Have you ever, in all your born days, queued up outside of a retail store at 10am on a workday, standing patiently behind very large men with impressively sculpted beards, just for the opportunity to buy one, solitary, 25-ounce bottle of beer? Then drive it home, seat belt securing its contents, where it will be stored upright in a cold storage you refer to as ‘the cellar’ — which is just a re-purposed old refrigerator intended to preserve the stockpile of inventory from very similar outings?
That is probably not you. Not yet, anyway. This is the article that might change your mind.
Incidentally, this piece is also for those of us who have performed this ritual, because knowing that this culture exists outside of our own niche community makes it somehow less weird — despite the fact that “weird” is our city’s own byword. It should be known to outsiders of this microbrew collecting community that sometimes, the circumstances surrounding beer are more interesting than the beer itself.
The concept of the bottle shop — the beer nerd street vernacular referencing a dedicated beer retailer who promotes local and non-local craft beer — was not invented in Austin. That accolade likely goes somewhere else with a comparably ancient craft beer scene, like San Diego, or Seattle or Portland. This is a rather atypical phenomenon for a city like Austin, often referred to as a breaking ground of sorts for new and innovative ideas.
But as a city, Austin is still relatively in its craft brewing infancy, albeit, a community deftly in-tune with idealistic beliefs regarding the value of sustainable local artisanship and craft culture. While bottle shops aren’t as prevalent in Austin as they are in traditional US beer meccas, the small stores currently cutting the swath from the adjunct lager coolers in the supermarket to their own shelves provides for a safe gateway, even for the most resolute of Big 3 beer drinkers. It is important that craft beer remains approachable and accessible to a spectrum of beer drinkers — from casual to enthusiasts — as often times, rows of unfamiliar labels can be intimidating for anyone branching out of their comfort level. Bottle shops continue to make craft beer convenient and fun.
Because of Austin’s renown in presenting major international events, like Formula 1, South by Southwest, and Austin City Limits, visitors to the city have become a more familiar with locally brewed beers and Austin’s organic culture overall. What was once a thirsty, mid-size college town dedicated to a single-style dark lager, has matured into a catacombs of brewpubs, craft beer bars, and full-time production breweries, becoming the craft beer capitol of Texas.
And where Hotly Trending City meets Popular Indigenous Industry is at the intersection of these sprouting re-purposed relics of former gas stations, rebranded liquor stores, and progressive grocery chains; Austin’s home to transportable liquids from breweries near and far.
Visitors are now afforded the convenience of collecting wares from one place, and transporting their treasures by any means necessary to their own regions of the country where popular Texas beers are unavailable. This is a practice integral for shaping Texas’ beer reputation across the craft landscape, and promoting other non-local, small beer brands due to imposed limitations on distribution costs or production ability.
Meanwhile, locals are able to enjoy the gentle pop of bottle caps, which have begun to replace the sounds of corks and cocktail spoons at dinner events. Sharable beer. From a single bottle!
Perhaps the one you took a long lunch to wait in line for behind other beer nerds.
Sunrise Mini Mart [512.453.5176 | Mon-Sat 6:30am-Mid, Sun 8am-Mid]
Located in a gas station where no one appears to be filling up their vehicles at all, rather filling up their arms with an impressive selection of reasonably priced bombers, 750mL bottles, and six packs. The curator is a self-proclaimed hop head, so his selection of beers slants towards the hoppy side. Sunrise MiniMart often receives rare beer and limited release beers, which they actively post about online on Twitter and Facebook. @SunriseMiniMart
Hyde Park Market [512.524.4217 | Sun-Fri 6am-Mid, Sat 6am-1am]
If there is a bigger selection of beer in one place within the entire city of Austin, then it is being hoarded by some tech-geek in his 2,000 sq. ft. man cave. Hyde Park Market puts even the biggest beer retailers in the state under its long shadow of clever ordering and stockpile. Each inch of the store appears to be offering something interesting, foreign or domestic, and though notably pricier than other bottle shops, the advantage of shopping here is that some of the more hotly sought limited release beers will remain on the shelf for a few weeks beyond the initial buy-out. Hyde Park Market also offers a mind-numbing selection of single-bottle beers for building a custom six-pack.
