Do you like craft beer, but feel the #DrinkLocal movement is important? The best way to do that in Texas is to follow this blog. It gives you information on upcoming events, product rollouts, brewery openings, etc. throughout the entire state. It is dedicated to the Texas craft brewing scene that has been growing rapidly for the past 20 years.
The five-tool player is an elusive, yet coveted type of baseball player every team aspires to have. It’s the type of player that can hit for average, hit for power, as well as run, throw, and field well. These types of players are rare (think Jose Altuve).
A brewery can also be a five-tool player in the craft beer world. These places are ones that have 1) a nice beer variety, 2) an attractive space, 3) room for growth, 4) great people involved in the project, and 5) location, location, location. Texas Leaguer Brewing Company in Missouri City checks off all of those tools.
To understand Texas Leaguer is to understand the love of baseball these fine folks have. Everything is baseball-centric with the name of the brewery, beer names, the brewery’s nickname, and even the décor all relating to the love of the game. But baseball is just the beginning for what sort of experience one can expect at Texas Leaguer Brewing. Let’s examine by doing an in-depth analysis of this five-tool player in the Houston craft beer scene.
Tool #1 – A Nice Beer Variety
As owner Nathan Rees said to us, “everybody drinks IPAs.” Obviously, this is a blanket statement with some truth to it as the style tends to be one of the most popular among craft beer drinkers nationwide. However, what can separate a good brewery from a great brewery is how the beer selection appeals to the target audience – in this case, Fort Bend County beer drinkers.
What Texas Leaguer has done is develop a starting lineup of four staple beers that are easy drinking and mass appealing.
The Airmail Blonde is their easiest drinking beer with a slight bread flavor balanced out by a sweetness that finishes crisp and smooth with no bitterness.
Knuckle Bock is a darker bock beer that should please any fan of Shiner Bock. Designed to be mildly sweet, this beer is a must have for anybody looking for a caramel-sweet flavor from a German-style brew.
2-Hopper IPA is a dry-hopped IPA that utilizes El Dorado and Cascade hops, giving the beer a fruity and floral taste with a slight bitterness that is pleasant and not overpowering. According to Nathan, this has been their top seller thus far.
6-4-3 Belgian was our standout favorite of all that was on tap. This Belgian pale ale has all of the characteristics of a sweet Belgian beer with a rye-flavored spiciness. Also, the beer had a slight bitterness that made it finish crisp and clean. Plus, at only 5.0% ABV, it’s the type of beer we would enjoy all day long.
In addition, they have their Farm System beers that are small batch releases that either have short-term availability or are special releases. On tap during our visit were Chin Music, a rye pale ale that is their submission for the Houston Daisy Chain project and 6-4-3 with Apricots. Chin Music is one of the better Houston Daisy Chain offerings we’ve had as it was spicy, hoppy, and clean. 6-4-3 with Apricots was good and the fruit addition created a tart bomb, but we were still partial to the traditional 6-4-3 Belgian. Plus, an outstanding addition to the team is the Little Leaguer, a house-made root beer that is one of the best brewery-made sodas we’ve ever enjoyed.
Tool #2 – An Attractive Space
An industrial park may not be everybody’s first choice for a brewery, however we love it because of the utility of the space. For one, the high ceiling allows for you to feel comfortable among the large fermenters that line the inside of the space. Plus, the space is perfectly setup to allow for expansion with an entirely unutilized area near the bathrooms that is being tentatively earmarked as a future indoor taproom.
Lovingly called the “TXL Beerpark”, the taproom is filled with long tables and benches designed to have groups of people interact with one another. Plus, with it being opening weekend for the Astros, a huge projection screen was setup to enjoy the matchup with the Rangers inside the Beerpark.
A bonus of the open concept of the brewery is the ability to admire all of the brewing equipment inside of the area. The 20 BBL brewhouse is in full view for all visitors to observe, so any brewery aficionados or first-time visitors who have never seen brewing equipment are in for a treat.
Keep in mind, it still is spring in Texas, which is a fine time to enjoy the outdoor patio area. You’ll find a cornhole game to play in addition to picnic tables outfitted with umbrellas to give a little shade to anybody wanting to spend time outside. We ended up sitting outside and the size of the umbrellas made it pleasant and enjoyable.
Tool #3 – Room For Growth
As we mentioned, the space is setup for a future taproom expansion. The area is large enough to accommodate a large amount of people, have room for a bar build out, as well as having plenty of space for more table seating. With it being on the opposite side of the cold room, one can envision installing taps on the other side to setup a new bar with little major construction.
The other aspect of growth that we see is being able to add more fermenters to the Beerpark without making the space feel cramped. Already, the Beerpark is lined with large 40 BBL fermenters, but as Texas Leaguer continues to acquire new retail accounts (by Nathan’s account, it’s around 150 retail locations in and around the Greater Houston area), they will need to add equipment to accommodate the growth. Being able to do so in that space without sacrificing seating is a huge upside to the location.
Plus, the brewery 100% self-distributes their beer. All 150+ accounts are being served by the staff internally, meaning they are putting in a lot of work and could serve even more accounts in the future if a distribution deal is signed. That currently hasn’t happened, but if growth continues at such a rapid pace, it may be necessary to accommodate the growth.
