Houston is about to receive a major external player in the haze craze with the draft only launch of Parish Brewing Company. Based in Broussard, Louisiana just outside Lafayette, Parish’s legendary Ghost In The Machine Double IPA had previously loomed tantalizingly close yet been unattainable, but expanded year-round packaging and distribution to Houston will allow us to enjoy this haze monster on a regular basis. For those not familiar with Ghost, it is a big 8.5% hazy Double IPA packed full of tropical juice and a surprisingly smooth drinkability. A hop bite is there but subtle, contributing to a near perfect package that has earned it the highest rated year-round produced beer from Louisiana.
Parish bringing that Louisiana hazy flair. Photo Credit: Britt Antley
In addition to Ghost, Parish has teamed up with Silver Eagle Distributors to bring to Houston a solid lineup that satisfies all spectrums of the beer drinkers’ palettes. Their most popular beer by volume is Canebrake, a self-described Louisiana Wheat Ale that uses locally grown sugarcane to lend a slight sweetness to the easy drinking wheat ale. South Coast is another easy drinker, balancing a traditional amber malt profile with noble hops to create a sessionable 5.1% backyard BBQ type of beer. Envie is Parish’s American Pale Ale that combines juice-laden tropical fruits with no harsh bitterness to yield an approachable hoppy beer that could easily convert people who claim to dislike anything with discernible hops. Things get kicked up a couple notches with Rêve, a glorious coffee stout that drinks like cold brew and crams an incredible amount of flavor into a surprisingly low 7.2% body. Parish plans to bring additional limited seasonal offerings to Houston, and we can also expect packaged retail in the spring.
The festivities kick off next Monday at Flying Saucer Downtown from 7-10 PM where Andrew Godley, Parish’s founder, will be on-site to mingle and meet Houston’s passionate craft beer community. Beyond that, if you can think of a good craft beer bar in the greater Houston area, there’s a strong chance they will be hosting a Parish event with either Andrew or a local Parish rep. For a full list of events, check out Silver Eagle’s event page.
The man himself, Andrew Godley Photo Credit: Parish Brewing Co.
I myself am very excited for Houston to be receiving Parish distribution. Having lived in New Orleans the past 1.5 years, I have been spoiled to try all of Parish’s offerings, and I often make the 2-hour drive to their taproom to try brewery exclusive beers and buy some of their limited releases that don’t see distribution. Houston is in for a treat with their year-round lineup, and prepare to have your minds blown when some of their limited release seasonal offerings make their way west on I-10 ***cough***DDH Ghost***cough.
H Town could receive this (the DDH Ghost, not Gumbeaux) Photo Credit: Britt Antley
The Saint Arnold booth at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado.
The Great American Beer Festival is the largest beer festival in the United States. 2,404 breweries entered beers into the competition portion, and 8,864 beers were judged. Outside of the competition, the entire Colorado Convention Center is filled with hundreds of breweries pouring thousands of beers. As a first time attendee, it was a bit overwhelming with the quantity involved. The balance between the hype breweries like Bottle Logic and Weldwerks that required waiting in line, versus many of the small breweries that may be a highlight waiting to happen made decisions difficult. The buzz about certain beers made their way around the convention center like a middle school hallway. It was exciting and exhausting all at the same time.
The Buffalo Bayou booth at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado.
Since this is Houston Beer Guide, let’s talk about Houston. Houston was represented well on the serving floor. Buffalo Bayou, Saint Arnold, BAKFISH, and Texas Leaguer all had booths. 8th Wonder had a booth in the heavily advertised Jameson Caskmates Barrel-Aged Beer Garden, where Rocket Fuel took on the Jameson barrel. For the Houston booths, it was a highlight. I’m not the biggest fan of Jameson in general, but I felt Rocket Fuel was one of the few beers in the area that could handle it and meld well. Many of the other Jameson collaborations by some very big named breweries were overwhelmed by the barrel. The Jameson based Rocket Fuel will be appearing around Houston in the not too distant future, so be on the lookout.
After last year’s success, this was a rather quiet year for Houston at the festival. (Last year Houston area breweries brought home 6 medals and Saint Arnold won Mid-Size Brewing Company of the Year.) Austin won more than half of the 18 Texas-based awards, including multiple wins for the Austin Beer Garden Brewery, but the Houston area took home only two awards. Saint Arnold was the honorary of both medals, taking home a bronze in the Ordinary or Special Bitter category for their Amber Ale followed closely in the awards by a silver for Oktoberfest in the Scottish Style Ale category. This brings the Saint Arnold total medal count to 26 all time, a record for a brewery in the south. This would normally be the point in the article where I would have tasting notes for both of the winning beers, but if you’re reading this article there’s a 99% chance you’ve had these beers. If you haven’t, a trip to your local grocer or liquor store is in order, they’re in the cooler and both solid offerings.
8th Wonder had a booth in the heavily advertised Jameson Caskmates Barrel-Aged Beer Garden.
