly brews five barrels of beer or less at a time. Busted Sandal, according to their social media updates, has a 10-barrel system on order, which will make it easier to get when they open in the first half of next year.
New Braunfels Brewing Company isn't strictly new in 2012, with small batches on the market late last year, but they shut down production for months, ordered new equipment, worked with a new brew master, and should reopen soon.
Also in New Braunfels, Guadalupe Brewing Company has had a good start in New Braunfels, San Antonio, and Austin with its Texas honey ale and is a critical success with brews like the Scotch ale aged on Scotch whiskey-soaked wood chips. The micro is already expanding into space next door to make room for an aggressive barrel-aged beer program and double their overall capacity with new equipment.
One of the biggest splashes on the market in 2012 was the introduction of Pedernales Brewing Company in Fredericksburg. The microbrewery has taken a lot of tap handles in San Antonio and the region with a heavy retail presence, including H-E-B, with Lobo Lager, Lobo Negro, and Pedernales IPA, in addition to seasonal offerings. They are adding another 80-barrel fermenter next year to increase capacity.
Established breweries too have a positive outlook. Faust Brewing Company in New Braunfels has added enough equipment to have more of its own beers on tap at a time and had a record November for house-made brews sold. Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling has made a buzz with its small batch series, the fourth edition coming out before Christmas. The Small Batch Number 3 smoked saison was named as one of the top 25 new beers of the year by national beer magazine Draft.
Freetail Brewing Company, now in its fourth year on San Antonio's far North Side, has no room to grow, but has been doing it anyway thanks to an aggressive bottling program for in-house sales of take out beer with a portable bottling line. And at Blue Star Brewing Company, San Antonio's oldest brewery still in business, a new chef and high-end organic menu and more organic ingredients in their beer are breathing some new life into the 14-year-old brewpub.