Tool #4 – Great People Involved in the Project
The two masterminds behind Texas Leaguer are owner, Nathan Rees and head brewer, Doc Rebeck. When you look at the amount of work put in by both men to get this project up and running, it’s easy to see how Texas Leaguer has become a go-to brewery for people in Fort Bend County.
Since inception, both men have worked tirelessly to get the brewery’s name out into the public with many in the Houston craft beer scene realizing what great beer is being produced in Missouri City. Pint nights are starting to pop-up throughout the surrounding area and everything is being spearheaded by two people.
The willingness to talk about the beer, future plans, and the focus of the brewery is what made our visit to the Beerpark so great. Nathan spent a great deal of time speaking to us about what they want to do each year (i.e. getting Good Dog Houston to come out to the Beerpark for Astros Opening Day) as well as their business to date. The focus to grow organically and expand in a controlled manner was encouraging, especially after seeing other large breweries (i.e. Green Flash) try to grow too quickly and fail.
Tool #5 – Location, Location, Location
For a while, it seemed like Fort Bend County was cursed when it came to breweries with the closures of Fort Bend Brewing and Texian Brewing over the past few years. However, the area is home to roughly 750,000 people and currently is only represented by a handful of breweries with Texas Leaguer being in a prime position.
There currently is no full production brewery or brewpub within a 12 mile radius in any direction of Texas Leaguer (disclaimer: technically Ruba Brewing is within that radius, but beer releases are rare and sparse). This gives them an advantage as they are, many times, the only choice available to people wanting a local neighborhood brewery in the Sugar Land/Missouri City area. Accessibility to Texas Leaguer is easy with routes from Beltway 8, Highway 59 South, or Highway 90A.
Plus, with Fort Bend County being the fastest growing county in the Greater Houston area, they are in a position to capitalize on the growth of the surrounding area as more craft beer related bars and restaurants continue to open. Texas Leaguer seems to be the only brewery that will be in the Sugar Land/Missouri City area for a while meaning they should continue to capture the craft beer scene in the county for a long while.
We were thoroughly impressed with what Texas Leaguer is doing for the area and their expansion plans. Currently, they have taps available throughout most of the Greater Houston area stretching throughout the inner city as well as the outer suburbs. If you get a chance to try one of the Texas Leaguer beers, do so, and enjoy what they are putting out to the Houston craft beer community.
You can keep track of what’s going on a Texas Leaguer through their website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages. Texas Leaguer is located at 13503 Pike Rd, Missouri City, TX 77489. The Beerpark is open every Friday and Saturday, but hours may vary, so check out the Facebook page for the most updated info on openings, especially as baseball season is gearing up.
Until last year, the Spring Branch area of Houston was a complete craft beer desert. The Branch craft beer bar changed that, but the one thing that was lacking in the area was a brewery. Enter 4J Brewing. On March 24th, two and a half years after being originally granted Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) brewpub license approval, Spring Branch finally had a brewery.
The 4J story, like most other breweries, is one that was the product of leaving another career behind. A financial analyst by trade, owner/brewer Jennifer Edwards turned an initial family homebrewing hobby into what is now the self-made business of 4J Brewing Company. However, what is unique about 4J is the owner, herself. Jennifer is one of the youngest brewers in the Greater Houston area and one of the few female head brewers in the state of Texas. Make no mistake, she’s not having to go at this alone as this brewery is a family affair with the name deriving from the four J’s in the family. All of the children that make up this family are women with names that start with the letter J. The 4J name originated with the family ranch that is owned in Lee County and continues with the brewery of the same name. On Saturday, three of the four “J’s” were in attendance, in addition to other family members like Jennifer’s mother and father.
Small is the new normal for breweries in Texas as many newcomers to the scene are starting with modest brewhouses and small taprooms to cater to the local community before starting to branch out to larger areas. 4J is no exception with a small two-barrel brewhouse and a taproom designed to be a cozy space for any visitor to the brewery. Astutely, Jennifer has made it clear that the primary focus of the brewery at first is to stay completely in-house until production can be scaled up to allow outside accounts and keg sales. Can or bottle sales are not currently in the immediate plans, which is refreshing for a brewery starting up as many seem to feel the pressure of growing too quickly. 4J appears to be concentrating on perfecting the beer recipes and gauging consumer tastes before making that next leap into more growth.
On opening day, 4J had four beers for the grand opening celebration. Fortunately, the event was a ticketed event that was limited in capacity. Another refreshing plan of the brewery was to limit the number of attendees on the first day since the space is small and the beer supply is limited. A recent trend of soft/grand openings is to announce the date and allow anybody to show up. This often has led to enormous crowds, unbelievably long lines waiting for beer, and a general crowded feeling that sullies the experience. 4J did the opposite by allowing a reasonable, yet modest, number of people to purchase tickets which created a friendly environment for all visitors. Also, it kept beer lines short and supplies plentiful throughout the day. With our ticket, we were given four 16 ounce pours and none of the beers ran out, while allowed us to sample all four of the different beers on tap.
Our initial choice was the pale ale. As a more malt-forward pale ale, we have a difficult time being objective about the brew as most of the pale ales we typically sample are hop-forward with a citrus or pine flavor. This pale ale was low in hop volume and reminded me of Samuel Adams Pale Ale with the sweet notes balanced by a slight splash of bitterness.