What should we take home from such a small amount of awards for the Houston area? Not much in my personal opinion. Breweries can only enter in 4 beers. The beers that won awards for Houston last year may not have been entered this year at all. We’re still making our way up on the best American markets, but that climb is happening regardless of medals. As long as more breweries continue to push the envelope, and most importantly make good beers, Houston’s name will continue to grow. More medals and awards are on the way for Houston as long as drinkers demand great products. Keep drinking and demanding great beer Houston.
Texas Leaguer at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado.
Supporting local charities, non-profits and social causes have always been a big part of the vibrant Houston craft brewing scene. As local breweries have started operations across the Houston area, a part of stitching themselves into the fabric of their local communities has been supporting causes Houstonians care about. Houston craft beer people have demonstrated their passion for seeking out good beer made locally, and marrying that passion with raising awareness for worthy causes is a big part of why so many breweries seek out those types of partnerships with charitable organizations as an early step in building their businesses.
It’s in this locally focused, charitable spirit that Back Pew Brewing Company in Porter has begun a partnership with Addi’s Faith, a Kingwood-based charity. Part of the proceeds of the Addi’s Faith Kolsch will go to the organization, whose mission is to both support researchers working towards a cure for childhood brain cancer and provide services to families impacted by the disease. Addi’s Faith approached Bobby Harl, president and brewer at Back Pew, and asked him to design a beer that would be approachable for just about anyone and easy to drink during the heat of the late Houston summer. Addi’s Faith Founder and President Amber Bender told me, ‘We went to Back Pew first because they are local, make a great beer, and we enjoy going there on the weekends to hang out.”
Bobby leveraged his expertise in German styles and designed a Kolsch brewed with a slight twist – using Northern Brewer (a hop with a distinct minty-like bitterness) along with noble hops. Bobby’s skill shows in this example of the classic style from Cologne. The beer pours straw gold with a bright white head, with a delicate malty sweet aroma. The taste of the beer is also slightly sweet and bready, with a crisp bitterness and an ever-so-slight fruitiness. The hint of Northern Brewer evergreen/mint helps reinforce the clean, dry finish. Bobby said he would like to coax a little more of the pear-like flavors from the yeast in future versions, but the balance of this beer is pretty perfect in this single batch offering.
Back Pew sees this beer as a first step in what should be an annual effort to help support Addi’s Faith during September, which is also Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. The style of the beer may change year-on-year, but the mission remains the same – raise awareness of the disease Addi’s Faith is focused on, and bring the focus of the community on their organization in an engaging way.
Although not much of this tasty Kolsch will be left on shelves and taps around town through the waning days of September, if you’ve missed getting your taste of the brew I highly recommend taking a close look at the history and accomplishments of Addi’s Faith. Specifically, watch the video story below of how Amber and her husband responded to the loss of their daughter Addison Faith to the disease just shy of her second birthday in 2008. From that foundation of tragedy and loss, they’ve built a legacy through Addi’s Faith, raising over $1 million for research on pediatric brain cancer treatment, as well as outreach and support for families that have heard those terrifying four words themselves: ‘Your child has cancer…’
Addi's Faith Foundation - YouTube
Amber and the leaders of Addi’s Faith have done incredible things in the past 11 years. Now it’s our turn – the craft beer community of Houston – to do our part. This Back Pew Kolsch represents a tasty beginning to what promises to be another chapter in the long happy story of charitable support from the Houston beer community. Learn more about Addi’s Faith and how to support their mission here.
At their anniversary party in August, Eureka Heights’ Wort Overlord (aka Head Brewer) Casey Motes announced that Eureka Heights beer would soon be available in cans and grocery stores, and now, that time has come.
Cans of Buckle Bunny Cream Ale and Mini Boss Double Dry Hopped IPA are now available in stores including HEB, Kroger, Specs, Whole Foods, Total Wine, Central Market, and smaller independent beer stores. According to Casey, cans will be in over 100 stores within a month, so look for them basically everywhere you buy cans of beer in the greater Houston area.
Photo: Shawn McDermott for Houston Beer Guide
Why cans and not bottles? According to Casey, “they are better at keeping oxygen and UV light out of the beer, which means better beer. Aside from that, we feel they are way more portable and easier to recycle. Also, shotgunning a bottle isn’t very safe.”
Photo: Shawn McDermott for Houston Beer Guide
Since they opened two years ago, Eureka Heights has brewed some of the best beer in the city, but their presence has been limited to bars, growler shops, and their own taproom. This expansion, Casey says, will allow them to, “reach a whole new crowd that might not be going out to bars and restaurants on a regular basis. There are so many people that are passionate about craft beer and want to support local and independent breweries. We want to make sure they have options when they go to the store.” Despite the near exponential growth in the number of breweries in the city, it’s increasingly rare to see new breweries on grocery store shelves. This may seem like a dull, boring story but it is a huge step for Eureka Heights and the city’s beer scene as a whole.