East 1st Grocery [512.477.0988 | Sun-Fri 7am-Mid, Sat 7am-1am]
East 1st Grocery is the relative newcomer to the big bottle showdown, but is building an impressive cache of selections typically unavailable in one single store (even Hyde Park!). With a strong focus on local breweries, E1G is a great place near downtown to stock up on Texas wares. Because its still a bit of a hidden gem, even amongst the beer societe, some of the more rarer beers will grace their shelves for a few hours. Don’t expect that to last long, though, as Austin starts to catch on to their ordering prowess and their ability to make rapid ties with entrenched distributors and self-distributing breweries. Bomber and 750mL bottles are plentiful, and mixing a custom six-pack from their hand picked selection is one of the best things about E1G. An active twitter lets beer fans know their latest inventory. @E1Grocery
Central Market Westgate [512.899.4300 | Everyday 8am-10pm]
While not an independant retailer — or a bottle shop for that matter — Central Market does offer a very extensive selection of craft sixers and large format bottles with a knowledgeable staff to get you through their impressive beer cooler. Even better, they offer on-site consumption of your fresh bottle, along with live music on certain nights.
King Liquor [512.419.1999 | Mon-Sat 10am-9pm, Sun Closed]
King Liquor is in the midst of a reinvigorating their beer selection from very, very good to great. Hidden away in an unassuming strip mall of tax preparation companies and the smallest bingo hall on the planet, is this liquor store disguised as a bottle shop. Their selections are curated by knowledgeable employees, who are eager to help the customer in any way, including quizzically ringing distributors to ask questions regarding availability. Rare and limited release beers sometimes can sit for several weeks because of their inconspicuous location and modest store front. Mixed six-packs are encouraged, as their stock turns quickly from season to season, and they try to move older beers out of inventory like a proper bottle shop should.
Whip In [512.442.5337 | Everyday 10am - Mid]
This bottle shop/Indian Restaurant/Craft Bar/Brewery (with an attached liquor store) is the grandaddy of Austin craft retailers, with an emphasis on Belgian imports. Because of their legendary status in Austin’s craft beer movement, they are often the first outreach for distributor visits with rarities and limited releases. Beyond that, Whip In is a fantastic place for all your one-stop date night needs — a fine dinner menu, a wall of interesting taps, and music on certain nights. Beyond their impressive selection of bombers, 750mL bottles, and six packs, Whip In allows to to fill your 64oz growler of anything on their beer wall for take-home. Twitter and Facebook are the best places to find out about Whip In’s latest stock, but stuff goes quickly. @WhipIn
Whole Foods Downtown [512.476.1206 | Everyday 7am - 10pm]
A beer cave. Yes, a beer cave to usher you through your craft beer nuptials, ending at their craft beer altar called Bar Lamar, where an enthusiastic pours pints and fills your growler — cheap! Whole Foods is sits atop the list of distributor hotspots for rarities and limited releases, but product is sold rapidly due to its accessible, central location. Whole foods has a modest selection of large format beers, but a wide selection of local and national craft beer.
Have we made an Austin beer-lover out of you? Will you be visiting any of these spots? Have you been to any before? Let us know!
Note: Texas still abides by some archaic liquor laws, and retail beer sales from a CONVENIENCE STORE OR GROCERY STORE are allowed Monday – Friday from 7am-Mid, Saturday 7am-1am, and Sunday noon to midnight. A PACKAGE STORE OR LIQUOR STORE may only sell Monday – Saturday 10am – 9pm, Closed on Sundays, and Closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day (unless those fall on a Sunday, then closed the following Monday).
Eric is the primary contributor at [An Avenue], a beer site dedicated to the proliferation of craft culture in Austin, Texas set to the discussion of one beer-a-day. Be sure to follow Eric on Twitter at @anavenueblog!