Sticking with the lighter theme, we chose the blonde ale for our second beer. This blonde ale was executed well with a honey sweetness that engulfs your mouth at first sip. The crisp taste and nearly non-existent hop flavors made this beer perfect for us as it warmed up outside. We spent a majority of our time at the brewery outside enjoying the Texas spring weather, but as it got warmer, outside this beer tasted better to us. No doubt, this beer is going to be a summer favorite as we can drink several of these on a hot day.
Our third beer was our standout favorite – the amber ale. Amber ales are a style that are usually one of the most basic and easy beers to make. However, they are also one of the most difficult styles to get right as there are so many mediocre amber ales out in the market. The 4J amber ale was stellar with a nice red hue, a caramel sweetness, and a balanced hop profile that makes this beer easily the best execution of a style by the brewery. At 7.2% alcohol by volume, this beer packed a punch, so drinking a few of these can sneak up quickly on your equilibrium.
To finish out the day, we sampled a pint of the stout. We enjoy a good stout regardless of the time of year and how warm it is outside, so tasting this beer on a warmer day was still pleasant. The roasted malt gave off hints of coconut and chocolate and provided a fuller mouthfeel as the beer warmed. We purposely drank half of it while it was cold and half of it while it was warm to see how the flavor profile changed. Undoubtedly, the release of a rich dark chocolate taste was more intense as it warmed with the sweetness being more prevalent straight out of the keg.
Initially, the brewery plans on being open every other Saturday, so keep a lookout on their social media pages for news on their next opening. It’s definitely worth venturing out and trying 4J Brewing. The friendliness of the Edwards family will make you feel welcome and Jennifer is a wealth of knowledge on their brewery, their processes, and someone who loves to talk beer.
Last fall, we took a trip to Oregon and toured brewery after brewery along the entire state’s coastline. What we couldn’t get over was the amount of money that was spent on nearly every single brewery we tried. Millions of dollars turned these breweries into magnificent cathedrals full of beer and, most of the time, top level cuisine. However, there were many cases where the presentation was the draw and the beer ended up being sub-par.
Fast forward four months and we took our first trip out to Cranky Britches Brewing in Dickinson, which creates the opposite effect. While the presentation of the brewery is no frills and simple, what’s being served is why they’ve been making a name for themselves in Galveston County for about a month now. After having their anniversary party on February 18th, owner Bill Arning told us that his initial fear was either having nobody show up or having too many people show up, which could have caused them to turn people away. Fortunately, they had about 90 people (out of a stated capacity of 100) show up, so they’ve started to get their name out in the public. Plus, it left him with a decent stock of beer that was available for our visit this past weekend.
The space is the former home of Galactic Coast Brewing, which never served customers with a taproom. Part of the constraint had to do with size as the square footage is just big enough to fit the brewhouse, a cold room, and space for extra kegs. Bill has outfitted the place with a bathroom for customers and a small bar that sits right at the edge of the bay door to serve. Due to that small indoor space, it’s best to bring a comfortable outdoor chair to relax and enjoy the beer. Plus, the selection of tunes is some great old school metal – Judas Priest, Dio, Ozzy, etc. The “no frills” atmosphere lends itself to getting to know the other visitors and just talking beer with whoever is there.
We got a chance to sit and talk beer with Bill for several hours on Saturday and he stated that his original intent was to put big, high ABV beers out and not worry too much about having a large choice of sessionable beers for people visiting. However, he was convinced into doing some easy drinking beers to keep people coming back for more and drinking multiple beers during each visit. Hence, the reason why Asmodeus Amber Ale is one of his top sellers. In addition to the amber, there was also a simple SMaSH (single malt, single hop) APA on tap for the “Basic Britches” choices. The bigger “Britches Be Crazy” choices were two stouts and Bill’s famous peanut butter porter.
Since I have tried Damn Skippy Peanut Butter Porter when I’ve visited Beers Looking At You and ran into Bill there, I wanted to see what the rest of the beers had to offer. The Asmodeus Amber Ale is a spicy amber ale with a bit of a hoppy profile that adds to the sweet flavor it already has. The use of Saaz hops to give it a slight spicy finish made this beer one of the most pleasurable amber ales I’ve enjoyed.
The SMaSHing Your Dreams American Pale Ale was my wife’s favorite beer of the day. The Eureka hops used in the SMaSH made the beer have a grapefruit aroma and gave it a citrus taste with a bit of a resin finish. It was by far the most hoppy offering he had available at the time (but we are looking forward to the re-release of Andromeda IPA soon).
The two stouts I enjoyed used the same base beer, so we’ll discuss them in tandem. Hades Imperial Stout had the rich roasted malt and chocolate flavor indicative of the style. I also tasted a dark fruit flavor (maybe figs?) in the beer, but the beer was very pleasurable. As a 9 ounce pour, I would like to try it again to see what other flavors are released, especially as the beer warms. The other stout I tried was the Fleur de Lait Chicory Coffee Stout. Fleur de Lait uses the same base beer as Hades, so the same roasted malt and chocolate notes are there, but the beer has much more of a kick, similar to coffee from Cafe du Monde. It was one of the better coffee beers I’ve enjoyed as most are much too overpowering. This one has the perfect blend of added coffee, while not drowning out the beer taste.
Overall, Cranky Britches is our type of craft beer haven. A place where the care and attention to beer quality supersedes everything else. I’ll take a place dedicated to putting out the best product over a multi-milliion dollar facility that puts out an average product any day.
Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to get the details on when they open or any events they have going on. Finding the brewery location is a bit tricky, so use these directions when trying to get there: From League City Parkway (Highway 96), head south on Tuscan Lakes Blvd. That will turn into Dickinson Ave (FM 1266) and you will turn left when you see Gordon’s Classic Cars and Uncle Fester’s Dynamic Solutions. We are in the back row of that complex, on the right. Parking is very limited, so we encourage you to carpool or use a rideshare service (Uber or Lyft).
What better way to kick off Mardi Gras Galveston 2018 than celebrating the opening of the second full production brewery in the city of Galveston. This one is particularly special as Devil and the Deep Brewery is within a stone’s throw of the famed Galveston Strand and is located on one of the main streets leading into the heart of the city. Plus, for selfish reasons, we’re thrilled to have a brewery two blocks from where we work our day jobs.
Devil and the Deep is the culmination of four partners’ vision to create a brewery in Galveston that can serve tourists visiting the Strand as well as locals who are seeking island-brewed craft beer. We had the privilege of being able to attend a sneak peek of the brewery right before Christmas, so we had an idea that the end product was going to be stellar as the same staple beers served during the sneak peek were also full production beers on opening day.
By design, Devil and the Deep offers beers that are light, refreshing, and easy drinking. This allows more people to sit around, socialize, and get to know one another in their indoor beer garden environment. Most of what will be produced now and in the future will be beers that any beer drinker can enjoy, not just the craft beer fanatic. A huge draw to the brewery is the large indoor climate-controlled seating area that will allow the summer beach goers the opportunity to get out of the heat and enjoy some brews. Plus, the area is designed with family friendliness in mind as games like cornhole can be played inside while bringing your (well-behaved) canine friend to enjoy the space with the family.
On opening night, the brewery had three core beers on tap: their Belgian Rye, Blonde Ale, and Brown Ale. The Blonde Ale is an approachable selection to start out with as the sweet flavor and balanced hop to malt profile allows any beer drinker the opportunity to enjoy this one without needing to venture outside of their taste buds comfort zone. For something a little more full bodied, the Brown Ale creates a more nutty malted flavor that still has a sweetness that is pleasant for anybody looking for a more complete flavor profile while staying low in alcohol content. Perhaps their best beer, though, is their Belgian Rye. The rye provides a hint of spiciness to the pale ale, allowing the citrus flavor to be amplified and making it a pleasant beer to drink all day long. By far our favorite beer, this one has a slightly higher ABV than their other beers (6.4%), but still isn’t overpowering.
Despite not having a kitchen on-site, the brewery has struck a partnership with Sharky’s Tavern next door and they serve delicious pizza that you can bring to the brewery. This allows them to save space in the brewery for future expansion of brewing equipment, while providing options for food that support local business in the area.
In these early days of the brewery, hours of operation are going to be Fridays from 3:00 PM to midnight, Saturdays from noon to midnight, and Sundays from noon to 10:00 PM. As they move forward, they will be gradually increasing both the days and hours of operation.
Admittedly, SHADE is excited about this brewery as it’s in our hometown. But more importantly, we’re thrilled to see the Galveston County brewing scene continue to grow and be able to support another full production brewery. Mardi Gras is the perfect time to try them out since the area is vibrant and party-oriented. However, their location and beer quality should allow them to thrive and sustain year-round as they will cater to a crowd that wants island-brewed beer.
Want to check them out? Come down to Galveston Island and visit the Strand and their location at 2425 Postoffice St.
Obviously, Texas craft beer is our passion at SHADE. It’s also a passion of Craft Pride, which is why we’ve supported this business for as long as we’ve been around. However, they decided to tap into their cellar, break out every Bishop’s Barrel release in Saint Arnold’s history, and make them all available for purchase on Saturday, January 20th.
First of all, we’ve never seen an event like this for Saint Arnold’s beer that wasn’t hosted by Saint Arnold. I can recall when Saint Arnold did a Divine Reserve vertical tasting of batches 1-15 a couple of years ago, but that event was in Houston and was hosted by the brewery. This event was hosted in Austin at Craft Pride with the Texas craft beer haven serving as the hosts, curators, and sellers of Bishop’s Barrel 1-19.
Leading up to the event, we thought that only the bottles were to be sold with maybe one or two offerings on draught. Instead, Craft Pride put eight of the Bishop’s Barrel series on tap to please anybody seeking to taste their barrel-aged beers that are limited releases and rarities.
Bishop’s Barrel #4 – Weizenbock aged in bourbon barrels with cocoa nibs
Bishop’s Barrel #5 – Wee Heavy Scotch Ale aged in bourbon barrels
Bishop’s Barrel #15 – Barleywine aged in rye whiskey barrels
Bishop’s Barrel #16 – Belgian-style Dubbel aged in red wine barrels with Brettanomyces
Bishop’s Barrel #17 – Adambier aged in bourbon barrels
Bishop’s Barrel #19 – Christmas Ale aged in Chardonnay barrels with cherries and Brettanomyces
The event kicked off at 4:00 PM with bottle sales scheduled to start at 5:30 PM. Obviously, bottle selection was limited for earlier versions of the Bishop’s Barrel series, so rarities like batches 1, 2, and 3 were gone quickly. We ended up securing bottles of #7 (the Russian Imperial Stout), #8 (a slightly higher ABV Russian Imperial Stout), #10 (a bourbon barrel-aged Barleywine), and #18 (an Oat Wine aged in WhistlePig rye whiskey barrels). Our main goal was to acquire versions we either enjoyed thoroughly or ones that we have never tried (hence, the purchase of #18).