If you haven’t tried their beer before, pick up a six pack or two. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
What’s Next for Eureka Heights?
Eureka Heights adding a new fermenter | Photo: Shawn McDermott for Houston Beer Guide
The expansion into cans has contributed to an increase in production volume for Eureka Heights. They’ve added a new fermenter and a new brite tank to help them keep up.
What beer will Eureka Heights release in cans next? They need help deciding. My hope is their newest beer, Shower Tears, a blackberry gose. If you have a favorite beer or style that you’d like to see next, let them know on one of their social media pages.
Fortress BeerWorks is the latest addition to Houston’s rapidly growing beer scene. The family-friendly craft brewery plans to open this fall in a 6,620-sq.-ft. space located at 2606 Spring Cypress Road in Spring, Texas. Fortress BeerWorks will be operating with a brewpub license—which, as HBG’s audience likely knows at this point, means it has the all-important ability to sell beer on-premise and to-go—and will be the greater Houston area’s 53rd craft brewery.
The Future Fortress BeerWorks | Photo courtesy of Fortress BeerWorks
“As huge craft beer fans ourselves, we’re beyond excited to become a part of Houston’s quickly expanding craft beer scene, and eager to help slake the thirsts of the beer drinkers of our great city,” said head brewer and co-owner Dion Billard. “It’s an invigorating time for craft beer in the greater Houston area. We look toward our neighbors to the west at Lone Pint in Magnolia, to the north at B52 Brewing, Copperhead and Southern Star in Conroe, and to the south at 11 Below as inspiration, and can’t wait to make beer that will further cement north Houston’s reputation as a can’t-miss craft beer destination.”
Dion says Fortress BeerWorks expects to launch with a Double India Pale Ale, Blonde Ale, Witbier and the brewery’s signature Smash IPA as they open their doors, with seasonals and special releases throughout the year. Dion also said that Fortress will offer Crowlers, and may also enter the 16-ounce can sale arena down the line as well.
Fortress has plans to send some product out to retail, though expects to spend much of its focus on providing the best possible experience for its patrons at its taproom. The brewery expects to be open Thursday through Sunday at the outset, with expanded hours an eventual possibility. Additionally, they will partner with local food trucks to ensure there is always a food option for taproom visitors.
Local commercial real estate firm NAI Partners arranged the lease transaction for the space. NAI has become something of a go-to firm for craft brewery leases, having also completed Great Heights’ lease on Wakefield Drive last year. (Editor’s note: Larry is VP of Marketing at NAI Partners.)
Under new management, D&T Drive Inn on Enid near Cavalcade in north Houston has made a number of changes since an apparent ownership shift in early March.
After a 2017 filled withcontroversy for the Treadsack group, D&T remained as one of the three entities in the company’s portfolio, alongside Down House & Johnny’s Gold Brick. The closure of their Thai restaurant Foreign Correspondents (with attached Canard cocktail bar) on North Main was shortly followed by the shuttering of the Bernadines / Hunky Dory restaurant compound on Shepherd. In the wake of a spate of lawsuits and unflattering press reports about the turmoil swirling around the Treadsack group, many D&T fans were more than a little concerned for the future of the place. Fast forward a few months and D&T seemed to be staying the course, albeit with a great deal of staff turnover, including the departure of general manager Amber Miller and her husband Jason Moore – who together had been standard bearers for the craft pedigree of the little icehouse since it opened in 2013. Regardless of the change it seemed as though D&T seemed to be holding on through the tempest, keeping its status as a bulwark of Houston craft beer and a neighborhood focused watering hole, but apparently a sale was in the works.
New ownership will keep D&T open, but changes are evident. Gone are the ‘pay it forward’ chalkboard, the daily selection of happy hour specials served in pints or Mason jars, the jukebox, the kitchen and even the original sign (replaced, sadly, by a new black and white logo). I noticed that the specialty bottle beer selection and beer engines were gone, although the staff told me they still had the cask service equipment and would use it as they needed it, and there’s a new list of cans and bottles. Set-ups are no longer listed on the menu, but the staff confirmed they are not pursuing a liquor license, so those might still be available. The frozen shandies also remain as a popular holdover from the old menu.
The new sign at D&T Drive Inn | Photo: D&T Drive Inn via Twitter
Arrived are a nearly complete staff turnover, a tap wall aiming at being 100% Texas beers, and a set of specials that feels aimed at being a neighborhood stopover type place, with industry night, big-ass beers and such. Weekday happy hour is every day, 2-7pm, and includes 22 oz pours of lower ABV/low IBU brews at pint prices. I had ‘big ass’ pours of Saint Arnold Orange Show and Southern Star Spring Pilsner in the ~6-7 dollar range.
HopDrop is using D&T as a source for delivery for the area, so there is a crowler machine behind the bar to meet those needs, but it didn’t seem like crowlers were an option for takeaway from the bar – just branded full size glass growlers.
