This is the second in an occasional series exploring Texas locales near and far that offer uncommon sights and experiences.

One Saturday in late May, my spouse and I jumped at a tip that a new craft brewery taproom was opening inside Warehouse 5, the small two-story brick building on Buena Vista Street overlooking Alazán Creek.

The Vista Brewing tagline “fresh air, fresh beer” was supported by a cozy creekside beer garden with a few small picnic tables, at which I enjoyed a smooth, balanced Destination IPA. Chatting with the friendly bartenders, we learned that the IPA was so named because of Vista’s flagship “destination” brewery in Driftwood, which is where the tagline originated amid fresh Hill Country breezes.

As road trip fans and beer geeks, we needed little convincing to make the hour-and-a-half Vista-to-Vista drive a couple of weeks later.

The drive

The Hill Country is renowned for gorgeous vistas viewable from the comfort of a car seat. Country lanes dip to skirt burbling brooks, then rise as steeply as a roller coaster to open upon stunning views of Central Texas hills and dales.

The fertile, sandy soils beneath are fortuitous for the many vintners and brewers now populating the burgeoning region, having ditched concrete-laden urban surroundings for bucolic settings.

Noel Lopreore left the blazes of California’s Napa Valley last year to bring her farming skills to Driftwood for Vista Brewing’s in-house farm-to-table operation. The menu’s feature salad is 100% supplied by Lopreore’s spicy greens sprout mix, kale, pickled radishes, squash, fruit, berries, and other seasonal ingredients, which also make their way into various dishes on the menu.

The 30-minute commute from her home in Buda surprised her. “It’s beautiful. I love it. I am not used to all this nature. I thought I lived in a really natural place,” she said of Napa, “but not at all. When I got here, I realized that I [had been] living in a very sad environment. There’s so many bugs and birds and animals here. And just so much growth.”

The Hays County town of Driftwood boasts a bucolic Hill Country landscape with rolling hills as far as the eye can see. Credit: Nicholas Frank / San Antonio Report

The same could be said of the Hill Country craft brewing industry, which has mushroomed in recent years with nearly 70 places to enjoy freshly brewed beer of all varieties.

Lopreore stays away from the 16-hive apiary on 21 acres of Vista’s Driftwood grounds due to an allergy, but she appreciates how the honey was used in a honey wheat beer she tasted when she first arrived. Last year the bees produced 500 pounds of honey, some of which went on sale in the brewery provisions store.

Vista is special to Lopreore because of its farm-to-table, table-to-farm philosophy. Once a composting program gets started, she said, whatever is left over from the restaurant will join spent grains from the brewing process and post-harvest plant matter from the farm to enrich the garden’s soil for new growth.

“So we’re kind of completing a circle,” she said.

That circle expands to include nearby residents who sign up for her gardening classes and who subscribe to the Vista Farm community supported agriculture program to purchase weekly batches of fresh produce.

The Driftwood brewery

Upon arrival to Vista Brewing we chose a lone picnic table out front, set on a circular wooden deck built around a mid-sized live oak.

I opted for Vista’s version of Liquid Bake Sale IPA, a multibrewery project to support the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, while my spouse tried the Everything Is Aussome Australian sparkling ale. Both refreshed on a hot day. Vista’s San Antonio taproom manager, Matt Dixon, would later confirm what we learned that day: The Driftwood location is ideally set to receive cooling breezes no matter the weather conditions, complemented by a thick live oak canopy shading our picnic table.

A glance inside the brewery building revealed a complex operation with multiple brewing tanks, and oak barrels stacked high for what Dixon called the brewery’s wine barrel program – lambics, saisons, sour brown ales, and other styles aged in former wine barrels to lend complex flavors to beer. These special brews are bottled for sale and served on draft at Vista’s three locations (the third is in Bee Cave).

Vista takes its local sourcing seriously, with Mourvèdre wine barrels from William Chris Vineyards, Lewis Wines, and other Texas wineries.

“We have the biggest wine barrel program in the state, which is something that we’re pretty proud of,” and it attracts adventurous brewmasters, Dixon said.

All water used for brewing is drawn from a well on the property, reaching the Middle Trinity Aquifer 450 feet underground.

Dixon praised Vista founders Karen and Kent Killough for bringing an ecological sensibility to craft brewing. “Our big focus is on sustainability and taking care of the land, and preserving the aquifer that lies underneath us,” he said.

Unconventional sleeping quarters

We had to leave the brewery a little earlier than we would have liked to reach our overnight lodging, following advice from the manager of the Oeste campground: Plan to get there before sunset due to the complicated drive in. We made the 30-minute drive and arrived in the fading light of dusk, just enough to navigate what the website describes as a steep dirt road “not for the faint of heart.”

Ten tipis are cleverly named for loteria cards, our La Rosa chosen specifically for its nearby circular firepit. A thick canvas exterior propped by a tangle of tall poles belied the luxurious accommodations inside: king-size bed, air conditioning, interior lighting, electric floor fan, and coffee-making station, all set off by a large cowhide carpet.

