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.
While Thistle Draftshop Owner Mary Thorn never planned to become an entrepreneur, she says the thought was always in the back of her mind. An accountant, her interest in beer led her to apply for a position at Saint Arnold Brewing Company several years ago. She worked there for seven years, sparking a passion for the beer industry.
“I fell in love with the craft beer industry. I thought it would be complementary to combine interests when it came time for something new to do, and the shop became my next adventure,” Mary said.
The adventure officially begins today as the new craft beer bar and retail market celebrates its grand opening with a ribbon cutting by the Spring-Klein Chamber of Commerce at noon at 5210 FM 2920 #100.
Just a few of the tap handles at Thistle Draftshop. | Photo: Nathan Kiergaard
Part bar, part bottle shop, and part restaurant, Thistle Draftshop keeps the emphasis on local. Houston-area beers are heavily represented on the shop’s 60 taps, including 2017 GABF Gold winners Eureka Heights Buckle Bunny and Saint Arnold Pumpkinator, and the refrigerated case features bottles and cans from almost every local brewery.
Thistle Draftshop’s local-first philosophy doesn’t end there. Locally sourced produce and meats are prominently featured on the menu. The shop’s fare includes crispy Brussels sprouts, broiled oysters, artichoke hummus, burgers and wings crafted by Chef Ernesto Villareal, formerly of The Grove.
Thistle Draftshop Chef Ernesto Villarreal and Owner Mary Thorn | Photo: Nathan Kiergaard
The shop’s local cred is furthered by the addition of General Manager Jake Thorn to the team. Mary said she thought hard about hiring her son as GM, but his experience at Ritual and strong leadership skills made him a natural choice.
Unique to the bar and take-home beer concept, Thistle Draftshop also features an event space which Mary plans to use for talks with local brewers, beer tastings, hosting beer podcast recordings and Beer Judge Certification Program classes, in addition to parties.
Grand Opening – December 29th
Thistle Draftshop is opening their doors full time on December 29th. The ribbon cutting begins at noon, but festivities continue until midnight. They’ll have complimentary appetizers and beer specials. Many Houston-area brewery representatives will also be on-site to answer questions and mingle with patrons.
Some months ago I penned a short review of home delivery services for craft beer in the Houston area. In that post I lamented that Greater Houston lacked a true beer delivery service like Hopsy in the California Bay Area. While our local supermarkets and liquor stores were offering delivery services for their products, nothing was truly fulfilling the promise of getting brewery-fresh beer to your door at a reasonable price.
Since that time, Drink of Ages in Montrose has started delivering fresh draft beer to the immediate area around the pub for a $5 fee, but what’s really gotten my attention is the new service offering from a group calling themselves HopDrop. You may have seen the ads pop up in your Facebook feed over the past few weeks crowing over yet another partnership with a local Houston craft brewery and advertising their December 1st launch. The faults of the current delivery services in Houston are what HopDrop aims to fix, namely that they are too expensive, too slow, don’t deliver what people want, or don’t deliver to enough places.
Fundamentally the premise of HopDrop is tantalizing: get freshies from local breweries delivered to your door nearly immediately for about the same price as you would pay if you went out to get it yourself, save for a $5.99 delivery fee ($3.99 if scheduled at least 24 hours in advance). From what I could tell, their inventory focuses on the types of tap-room-only offerings and far-flung breweries that would otherwise require a special trip. As an example, on launch day they had crowlers of Houston Haze and Hops Drop from Spindletap, Wheez the Juice and Wheez the Shake from B-52 and at least one of Baa Baa Brewhouse’s current taproom NEIPA variants. On top of this were the draft offerings of new breweries like Texas Leaguer and Great Heights. They also had a good selection of other Houston beers including special releases from Brash, Eureka Heights, City Acre and No Label.
HopDrop currently has one delivery van, but they plan to add vans as they expand. | Photo: HopDrop
Does it Work?