Surprisingly, many of the attendees left soon after purchasing their bottles instead of enjoying the offerings on tap. Shockingly, all eight of the draught choices remained on tap the next day. Fortunately, we were able to drink the Weizenbock, the Wee Heavy, and the Russian Imperial Stout as we were most interested in how these older versions held up. All were outstanding with the Wee Heavy being the clear winner. The rich, caramel flavor of the malt aged perfectly in the bourbon barrels giving it a sweet candy taste. The bourbon barrel aging was executed to perfection as there were hints of oak, but not an overpowering level of booziness.
Craft Pride hosted one of the best Texas craft beer events we’ve seen in a long time. Between the selection of beers, the organization of the bottle sale, and the knowledge of the bartending staff regarding each beer, we were thoroughly impressed.
The brand new Thistle Draftshop in the north Houston suburb of Spring is a family affair with the hopes of establishing a top notch craft beer bar in an area where one is needed. Mary Thorn, former Controller at Saint Arnold Brewing, opened Thistle Draftshop last month near the Grand Parkway corridor with her son, Jake, running the location as the General Manager.
Thistle built up hype and excitement for their opening through frequent sharing of the build out process on social media. With each passing day, followers were able to track the progress and anticipate opening. Mary mentioned to us that they ran into a few hurdles at the end that delayed their opening by a couple of months, but everybody, including us, is glad that they are now open.
We had a chance to visit for the first time on Christmas Eve. What impressed us upon first glance was the bay doors that open the place up and were perfect for a cool afternoon. Of course, the main draw for any beer lover is the 60 taps that are the centerpiece of the bar area. Talking to Mary, she says that their goal is to provide a balanced tap list that appeals to any type of craft beer drinker. So far, they’re accomplishing that with a nice blend of light and dark beers, hoppy and malty beers, in addition to readily available as well as harder to find beers.
The experience that Mary gained at Saint Arnold, balanced with Jake’s experience at Ritual position themselves to understand not only the bar industry, but the craft beer industry as a whole. The passion was evident as she spent quite a while talking with us about the goals of the bar. She desires to work closely with distributors and self-distributing breweries to be one of the places to receive limited releases and hard-to-find beers while also being the place for anybody looking for the best take home selection in the area.
Their to-go menu for beer is amazing. Coolers line the wall filled with six packs, bottles, bombers, pre-packaged crowlers, you name it. Plus, grabbing crowlers to-go from their tap list is ideal considering there are only a select few places on that side of town that can accommodate. We were able to fill a crowler of Lone Pint UndeadHeadEd. The fact they also had Southern Star Black Crack cans available for purchase was exciting considering most places had sold out by that time. Plus, I was thrilled to be able to pick up a bottle of Saint Arnold Bishop’s Barrel #19 that was also in the cooler.
For me, what sets them apart from other craft beer bars in the area was their commitment to local Houston area and statewide brews. The local selection on tap was a mix of various beers from Saint Arnold (obviously), Lone Pint, Southern Star, Eureka Heights, Under the Radar, Bearded Fox, Buffalo Bayou, among others. In addition, they had a variety of beers from Texas breweries like Real Ale, Community, and Rahr & Sons. My choices were some beers that you don’t see frequently on tap including Real Ale’s Real Heavy, Rahr & Sons’ Iron Thistle, and UndeadHeadEd. Honestly, many of the other craft beer bars in the area that show a commitment to craft beer tend to carry more out-of-state brews, which is why Thistle is a breath of fresh air.
The next time you’re up in the north Houston area, check them out, enjoy some pints, then take home some crowlers to-go. They are a welcome addition to the Spring area.
I don’t know what it is about the Texas gulf coast, but it’s got me. In addition to living full-time in Galveston, I thoroughly enjoy visiting towns along the same coast. The people have the same “island time” mentality where there is no rush, everybody is your neighbor (even if you’re meeting for the first time), and people accept you for who you are, regardless of any physical or philosophical differences. This has got to be the reason why my visit to Lorelei Brewing felt like home, even if it was a maiden voyage for me.
My first visit to Lorelei happened on, of all days, New Year’s Eve. With my family deciding that midnight would be for the younger generation to enjoy, I ventured out alone to Flour Bluff to visit a brewery that has a reputation of being one of the top destinations in South Texas. In full disclosure, I had enjoyed some of Lorelei’s beers in the past, so I knew what to expect from a quality standpoint. What I didn’t expect was the similarities between what I experience regularly at my local, Galveston Island Brewing, and what happened at Lorelei.
The taproom is tiny…REAL tiny. In a way, it makes for a better experience because you’re forced to get to know your neighbor. My neighbor happened to be a gentleman named Andy, who moonlights at the brewery part-time out of a pure love for what owners Varian and Laura Criser are trying to accomplish in the Corpus Christi area. The Crisers started out, like others, homebrewing. Deciding that this could be a career, they set out to open a brewery in an area of Texas where craft beer is only recently becoming popular.
Side note: There are real challenges for Lorelei in Corpus Christi. For example, I visited a couple of H-E-B stores in town and, let’s just say, it’s a veritable AB InBev showroom for beer as Bud Light still has the market cornered. However, the beer should speak for itself and the success that the brewery is seeing right now is due to the commitment to listening to what their customers want.
