Out past 1604 on Old Bulverde road, in the “Netherlands” of San Antonio, is a hidden oasis for beer lovers called the Tap Exchange. We’re not exactly sure which community it’s located in — Encino Park? East Stone Oak? South Bulverde? This is foreign territory to many of us Inner Loopers, and a relatively long drive from downtown. Then again, local beer purists are used to trekking north to find bars that cater to their demands. First there was Hills and Dales out by Helotes, then a few decades later came the Flying Saucer by the Med Center, and most recently Freetail Brewing Company at NW Military and 1604.
The Tap Exchange is cast more in the mold of the Flying Saucer and Lion & Rose, including Tuesday-night pint-glass giveaways, and an installment of the Geeks Who Drink pub quiz (check the website, thetapexchange.com, for details). Its beer selection may not be quite as extensive as the former, but it’s definitely in the conversation, with roughly 60 taps. Whereas the Flying Saucer often has a fairly collegiate atmosphere, the Tap Exchange seems a bit more relaxed. The interior is basically one large room painted in warm colors, with several small tables scattered throughout. For those of you who want a better view of the brew selection, if not a sample, we suggest you sit at the bar.
We dropped in on a lazy Sunday afternoon and saw a good, mixed crowd: a few tattooed rockers, some middle-aged triathlete types, and a foreman or two from a construction site. Beer drinkers, even the ones who fancy the finer varieties, are still pretty much a no-frills bunch. The music at the Tap Exchange reinforces this sentiment with ’80s hard rock pumped through the sound system: some Ozzy, “Welcome to the Jungle” era Guns N’ Roses, and Iron Maiden.
Surveying the beer menu we were intrigued by the Belgian/Trappist options. The waitress was quite knowledgeable and helpful with her comments and led me toward a bottle of Duchesse de Bourgogne. It had a fair amount of carbonation and a clear, bright flavor. The initial first few sips were great, but the apple and fruit components became too strong after half a bottle. The Czechvar lager was quite smooth and pure — not as much flavor, but a better option for throwing back on a hot day. A sample of the Belgian Hoegaarden White Ale reminded me of what is good about Belgian beer with its clean, buttery taste.
It’s interesting to think of these monks up on the top of some mountain abbey brewing beer in-
between chanting and tending to their garden. That their prized product would end up at a bar in a San Antonio Hill Country suburb for people to enjoy while listening to Ozzy Osbourne and watching a pay-per-view Ultimate Fighting Championship is a mind-blower. This combination of high and low culture is an intriguing aspect of the Tap Exchange. The place may not brew its own beer, but with so many great options it’s difficult to see how this is a problem. For beer lovers, we think it’s a must-try — just make sure to bring a driver.