Since I live in their pilot launch area of Greater Heights/Rice Military/Oak Forest/Montrose I couldn’t wait to give it a try. My first order on December 1st included 100 ‘points’ that were redeemable for a $5 discount on my order, essentially refunding the delivery fee. The website is very easy to use: signup took less than five minutes and the inventory can be sorted by style or searched. Big, easy to read tiles with pictures of labels and beer descriptions including recipe basics, ABV, and IBU make shopping a breeze. Ten minutes after clicking submit on gohopdrop.com, the delivery van was outside my door putting my five cold HopDrop labeled aluminum crowlers into plastic snap carriers.
I got a good look into the van, and it’s filled with small chest freezers and coolers to keep the beer cold while it’s being delivered. The crowlers have their contents Sharpied onto the exterior of the can. I talked a little bit with the two men doing the work that day, and got a sense of how the service works. They have what they call a mobile crowlering machine that they take to brewpubs and to at least one growler shop (Growlers USA in Katy) for filling. They purchase beer (they told me mainly kegs) at retail and then use their machine to seal the beer onsite. They said they have offsite cold storage and as I saw keep the beer cold in the vans when it’s out for delivery. Ultimately they want to link their ordering system into brewing schedules so that they are packaging beer at the moment it’s ready and then delivering it all as quickly as possible – an end to end focus on freshness. They told us that no beer stays in the can longer than two weeks.
HopDrop’s mobile crowler machine. | Photo: HopDrop
Is This Legal?
The other question floating around in the local beer forums and certainly in my own mind is a big one: is this legal? We reached out to HopDrop with this exact question, and we got a chance to talk to co-founder Steven Macalello. Without delving into very much detail, he summarized the legalities of their operations as follows:
“What we do is facilitate the transaction between a retailer and the consumer. Think of us like Paypal or a credit card processor for the retailer. We don’t carry inventory until it’s in transit to the consumer. This is a very important distinction.”
Regarding the legalities of the model, Steven said HopDrop had consulted with experts in TABC code, and that, “…with their guidance we were able to develop our business model 100% legally.”
Steven and the guys in the van that came to my house reinforced two things repeatedly: HopDrop is focused on getting the freshest beer they can to consumers as quickly as possible, and do that for a fair market price.
I also reached out to breweries around town to get their take on HopDrop. Some confirmed they were working with them directly, while others didn’t realize that their beer was being offered through the service. This seemed to confirm that HopDrop is using a combination of onsite crowlering at brewpub tap rooms while also sourcing beer from bottle shops/retailers. HopDrop wouldn’t confirm to me exactly who is ‘partnering’ with them or where specifically they are getting each of their beers on offer.
I for one hope that HopDrop is right, and they are on the right side of the law. As one that watched the TABC’s antics unfold in their 2015-16 attack on the legality of crowlers, I can’t help but be nervous that HopDrop is headed for the same type of conflict.
Anxiety over the future notwithstanding, as I wrap up this post I’m enjoying a radically fresh Wheez the Juice at my living room table and marveling in the promise that HopDrop offers anyone in Houston who loves fresh, local beer. If you live in their ‘pilot’ delivery area, get on it!
To see the full list of beers and breweries offered, visit gohopdrop.com/
Although pumpkin beers have been around for centuries, their popularity has definitely increased in proportion with other pumpkin spiced goods. Go down the grocery store beer aisle, and there will be countless pumpkin spiced options. Some of these beers are good, some seem just to be following the fad, and some stand out above the crowd.
