Day 6 - Houston, TX
Before embarking on our Houston brewery crawl, Justin and I picked up some breakfast to take back to the house before our Uber arrived. But first, he drove past Simone Biles' gym so I could see it up close. I was also shocked to learn that Simone actually lives in the same development as Justin and his family. Somehow I neglected to make the connection when I got Justin's address and it was located in Spring, TX. So, why am I mentioning this? Well, here's a fun fact about me: I freaking LOVE women's gymnastics. I like men's gymnastics too (I mean, can you do an iron cross?!), but I'm a balance beam freak, and the dudes don't do that, so I tend to gravitate to the ladies. I first became enamored with the sport when Mary Lou Retton scored a perfect 10 on her vault at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles to clinch the gold medal in the all-around competition. But I really got into gymnastics around 1996 when the U.S. Women's team won the gold, which was largely due to Keri Strug landing her vault on one leg after injuring her ankle during her previous vault. It is, in my opinion, the greatest moment in sports history, and I'm even getting teary-eyed just thinking about her sticking the landing and getting carried off the floor by Bela Karolyi.
Perhaps that's for a totally different blog, though. Let's get back to beer, eh?
|Welcome to Saint Arnold!|
Our first full day in Texas began with a lengthy visit to the elder statesman of Houston's craft beer scene: Saint Arnold
. I'd first heard of this brewery many moons ago from Deuane, who shared a few bottles with me shortly after we'd first met. However, I didn't really know much about the brewery other than they were around since the 90s. Turns out the brewery has been around for a while; so long, in fact, that it's the oldest craft brewery in Texas. Saint Arnold shipped its first keg of beer in June of 1994, which is kind of at the tail end of the Proterozoic eon of craft beer's timeline.
|View of the brewing facility from the beer garden.|
We decided to just chill for an extended period and enjoy the vibe of the beer garden, which was quite scenic and comfortable. The beer garden and its adjacent restaurant both opened in 2018, and it boasts some pretty sweet views of the surrounding metropolitan area as well as the brewing facility, which is right across the street. I kicked things off with a pour of H-Town Pils
, a classic Bohemian-style pilsner. This beer is rock solid, and I typically find that the more seasoned breweries tend to brew traditional styles better than their "Millennial" counterparts. While that's a fairly broad assessment, it still rings true on most occasions. Verdict? H-Town Pils crushes it! I'd also like to note that I'm glad to see the dimpled mug coming back in vogue. I recently brought my vintage Troegenator mug out of retirement and it's quickly becoming my go-to beer vessel... especially for lagers.
|Pleeps gettin' huggy with a dimpled mug.|
Up next was Art Car IPA, an American IPA featuring a variety of hops from the Pacific Northwest. With its blend of tropical fruits, sweet malt backbone and moderate bitterness, this one straddles the line between classic West Coast and NE-style hazy. I followed this up with Fancy Lawnmower, dubbed a "true German-style Kölsch." In all fairness, the only "true" Kölsch beer is brewed in Cologne, Germany (much like champagne produced outside the Champagne region of France). I didn't make up that rule, but someone did. Still, this one was pretty crisp and refreshing with a sweet malty body and citrusy hop character. Kölsch yeast, an ale yeast that ferments at lager temperatures, lends a slightly fruity finish.
We shared a few sips of a pretty tasty Russian Imperial Stout before moving on to our brewery tour, which Justin suggested we do since he'd never done it. While traipsing around the brewery with our tour guide and a handful of other visitors, I sipped on a pour of Pub Crawl, an easy-drinking pale ale. Brewed with a simple malt bill of 2-row pale and Maris Otter (a traditional English barley), Pub Crawl is hopped with tried-and-true Centennial hops for a blast of grapefruit as well Amarillo and Galaxy to bring in some additional citrus and tropical fruit notes. It's finished with London 3 yeast, a fruity and slightly sweet strain that's typically used in New England hazy pales and IPAs. This classic pale ale with an American twist could fit snugly on either side of the Atlantic.
The tour was pretty interesting, but in all actuality most brewery tours are essentially the same. This particular one was pretty impersonal and it felt like I was just hanging out with some dudes, which was cool. But we did get a good look around the place, which I always appreciate even though I spend 40 hours a week at a brewery (and that's just for work). Obviously, we spend a large portion of our recreational time at breweries as well. So when folks usually ask me if I'm visiting for business or pleasure, I respond with a simple, "Yes."