The old D&T food menu is gone and the notoriously small kitchen is literally shuttered. For the time being they are hosting a Venezuelan arepas vendor on Thursdays and food trucks on other nights. They told me they aim to build out a full kitchen into a shipping container inside the back patio area, and aim to serve a more full-featured menu than the tiny space in place would allow. Additional plans include adding coffee service, and opening in the mornings as a coffee shop with breakfast from the to-be-built kitchen. They also plan a regular Sunday brunch.
Big changes in progress for one of the best craft beer bars in the city. Here’s hoping the careful tap wall curation that had come to define D&T can carry on in some fashion.
The aptly named Ingenious Brewing Company recently opened in Humble. Serving 24 constantly rotating taps of imaginative brews from Blueberry Papaya IPA to Bourbon Barrel Cadbury Russian Imperial Stout, this outside-the-box brewery is worth a trip outside the Loop.
The unlikely duo of Justin Gyorfi, a urologist from Clear Lake, and Mike Broderick, an award-winning Pennsylvanian home brewer and former IT professional, have faced some formidable obstacles to opening Ingenious since we began reporting on the brewery’s progress in February 2017. The business partners weathered construction hurdles, Hurricane Harvey, and shortly after Harvey’s devastation, Justin’s first child was born, and Mike suffered a ruptured appendix on the same day.
The Ingenious Brewing taproom is full of hop themed decorations. | Photo: Shawn McDermott
During the delays, venues around the Houston area from Webster to Katy hosted events showcasing Ingenious brews. Justin said he is thankful for the support of these establishments, including Craft Beer Cellar downtown and Humble’s the Hop Stop, who were among the first locations around town to receive kegs and are currently serving Ingenious beers on tap.
A passion for craft beer, particularly IPAs and stouts, bonded Justin and Mike, who met when Justin was doing his residency at Hershey Medical Center in Pennsylvania. The two formed a plan to open a brewery, and in 2014 Mike sold everything he had and moved to Houston.
“We are trying to bring in elements from breweries around the country that we admire, then combine that with our own thoughts and ideas to create a distinct Ingenious experience here in Houston,” Mike said.
The bookcase bar at Ingenious Brewing Company. | Photo: Shawn McDermott
They have succeeded in creating a unique atmosphere with a very smart-looking bookcase bar and a wide array of brews, heavy on New England IPAs inspired by Tree House and Trillium, and complex stouts in the vein of Cigar City, one of Mike’s favorite breweries. A fan of Tired Hands’ milkshake IPAs, Mike also brews his own twist on lactose IPAs, FroYo beers.
Though the taps rotate often, Ingenious has a few beers that have consistently been on the menu. I tried the creamy Vanilla Coconut FroYo IPA, which features a vanilla aroma, subtle coconut flavor and light bitterness. My favorite beer was the Bigger in TexasNew England IPA, an imperial version of their Made in Texas IPA. It is juicy, a little floral and has a velvety soft mouthfeel.
I also enjoyed the stouts I tasted, particularly the rum barrel-aged ones. All of them were well-balanced and very smooth. With no heavy booziness, they went down very easily – a little too easily for me as most of them ranged from 11-13% ABV.
Mike said he feels Ingenious’ variety of styles sets their beers apart from other Houston-area breweries. I agree. In addition to the IPAs and stouts, in their short existence Ingenious has also produced brown, cream, English mild, amber and wheat ales. I tried the Vanilla Coffee Cream Ale, which has a delicious candy nose. Heavy vanilla at first sip, the beer finishes with a slight coffee flavor.
Ingenious IPAs ready to drink | Photo: Shawn McDermott
Ingenious is working on having an on-site food truck full-time. Meanwhile, the brewery is hosting pop-up kitchens, most notably GastroCraft, featuring local chefs. GastroCraft’s Dennis Feray has created some insanely delicious culinary delights such as mouth-watering chili verde pork tacos featuring slow-simmered pork shoulder, fire-roasted poblanos and jalapenos, and dishes which showcase beer like “hopped-up nachos” made with IPA-infused queso. Hungry brewery patrons can finish their meals with April “Ape” Feray’s luscious, chocolately cupcakes, cookies and brownies baked with stout.
Additionally, Ingenious will soon offer ¼ lb. hot dogs on a fresh bakery roll, chips, and sodas, which patrons can enjoy inside, or on its kid- and dog-friendly patio. Outside food and food delivery to the brewery are also allowed.
On Mondays, Ingenious will offer full pours of many of their beers at half-pour prices. Thirsty visitors can take home brews in growlers or crowlers. The brewery recently began canning and plans to have fresh four-packs offered monthly.
The prolific brewery has scheduled releases of one to three new brews a week, one of which will typically be a barrel-aged offering. This constant variety should ensure patrons have the distinctive Ingenious experience that its founders desire.
“Each time a patron comes to the brewery, we would like to give them a unique beer drinking episode,” Mike said. “We want to give people a reason to come back again and again.”