During my visit, I immediately noticed that everybody knew everybody else. This can be a little overwhelming if you’re the newbie visiting for the first time, but friendliness and fearlessness goes a long way with other craft beer folks. As I mentioned, Andy and I started talking beer and he immediately wanted to show me the brewhouse as he was amazed at how much equipment could be fit into such a small space. He wasn’t lying, there were fermenters less than a centimeter apart and they frequently have to work around the kegs and the keg washer that also occupies the space.
The welcoming nature of everybody at the brewery kept me there. It’s clear that it’s a family-friendly location (that also happens to be dog-friendly). The two dogs that were roaming around the taproom seemed to know a good portion of the clientele and who to visit for petting. It was noticeable that Lorelei has made a name for itself based on friendly people working there and visiting. Plus, another impressive tidbit: there were at least five Cicerone certified beer servers on staff. Having a knowledgeable staff at the brewery is a MUST if they plan on growing craft beer in the area.
The success that Lorelei is seeing is the reason why they are so pressed for space right now. The taproom was packed and people were coming and going throughout the entire evening. With a tap list of five beers (including their two staple beers), I had to try as many as possible. Knowing that Khryseis (blonde ale) and Ephyra (double IPA) are both in cans, I started with Czech Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself, their Czech pilsner that is a limited run and nearly gone. One of the better Czech pilsners being made right now, this beer had the spicy bite that you’d expect, while finishing clean and crisp on the palate.
During that beer, Andy kept talking about Mer-Dude, the Russian Imperial Coffee Milk Stout that is going to be Lorelei’s next year-round beer in cans. Learning that it was available on nitro solidified the choice. At 9.5% ABV, this beer is a beast, but served a vital purpose of warming the blood on the cold winter’s evening. Infused with local cold brew coffee from Coffee Waves, this beer could have been a train wreck due to the complication of so many different flavors. However, Lorelei balanced the notes perfectly by not adding too much coffee, thus giving it a welcome hint of the cold brew flavor upon the first sip while keeping the sweetness of a milk stout before finally finishing with a nutty roasted malt taste. The complexity of the brew is what will hopefully allow this beer to sell easily throughout the year, despite its traditional winter seasonal style.
Finally, Ephyra had to be the finisher since I’m a hop-hound. The tropical flavor of the beer owes itself to the addition of Citra, Simcoe, and Waimae hops. The beer, despite clocking in at 9% ABV, is surprisingly easy drinking. The citrus and pine flavors balance out the bitterness of the brew.
Upon writing this article, I learned that a major expansion will be underway soon to allow the brewery to grow in its current location and give the patrons more space to stretch their legs and enjoy Lorelei beers. We can’t wait to see the end result as this will hopefully allow the brewery to be more experimental and have even more offerings available in the taproom, while keeping up with their current distribution profile of the San Antonio and South Texas areas. This place is definitely a gem along the Texas gulf coast.
Bad news out of Fredericksburg as Pedernales Brewing is closing their doors. The e-mail sent to us by Lee Hereford, President/CEO of Pedernales Brewing, states, “Unfortunately, we have closed the Taproom, and are for sale; preferably as an on-going concern. We made some great beer. Since June ’14, we’ve entered 21 major beer competions [sic] including GABF, World Cup, US Open Beer Championships, LA International, etc. We won 30 Golds, 20 Silvers, 10 Bronzes and 2 Best of Show awards, with 10 different beers; Gold medals with nine beers. Unfortunately, top quality is not enough. We hope to find another brewery that would like to continue our mission.”
As of right now, the brewery is currently for sale and they are looking for a brewery to purchase the location and equipment to continue the legacy of brewing at the location. As many of you know, their LOBO series and Robert Earl Keen series of beers were widely recognized throughout the state with the country music legend, himself, frequently visiting the taproom and promoting the label.
Pedernales Brewing Company was one of the longer-running Texas craft breweries in the state, originally opening in July 2009. Distribution for their beer began in 2012 and was readily available throughout much of the state. Surprisingly, they were represented at the Brewmasters Craft Beer Festival in Galveston during Thanksgiving weekend, so the news comes as a bit of a surprise to this publication.
To date, their social media has not yet announced the closure, but it is updated on the web as ‘Permanently Closed.’ We, at SHADEtxCraft, thoroughly enjoyed the beers (especially the REK Honey Pils) and wish the entire team the best of luck in their future endeavors.
We genuinely appreciate any brewery that is dog-friendly. By dog-friendly, we don’t mean allowing dogs on the patio. We mean allowing (well-behaved) dogs inside, asking if you need a water bowl for the pooch, making dogs a part of the entire experience. You only get that from other dog lovers and the owners of Baileson Brewing Company (Adam Cryer and Sarah Pope) in the Rice Village area of Houston have built an entire brewery around their love of their dogs, Bailey and Jameson.
