These Texas craft brew cans make beer in the wild easier, and much, much better.
Beer, like all vices, benefits from context.
Everyone has some memory of their misspent youth, college-aged and poverty stricken, hauling a thirty-cube of Hamm’s up a shifting scree slope to the top of an isolated bluff off in some godforsaken corner of a patch of BLM land.
You find the perfect rock under the perfect juniper and crack open a beer, surprised that that 12-buck case turns out to actually be pretty enjoyable, what with the long light of the evening sun, the growling buzz of nighthawks stirring overhead as twilight deepens, and the pine needles hissing in a cool evening breeze.
What would have been a can of yellow fizzy piss down in some dive bar back in town suddenly transforms itself into veritable nectar when enjoyed in the great outdoors.
Now, imagine how wonderful it would have been if you’d carried some actually decent beer up there?
Time was if you wanted to enjoy good beer, a craft beer, a beer that wasn’t 30% rice or corn flakes, where you could actually taste a malty backbone and a hoppy finish, well, you had to load your pack down with carefully wrapped and stowed bottles and just hope for the best at the end of the day.
Now, however, craft brewers are actually canning some of their elixirs, meaning that you can toss a few into your pack and actually expect them to survive your twenty-mile death march through the mountains. I thought I’d go through a few of my favorite Texas craft brewed beers available in a can and offer up both tasting notes as well as a personal pairing guide to some of my favorite hikes in the state.
Before we get to it, however, let us dispel some myths regarding canned beer. Perhaps you turn your nose up at the idea of beer in something as pedestrian as aluminum cans. To this I can only say: knock it off. These beers are made by craft brewers, people who would sooner slit their own throats than send out inferior product. They’ve got you covered.
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“But,” I can hear you whining, “beer in a can tastes awful!” Au contraire, you poor deluded fool, you.
What we have here is a simple case of sampling bias: for many a year, it is true, the only beer available in cans was in fact a cheaply made, thin, yellowish brew, over-carbonated and under-flavored, a mere alcohol-delivery system designed around an economy of scale in both production and consumption. Has one mealy apple turned you off all apples? Does one oily, crappy slice of pizza bought in Ames, Iowa, mean that you have foresworn all pizza henceforth? You can’t live your life like that, man. C’mon.
And finally, a PSA: as in all your activities in the Great Outdoors, enjoy this one responsibly, and be sure to recycle your crushed cans. Stay hydrated and stay safe. Remember, the point in bringing a good beer out to enjoy at the end of a long hike or in camp is to savor humankind’s great achievements in fermentation, not to get to stupid drunk and fall off a cliff.
Also, guns and alcohol are a tragic warning tale waiting to happen, so don’t mix em, alright?
Enough! On to the beers!
THE BEER: Blakkr
THE BREWERS: Real Ale Brewing, Blanco Texas
STYLE: Imperial Black Ale
STATS: 9.0% ABV, 90 IBU
TASTING NOTES: Also called a “Cascadian Ale” or a “Black IPA,” these beers were birthed in the rain-soaked forests of the Pacific Northwest, so you know this one is going to be a punch to the face of hoppy goodness. Thankfully, this one tends to focus more on the piney, citrusy end of hops rather than soul-searing bitterness. Don’t get me wrong, it’s bitter, but the pine and grapefruit on the front end meld nicely with a residual malty sweetness that makes for a surprisingly balanced beer. This beer tends to have a resinous finish, clean and clear and sharp.
PAIRS BEST WITH: All that talk of piney hops puts me in the mood for the piney woods: grab a six-pack of Blakkr and make your way to Village Creek State Park, part of the wooded wilderness of East Texas. Canoeing, camping, and the deep woods of the Big Thicket go nicely with this hearty, hoppy ale.
THE BEER: Scruffy’s Smoked Alt
THE BREWERS: Cedar Creek Brewing, Seven Points, Texas
STYLE: Smoked Alt (it’s right there in the name…)
STATS: 5.1% ABV, 35 IBU
TASTING NOTES: A nice malty ale, lots of bready chewiness with a hint of sweetness. Hops are bittering agents only, at least to my palate, and help to cut the edges off the loafy malt core of the beer. Of course, this is merely prelude: the point of the beer is SMOKE. Smoked malts lend a campfire flavor to this, a sharp smell of hickory that wraps the whole beer in a hazy cloud.
PAIRS BEST WITH: Enchanted Rock State Park, with its hill country camping and hiking, makes for a good accompaniment with this beer. Hike the granite domes, spot the gaudy flash of a Painted Bunting, and then sit around camp in the evening enjoying the smoke. Bonus points: because of a burn ban, it might mean that this beer will be the ONLY way to enjoy a campfire in the park!
THE BEER: Bombshell Blonde
THE BREWERS: Southern Star Brewing Company, Conroe, Texas
STYLE: American Blonde Ale
STATS: 5.0% ABV, 20 IBU
TASTING NOTES: Bready malty goodness with a crisp, clean body, what more could you want? Sound as a bell, this Blonde Ale has a hint of hops that really brings the malt into sharp relief against a slightly bitter background. Refreshing and precise.
PAIRS BEST WITH: A day spent hiking the fossilized remnants of Permian reefs in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park calls out for a beer just like this. Something clean and reaffirming, a comforting beer that helps your weary body find its equilibrium after having traversed Deep Time in a hike across 300 million years.
THE BEER: Black Thunder
THE BREWERS: Austin Beerworks, Austin TX
STATS: 5.2% ABV, 45 IBU
TASTING NOTES: Earthy and organic, with a roasty malt profile that reminds me of dark rye bread and introspection. A beer of contrasts: dark and deep and mysteriously stout-like, but clean and sharp like a pilsner, an ale that thinks it’s a lager, or vice versa. Hops are not at the forefront of this beer, but provide a bitter skeleton to hang the rest of the beer on.
PAIRS BEST WITH: Dark, organic, mysterious… makes me think of the sea (and the delicious things living there). Black Thunder pairs with oysters particularly well, and so it is obvious that it pairs with Goose Island State Park, near the sea. A six pack and a couple dozen oysters, with the waves crashing against the shore as a salt breeze blows in off the bay: a vision of paradise, obtainable in Texas.
Have any other suggestions for great canned beer that’s even greater when drank in the great outdoors? Leave your picks in the comments.