Saint Arnold’s latest Divine Reserve (#18) is an Imperial Stout, checking in at a beefy 13.4% ABV. It’s a malty beast, boasting 4 times the volume of grain as a Lawnmower. Plus it’s the biggest beer in terms of ABV Saint Arnold has ever made, and it was fermented using the same yeast strain used for the standard everyday brews like Amber Ale and Ale Wagger. If that’s not enough, it was aged on vanilla beans. This beer is a technical achievement – but how does it taste?
Saint Arnold Divine Reserve 18 pours an inky black and weighs in at a beefy 13.4% ABV | Photo: Josh Frink for Houston Beer Guide
DR18 pours an inky black, with a very narrow ring of foam from the initial pour. This is black hole dark – I think it might actually be absorbing light. The aroma is a little figgy with dried fruit (prune and raisin), but it’s decidedly sweet with smells of toasted sugar and dark chocolate. Alcohol is definitely notable. As it warms in the glass the vanilla starts to bloom out.
The flavor hits hard with the dark roasted malts, tons and tons of plum and more raisin, a slight alcohol burn and something akin to the astringency of the peel of a stone fruit and the striking bitterness of a nibble of baking chocolate. Some Belgian-like yeast esters are behind all this I think, not so much earthy and peppery as stone fruit and green apple – but just a hint of that latter. I get the vanilla quite a bit more as I breathe out through my nose between sips – but in the beer itself it’s a flavor component and not a dominating element. The alcohol comes and it goes rather than just heating up the entire experience, which is pretty amazing considering the ABV. As it warms it gets decidedly better. The chocolate/roasted malt flavors really pick up, and the beer really rounds out at just above room temp, as it gets warmer the alcohol just takes over. Those magical moments at just the right temperature are really something special – all of the fruitness, a deep, rich dark malt experience and just a hint of vanilla – but they don’t last long!
My overall impression of this beer is mixed. Admittedly, whenever I drink a massive American imperial stout I can’t help but think of Deschutes Abyss and Avery Czar, which are my personal hallmarks. With that in mind, I want a little more dark roastiness than this beer gives me through the entire experience. The vanilla does a heck of a job of helping this beer wring as much of the ‘house’ character out of the Saint Arnold yeast as must be possible.
I am left wondering if all this fruitiness and heat are going to meld together into a greater whole as this beer ages and the vanilla falls away. Maybe in 6-12 months this beer will bring these big flavors together and deliver that transcendental experience I’m looking for. Given how previous Divine Reserve releases have improved over time I’d bet on it!
The Divine Reserve 18 bottles come with these special caps celebrating Saint Arnold winning Mid-Sized Brewing Company of the Year at last years Great American Beer Festival. | Photo: Josh Frink for Houston Beer Guide
My initial hope was that a newcomer to the Houston craft beer scene would come online sometime in 2017 with a near-exclusive focus on New England-Style India Pale Ales. It turns out we’re inching ever closer to the launch of a brewer that has indeed stated its desire to make the NEIPA a core focus, alongside huge Imperial Stouts, in the form of Humble’s Ingenious Brewing, whose long-anticipated doors will hopefully be flung open sometime during the first quarter of 2018.
What I didn’t expect was how many already-existing Houston breweries would not only embrace the style in 2017, but end up making some of the most memorable beers of the year, several of which could hold their own among the upper echelon of brewers of the style. And perhaps the most surprising sidebar of all surrounding Houston’s NEIPA craze of 2017 is that this is one of the few instances I can recall where Houston is not only ahead of Austin in a craft beer category, but absolutely smoking our rival to the west. Outside of Pinthouse Pizza, Austin’s breweries seem to be mostly reluctant to explore the style.
While we’re not quite at what I would consider the best-case scenario: fresh cans of NEIPA available seven days a week, something only Boston can currently claim, Houston has made impressive strides in a very short amount of time. For a period of time over the summer into the fall, Brookshire’s Baa Baa Brewhouse was canning a new NEIPA on a near-weekly basis. Conroe’s Copperhead removed some of the most annoying parts of NEIPA culture, the lines and FOMO, and implemented a wonderful online ticketing system. And SpindleTap began to ramp up its production of new iterations of the style while also helpfully adopting the online-ordering & pick-up-at-your-convenience route, delivering some of my favorite beers of the year in the process.
Progress in 2017
In light of all of the progress Houston has made, here’s a quick look at some of the breweries that have helped build a local world of NEIPA (even if some of them would rather not refer to the style under that nomenclature) that didn’t even exist a year ago:
– B-52, technically the very first in the greater Houston area to produce a hazy, juicy IPA back in November/December 2016, continued to delight palates in 2017, first by canning its popular Wheez the Juice, and following that with subsequent crowler and can releases throughout the year. The brewery has also added milkshake variants of many of its NEIPAs to its offerings.