Saint Arnold Pumpkinator recently won Gold in the pumpkin beer category at The Great American Beer Festival, and it’s easy to see why. I fell in love with this beer in its original release as Divine Reserve 9 way back in 2009. The dessert-like qualities of the beer brought to mind Thanksgiving and pumpkin pie. Now it’s a beer I enjoy every Thanksgiving as I’m laying around watching football in a food coma. In 2015, Saint Arnold decided to age this wonderful beer in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels and released it as Bishop Barrel #9. I, of course, tracked this down at a local bar and thoroughly enjoyed it. When the opportunity arose to get a bottle of this year’s bourbon barrel aged Pumpkinator in advance of its public release, I jumped on it. I was excited to see this beer finally being released at a retail level, instead of the bar/restaurant-only level of the older Bishop Barrels. I also thought this would be a fantastic opportunity to crack open my last Bishop Barrel #9 (BB9) from my cellar for a side by side review. I’ve always sworn by the practice of aging the original Pumpkinator between 1-2 years before enjoying; it’s one of the few beers out there that I think improves with a little age. So naturally, I was curious to see what had developed with the aging process on the bourbon barrel aged version of Pumpkinator as well.
Saint Arnold Bishop Barrel 9 and 2017 Pumpkinator Aged in Bourbon Barrels
When you drink Pumpkinator, you want to let it warm up some to bring out the spices and body. Saint Arnold recommends that you let t warm to at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit. I pulled both bottles out of my fridge about 30 minutes before opening them. I poured about 1/3 of each bottle into separate snifters. I opened the BB9 first, and the smell absolutely brought me everything I was looking for. It smelled just like pumpkin pie baking in the oven. There’s always that moment of wondering when you open an older bottle – Did it last? Did it oxidize? Is it infected? The answer to all of these questions was “No” for this bottle. The younger bottle produced an identical aroma, and even sitting on the patio on a muggy night, the smell in the air was wonderful. I tasted the older BB9 first, and it was everything I was hoping for. Thick mouthfeel, flavors of pumpkin, clove, and nutmeg, and such great qualities coming from the bourbon barrel – vanilla, oak, a hair char, and some lingering booze. It was a special treat.
The newer release of bourbon barrel aged Pumpkinator was significantly different than the older BB9. Although also aged in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels, the newer bottle came across much more boozy than BB9. If I were blind tasting these two beers, I would have immediately thought the older one was aged with an older bourbon barrel than the newer one. Instead of the flavors melding together like the older version, the newer beer is less complex. The flavors that were harder to detect in the new bottle were those coming from the barrel itself. The vanilla, oak, and char were mostly absent or at least less pronounced. The newer version also has a thinner mouthfeel, and it was harder to detect the pumpkin itself. Although I intuitively know that the newer bottle should have a stronger spice flavor, I thought the booze was masking it too much in comparison to the flavors of the older bottle. I still enjoyed the newer version quite a bit, but they were significantly different beers.
I shared the rest of both bottles with a few beer loving friends in order to gather their opinions as well. Everyone that tasted the two liked the older BB9 more. When I explained they were the same beer, just 2.5 years release difference, everyone said they’re going to buy some on Monday to forget about for a couple of years. It’s a complete argument against the Drink Now movement, but if you can get your hands on a couple of the new barrel aged Pumkinator I’d strongly encourage you to pop one now and save one for later. I think you’ll be happy you did.
As a big fan of lagers, and in particular Märzens, I was very excited, nay SUPER EXCITED, when I first heard that Saint Arnold Brewing was releasing a true Märzen as their new Icon Red. And as a big fan of Saint Arnold’s portfolio of lagers, I was eager to see how this turned out. While I enjoy their normal annual fall release ‘Oktoberfest’, it is technically closer to a Scottish ale, and is not a Märzen lager. Spoiler alert: I am very much hoping to see BOTH brews every fall from now until forever.
Märzen-style beers have been brewed in some form or another throughout Europe since the early days of beer. Though more commonly associated with Germany, due to the beer’s association with Oktoberfest, these “March” beers were often made in many regions during the spring, then stored (lagered) in cool caves, and consumed throughout the summer while brewing operations ceased due to the risk of bacterial infection. The remaining beer would eventually be consumed in early fall, before the start of the new brewing season. In 1810, the first Oktoberfest celebration occurred in Munich, in the Bavarian region of southern Germany, to commemorate the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig I. In 1841, Munich’s Spaten Brewery unveiled what is considered to be the original Oktoberfestbier Märzen, and the annual celebration would incorporate the style as the primary beer consumed during the festival.
