Updated: Feb 3, 2021
Winter is a time of dread for me, and the end of 2020 heading into the start of 2021 didn't really give me the sense of relief that a lot of people seemed to have about the nightmare that started in 2020 coming to a close. Maybe I watch too much news, maybe it was the current events compiled with my annual winter blahs, but I just didn't have much faith that somehow come New Years Day things were going to suddenly get much better. Sure, the Trump era was ending, but did anyone really think he'd suddenly stop dominating the news? COVID numbers were getting increasingly worse and were forecasted to be dire well past 2021. Americans were full of hatred for each other and divided on everything from what a fact was on up. As the song goes, nothing changes on New Year's Day... and it seemed a bit silly to me to pretend otherwise.
That said, like in 2020 I planned to make the most of the situation, and try to leverage the warmer climates to concentrate primarily on outdoor, C19-safe environments as much as I could.
Künstler Brewing - San Antonio, TX
Beers are available on tap, in growlers, and large cans at the brewery, and on top at restaurants and drinking establishments throughout the area.
My annual touring ritual since 2018 has been to escape the cold of the midwest and head south for the winter, and for the second year I planned to spend most of January playing in Texas. Last year I spent two weeks playing Texas, and this year the plans were for three long weekends of shows, focused primarily around the Austin and San Antonio regions, where the breweries are abundant, and the social and music scenes are rich. Due to the extra time I also planned to spend my off days enjoying Texas' unique resources, camping and hiking in various parts of the state.
The drive to Texas is 20 rather torturous hours. The first 8 aren't bad, as they take me through the familiar rolling hills of Kentucky and Tennessee, crossing through Nashville and Memphis, but once you cross that Memphis bridge across the Mississippi River into Arkansas it is a long, bleak, desolate ride to Austin. In the winter it's just a palate of greys, and there is nothing to see from the highway. Crossing into Texas plays that game with your head where you feel like you're almost there, but the finish line just keeps getting further and further away, as the drive through northern Texas, Dallas, Waco and then finally Austin seems to take forever.
This year the drive was memorable, as a few hours into the trip, on January 6th as I was heading south through Kentucky, one of my sons called to tell me that the U.S. Capitol was under siege, and there was an armed standoff on the floor of the Senate. Even during these crazy times, this was not the kind of news you expect to hear. Thanks to SiriusXM, I listened to the audio feeds of CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, NPR and the BBC, and spent the drive flipping between them for different perspectives on the day's events, which were made more bizarre by the fact that I could only picture them in my mind. Late that night I stopped somewhere around Little Rock, and only then got to watch the amazing images as I fell asleep. My imagination did not match the scale of the actual visual coverage. Total insanity.
The next day I arrived in Austin early evening and got to relax a bit and get a good night's sleep before heading a bit further south to San Antonio the following day for the tour's first stop at Künstler Brewing.
Texas must have had a significant influx of Germans at some point, as there is a surprising number of breweries, old and new, that remain heavily influenced by and rather true to German brewing traditions throughout the state. I played a fabulous one last year in Houston that adhered strictly to the German Purity Laws (which state that beer can only contain the four essential ingredients), and would visit several this year... Künstler Brewing being the first, and one of the more interesting.
Künstler was founded by Head Brewer and Owner, Vera Deckard and her husband Brent in 2017, and is located in San Antonio's Southtown area. Vera's vision has been to blend beers inspired by the German tradition with a modern fusion of German and American foods, and it has resulted in a festive beerhall atmosphere that does just that. While the beers are inspired by German tradition, they do not limit themselves to the strict guidelines of the purity laws, which allows Künstler to experiment with all the modern twists on beers that have become so popular in the modern rise of craft breweries.
The food menu consists of a wide variety of German inspired specialties like soft pretzel, bratwurst and other traditional meats, several salmon dishes, and all sorts of great looking dishes that smelled fantastic, but I sadly didn't get to sample as I can't perform on a full stomach... so I rarely manage to eat at my gigs.
The beer menu is comprised of around 16 different brews, ranging from heife weizen to numerous variations on pale ales and porters, to stouts.
I started my evening with the Idle Hans (5.8%) India Pale Lager, which was a smooth and refreshing thirst quencher that hit the spot perfectly after the drive down from Austin. A little hoppier than your average lager, with a little malt to balance it out and keep it less hoppier than your average IPA, Idle Hans was a flavorful yet crushable brew to get things started. In a world that has been so dominated by IPAs for years now, I really enjoy a well done IPL, and this one was quite good.
My next pour was Jojo's (7.4%) Farmhouse Ale – Saison. Golden and clear on the pour with a light head, this saison featured citrusy overtones, a little woody, and some hoppy bitterness. More complex than I often experience in this variety, it was a tasty drink but not my favorite of the night (not that it was bad by any stretch.. it was quite good... but there were others that grabbed my attention more).
The Blackberry Streusel (6%) blackberry Sour was a unique twist on the sour format. Plum hued and brewed with blackberries, the addition of lactose smooths out the texture, while the fruit and hints of vanilla and spice provide a well balanced combination of fruitiness, hoppiness, and pastry tones. A nice sipper during one of my sets, sipping it occasionally made it quite interesting to revisit after every few songs.
I wrapped up my evening with Ghost Tracks (5.7%) Oatmeal Porter. While the Spring and Summer tours provide a lot of ales, lagers, sours, etc. I look forward to the winter tour for the darker beers, particularly the porters and stouts. Made with roasted oats, Ghost Tracks initially hit me a bit sweeter than I expected, but then finished with welcoming chocolate and malty tones. A very dark pour with a creamy head, the body was heavier and creamy, with the sweetness that initially surprised me softening up with each sip. I was surprised that it only clocked in at 5.7%, as it drank as if it were packing more of a punch.
Künstler Brewing's staff was friendly and knowledgeable about the beer selection, and eager to give recommendations based on your tastes. The taproom was festive and the crowd was enthusiastic about the beer, food, and music, and provided plenty of interesting conversation for a touring musician from far away. It was a great place to kick off the tour and enjoy some great beers after the long journey to Texas, and set the stage nicely for the coming trips between San Antonio and Austin.
There are quiet a few quality breweries in the San Antonio area, and Künstler is among the best, not only due to the quality of their brews, but due to their unique focus on blending German tradition with the new, both with their beers and their eclectic food menu, and the festive atmosphere that creates. If you find yourself in the area, I would put Künstler Brewing on your short list of places to carve out some time to visit.
We packed it up and headed back north after the show, where we'd be playing the following night at another brewer of German heritage... Austin's Celis Brewery.
Dennis O'Hagan's Great Brewery Tour is completely grass-roots. Your support is appreciated, and can be shown by coming to the shows, frequenting the featured breweries, wearing our t-shirts, and via tips at: http://venmo.com/DennisOHagan