One final thought about Saint Arnold; I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the artwork, which is pretty amazing. Inspired by the abbey of Saints Apostles (which later was dubbed the Abbey of Saint Arnold), the interior of the restaurant area features wooden beams designed to mimic Saint Arnold’s pointy hat, while ornate metal chandeliers allude to some of the European cathedrals Brewslut and I visited on our honeymoon trip to England and France. But perhaps the coolest thing about the space are the six alcoves each depicting colorful murals painted by local Houston artists. Saint Arnold gave the artists free reign over their own space, so each of the alcoves offer a unique interpretation of the Saint Arnold story. Here's a glimpse of one of the murals:
|One of six murals at Saint Arnold.|
Up next was Holler
, and I quickly learned that this brewery is all about lagers. Sure, they brew a wide spectrum of beers, but they have a definite penchant for bottom-fermented beers. I was excited to see a slow-pour (i.e. side handle) faucet here, a phenomenon I'd only just discovered at Human Robot in Philadelphia. Some beer drinkers believe it improves the head retention and texture of a beer (especially Euro pilsners and lagers in general), while others generally dismiss it as merely a gimmick (Randall, anyone?). If you'd like to dive down a cool little rabbit hole, check out this article
for more on slow pours.
|Holler for Houston, yo!|
Naturally, I ordered something on the faucet, which happened to be Czech My Phone, a Czech-style pilsner. This one was pretty floral and sweet, and therefore not quite as crisp as I was hoping. But it still had a nice noble hop character and went down easily. I kept to the bottom fermenting beers here and opted for a pour of Patio Daddy-O, a lager hopped with one of my favorite varieties, Nelson Savin. I've been encountering a lot of these "Southern Hemisphere Pilsners" as I've seen them described at a few breweries in recent months, which is due to the utilization of hops from Australia or New Zealand. Others call them "dry-hopped pilsners." Either way, these are usually hopped-up, Americanized versions of classic lager recipes. All in all, I was glad to see a brewery truly embracing the lager culture. I'd say about 6 or 7 of the available twelve beers were lagers, and I wish I could have tried them all. Oh well, I guess we'll have to wait until next time!
Meanwhile, Nate joined our tricycle and we became a 4-wheeled ATV for the remainder of the day. Nate, whom we first met through Deuane back in our Brass Rail Deli days, had recently transplanted to Houston to take up a cellarman job at Ingenious after working at Pizza Boy for a few years. So in addition to getting some hang time in with Justin, we'd also have the opportunity to visit with another friend from PA. Before we left, we got some cold brew coffee on tap and headed to our next stop.
Remember a few blog posts ago about our day in New Orleans and how Urban South
was one of our favorite breweries of the day? Well, it turns out that they also have a location in Houston, which was a pleasant surprise. While the beers here were similar to what we encountered back in New Orleans, the space wasn't quite as charming. Of course, it was still bright and boasted some pops of color here and there, but the space just felt a bit more stark and white overall. I thought the dangling roller skates above the bar were cool, and reminded me of Modern Times in San Diego. Since we enjoyed Urban South's fruited sours, we stuck to "gloop glop" beers, as Justin calls them.
First up was Strawberry Daiquiri, which is part of Urban South's "Double Spilled" fruited sour series. Brewed with twice the amount of fruit as its standard "Spilled" series, this one tasted like fresh, juicy strawberries pulverized into liquid form. I think there may have even been some miniscule seed remnants in a few sips. I wouldn't doubt it, since they use a boat-load of fruit for these beers. (NOTE: They even have a "Triple Spilled" series, which probably means they probably use a metric shit-ton of fruit, which is even more than a boatload if my math is correct.)
|Pleeps is down with the gloop glop too.|
For our next beer, we opted for another from the Double Spilled series. This time, it was the Pineapple, Blue Curacao, Sprite-Smoothie Sour. Fizzy and spritzy with lots of dank, ripe pineapple and a dash of Blue Curacao (an orange-flavored liqueur used in a variety of tropical cocktails), this was the greenest beer I've ever encountered outside of St. Patrick's Day; not "green" meaning "young" but "green" as in the color. And it's not just some boring shade of green; this beer glowed like some kind of alien liquid ooze found on a distant planet in some 60's technicolor sci-fi B-movie. While this beer definitely tasted more like a cocktail, I was impressed by its envelope-pushing blend of flavors.