– Whole Foods has been the city’s most steady producer of NEIPAs, along with accompanying milkshake versions of their beers, with new releases more or less weekly since early summer. Whole Foods and B-52 teamed up several months back to produce a hugely dry-hopped DIPA called Whole Payload, and rumor has it that both breweries will be teaming up again in the not-too-distant future, perhaps with some additional friends.
– Sigma Brewing made waves with its 4XDH Medina Sod, and recently released its most-hopped beer ever, The Apparatus.
– Great Heights became the first Houston brewery ever to launch with an NEIPA, Fruity Pellets, and recently released a more amped-up version, Fruitier Pellets.
– No Label threw its hat into the ring, releasing the successful Sittin’ Sidehaze over the summer, and delivering a second NEIPA at the end of he year, Phaze Two.
– Copperhead brought several big, juicy IPAs to the table while still staying true to the brewery’s DNA, with Feeding Frenzy, Citraddicted and Alpha Serpentus all whetting hophead whistles.
– Baa Baa Brewhouse, one of the the smallest breweries in the greater Houston area, went from brewing the first beer in Houston specifically referred to as a New England-Style India Pale Ale, to creating a small frenzy over the summer with its (very) limited canning runs of its small-batch NEIPAs. I know I’m not the only one hoping that the owners, who still run the brewery as a part-time endeavor, decide to go all-in, especially if they keep producing beers of the caliber they delivered in the second half of 2017. An increase in the hours they are open would certainly be welcome. Baa Baa is one of the most difficult breweries for me to pick up beers from, despite being the second closest brewery to my house. Their typical hours, Saturday from 5-8pm, fall right around dinnertime for those of us with young families. And they often underestimate the demand for their beer, leaving folks out of luck upon arrival, but they should be commended for taking advantage of online ticket sales when demand is expected to be exceptionally high. While I’m wary of stoking the hype fires too dramatically, the leveling up in beer quality and the discomfort caused by limited production that Baa Baa has been going through reminds me of the early days of Tree House in 2012. I suppose there are worse problems to have.
– SpindleTap was the first locally to really nail the hallmarks of what I look for in the NEIPA style with Houston Haze, and things only got better from there. After spending the first few months post-Haze focused on production of their new flagship, the brewery started branching out this past summer, and has since released some stellar examples of what the style can be, including the recently re-released Hops Drop, Draped Up, 5% Tint, and Operation Juice Drop and Juiceton, the latter two of which were my top two local beers of 2017. With the brewery set to release its most heavily-hopped beer ever at the end of January, Heavy Hands DIPA (plus another batch of Juiceton), 2018 is already off to a stellar start.
Raising the Bar in 2018
Now with all said, there’s still plenty of work to be done. For every successful local NEIPA, there’s been at least one that didn’t quite work out the way the brewers likely intended it to. That’s to be expected any time an entire city’s worth of producers begins trying its hand at something that no one had really taken a stab at before, but there’s also going to be less room for error going forward. While I’ve never been afraid to call it like I see it, I’ll also admit to occasionally going into cheerleading mode because I want the style to succeed locally.
Going forward, simply brewing a beer that may carry some of the characteristics of the style without the depth and flavor to back it up may not be good enough. There will be less room for forgiveness for stumbles as the beer drinking community gets increasingly exposed to top-tier examples of the style. With several very good NEIPAs having been brewed locally, not to mention geographical rival Parish elevating its game to what many would consider an elite level, Houston’s breweries will have to continue to iterate on and perfect their techniques while developing new and even more flavorful recipes to continue winning the hearts and minds of the city’s juice fiends.
The good news is, a very solid foundation has been laid, and (I still can’t believe I feel this way from where my head was at 365 days ago) I’m confident that Houston has the talent and passion to not only meet the needs of the city’s lovers of the style, but enter the national dialogue as a sought-after destination of juice bombs as well.
2017 was a transformative year for craft beer in Houston.
We saw the rise of the NEIPA (thanks in large part to Larry’s “Who will be Houston’s Tree House or Trillium?” essay) with 8th Wonder, 11 Below, B-52, Baa Baa, Copperhead, No Label, Spindletap, Texian, Whole Foods Market, and others trying their hand at the style.
Saint Arnold celebrated their 23rd anniversary and 5 local breweries made their own versions of classic Saint Arnold beers.
Chris complained about the lack of on-demand craft beer delivery, and HopDrop delivered in response.
And in the wake of Hurricane Harvey our city came together, reached out to one another, and got to work helping each other recover. Just about every brewery stepped up in a variety of ways. 8th Wonder used their high clearance vehicles for water rescues. Eureka Heights, Saloon Door, and countless others became donation centers. Saint Arnold spearheaded #ReliefBeers, and breweries from around the country donated $1 per beer sold to the Houston Food Bank, raising $35,000. Spindletap became a local distribution center, even attracting the superstar of Harvey relief – JJ Watt – into the tap room to sort and load supplies on to trucks. Hurricane Harvey will be a rallying point for our community for years to come.