Keep in mind, this brewery isn’t just a kitschy gimmick with no beer. What they’re producing is fantastic beer in a perfect part of town. On our visit, their Oktoberfest Märzen was the standout beer during a time when everybody has their own version of the popular fall classic. Unbelievably crisp, the sweet malty caramel notes are balanced with a mild hoppiness on the finish. It’s been one of the most enjoyable Oktoberfest beers we’ve enjoyed this entire season and we try to sample every brewery’s Oktoberfest offering when making the rounds across Texas. In addition to that wonderful Oktoberfest, we were thoroughly pleased with one of their flagship brews, Masinghorn IPA. It’s dry-hopped using Citra, Mosaic, and Galaxy hops and gives off a nice dry bitter finish without being a palate wrecker. The citrus flavor of the IPA was enhanced by the slightly dank taste on the finish. Without a doubt, this will be a must-drink beer year-round.
The aspiration of the brewery seems to be is the definition of the neighborhood local brewery you see in cities like Denver. A small taproom catering to the local crowd within a close radius and a positive relationship with other local businesses in the area were some of the things we observed during our visit. Evidence? Baileson has a great relationship with Vinology (a wine bar) next door and will recommend the non-beer drinker to also visit next door and grab a glass of wine if they are so inclined.
One of the things the owners brought up is the fact they are the closest brewery in Houston to Reliant Stadium and Rice Stadium, not to mention being very close to TDECU Stadium as well. Being so centrally located should serve well for them in the long run with many thirsty Texan, Cougar, and Owl fans having easy access to the brewery before or after a game.
The small space is ideal for the brewery with their small batch system. They are only open on weekends with hours on Friday from 4 to 10pm, Saturday from 11am to 10pm, and Sunday from noon to 9pm. The spot is an old 1950’s automotive service station that has been converted into a covered outdoor seating area with picnic tables and full garage bay doors that can roll up and let you into the taproom with indoor seating at the bar and various tables throughout the area. With a smart layout, they should be able to fit 30-50 people comfortably indoors and out on a normal day at the taproom. Plus, with no kitchen, they are able to focus their efforts on the beer while still having room to bring in food trucks or, like on our visit, a pop-up from Blue Smoke BBQ.
They’ve only been open since Labor Day weekend, so in a little less than two months, they’ve managed to make a name for themselves in the Houston beer scene. Simplicity and unbelievable customer service are the key attributes that made our visit very enjoyable for my wife, our two dogs, and myself. A visit to the brewery should be on any Houstonian’s brewery bucket list. Bring your pups, go for the beer, but stay for the enjoyment of seeing how everybody seems to genuinely enjoy themselves when they visit.
Want to get to know Baileson Brewing a little better? Check out all the ways you can find them online. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the most up-to-date information or just make the trip out there to see for yourself.
I’m not usually a “first-class” kind of guy. When we travel, we usually stay in cheaper Airbnb lodging or camp in state parks. We’ve never flown in the first-class cabin. Hell, I couldn’t even tell you the difference between first-class and business-class, but I have this “coach” thing down. But, for one day, I felt like I got the first-class experience while hanging out with the kind of people who are down-to-Earth. Now…I don’t know how I can ever go back.
Riding along in the San Antonio Craft Cruiser gave me that first-class experience at each stop. It seemed like everything stopped when we walked in and we were the main event. Whether it was a location opening early for our group, the brewery walkthrough, the brewery tour, or the customization, it was clear the Craft Cruiser got us the VIP treatment.
We’re positive that owner/operator, Dan Ward, has the kind of effect on people that shows he’s a relationship builder and one who genuinely loves craft beer with the same passion that we do. We noticed that he was jumping behind the bar serving us some beer, talking about how he helped build a brewery entertainment system, conversing with a brewery about when he could volunteer next. It was refreshing to see and something that gave us good vibes throughout the tour. I’ve gotten to know Dan quite a bit over the last year and to see these relationships forged throughout the San Antonio beer community, it doesn’t surprise me that he’s a popular man when he walks into these places.
Our first little bit of that VIP treatment was experienced at Pizza Italia. The meetup spot for the tour, Pizza Italia opened early to let us sample some beer while our pizza was being made. Our host at Pizza Italia, Uncle Larry (as he insisted on being called) clearly knew Dan and was comfortable enough to let him serve up some samples to our group. Our all-inclusive package got us free lunch and free beer throughout the entire day. The samples at Pizza Italia were a bonus, and a damn good one too. Unlike most other pizza places, they had 30 taps of craft beer (about 2/3rds of them were Texas) and another 150 canned and bottled beer in stock. Our favorites from the tap wall were two Strange Land beers – the Fleur D’Oranger Belgian Tripel and Entire Porter, as well as Legal Draft Brewery’s Impeachment IPA. Since these are rare for me to get in the Houston area, I pounced on the opportunity to try them all.
But we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least mention the food in this quaint pizza place, right? Especially considering that it was some of the best pizza we’ve had in a while. Uncle Larry made sure to cater to the two vegetarians of the group with a Veggie Mia pizza, while the rest of the group enjoyed a full pepperoni pizza and a half and half pizza of Texas Smokehouse Chicken and Mama Mia (the works).
After filling our stomachs with pizza and some beer samples, we were on our way to stop one: Weathered Souls Brewing. The first class experience continued as we got there and immediately were greeted by the two taproom employees. It was clear that Dan was great friends with the staff. Steven, the taproom manager and novice brewer, explained all of the beers and came up with a custom flight for our group.
The night before, we visited Weathered Souls to try out the beer and noticed that the flights are usually only limited to the flagship beers. This time around, we were able to get two of the limited run brews in addition to the two flagship brews. Our flight was the Dalé Shine Mexican Lager, the Rule 4080 Pale Ale, the Who Got the Juice Now NEIPA, and Round About Midnight Porter. The Who Got the Juice Now NEIPA was out of this world and, as we later found out, our taproom manager Steven brewed that as his maiden brew with assistance from head brewer, Marcus.