Many American versions of Oktoberfest beers are more closely related to Vienna lagers than Bavarian Märzens, though both are brewed to celebrate the festival and season by breweries around the world. While the two styles are both historically and technically very similar, Vienna lagers tend to be paler, drier, and have a touch of bitterness often missing from the Munich-style brews. Traditional Märzens are generally more amber in color, full-bodied, maltier, and a tad sweet.
Though it is tough to live up to the lofty standards of certain Märzen classics from breweries like Ayinger and Hacker-Pschorr, Saint Arnold Icon Red Märzen is the closest thing to a true Märzen I’ve tasted in a domestic version. 100% Munich malt is used, along with Perle and Hersbruker hops from the Hallertauer region just outside of Munich. They also incorporate the classic brewing method of decoction mashing, where part of the mash is removed, boiled, and returned to the main mash. This creates more caramelization of the malt, and leads to a greater depth of character in the flavor. The practice is laborious, and few modern breweries integrate it into their brewing process, as standard malts tend to be well modified, making decoction generally unnecessary. Saint Arnold also uses the method in their 5 O’Clock Pils, with great results.
Saint Arnold Icon Red Marzen | Photo: Tim Spies for Houston Beer Guide
The Icon Red Märzen pours light amber in color, and a high level of aggression might reward you with some transient foam. But typically, don’t expect a lot of lasting head on this beer. No worries. Just enjoy the nose and move on. Aromas of toasted bread and nuts, with a touch of caramel sweetness can be wafted your way with the slightest swipe of your hand. Or just plunge your entire face right on in and enjoy the full effect. Your senses will relish the many layers of malt. But, a touch of floral hops can be sought-out by the most discerning of noses. Upon taking your initial sip, the first thing you notice is the superb mouthfeel. It is well rounded, refreshing, and fulfilling. And unlike many domestic versions, it won’t abandon your mouth to a super dry finish, forcing a lingering bitterness on your tastebuds. Instead, you want to dive right back in, ignoring the somewhat high (but standard for the style) 5.9% ABV that later could lead to a few questionable decisions; probably karaoke. This desire to hastily consume is further encouraged by the delicious flavors that match the nose’s tease: toasted malt, a light touch of caramel sweetness, and a complexity often abandoned by the quaffable intentions of milquetoast brewers everywhere.
The results of the arduous decoction method, and the commitment to quality ingredients and execution, separate the Saint Arnold Icon Red Märzen from many of the other domestic Märzens I’ve “enjoyed” to this point in my professional drinking career. I can’t recall a lager offering so much, while still remaining consistent and drinkable throughout the entire pour. Too often, beers of varying complexity can weigh on your palate’s loyalty like a good friend on a brutally long road trip; the first few sips may be great, but by the end of the pour you’re more than ready to move on. But with Saint Arnold Icon Red Märzen, you will almost certainly enjoy your experience throughout and plan your next endeavor upon completion (and it will likely be another Icon Red). It is undeniably a beer not to be missed.
Original Gravity: 1.0575
Final Gravity: 1.0144
Hops: Perle and Hersbrucker
Available thru December
According to 2015 statistics from the Brewers Association, 75% of adults in the United States live within 10 miles of a brewery. I would guess that number is even higher in 2017. I, however, am in the minority. In fact, just about anyone living in Missouri City and large parts of Sugar Land are probably in that same minority; Running Walker is currently the only open brewery in Fort Bend County. (You can read our coverage on the closing-not-closing of Texian Brewing and the upcoming Fullbrook Ale Works here.) When I heard about Texas Leaguer Brewing and their future Missouri City plans, I was intrigued. I reached out to Nathan Rees, owner of Texas Leaguer Brewing, and found that he was not only a craft beer fanatic, he was also a neighbor. We quickly made plans to meet for a beer and to discuss the future of the brewery.