Our Favorite Beers
We like to wrap the year up by sharing our the best local and non-local beer we had in the last year. It’s not an original idea, but it’s fun. We’d love to hear your picks as well!
Eureka Heights ‘Mini Boss’ – To think, there was a time I didn’t think much of Eureka Heights’ beers. Dumb names, I said. Boring styles, I said. I was wrong, and Mini Boss represents everything I was wrong about. This beer explodes with citrus, finishes with a balanced bitterness and is enjoyable all the way through. Eureka took the megatrend of 2017 – hopping late with Mosaic and other big flavorful hops (in this case Citra) and hit it out of the park. It’s become a beer I seek whenever a new batch is released.
Listermann Brewing Company ‘Tricky’ (Cincinnati, OH) – I love all of Listermann’s series of NE-style IPAs with old school rap names, but I think Tricky has become the single example by which I have come to judge all comers in this style. Blending the aromatic elements of Mosaic with the pineapple/tropical flavors of Galaxy, it brings hop flavor and aroma from first pop of the 16 oz can and has very little perceptible bitterness – just a soft, clean, juicy finish. Listermann has a special place in my heart because 2017 was also the year I established a beer trading partner in the Cincinnati area (THANKS SAM), and so have been fortunate enough to get my hands on these delicious goodies.
Honorable mention: Galveston Island Brewing DIPA #7, MIA Brewing MEGA MIX Pale Ale, Urban Artifact Gaslight, Societe The Swindler, Odell Rupture Pale Ale, Grand Teton Brewing Teton Range IPA
Saint Arnold Brewing ‘Icon Red Märzen’ – I am always excited to try a modern take on a classic style. And while there are many misses in the world of beer, Saint Arnold Brewing has proven more than capable in the handling of such styles. So as I expressed in my review of Icon Red Märzen, I was more than pleased with the results. A great representation of the style, and one that I hope will return with their regular fall lineup every year.
The Answer Brewpub ‘I Like Turtles’ (Richmond, VA) – Maybe it’s just me, but rarely do collaborations work out as well as I hope or expect. Two great breweries combining must always produce great outcomes, right? But sadly, seldom do such high expectations equal results. I Like Turtles is an extraordinary gem that greatly exceeds such desires. This collaboration between The Answer Brewpub and Bottle Logic Brewing is a delightful stout with caramel and southern pecan coffee and toasted coconut. This beer sets a deliciously high standard I hope more collaborations can meet.
Eureka Heights ‘Mini Boss’ – In short: liquid gold. I should not be surprised how good Mini Boss is given the strength of Eureka Heights’s output so far, but I was struck by its deliciousness at first sip. A grapefruit nose gave way to crisp, clean citrus and tropical flavors dancing on my tongue. At 6.8% ABV I am glad I don’t have to worry much about crushing too many of this double dry-hopped wonder, but it’s still dangerously drinkable.
Great Notion ‘Double Stack’ (Portland, OR)– I confess I had never heard of Great Notion Brewing before a friend mentioned it, which is actually a bit of a surprise since I visit Portland, Oregon and the surrounding area every other year. But with 70 breweries in Portland proper alone, it’s not hard to miss one. Now I know where I am going next time as soon as my plane hits the tarmac! Double Stack is a decadent treat. An imperial breakfast stout brewed with Portland’s Clutch coffee and Vermont maple syrup, Great Notion nails the flavor: the brew makes me feel as if I have been transported back to childhood and stuffed myself with stacks of syrup-doused pancakes.
B-52 ‘A Tart Frenchie – Peach & Apricot’ – Admittedly, I didn’t get to try as many new Houston beers this year as I’d like, but most of the ones I did try in my few trips back home or from boxes sent to me were very good. I think that my favorite was probably B-52’s “A Tart Frenchie – Peach & Apricot,” which was lightly tart, very well-balanced, and extremely refreshing, without hiding any of the delightful fruit flavor. It reminded me a little of some of the beers I’ve had from California’s Good Beer Co, which are absurdly delightful for many of the same reasons. It’s clear from this beer and others that I’ve now had from the growing Conroe brewery that B-52 is a force to be reckoned with, having already earned my vote for Houston’s second best brewery, rising with a bullet.
Cantillon ‘Nath’ (Brussels, Belgium) – December 1st, 2012, I was sitting at the Avenue Pub awaiting my taste of that year’s “Zwanze,” a special beer created by the Brussels brewery once a year. That year, it was a lambic with rhubarb added, and I recall not getting a lot of rhubarb flavor but still immensely enjoying it. Fast forward to August 26 of this year, and I’m sitting at Cantillon, trying my first bottle of Nath, the newest rhubarb lambic. This time, there’s a lot more rhubarb, with a fantastic balance, an incredible aroma, and an amazing lambic “canvas.” I was fortunate enough to try Nath one more time this year, on tap a month later (again at Avenue Pub for Zwanze day), and found the rhubarb slightly more muted, serving as a bridge to that memory from five years ago. And of course, it doesn’t hurt that it has such a great name…
Jose Luis Cubria
Eureka Heights ‘Mini-Boss’ – My favorite Houston IPA, and the beer that made me forget about Yellow Rose’s quality-control issues. It’s deliciously fruity, and the tropical/citrus notes hit you the moment you start pouring. It’s scary how quickly a crowler of this can disappear. (Honorable mention: the various barrel treatments of Saint Arnold DR17.)
