On April 13th, Real Ale held their 17th anniversary party at their brewery in Blanco, TX. This year they decided to have it in April when it is much more pleasant outside than in previous years when it was held in the middle of the sweltering Texas summer. The beautiful weather and the promise of FREE beer was a great excuse for a day trip into the hill country to see what the Real Ale 17th Anniversary Party was all about. It didn’t take much convincing to get several people to tag along with me.
The history of Real Ale Brewing Company begins in 1996 when Philip and Diane Conner, along with their son Charles, started brewing their first three beer recipes in the basement of an antique store in the town square of Blanco, TX. The three beers they began brewing were Full Moon Pale Rye Ale, Rio Blanco Pale Ale and Brewhouse Brown Ale. All three of these recipes are still brewed today.
The Full Moon Pale Rye Ale is an American amber ale with 5.70% alcohol by volume. This ale is described as “tawny red and full of malt and hops, Full Moon’s unique flavor truly satisfies. The smooth sweetness of malted rye and barley is complemented by generous helpings of Willamette and Cascade hops.” The Rio Blanco Pale Ale is “a uniquely Texan interpretation of an English-style pale ale,” coming in at 5.30% alcohol by volume. It is described as “deep golden and malty, with a spicy hop flavor and well-balanced hop bitterness.” It is the 2010 Great American Beer Festival’s Gold Medal winner in the Ordinary or Special Bitter category. Finally, Brewhouse Brown Ale is their brown ale coming in at 5.40% alcohol by volume. It is described as “rich and roasty, yet with a dry finish…the perfect companion for a hearty meal.”
In 1998, they sold their brewery to Brad Farbstein, who was a big fan of the Real Ale beers and often found himself in Blanco helping Philip and Charles bottle and label their beers in exchange for taking home some beer of his own. The year that Brad became owner of Real Ale they brewed 500 barrels of beer. In 2006, they maxed out the basement space and their 15-barrel system when they brewed 5500 barrels. Their brewery is much larger now and consists of “a 60-barrel, four-vessel, steam-fired brewhouse capable of producing between 54,000 and 72,000 barrels a year.”
The party was held from 12-5 PM and we arrived at the brewery around 1 PM. It seemed that word had spread about this once smaller anniversary party as parking was filling up quickly and people were filing in. We got to the entrance shortly after walking by their bulk silo that holds 50,000 lbs. of 2-Row malted barley.
At the entrance we were handed a Real Ale 17th Anniversary booklet. In it were four drink tickets to use as we wished from the selection of 30 different kinds of beers they had available. We staked our claim and set up our lawn chairs in an area between the food tent and the warehouse where the beer lines were. We then headed inside the warehouse to the beer line and quickly realized that Real Ale hadn’t anticipated the popularity of their anniversary party. The line was insane for the keg and cask-conditioned beer, so we first opted for the canned beer line to quench our thirst with a Hans’ Pils (a 2012 Great American Beer Festival Silver medal winner in the German-Style Pilsner category) and vowed to go back to the giant cask-conditioned and keg line when it looked to have settled down a bit.
We settled in our chairs and listened to the band as well as got a bite to eat. In year’s past, food was free, but this year, they were selling food with proceeds going to the PAWS Shelter and Humane Society. I didn’t mind paying for the food since it was for a good cause and they were already giving me free beer. The food they offered were the perfect quick bites for coupling with a beer. The choices included a sausage tortilla wrap, Frito pie or soft pretzel and, of course, the one condiment available was mustard. They had live bands throughout the day as well as brewery tours every 20 minutes. There was also plenty of Real Ale merchandise for sale from T-shirts to glasses. We all opted to purchase some pint glasses as you can always use another good pint glass to add to your collection and we decided we could put it to use that day.
We ventured into the warehouse again to check out the beer line and quickly realized that to wait in the long line for the keg and cask-conditioned beers, you needed to first have a beer in hand. We each got another canned beer from the much shorter canned beer line and then proceeded to wait in the keg and cask-conditioned beer line while happily enjoying our ice cold canned Four Squared, a seasonally-released dry-hopped Ale that I have now spotted in some stores around town in Austin.
Finally, we got through the line and enjoyed a cask-conditioned Firemans 4 which is one of the breweries more popular beers and one of my personal favorites. When we finally ventured back to the beer line, my fourth selection was the Full Moon Pale Rye Ale, which, along with Firemans 4, is among the seven beers that Real Ale brews year-round. Now, some of you may be thinking I should have tried some more of the harder-to-find or seasonal beers, but I can’t help it… a girl likes what she likes.
All and all it was a good time. Good people watching, good music, good friends, good food and of course, GREAT BEER.