MEET THE TASTEMAKERS
San Antonio's 8 best beers untap the city's independent spirit
San Antonio does not have as saturated of a brewery scene as some of Texas' largest cities, but it does have a more independent spirit. Our craft beer greats seldom stick to one style and could care less if fashionable fonts appear on their packaging. Though they rack up statewide and national awards, they never lose sight of the fact that they serve the local community.
The CultureMap Tastemakers Awards celebrates that maverick spirit in this year's batch of Brewery of the Year Nominees. Meet them all below, then join us on May 18 at the Briscoe Museum when we reveal the winner.
Black Laboratory Brewing
How's this for popular science? Owners Tim Castaneda and Jeff Weihe have paid their dues in the lab, a background that informs their experimental small-batch brews. The joys of the core lineup of pilsners, lagers, and IPAs are hardly theoretical, but the limited edition beers equally pass the acid test. Chief among them is the Fiesta season's Puto San Antonio, a piccadilly raspa in a pint blending chamoy, pickle juice, and cherry Koolaid into a crisp blonde ale base.
Celebrating a decade in business, Busted Sandal now clomps around a San Antonio taproom and a Helotes beer garden. But it is still at its best brewing poundable brews that hold up to the city's 500 days of summer. With unexpected ingredients, the limited edition La Chancla series particularly delights. The Watermelon 210 Ale practically demands a dip in the pool.
Cactus Land Brewing Co.
Like many folks who have entered the industry, Cactus Land owners Dustin and Erica Teague started as home brewers. That DIY spirit still resonates in almost everything they make. In addition to brewing accessible bocks and ales, the company offers a salty coriander-scented pilsner and even a rice lager. Teetotalers can also rejoice at their equally complex root beer.
This long-running establishment is one of San Antonio's most awarded breweries, regularly snagging medals at the Texas Craft Brewers Cup. But the beers aren't just appealing to craft nerds. Freetail has made a mission to embody the city's soul, from its German heritage to its Tejano culture. The mix results in some of the area's easiest sippers, from the puckery gose ¡Puro! Pickles to the seasonal Citrus Trip, a blood orange wit.
The owners of this Southtown hot spot, Vera and Brent Deckard, are exceedingly well-traveled, a fact that informs their magpie approach to beer. The descriptions read like a travelogue — taking drinkers from San Diego beaches to Ecuadorean farms to hikes near Aschau, Germany. The flavors are equally international. Head brewer Vera works in dozens of styles, using her sharp palate to deliver inventive creations like a matcha milkshake IPA and a briny oyster stout.
The craft beer world can often be too earnest, so Mad Pecker's whimsical "about us" section is a whiff of fresh air. The tale weaves in sudsy hermits, cruel industrial beer kings, and magical hops forests, making owners Jason and Erika Gonzales' quest for flavor seem positively heroic. Indeed, their Wemby Watch — a Trans-Atlantic IPA brewed with United Kingdom malts — is the stuff of legends.
Some good things came from the pandemic — like this still-growing operation from husband-and-wife Jim and Samantha Hansen. Obviously taking in those lost years' lessons, the couple brings community to everything they do. From women-only and all-inclusive classes to partnering with local chefs, Second Pitch puts people first. But oh, how their perfectly executed classics encourage that camaraderie.
Weathered Souls Brewing Co.
The guiding principle behind this North Central brewery is "if the beer is good enough, folks will find out." By that measure, each pint is as effective as a pop-up ad. The team doesn't spend much time transcribing each beer's esoteric notes, instead allowing guests a personal experience. And they brew whatever is good — from smacking sours to the city's best stouts.