We finished up with a pour of Milkshake IPA: Tangerine Vanilla One-Off. It was definitely a "one-off" beer, because I couldn't really find any other information on this other than its ABV, which is 7.5%. Gushing with creamsicle flavor and juicy to the core, this beer was a little bristly but quite enjoyable. While we were here, we also got to chat with the brewer a bit, who I believe is an acquaintance of Justin's. I'd imagine most of the brewers in town at least know each other. All in all, this was a fun stop on the itinerary for the day, but it was time to move on to the next brewery.
|Pleeps loves cans.|
Up next, we stopped in at Brash
, a cool brewery that's been around since 2015. Justin mentioned that I'd likely dig the vibe of this place and he was right! Brash is metal as fuck. Well, perhaps it's more a mix of metal and punk, but either way it's a pretty dope space. Pleeps was a little scared at first, but once he realized there was beer inside, he loosened up. Aside from beer, the folks at Brash and I seem to have a lot in common: music, an odd sense of humor (evidenced by some signs you'll see a little later in the blog), classic arcade games, and Satan. I have a feeling that these guys aren't afraid to tell you how they feel about shit, so in that respect I think Brash is a fitting name for this brewery. The space itself felt kind of like a holiday camp but for bad kids; you know, the ones who brought in butterfly knives and throwing stars to show-and-tell and used to raid their parents' liquor cabinets when they left the house for a few hours.
I stayed on the lager train for my first beer at Brash, which was the evocatively named Snapcrackle, an extra crispy Czech pilsner. "Crispy" is quickly becoming a trendy way to describe lagers these days, especially pilsners. It's kind of like describing a stout as "chewy." True, beer is obviously a liquid and can't really possess these traits, but these adjectives can nevertheless help paint a vivid picture. With that said, I found this beer to be a little light on the crisp-o-meter. I also detected a trace of diacetyl, which is commonly found in lagers. It didn't deter me from getting a second round, though.
|Pleeps likes his pilsners extra crispy.|
I couldn't leave without enjoying a pour of Abide, a White Russian-inspired imperial stout, which prompted me to blurt out one of my favorite lines from The Big Lebowski: "Careful man, there's a beverage here!" Chalk up another thing we have in common: a love for the greatest Cohen Brothers movie of all time (and that's saying a lot, because there are lots of great ones).
As I mentioned, there are several funny signs strategically placed around Brash's camp. Here are a few that prompted me to snap a picture. Enjoy!
|They'd probably let you stab hippies, though.|
|On and on...|
|I think Bube's Brewery needs this sign.|
We had time for one final one-and-done stop. Astral
opened its doors in March of 2019 and specializes in a variety of hop-forward ales including crisp, bitter West Coast hop bombs and hazy NE-style IPAs. Upon perusing the beer menu, I couldn't resist ordering a pour of Brain Police
, yet another beer inspired by a Frank Zappa song. This one is a hazy IPA hopped with Mosaic and, appropriately, Zappa hops. Yes, Zappa has a hop named after him despite the fact that he didn't drink alcohol or do drugs. He did, however, consume lots of hot dogs as well as cartons and cartons of cigarettes during his lifetime. Regardless, he's got a hop variety named after him, and it's an interesting one. Grown exclusively by CLS Farms in the Yakima Valley, it's a 100% neomexicanus aroma hop that comes from - of all places - mountains found in New Mexico. But let's backtrack. What exactly is "neomexicanus"? Unlike the more familiar "humulus lupulus," turns out it's a genetically distinct, wild-growing sub-species of hop found in the dry mountain regions of New Mexico. With aromas hinting at passionfruit, mint, and "Fruity Pebbles" cereal, this is a unique hop variety to say the least. So, there's your hop lesson for today, kids.
Well, I suppose that about wraps things up for our first day in Texas. It was great to hang with some friends we don't get to see too often, and don't worry... you'll be hearing more about us all in the next installment of the Pour Travelers as we continue to traipse around the greater Houston area. Until next time...