Sunday, October 27, 2013

Adventures in Beer, Houston Style

Anyone who's wandered through the Southwest section of the Great American Beer Festival in recent years knows that Texas breweries are creating some pretty bold and tasty concoctions. But on a trip to Houston last weekend, I wanted to find out if those making excellent beers were few in number or part of a larger shift in that area's brewing culture.

The answer: Something impressive is afoot in the Lone Star state. And it doesn't involve Lone Star beer.

One of the first things you notice on a trip to Spec's (the omnipresent liquor-store chain in Houston) or first-rate beer bars like Ginger Man (pictured below) is the variety of breweries and styles. Unlike some other places in the South, expertise isn't limited to lighter ales and beers made with Pecan.

There are, for example, a number of tasty double IPAs bubbling up. Southern Star Brewing's Valkyrie (pictured at top, in the bullhorn-laden man cave of a friend) is extremely balanced between a malt sensibility and an earthy hops that make this 10% ABV creation big but easy. And the Endeavor Double IPA from local institution St. Arnold Brewing - made with Simcoe, Centennial and Columbus hops - is a more traditional hop bomb with an iced-tea aftertaste.

And there is Belgian goodness. Ranger Creek Brewing's La Bestia Aimable is a Belgian dark strong ale made with honey that is a very sweet blend of molasses and esters. The Philosophizer from Adelbert's Brewery of Austin (which made its way to a Galveston Spec's) is one of the fullest saisons you'll find, a big body that's a cross between a non-sweet banana and an earthy backbone.

There is originality too. Yellow Rose, a single-malt and single-hop IPA from Lone Pint Brewery that a friend led me to at an out-of-the-way beer bar called D&T Drive-In, had a huge grapefruit/slight strawberry taste with subtle malting that calmed its bitterness.

And finally there was Real Ale, the brewery that beer fans really should watch. It ran the gamut on offerings from a dark-roasted Brown Ale that pumped excitement back into a boring style to Scots Gone Wild, a tart but balanced wild sour ale.

There were some stumbles. Several people recommended beers from Karbach Brewing, a rising Houston brewery. But its IPA and double IPA were bitterly out of balance, making them unpleasant to drink.

Still, this visit was an eye-opener. And it would be worthwhile to watch the growth of this young craft beer market, as it shows great promise.

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