We learned a lot at Weathered Souls. The tour Steven gave us was amazing as he discussed the brewing process in depth and was one of the more thorough tour guides we’ve ever witnessed. We discovered that the entertainment system behind the bar was partially built by Dan as he helped with construction during their buildout. Also, while enjoying our beers, we got to know the rest of our tour group and started to understand the dynamic that made us all genuinely enjoy each other’s company. It’s almost as if the Craft Cruiser brought out the fun in each person since we all had our designated drive. The small sample of the SpottieOttieHopalicious NEIPA we were given to-go was a nice bonus, as well.
Stop two? Freetail Brewing Company. The flight options at Freetail were a dealer’s choice, so my wife and I each chose four different beers to ensure maximum coverage of the tap wall. One of the more exciting reasons to visit the production brewery was the number of Ghost Pixel beers on tap. Ghost Pixel Beer Studio is the side project of Freetail’s founder, Scott Metzger, and is definitely more experimental in their stylings. Flight one consisted of the Yo Soy un Berliner, Heinskitz Velvet (Ghost Pixel’s dry-hopped kettle sour), Tropical Punch Bexarliner, and Frag Out (Ghost Pixel’s double dry-hopped IPA). Flight two’s choices were the Rye Wit, San Antonio Pale Ale, Ready Player One (Ghost Pixel’s dry-hopped saison), and Belgian Hostel Slumber Party (Ghost Pixel’s Belgian-style stout).
Our favorite beers out of the group were the Heinskitz Velvet, the Frag Out, and the San Antonio Pale Ale. All three beers were executed to perfection and made for quite the game of tug-of-war over who was going to drink more of each sample. My wife preferred the Frag Out as her standout winner, while I was torn between the kettle sour and the pale ale.
Photo courtesy of Jill Shelton
Freetail was where our group started to let loose and realize how much we had in common as craft beer lovers. For example, one guest told stories of his meticulously planned beer-sharing events. Another couple in our group was originally from California and really took pride in the San Antonio beer scene, stating that it should get the same credit as other areas on the West Coast. No argument here.
Finally, ever-professional and ever-prompt Dan took us on to our final stop of the day, Busted Sandal Brewing. This blue collar brewery captured our hearts as they employ many of the DIY methods that some of our favorite breweries in the state do. We’ve always had a soft spot for the breweries who use a little bit of “redneck ingenuity” with their craft.
We were able to order a pint at Busted Sandal, which we enjoyed during our complete behind-the-scenes tour of the brewery. I ordered the Finding Friday Mexican Lager, which was outstanding while my wife was enamored with their new IPA, Hop Dong (yeah…just yeah). Taking the pints behind the small taproom gave us a first-hand experience of what it’s like as a Busted Sandal employee. Founder and brewer, Mike DiCicco explained their entire brewing process, but unlike our other stops, also showed us their working canning line in action. Slippery Rock IPA was being canned and he wanted to rush us back there before they finished their run for the day. We got to be right in the thick of things as we watched the cleaning of the new cans, filling with beer, and sealing before packaging. As this was the first time for some of the group to see the process, it really opened some eyes to how much work goes into favorite beers before hitting store shelves.
That same evening, Busted Sandal was getting ready for their big collaboration fundraiser with Freetail and Left Hand Brewing out of Colorado benefiting multiple sclerosis research. The beer release for the event was called Acoustic Motorcycle and the staff was working diligently to get everything ready to go. However, it didn’t stop the owner from taking time out of his work to give us the grand tour. He even understood how hot it was in the brewhouse, so he took us in the cold storage room to give us an idea of their keg storage, but more importantly, to cool off and get comfortable again.
Finally, the grand finale of the tour was Mike taking us to see what will become their new taproom. They recently acquired the space next door to their current taproom and will probably triple their space, allowing more people to enjoy their beer on-site, while also allowing them a larger tapwall to put upwards of 20 different beers on tap at a time. Mike stated that he wants to do more experimental, taproom-only beers, which should only generate more interest in what Busted Sandal is doing.
Again, we also learned of Dan’s generosity with this brewery as well. He regularly volunteers to help out at the brewery in any capacity and has built an incredible rapport and friendship with the entire team – the owner, brewers, taproom manager, etc. Plus, he arranged for us to get another half-pour of beer to-go as our tour ended.
The San Antonio Craft Cruiser was even more fun than we imagined. We envisioned an eventful and entertaining day, but had no idea it would be this special. Between the cost being a bargain for what is included and the enjoyability of meeting other craft beer lovers, we know this is going to be something we will be doing again. You can look, but I sincerely doubt that you’re going to find a better Craft Cruise Captain than Dan. As an owner and operator, it’s clear he takes pride in his business, and his extensive knowledge and contacts in the San Antonio craft brewery scene are sure to impress. The Craft Cruiser has a variety of trip options and destinations, and you can find a listing of their offerings online. Plan a custom trip or even rent out the whole luxury bus for a party. But just remember, we warned you: once you travel in this kind of first-class style, you may never want to tour breweries any other way.
Wanna book a tour with the Craft Cruiser? Click their logo below and also follow them on social media through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to find out the places where they are heading.