Downtown's Craft-Beer Merchants Tap Into Greatness
Lupe gestures at us animatedly, one hand wrapped around an overflowing beer mug as the other balances a large slice of roasted-fig pizza. This man with remarkable balance is singing the praises of some unholy-sounding concoction called a "Brewnog," but we're not quite sold on the idea.
Photos by Angelica Leicht It's almost impossible to decide what to order at the League of Extraordinary Brewers... everything out of the taps is delicious.
Our bar neighbor at The League of Extraordinary Brewers, Lupe is quite the beer connoisseur. He loves a good Christmas ale, especially one fancied up with some good old-fashioned eggnog, and this is the place to get it.
Besides Lupe (full name Guadalupe Hernandez), right now there are only about eight other patrons in the front room of the brewpub, a place created by and for lovers of beer. The main room is comfortably small, especially compared to the massive kitchen in which patrons are free to pull up a bar stool and chat. It feels full with only a handful of people scattered about, though.
Housed in downtown's historic Kitchen Incubator building, The League is steps away from the bustling Market Square area, but with a much different vibe than nearby bars like The Pastry War and Dean's. It's a pub and brewery rather than a traditional bar, staffed by individual beer artisans instead of bartenders. Often the person who brewed the beer flowing from the tap is the person serving it to you while chatting about its origins. Customers are free to question their brewer/server on everything from technique to ideas for future batches.
The unpretentious, communal feeling carries over into the atmosphere. The League has given special care to exposing the crumbling old brick in the walls, giving the interior added richness and warmth. It's as comfortable as an old friend's living room, with table games like checkers and chess scattered throughout and an entire back room devoted to old-school game systems. Even the taps are decorated with the original Sega controllers.
Each brewer has a chalkboard hanging on the wall that serves as a menu for the week's beer selection. These change from week to week as specific batches run out and others take their place, and first up was a selection from the Warlock. A man who also serves as The League's general manager, the Warlock handed us a tiny glass full of caramel-colored liquid as Lupe nodded approvingly.
Warlock's beer is delicious, and Lupe knows it.
Founded by Lucrece Borrego, The League has been a formal brewpub only since October, but the brewery part has been around much longer. Until recently, stringent Texas law forbade craft brewers from selling their beer on-site, restrictions The League circumvented by selling tickets to events at which it gave away the beer.
But in June 2013, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed a massive craft-beer legislation package that allowed packaging breweries like Saint Arnold's to sell their product on-site, and brewpubs to sell their wares at both the wholesale and consumer levels. It was a win for Texas' craft brewers across the board.
The general public has embraced the changes, as we saw firsthand at The League. Seven specialty beers had been scribbled across the pub's steampunk-ish chalkboards when we first arrived, but one by one they disappeared from sight as we downed our holiday-themed Gingerbread Stouts. We went through every remaining beer on our tasting mission, all brewed by members of The League, and found them exceptional.
That's the beauty of a place like this, though. The meager offerings on its three boards are completely unique to the small pub. Quaffing a Wassailcopter in this homey atmosphere while chatting with the person who brewed it simply makes it taste better. Beer-making truly is a craft, and missing the opportunity to indulge in the brews on offer means they may be gone for good by your next visit.
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