Austin’s Best Breweries, According to Children
Meet your biergarten friends, the Beergardigans
The hot button topic of "Kids in Breweries" will forever be a line in the sand between parents who want a brief distraction from a foreboding week of laundry/soccer/cello/assembly-lining nut-free lunches, and the goblins who take drinking out in public far too seriously. Is it cool to take your little ones to the brewery every now and again? Yes, absolutely, despite the possibility of some Trent Crimm glares from a table of nonbreeding day drinkers.
Breweries serve a community purpose. They are typically more spacious (read: outdoorsy) than a traditional sit-down restaurant and provide that sweet, sweet elbow room for larger groups to gather for an extended period of time without the anxiety of being hurried along post-meal. They provide room for tots to enjoy some sunshine, making them 90% less annoying than when at a cramped four top at Buffalo Wild Wings. Sure, there are nuances and caveats to this type of adventure, but the primary goal here is cultural integration so that your kids don't grow up to be antisocial beer nuts on Twitter. Trust me; you don't want that! Most Austin breweries are an appropriate default for a post-hike lunch, a spontaneous family mini-reunion, or a communal spot to boast about a two-homer Little League game. Plus, it's always a bonus to support a local, niche-based business that operates on razor-thin margins.
Of course, not every brewery is a sparkling wonderland of mossy prairies and sand pits for your progeny to sabotage, especially some of the more traditional spots around town that existed before taprooms joined the modern era as financially viable community spaces that serve beer directly to the customer. Breweries like that are low-key gas, but we tend to avoid those as a family. We are looking for safe and entertaining ways to get that weekend family time in, but also not stress about how many barrel-aging stacks the kids might climb. Saying that, you can definitely be assured that these small humans have their favorite spots, too, and know the places with the playscapes that bop the most, where they serve the finest kids drinks, and which food trucks can appease their 17-second appetites before diving headlong into the snack bags of Doritos.
You can do a search and find meddling parents on the internet who think they know the best family-friendly spots around town. But none of them discuss what their little scoundrels think. That's just not understanding the assignment. Enzo (9), Theo (5), and Tallulah (4) are the Beergardigans, ready to steer your weekends from the realest perspective: that of Austin kids. Because if the littles aren't having a good time, nobody is.
Jester KingBeergardigans' Brewery Grade: A
13187 Fitzhugh, jesterkingbrewery.com
"You wouldn't think a brewery would have goats and a dog." – Enzo
The goat pen is Jester King's best feature according to the Beergardigans, especially at dusk when the kids in the coop are just as ornery as the kids outside of it. The walking path to the goat pen – one of several around the farm – is typically the last activity of any Jester King visit, just before the sun tucks behind the hills and the beer tourists from outside Austin hit their third round of the brewery's world-class spontaneously fermented beers.
"The goats were headbutting. That was so METAL." – Enzo
For dinner, the in-house kitchen serves a kids-and-brewery classic: pepperoni pizza paired with homemade lemonade. On Jester King's well-worn picnic tables, the adults poke at their much more sophisticated wood-fired mushroom pizzas because, I don't know, it seems healthier? That's a parental mind-game you sometimes have to play.
"[The pizza was] alright, it's about a seven compared to Home Slice. It's more like grownup pizza, but I still liked it." – Theo
"The lemonade was organic and moms like that, but [Dad] let me have a [Dublin Vintage] Cola. Moms don't like that as much." – Enzo
From the Beergardigans' perspective, Sasha the Jester King Dog is the real star of the brewery. When dogs are involved, goats could never.
"I liked Sasha more than the pizza." – Theo
"I liked the goats ... and the dog. Because they're cute." – Tallulah
"The sign said don't give Sasha pizza or she would get a tummy ache. I guess she was being a really good dog the day they figured that out." – Enzo
As far as the breathing room around the property, Jester King comically lords over every other single brewery that has ever existed. Yes, ever. The 165-acre farm has unlimited geography that surely the owners themselves haven't mapped.
"I enjoy the fields and I like the sports you can play there, like volleyball, and you can throw the football or kick the soccer ball. It has a lot of space to play. They need to mow the grass, though, it's too long." – Enzo
Relax, kid. It's the weekend.
Roughhouse BrewingBeergardigans' Brewery Grade: B
680 Oakwood Loop, San Marcos, roughhousebrewing.com
"It's called Roughhouse? Well, It was pretty rough for me. They only had a climbing wall and there wasn't really much for a 9-year-old to do." – Enzo
Yes, a typical overreaction from the eldest hater. Roughhouse is an ironic misnomer to its graceful, rustic artsiness in the "almost Wimberley" part of San Marcos. It's what most parents would probably think of when they imagine a family-friendly brewery: picnic tables, a diverse food menu, a splendidly homemade playscape, and enough personal space to make a loud family feel like they're not that much of an imposition.
"We brought a soccer ball but the field had deer poop and grasshoppers, so just watch out for that." – Enzo
"I liked the climbing wall but [my friends] could all go higher than me, so I climbed a tree [by our table] instead so I could throw my babies down." – Tallulah, mother of the year
"The tree was really fun up there but [diminishing the climbing wall's purpose] it's a brewery more for babies, not for kids, I think. I did like the 'hole game' where you put the beanbag in the hole. What is that called? I won that two times." – Theo
In between competitive cornhole and aggressive baby doll tossing, the Beergardigans sat for a late lunch of "artisan-seeded" warm pretzels (with a bonus side of queso), Martinelli's apple juices, and a Maine Root Mexicane Cola for the deer poop dodger. (The grownups had pork tacos, pickled mixed veggies, warm sourdough country loaf with honey butter, and low-ABV table beer with Roughhouse's signature saison-style yeast that was absolute perfection.)