The new Texas Leaguer Brewing taproom and brewery is located in Missouri City in a 12,000 square foot warehouse on Pike Rd, just off of Gessner and east of the Stafford Center. It’s actually a pretty quick trip from the Galleria area down 59 for those living in town. Their 20 BBL brewing system will give them the capacity to sell beer in cans someday, but right now they’re focused on their tap room and local taps. The brewery will open to a warehouse setup with picnic tables, but they have hopes to open their 3,000 square foot indoor taproom in the spring of 2018, in line with baseball opening day. Nathan says he wants the brewery to be a place for people to come and watch the game or listen to live music. This is a brewery named with a baseball theme after all, and sports will be a big part of the marketing plans. Normal hours will be on Friday and Saturday to begin with, but you should expect it to also be open for most of the major sporting events. As for the live music, Nathan has been performing himself for years around town. He will be performing from time to time at the brewery, and his friends in the music industry are wanting to come play as soon as he’s up and running as well.
Texas Leaguer’s First Four Beers: Knuckle Bock, 6-4-3 Belgian, 2 Hopper IPA, and Airmail Blonde | Photo: Texas Leaguer Brewing
Texas Leaguer head brewer “Doc” Rebeck will have four year-round beers ready for their grand opening: 6-4-3 Belgian, 2 Hopper IPA, Knuckle Bock, and Airmail Blonde, all of which are named to go along with the baseball theme. I got to sample 6-4-3 Belgian and 2 Hopper IPA back in April. 6-4-3 is a Belgian pale ale that is heavy on the Belgian spices. It was this beer that stuck out to me that day, as it is very unique for the Houston area. Hazy golden with a nice foam head in appearance, the almost wit-like initial taste met with a clean finish, and it went down very quickly. The 2 Hopper IPA was still in development when I went to visit in April, but I got a sample from the brite tank during their soft opening on September 22nd. It is made with half El Dorado and half Cascade hops, and it’s then dry hopped with the same 50-50 combo. It has plenty of hop aroma, a soft melon taste, and very small bitter back end. I’m looking forward to getting a full pour to delve into it even further. Knuckle Bock and Airmail were available in full pours at their soft opening. Airmail is a golden blonde ale that got a lot of buzz from people I talked with throughout the night. Hitting you up front with flavors that remind me more of a pale ale than a blonde, it ends with more of a traditional blonde flavor. It is similar to some session IPAs that I’ve tried, but it still retains qualities of a blonde. The final beer of their initial beer offerings is Knuckle Bock, a traditional German style bock. I find it to be one of the best standard bocks I’ve had. To me, a good bock balances the malt flavors and aroma with sweetness, but not over the top sweetness. This one struck that balance for me, and I can see it pairing well with a good plate of BBQ.
Grand Opening is this weekend on September 29th and 30th. Located at 13503 Pike Rd, the brewery will be open from 4-8 on Friday and 11-5 on Saturday. Food trucks will be on site. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook, or on Instagram for more details.
Welcome to Missouri City Texas Leaguer Brewing, we’re very excited to have you!
NOLA Brewing is delivering on the hype with a full slate of launch events in the Houston area next week.
The party is officially getting started at Flying Saucer Monday evening. NOLA will have several of their flagship beers, as well as Piety, a sour beer aged in red wine barrels with tart cherries. Since it’s a Monday at Flying Saucer, all draft beers are $3, giving you the opportunity to check out NOLA’s range of beers without breaking the bank. Central Market is setting up their NOLA display Monday, and a demo tasting will follow Tuesday. For our College Station beer loving friends, West End Elixir Company will have a mix of Funk Series and IPAs on draft. I recently drank the Out Tequil-Ya tequila barrel aged sour at the brewery and I can assure you that their offerings are legit.
Drinking Out Tequil-Ya while watching boats float down the Mississippi | Photo: Britt Antley for Houston Beer Guide
Tuesday will feature a tap takeover at Moon Tower Inn. Funk Series kegs will be served along with a special on the Coonass dog with the purchase of a NOLA pint. The Louisiana spirit will be running strong at the East End staple.
