DETOUR: Alpine, Texas – Big Bend Brewing
"DETOURS" is a travel series by The Hop Review. Being a weary traveler almost always calls for a reward in the form of a pint at the end of the day. Here, we will document those beer breaks–as we travel the U.S. and beyond–with quips, photographs and Q&As. Cheers, to the adventurous beer trekker.
3401 West Highway 90, Alpine, TX 79830
Big Bend Brewing is the "beer from out here," and this certainly seems true for first time visitors who end up off the beaten path in this part of west Texas. It has been declared as the most remote brewery in the nation, according to the beer blog brewyorknewyork. Surrounded by desert, mountains, and home to one of the largest National Parks, this region is beautiful, desolate, and seductive. The brewery and taproom are located on the west edge of Alpine, the largest city in the largest county in the largest state in the continental U.S, roughly the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. Despite having a population of less than 6,000, Alpine is home to the region's only university, hospital, and of course, it's only brewery.
BBBC has been around since 2012, founded in Alpine to serve the west Texas region, or as their website explains, “the thirstiest place in Texas.” I caught up with Eileen Flock, BBBC’s Taproom Coordinator, and she said this about the brewery’s first year: “Back in 2012, when we opened, there wasn't another brewery anywhere even remotely close to Alpine. We didn't realize at first how challenging it would be to be so remote. For context, Alpine is a city of about 6,000 people. But what really makes it remote is that it is part of a region that has only about 18,000 people in about 12,000 square miles. The nearest airport is almost 3 hours away, and the nearest boiler service technician is even further. Overnight mail delivery doesn't exist, and it's hard to get “less than load” shipments. We've really had to work hard to make it work.” Despite these challenges, the demand for quality, local craft beer caught on with the locals immediately. The quick success of their Alpine brewery location has inspired current Director of Brewing Operations, Jan Matysiak, and Vice President of Operations, Mahala Guevara, to open up a larger brewing facility in San Antonio, which is scheduled to open in late 2018.
The scenic drive from El Paso to the brewery is well worth the four hour drive. The brewery and taproom overlook the mountains surrounding Alpine, which is situated in the high desert plains. In March, the days are warm and sunny, but at night, the temperature can drop below freezing. The taproom is prepared for these drastic changes in temperature, and boasts a cozy inside with multiple rooms, each with their own unique feel, as well as a large outdoor area where visitors can take in the scenery west Texas is famous for. Visitors can grab a La Frontera IPA and sit outside on one of the lawn chairs or communal tables and watch the dramatic sunset over the Davis Mountains.
Big Bend's core lineup of beers include standard American craft beer classics, including an IPA, pale ale, and hefeweizen. Big Bend also has a line of Mexican lagers inspired by their neighbor to the south. These beers are designed to bring in new people to the craft beer scene who are used to drinking the Texas staple, Lonestar. Many of BBBC's beers are named after local inspiration. One example is BBBC’s Marfa Light, a Russian imperial stout named after the infamous artist community and the mysterious desert lights that have entranced locals and defied explanation for a hundred years. As Eileen explains, “It is also a bit of a joke, since Marfa Light is a very dark beer!”
Despite being relatively new to the craft beer scene, Big Bend's brewers also know how to have fun and experiment. During my visit, staff were preparing a weekend tasting event where brewers paired BBBC's dark beers with girl scout cookies. In addition to their core lineup, BBBC also enjoys experimenting with new flavors and interpretations of classic styles. They have a barrel aging program, aging their beer in everything from port barrels, whiskey barrels, to apple brandy barrels. These one off additions, along with their solid core lineup, has garnished BBBC with a dedicated local following and a growing number of thirsty supporters all over Texas. Eileen said this about the west Texas beer scene, “Our beer scene was behind most of the country for many years, due largely to a legal structure that was behind most other states. After the law that legalized taprooms in the 2013 legislative session went into effect in 2014, the Texas beer scene exploded. We've made amazing strides in just a few short years, and Texas breweries are starting to be really competitive on the national stage. If you haven't come drinking in Texas lately, it's high time-- and no Texas brewery tour is complete without a trip out west!”
What We Drank
National Park Hefewizen – Named after the majestic National Park that serves as this area's main tourist attraction, Big Bend's hefeweizen is a solid interpretation of the popular style of beer. At 5.5 % abv, this is perfect for those consistently hot, dry, sunny days that the area is known for. This beer pours a cloudy, hazy, yellow with a creamy white head. The beer's signature taste of clove and banana is very pronounced, with a hint of spice and lemon on the nose. The finish is long and lingering.
Terlingua Pale Ale – Named after the ghost town outside of Big Bend National Park that boosts an eclectic group of locals who live off the grid, this is a light bodied, sessionable pale ale, pouring a golden straw color, with hints of grass and freshly baked bread. The initial taste is crisp and clean with a small hop bite as it lingers on your tongue. At 6.2% abv, this is another BBBC beer to enjoyed while baking in the hot Texas sun, and is the most popular beer in their core line-up.
Authored & photographed by Paul Lewis. Check out the rest of the DETOURS series as we travel the world looking for unique beers and where to drink them.