"The food was pretty yummy, but I didn't like the mustard and the queso was SPICY! I drank apple juice, some of the best I've ever had. I'm crying over it!" – Theo
"I want that apple juice again!" – Tallulah
"The queso was kinda spicy for me but the Mexican [cola] made up for it. They didn't really have too many kids drinks, well, not for 5- or 6-year-olds, because, like what about THIS DUDE [waves hands at his brother]? I think they should add lemonade to the menu." – Enzo
But on that day, the cornhole champ preferred apple juice.
Fitzhugh BrewingBeergardigans' Brewery Grade: A
15435 Fitzhugh, Dripping Springs, fitzhughbrewing.com
"I like breweries that have parks!" – Tallulah, misjudging the scale of the playscape
This year-old Hill Country brewery has the feeling of day drinking with every single child in Dripping Springs. The brewery is swarming with them, and that's because the biergarten's dominant feature is its pitch-gabled, whitewashed playscape that makes all the kids look like messy little miniature Cape Cod tourists.
"This is the dirtiest I ever got at a brewery. The slides? [Thumbs-up gesture]" – Theo
"I like the slides and I didn't get hurt at all. A mom can even go down the slide, look!" – Tallulah, pointing out a mother awkwardly scuffing down a chute after her kid
Their non-sliding mother points out that, while Fitzhugh's food menu looks tasty, there weren't a whole lot of healthy options. Pok-e-Jo's catering division, PEJ Kitchens, provides the in-house grub. Yes, there is barbecue, but also a pretty wide variety of food options for even the pickiest of younger eaters.
"The pretzel was average but they have REAL fountain Sprite and it's unlimited!" – Enzo, a known brewery pretzel expert and off-brand lemon-lime soda hater
"Ding, ding, ding!" – Tallulah, when asked if she loved the house lemonade; this is how she sarcastically affirms questions
I had the brisket nachos and didn't even give a damn that they were probably very "not healthy." They were exceptionally tasty. Along with Fitzhugh's notably creative beer program (I had the Aussie sparkling ale), the visit was plenty creative enough to let our parental guards down while the Beergardigans formed a small socialist government with the children of Dripping Springs.
Pinthouse Pizza (Round Rock)Beergardigans' Brewery Grade: B+
2800 Hoppe Trail, Round Rock, pinthousepizza.com
"I got to color in the shade instead of out in the sun this time." – Tallulah
One well-known fact is that the "pint" in Pinthouse does not denote a unit of beer measurement, but the size of its primary clientele. And yes, while Pinthouse can feel like a hailstorm of children just hit the area, the environment is accommodating to breeders and nonbreeders alike. However, in this brewery the Beergardigans get a reprieve from the scathing Austin sun by enjoying their activities in all that free A/C. And with the Round Rock location's massive ceilings, all that noise gets trapped up there so the place doesn't feel like an elementary school gym.
"[Pinthouse Pizza Round Rock] was big and we didn't have to be outdoors in the sun and they had a foosball table and they were showing all kinds of sports on the TVs, so all of that rated. The hockey game cost money, though. And it also said it was out of order, but it probably says that just so kids won't break it." – Enzo
So much for the bubble hockey, but the pizza and cold drinks, including an always appreciated Maine Root fountain machine, were hitting just right (along with Pinthouse's top-class IPAs for the moms and pops).
"I liked the pizza. There was sauce on it. I liked it." – Tallulah
"I drank lemonade and I liked it. I didn't really like the pizza because it had salt in it or something. And I like being outside at a brewery better because of the fresh air." – Theo
"It has fun stuff for kids, but the foosball is always being used and that's not cool. It is more of a parents' brewery, so I would recommend bringing your own games." – Enzo
Maybe we'll hit Pinballz next time, bud.
Meanwhile Brewing Co.Beergardigans' Brewery Grade: A+
3901 Promontory Point, meanwhilebeer.com, doughboysatx.com
"I love [Meanwhile]. The soccer field is amazing. It's actually turf and the goals really have nets. You should bring your own ball, which is just good advice for making friends." – Enzo
You'd suspect every bit of appreciation from a 9-year-old boy at Meanwhile would begin and end with the brewery's own mini soccer pitch landscaped in perfect field turf, or maybe with the Cookie Monster chocolate shavings and cookie dough ice cream from on-site food truck Bésame, but no. It's the large bowl of melted cheese from fabuloso food truck Pueblo Viejo (I always get the steak gorditas).
"The chips and queso is 'perfecto' [does a chef's kiss, like a little Boyardee]; they serve it in a huge bowl. It's a huge bowl of cheese." – Enzo
For the smaller Beergardigans, Meanwhile's centralized playscape is the spot.
"It's a really good playground because it has stuff you can balance on and the monkey bars are long. I also liked the [Dough Boys] pizza and I know a lot of pizza." – Theo
Meanwhile recently won a gold medal for their Pilsner at this month's Great American Beer Festival in Denver, but that's not important to the Beergardigans. That's mom and dad stuff. What's on tap for them, they always ask.
"They have fountain [Maine Root] Cola! It's not just in bottles or cans. You know I like a little ice in my drink." – Enzo
"[Swishes lemon-lime soda around like mouth rinse] Mhmm [thumbs up]." – Theo
For now, the Backyardigans decree that Meanwhile is their favorite brewery in Austin. They're discerning like that.
The Beergardigans will return. And look for Eric Puga’s annual (adult person) ranking of local breweries in the Chronicle’s Drinks Issue, on stands Oct. 14.