Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Beer Travels: Pedernales Brewing Company - Fredericksburg, TX

So yeah, when people think Fredericksburg, TX they probably think wine country, and with good reason, but there are definitely some beer things going on here too.  The landscape in the TX hill country is fantastic for growing grapes and producing wines, but the area was also settled by German immigrants who brought over centuries of brewing knowledge and traditions.  In the center of town you can find the Fredericksburg Brewing Company, a "Bed & Brew" brewpub that has been around for nearly 20 years.  Mandi and I had a room at the bed & brew, but before we checked in we headed a couple of miles out of town to check out the relatively new Pedernales Brewing Company.  

If you're making a weekend trip to Fredericksburg (which I highly recommend as an easy long weekend trip from Baton Rouge) and you like beer (you're reading my blog... I hope you do!) then it'll be worth the few minutes off the beaten path it takes to visit the Pedernales Brewing Company.  From downtown Fredericksburg all you need to do is take a right on Washington Street (87), head past a couple of lights, then the brewery will be on your left just after the large equestrian facility. They weren't open for public tours as of Easter weekend, but they are working hard on the required permits and plan on opening in the very near future.  Fortunately, this little blog is enough to qualify me as non-public and the CEO Lee Hereford was happy to meet Mandi and me to show us around, let us try the beer, and talk to us about the brewery.

The brewery itself has grown a LOT in the year since opening, and Pedernales is currently putting their beers in large part of Texas, especially the central part of the state and up to Dallas/Fort Worth as well. It's really pretty astounding growth for such a short time when you consider how large of a market Texas is. Lee told me that they were optimistic about achieving statewide distribution by July 2013, which would be 15 months after the initial release.  The key to their success is brewing traditional beers that abide by the German purity laws, which in no way means they brew boring beers either. 

In proper tasting fashion we started with the lightest beer, which is also Pedernales' newest beer, the Lobo Lito.  The Lobo Lito is a traditional session pilsner, originally brewed for the British factory workers during WWII so they could enjoy their beer without getting to drunk to get back to the war effort the next morning.  It's only 3.8% alcohol, but this one packed a pretty nice flavor punch with a healthy body and a great noble hop profile.  I was extremely impressed after being skeptical about a "light" beer, but this is what a light beer should be, sessionable, flavorful, and thirst quenching.  

Up second was the Lobo Texas Lager, a pre-prohibition recipe pilsner with a little more punch than the Lobo Lito at 5.5% alcohol.  Again it's a lighter color and uses only noble hops for a very drinkable beer.  After a couple of lagers we were treated to the Pedernales Classic Hefeweizen, a recipe that the head brewer at Pedernales has been using for decades.  This unfiltered beer impressed me a lot with awesome banana and clove flavors and a great body.  A very nice example of a hefeweizen and it does the German heritage of the area proud.  

The fourth beer in line was the Lobo Negro, a dunkel dark lager in the German tradition, and in my opinion this was the winner of the day.  It had a fantastic rich malty base to it and an extremely smooth finish.  The best part was it really found the middle ground between sweet and roasted flavors, something that can be hard to do in a dark lager.  Very well done with this beer, I would drink many a stein of this at the German-styled beer gardens in Fredericksburg. 

The last beer on tap was the Pedernales IPA, again a traditional English IPA malt backbone but the twist here is American hop additions.  It uses specialty caramel malts for some sweet backbone and then pacific NW hops in the boil and dry-hopped, but only comes in at 6% abv.  The result is an easy-drinking, well balanced IPA that has a really interesting malt/hop interaction atypical of traditional west-coast IPAs or of truly traditional English IPAs.  It's not going to compete with Pliny the Elder or excite the real hop-heads out there, but I think it's a great beer to work on converting the BMC drinkers of the world to the notion that an IPA can be a really good thing.  

Now that we were sufficiently quenched, brewmaster Peter McFarlane took us on a quick tour of the brewery, an impressive operation for only a year's worth of production.  They currently operate on a 20-barrel brewhouse, nine 40-barrel jacketed fermenters and a couple of 80-barrel fermenters which feed into three 80-barrel lagering tanks for the three lagered beers.  The currently both keg and bottle their beers, and had just received a new bottling line right before our tour.  It certainly looked impressive but it wasn't operational just yet.  The crazy thing is that they are already close to maxing out their building, and still have plenty of Texas to distribute too.  I was expecting a much smaller operation when I first heard about Pedernales, but that's not the case, they are not taking a slow road to success at all.  And as long as the beer is selling, why would they?  

Pedernales has found a nice niche as a traditional German-inspired but still American craft brewery.  They've hit the nail on the head with several of their beers, marketing to people in a very German-rich part of the state and also brewing beers that are going to catch and keep the attention of BMC drinkers around.  It's a smart business decision that almost all breweries make to start out with some friendlier approachable beers, and Pedernales has done that and done it very well.  I look forward to trying more of their beer as they make their way to Houston and possibly even closer.

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