Boon Geuze ‘Mariage Parfait’ (Halle, Belgium) – On the short-list for my desert-island beer, and an insta-buy every time I see it. The fact that this is now a Houston shelf beer blows my mind. For my tastes, it’s a perfect gueuze, and a perfect beer.
Whole Foods Market Brewing NEIPAs – Ok, I realize this isn’t one beer, it’s a bunch of them, but Whole Foods is crushing the NEIPA game in Houston. If you had to nail me down to a specific one, it’d probably be Earn It, but Hop Explorer, NEAF IPA, and the weekly limited Wednesday fruit/shake releases have almost all been on point and delicious. The only problem with them is having to go near the Galleria to pick them up, but it’s well worth it for a fresh crowler.
Funky Buddha ‘Last Buffalo in the Park’ – This beer has been around a couple of years now (previously named Snowed In), but I finally got my first taste this year and it absolutely blew me away. I’m a fan boy of most things Funky Buddha for that matter. Where many breweries fail with trying to make a beer taste like something specific, they execute. From the pie crust you get in Lemon Merinque Pie to the marshmallow you get in Sticky Treats, nothing comes across as fake or off their target. Last Buffalo in the Park stands out the most, a liquid version of a mounds bar with the right amount of bourbon barrel coming through. If you like your mounds bar without the bourbon, find a Last Snow, the non-BBA version of the beer that’s almost as delicious. It’s worth the hunt.
11 Below ‘Big Mistake’ Barrel Variants – My notes for these beers are in some box packed hastily while gathering what could be salvaged post-Harvey, so I’ll keep it brief. This year’s Big Mistake was aged in a blend of Bourbon and Rye Whiskey barrels from Yellow Rose distillery. I was shocked at how much of a difference there was between the flavors from the two different barrels, and how great Rye Whiskey and Russian Imperial Stout are when combined.
Frederiskdal Kirsebaervin Cherry Wine (Harpelunde, Denmark) – My wife and I traveled to the Shelton Brother’s Festival in Atlanta this year. Choosing a favorite non-local beer is next to impossible. This wine is made with a special variety of Danish cherries, and is most similar to a nice port – sweet, but surprisingly balanced. It’s distributed locally by Flood and pops up around town on occasion. And it’s almost as good as the Cheer Wine soda I re-discovered on our Atlanta trip.
Anything NEIPA – So a year ago I was griping to anyone who would listen about my frustration about the fact that no one in Houston was brewing New England-Style IPAs, forcing me to have to regularly import boxes of Trillium, Tree House and Other Half to satisfy my needs. You may have even read an essay about it. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect what would happen in the aftermath of writing that piece — including being asked to collaborate with SpindleTap on what would end up being one of my favorite beers of the year, and among the best New England-Style Double India Pale Ales brewed in Houston to date, the aptly-monikered Juiceton — and the fact that I’m typing up a favorite local beer of the year entry that includes mentions of multiple beers brewed in Houston is a huge testament to how far the local scene has come in a very short amount of time with regards to producing NEIPAs on par with some of the best in the country. Props are due to B-52, Copperhead, Whole Foods and No Label for all releasing bangin’ beers that represented the style well this year. But for my palate, the local NEIPA leaders are SpindleTap and Baa Baa Brewhouse. Beginning this summer Baa Baa kicked off a damn impressive run of new, delicious canned NEIPA after NEIPA in what at times felt like a near-weekly basis. The one that I enjoyed the most was In a Galaxy Far, Far Away, one of the purest expressions of Galaxy hops I consumed all year. As for SpindleTap, they were along the first to kick off the canned NEIPA revolution, and cemented their status early on with the outstanding Houston Haze, a beer that somehow continues to get even better. The aforementioned Juiceton is my top local DIPA of the year, and I’d say the same even if I wasn’t involved with it. But if I had to pick just one for favorite local beer of the year, I’d go with SpindleTap & Parish’s flawless collab, Operation Juice Drop, which delivered everything I want in the style and then some. Preposterous hop flavor on a silky smooth ultra-creamy canvas along with the multiple-waves-of-flavor complexity of the very best beers in the style made for one of the most memorable drinking experiences I had all year. I knew OJD was a special beer when I followed a can of it with Trillium’s Double Dry-Hopped Congress Street — a top 3 all-time beer for me — and found DDH Congress’ flavors to be muted(!) in the aftermath of the full-on hop warfare of OJD. For the completists out there, here’s a link to the complete list of my top beers of 2017.