When you need a getaway from city life and seemingly perpetual quarantine, nothing beats a daytrip in the Texas hill country. And if you’ve driven the stretch of 290 between Johnson City and Fredericksburg during the last year, you may have noticed a new getaway: Carter Creek Winery and Resort. Whether you’re after a weekend of fresh air, an evening of live music, or some of that famous Texas hill country wine, Carter Creek has something for you. And for us beer aficionados, there is Old 290 Brewery, the onsite restaurant and draft beer heaven.
The brewery is a one-man operation handled by Justin Zimmerman. Justin learned to brew on the job at Triple J Chophouse and Brew Co. in Lubbock, Texas. After 7 years as head brewer at Triple J he was asked to run the brewery for the brand new Carter Creek resort, which has now been open for a year. Justin has built an amazingly efficient brewery in a relatively small space and brews half-batches to allow for more variety.
And variety is plentiful! The beers currently on tap represent a wide range of styles: porter, oatmeal stout, pale ale, lager, brown ale, red ale, IPA, DIPA, blonde ale, and even an American wheat beer infused with hibiscus flowers.
Let’s talk about the beers I was lucky enough to try on my visit. I mentioned that I’m a big fan of dark beers, so Justin poured me a flight of his darkest: The Back Porch Porter, the “Beer Drinker” Brown Ale, the “Hell Raiser” Bourbon Barrel Aged Brown Ale, and the (brand new) Oakmeal Stout. I also tried the unique Hyebiscus Wheat and another new offering, the Ekuanot Smash Pale Ale.
Back Porch Porter
This beer was everything you want in a porter. Roasty with coffee and dark chocolate notes, but with a light mouthfeel and pretty low on bitterness. I also got hints of tobacco and just the right hit of sweetness. This is the kind of porter you could drink pints and pints of – not too heavy but complex enough to stay interesting.
“Beer Drinker” Brown Ale
Of everything at Old 290 brewery, this brown ale (and its offspring below) impressed me the most. It’s a simple style, but I think that mades it harder to nail, and Justin did it perfectly. The scent is mild and gentle, as is the initial flavor, but it evolves into something more complex as it sits on the tongue. There are plenty of dark notes (malty and woody) but I also get more brightness from the hops than in many brown ales, which is a plus. This is balance at its best.
“Hell Raiser” Bourbon Barrel Aged Brown Ale
This Hell Raiser is the same brown ale as above, but aged in local bourbon barrels from a nearby distillery. This strengthens the already woody notes and adds a comforting, warm spiced scent. And, it adds 1.5% more alcohol from the residual bourbon! The aging lends this beer a maple-like sweetness that wasn’t quite there in the plain brown ale, which I loved. This beer was my favorite of the day, so I came home with a full growler of it. And yes, it was just as good the second and third and fourth time!
? ABV (high)
This Oakmeal Stout is a brand new offering, and I was lucky to be an early taste-tester! This oatmeal stout is brewed with the spiral of oak you see in the picture above, hence the punny name “Oakmeal”. Just as you would hope, the result is a creamy, rich, and luxurious mouthfeel with a hint of oak tannins and a balanced sweetness. I forgot to ask the ABV of this, but I will find out next time I visit for this stout (hopefully, soon)!
Ekuanot Smash Pale Ale
Another new one. A smash beer is made with a single type of malt and a single type of hops (single malt and single hop = SMASH). This allows the ingredients to really shine, and in this case, that means the Ekuanot hops. This one smelled honey-sweet with citrus notes, and that turned out to be a good indication of taste. In fact, the honey-like sweetness was so pronounced that I asked if there was honey in it. Nope – it was just the malt doing its wonderful thing! That honey flavor really balances out the bitterness and tanginess of the Ekuanot hops.
I couldn’t leave without trying this unusual offering. “Hyebiscus” is another pun, this time a word-mash of the hibiscus flower and the nearby small town of Hye. Justin said the idea for this beer came about when the chef at Old 290 ordered 10 pounds of hibiscus flowers but didn’t end up using them all. So he threw them into an American wheat beer and dry-hopped it with orange and lemon peel. The result was this bright, citrusy, and floral beer in a beautiful bright pink color. Trust me, the photo doesn’t do it justice…you’ll have to stop by and see it in person.
If you visit Old 290 Brewery, be sure to order a flight or stick around long enough to try several different beers. There are so many good ones, so you definitely don’t want to stick with just the lagers and pale ales.
Luckily, if you do decide to stay for a while, you won’t be short of entertainment. You can check Old 290’s Event Calendar here. There are frequent live music shows, and even karaoke on Thursday nights. I’ll see you there!