From the 19th-century trailblazers catering to German immigrants to blue-collar titans like Pearl and Lone Star, San Antonio's brewing culture runs deep. Still, by the early 2000s, it seemed the once-proud tradition would be permanently swept into the dustbins of history. That is, until a coterie of home brewers, industry vets, and suds-obsessed dreamers decided it was high time for a brewed awakening.
Since then, Alamo City has become a magnet for emerging talent. Some stick to the tried-and-true methods of the town's original beer-making greats; some add Tex-Mex flavor or go entirely off-script. But each of the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards nominees for Best Brewery proves that the craft of making local beer never really died.
Raise a glass to the contenders below, then snag your tickets to our brand-new San Antonio tasting event and awards program, taking place April 26 at the Espee. And while making your way through Fiesta events, stop by these top breweries for a pint. Sometimes it's a lovely thing when history repeats itself.
Black Laboratory Brewing
The owners of this East Houston Street microbrewery, Tim Castaneda and Jeff Weihe, are both scientists — a background that serves them well when creating their exacting small-batch beers. Though much of their offerings are accessible styles like vanilla coffee stouts and hazy IPAs, the pair have been drawn to experimentation lately. Their Fiesta-themed Puro San Antonio tinkers with the flavors of Alamo City's favorite Piccadilly raspas, adding chamoy, pickle juice, and cherry Kool-Aid to a blonde ale base. Electro-Lite, the brand's first hard seltzer, outdoes Sonic with cherry, lime, and salt.
Dorćol Distilling & Brewing Co.
Though perhaps best known for its Kinsman apricot rakia, this long-running distillery is just as adept at making beer as it is at spirits. Its High Wheel line features a quartet of easy sippers, mostly inspired by classic European styles like Belgian Saisons or English porters. Although respectful of tradition, the team is comfortable mixing things up with newer trends. Its 56, a West Coast-style IPA, is a must-try. Notes of citrus and tropical fruit lend sunshine to the brew, while a hefty pine waft keeps it grounded in the stink.
Freetail Brewing Co.
With a pair of medals from this year's inaugural Texas Craft Brewers Cup and "best of" awards from almost every San Antonio publication imaginable, this nearly 15-year-old operation is used to setting the standard for local beer. And they do it over an impressive range of approaches. Its most well-known beer, silky lager Bat Out of Helles, pays homage to the city's deep German roots. ¡Puro! Pickles Picoso gives Tex-Mex flavors a whirl, grafting ancho, chipotle, and chile pequin peppers to a cucumber gose. Nothing brings more majesty to a michelada.
Islla St. Brewing Co.
Owned by brothers Josh and Joaquin "J.D." Peña, Islla St. Brewing is as culturally specific as it gets. Inspiration comes from family recipes or the many panaderías and snack shops that make San Antonio's culinary culture unique. A stout cozies up with the spices of Mexican hot chocolate, a blonde ale zings with cantaloupe and cumin, and pineapple empanadas shack up with an IPA. Still, no beer captures Mission City as perfectly as the sell-out Rojo, a sudsy tribute to the town's favorite barbacoa bestie.
The name "Künstler" translates to "artist" in English, a fitting encapsulation of what owners Vera and Brent Deckard do with their palate of beers. Head brewer Vera is a visionary, creating quirky brews that make more sense in the glass than on paper. Sichuan peppercorns in a Belgian ale and an IPA modeled off of blackberry streusel might make German beer purists clutch their pearls. The rest of us admire them for the gems they are.
Roadmap Brewing Co.
Like many craft brewers, entrepreneurs Hannah and Dustin Baker started Roadmap as a hobby after receiving a home brewing kit as a gift. The gift kept on giving, eventually laying the foundation for their River North hot spot, a favorite with weekend warriors. Solid makers of uber-popular IPAs, this brewpub most deftly navigates when the road gets dark. Its Craven Cottage won a 2021 U.S. Beer Open bronze. Just as worthy of praise is the Plain Black T's, a toasty stout with a bop of dark chocolate.
Weathered Souls Brewing Co.
Much of what makes Weathered Souls singular has nothing to do with their recipes. Indie to its core, the business relies on word-of-mouth instead of flashy advertising. More importantly, the company is a leader in social justice. Projects like co-founder Marcus Baskerville's Black is Beautiful initiative, which raises funds for organizations committed to racial equality, put its money where its mouth is. It's heartening, then, that the recipes have the right stuff. Made exclusively from Texas grains, the lagers and stouts make magic out of the wort.