(Just one piece of Hill Country advice: Arachnophobes might want to look for less outdoorsy accommodations.)

Vista West Ranch’s Oeste campground offers 10 tipis and a communal outdoor kitchen. Credit: Nicholas Frank / San Antonio Report

A brief morning drive into nearby Dripping Springs revealed a lively town with shops and restaurants along U.S. Highway 290, its main stretch of road.

Our choice of Rolling In Thyme & Dough bakery and café proved worthy, with delicious iced coffee and savory egg-focused breakfast specials with freshly baked bread. Our reaction to the locally sourced apricot jam had us rolling just down the road to New Canaan Farms, where we were greeted enthusiastically with a plethora of jams, jellies, preserves, sauces, salsas, and dips.

A record store across from the café that had caught our eye supplied us with a few choice vinyl gems for our DJ sets. Fourth Rock Records has Austin prices but a selection so deep it’s hard to believe it fits into the tight confines of the store, which shares space with the Mars Beads shop and the 2 Moons Art Loft overlooking the interior.

On our way out of town we could hardly miss what might be the largest Texas and U.S. flags in the Hill Country, waving majestically in the breezes over the Dreamland mini golf amusement park. With a tagline reading “The Challenge Course,” prepare to be befuddled by steep rises, staggering downslopes, blind corners, trick greens, and demonic design that would send even a golf professional reeling.

Would it be bragging to reveal that I scored a hole-in-one? Hole No. 7 starts inside an old wooden shack decorated with historic photos and a disco ball. I rapped my little purple ball hard enough to send it careening around a bend, up a pipe, and right into the flagstick.

We might have celebrated with a cold beer from the generously stocked bar onsite but passed on the opportunity in order to make the drive home: We had places to be.

Fresh air, fresh beer

No Vista Driftwood visit would be complete without closing the circle, as Lopreore might say, with a stop at the Vista taproom in San Antonio. A small crowd filled the beer garden, with a steady flow of traffic from the food truck back to their seats.

Feeling as though we had reached our final destination, I of course opted for the Destination IPA.

Dixon explained the concept behind Vista as “kind of being out in the middle of nowhere. The idea was to capture people’s interest enough to make it appealing for people to drive out to a destination.”

Dixon started with Vista as a San Antonio sales rep, ensuring that its brews would be available on tap at locations such as Cullum’s Attagirl, Growler Exchange, Camp Outpost, and Mama’s Café, and in bottles at various stores around town.

The taproom grew out of a collaboration between Dixon and wife Ellyn, who runs Wildflower Caramel Co. in their Warehouse 5 headquarters. After visiting the Driftwood brewery, the Dixons made a batch of caramels using Vista’s award-winning Dark Skies black pilsner, and an ongoing relationship was born.

During the pandemic, the Dixons had built out some dead space in their caramel workshop into a bartop, and during a drive to Driftwood on Interstate 35, Matt Dixon had what he calls an epiphany. When he proposed the taproom, the Killoughs were 100% on board, he said.

“Here we are six months later, pouring beer and having a great time in San Antonio, pouring Vista beers,” Dixon said.

If You Go

How to get there

No road runs directly to Driftwood from San Antonio, so the options are a choice between I-35 and U.S. Highway 281, with a departure off the main road at New Braunfels, San Marcos, or Canyon Lake. On this route, it might be said that all roads run through Wimberley, as Vista Brewing sits just off Ranch-to-Market Road 150, 20 miles northeast of that quaint town.

Mostly for the views, we chose the 281 route, departing at Farm-to-Market Road 306 to Canyon Lake. Aside from gazing at the stunning triplet of Canyon Peaks, this way is notable for entertaining road names: the obvious Inspiring View, Packsaddle Pass, Purgatory Road, the hilariously named Nameless Road, and a particularly ear-popping dip as we passed Spoke Hollow Road.

One recommended stop is the odd picnic area on the western side of Ranch-to-Market Road 12. It’s situated just after a stunning view from on high of deep wooded ravines, with its own not-as-inspiring view. The chain-link fence, however, holds mysteries: Hundreds of memorials including crosses, skeletons, peace signs, padlocks, beer cans, ribbons, shoes, and other trinkets pay tribute to “Dad,” “Daddy-O,” and unnamed relations.

Where to stay

Vista West Ranch’s Oeste campground offers 10 well-appointed tipis and a communal outdoor kitchen. However, eccentric Airbnb options abound, with treehouses, tiny cabins, and a yurt in the trees. The Alexander at Creek Road boutique hotel offers cottages and suites — and a treehouse.

Where to dine

The Vista Brewing food menu features a hearty salad, classic sandwiches, and inventive snacks such as spring pea hummus.

For dinner near Driftwood, the Salt Lick BBQ on Farm-to-Market Road 1826 offers classic Texas barbecue, and Trattoria Lisina on Ranch-to-Market Road 150 serves wood-fired pizzas and Italian fare.

For breakfast, Crêpe Crazy in downtown Dripping Springs held appeal, though we opted for the outdoor garden of Rolling In Thyme & Dough.

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with an indie rock...