Wednesday brings a slew of events throughout the city. Downtown Flying Saucer will be having another event, this time offering flights of NOLA’s finest, including releases from their Funk Series. Flying Saucer Sugar Land is debuting 5 of NOLA’s beers on their Elvis Glass night. Drink of Ages is featuring NOLA on their radio show starting at 7 PM, and will also be serving their lineup of liquid offerings.
On Thursday, The Hop Stop will be releasing NOLA’s brews, including a case of the limited release Desire raspberry sour ale.
In addition to the events listed above, retail locations throughout the city will be receiving their shipments of NOLA’s beers throughout the week. Expect their mainstays, a healthy selection of IPAs, and a limited selection of Funk Series bottles around town.
Representatives from the brewery – Dylan Lintern (COO), Derek Lintern (Director of Funk), and Ryan Veuthey (Brand Manager) – will be in town this week to share their love and knowledge of NOLA’s beers. They are not holding anything back from the Houston market, and this week of launch events shows their commitment to our beer scene. Kirk Coco, Owner / CEO of NOLA says, “We are excited to bring a little NOLA Funk to the Texas market!” Let’s return that love with a solid showing at these events and a full sampling of their offerings. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Richmond’s Texian Brewing is undergoing a major transition. Texian has sold the brewing equipment to startup brewery Fulbrook Ale Works. Fulbrook will also be taking over the lease of the current Texian building. Texian owner Josh Haley said, “it was time to renew the lease on our building and we worked through multiple scenarios to analyze whether we continued on our current path or if there were other options that would lead to better gross.”
Texian’s taproom may be closing, but Texian is not closing. Going forward, Fulbrook Ale Works will brew Texian’s beers under a contract brewing arrangement. Texian will retain control of the recipes, but they won’t have brewing equipment of their own. Over the next year you should see even more of Texian’s beer on shelves around the state. Closing a taproom may seem like a strange move, since breweries make more profit selling beers in their own taproom, but that is limited to how many people come in the door. Selling beer in bottles and cans may make the brewery less money per ounce, but the market is much larger. Ultimately, Texian is choosing to focus on distribution instead of on taproom sales.
Fulbrook Ale Works will be a veteran owned and operated brewery. According to owner-operator Jeremiah Ivey, Fulbrook is hoping to have the TABC and TTB license process finished around October. In the meantime, they will be connecting the building to city water and sewer, putting in some much needed bathrooms, and renovating the taproom space. This purchase gives Fulbrook Ale Works a major head start in the process toward opening a brewery. Building renovations and acquiring tanks often take a year or longer. Beyond this, we don’t know much about Fulbrook Ale Works at this time. We’ll be sure to keep you updated as they get closer to opening.
Fulbrook Ale Works | Photo: Fulbrook Ale Works
So what’s next for Texian?
With the sale of the equipment and the transfer of their lease, the taproom is no more. Texian’s focus going forward will be getting bottles and cans back on shelves. They’ve had distribution issues in recent years, as fans may have noticed, but Josh says they’ve made a big push to correct that. The latest release of Donkey Lady, their sour ale aged on apples and spices, “sold faster than any previous release in the last 18 months.” Keep an eye out for new Texian beers in the coming months and some keg only favorites coming to bottles.
Josh Haley’s full statement:
“To put five years of your blood sweat and soul into something, it takes a lot out of you to do this. However, ultimately it is what was right for our company to be able to grow the way we want it to. When it came down to it, it was time to renew the lease on our building and we worked through multiple scenarios to analyze whether we continued on our current path or if there were other options that would lead to better gross and free up our time to focus on the distribution which creates more brand awareness. This move will allow us to introduce more brands that we have been working on over the last year two, as well as seeing previous favorite keg only beers in packaging. We intend on opening a new taproom, in the future. Yeah, it sucks. However, it will be great in the long run. The support, from our community, has been great and we already have opportunities being presented.”