Shoe: Astral Brewer
Size Reviewed: 9.5
Reviewer’s Feet: Size 9.5 street shoe, relatively wide foot, low arch, narrow heel.
Outsole: G.14 Rubber
Days Tested: 20
Test Locations: Rivers and creeks of Norway: Åmot, Stor Ula, Otta, Skoli, Tora, Sogndalselva, Rauma, Valdall, Ostri, Sjoa
Astral, originally a PFD manufacturer, made its move into footwear in 2012 with the release of the Brewer. With a cool style, simple design, and Five Ten Stealth rubber, the Brewer quickly rose to popularity among river runners, despite some durability issues.
Last fall, Astral announced a surprising change for their new 2014 Brewer: they had decided to leave Five Ten’s Stealth rubber behind in favor of their own new material, G.14. Referring to the development process of G.14, Astral says:
“Astral’s new soles started by meeting the current benchmark for grip, verified through a development process that included lab and blind field tests. After improving the mechanical properties of the midsole to increase performance, Astral increased surface contact over the benchmark and added siping to improve grip. Upgrades were made to allow the sole to shed mud more effectively.”
Astral’s CEO and director of R&D, Philip Curry, followed by saying: “We can now say with confidence that our outsoles are the best available.”
Astral has thrown down the gauntlet, so I brought the new Brewer with me to Norway this summer to test these claims in the mecca of extreme kayaking.
I tested the Brewer in a size 9.5, which fits me perfectly with drysuit booties and medium-thickness wool socks. Without wearing socks or a dry suit, especially in the toe box, the size 9.5 Brewer is a bit big for me. The laces come far enough up the tongue that I can cinch them down and not have to worry about them falling off in the water, but I would love it if they extended further down toward the toe box (again, the toe box is a bit wide for my foot, and more laces might help me achieve a better fit).
I’m still not inclined to say that the Brewer’s sizing definitely runs big, and that you should size down, but you should consider whether or not you will wear them with a dry suit and/or socks before you buy.
The Brewer has a lightweight, low-profile design that has its pros and cons.
The Brewer’s low-profile heel, in particular, helps make it comfortable to wear and easy to slide on and off, as the heel of the shoe is fairly soft and flexible. This allowed for an immediately comfortable feel on my foot compared to the Astral Rasslers, which took a few days to break in. But, at the same time, this also limits the shoe’s utility in extremely rugged conditions as it lacks the same ankle support as the Rassler. The Brewer’s low-cut top also allows dirt and grit to enter the shoe when I am scouting or portaging through deep mud or sand.
The Brewer also lacks a heel loop to help pull the shoes on. I’m not sure why Astral didn’t include this feature, but I would love to see it on future renditions.
The shoe’s upper is made of Cordura fabric on the sidewalls, and a breathable mesh on the tongue and forefoot. The Cordura sidewalls have drainage holes that work well to get water out of the shoe. Astral has also added a small slit between the Brewer’s upper and its sole at the heel that’s meant to drain water, sand and silt.
While it certainly does so, I have found that it doesn’t often release all of the sand and grit that enters the shoe through the low ankle top.
The Brewer’s low profile and flexible outsole make it comfortable to wear in my Dagger Nomad, Jackson Rock Star M, and Wave Sport Mobiüs 57.
Boaters with big feet will appreciate its small form factor compared to bulkier shoes like the Rassler or Five Ten Canyoneers.
Astral markets the Brewer as a “from the river to the bar” kind of shoe. I don’t personally want to wear my boating shoes to the bar when they’re wet, but that’s about the only reason I wouldn’t. Astral deserves points for the Brewer’s style; they look good and are comfortable to wear around town or camp.