Perhaps it’s my Greek heritage deciding later in life to assert itself over my German and Irish sides, but lately I’ve been fiending the feta. Have you ever had feta cheese on your fries? The tangy, salty white cheese serves to heighten the flavors of well done fries, which the Petrol Station has in spades. Same goes for the burgers. The monstrous Rancor burger gets a lot of acclaim, but Mary’s Lamb-burger is my Siren’s song, a Greek gyro almost perfectly transduced into American hamburger form. A perfectly cooked lamb and beef patty with charred edges and a juicy medium center, topped with cucumber, lettuce, and tomato, then drizzled with yogurt sauce, or tzatziki. These are hefty creations, towering between their artisan buns. And while the burgers are justly famous, and some periodic favorites like their Taco Tuesday fish tacos have earned a permanent spot on the new menu, it’s in the craft beer realm that Petrol has firmly planted its flag.
Petrol Station’s interior is small, and while a pessimist would say “cramped,” a realtor would say “intimate.” Get up close and personal with the bartenders who will pour you some of the finest microbrews and craft beers in town, the kind who will justifiably give you an arched eyebrow if you ask for a Miller Lite. They don’t even have it. But this is the place to get local favorites from Southern Star Brewery or No Label, and a sure bet to find the likes of Saint Arnold Divine Reserve releases not only the day of, but year round on special occasions. Thus it’s also the place to get up close and personal with the crush of fellow beer lovers. And it’s been a hit parade this summer at 985 Wakefield.
Almost a month ago now, our local craft brew standard bearer celebrated the Feast of Saint Arnold Week leading up to the saint’s feast day on July 17. A portion of all proceeds that week went to Texas Children’s Hospital. Brock Wagner himself was at the Petrol Station that Tuesday, when ALL proceeds went to the hospital. He brought along with him three casks: one each of Divine Reserve 11, Brown Ale, and Imperial Stout. But contrary to the frenzy the #DR11 hashtag induces, the Divine was actually the last cask to be floated – its competitors weren’t your average ale or stout. The Imperial Stout was a bourbon barrel aged stout with the characteristic smooth finish of a stout heightened with a nose of alcohol from the bourbon and strong vanilla notes. The otherwise humble Brown Ale went the fastest, as it was a truly remarkable specimen: chardonnay oak barrel aged and cherry mashed. The full malt body of the ale was enlivened with a crisp sharpness from the chardonnay barrel, and the subtle fruitiness was kicked up with a refreshing cherry nose, without being overwhelming. I’m not too keen on strong fruit flavors, such as that of Abita’s Purple Haze, but this special Saint Arnold variety was perfect.
Earlier this summer the Stone Brewing Co. out of California ran their Most Bitter Bar Challenge. Bars around the country were exhorted to prove their love of hops by consuming the most Stone hop heavy beers. The Petrol Station was running specials on pints of Ruination IPA, Cali-Beligique and their ilk, even filling growlers with bitter brew at unheard of prices. There were 7 times more bars participating in Stone’s native California than there were in Texas, with only two in Houston, yet the Petrol Station and their loyal following demonstrated their bitter resolve, and on July 21 it was announced that they had claimed the title, earning the right to be dubbed America’s Most Bitter Bar for the next year. Petrol Station even noted on their Facebook page that Stone CEO Greg Koch revealed that they had won by a large margin.
With that title firmly in hand, what better venue to celebrate the first annual International IPA Day on August 4th than the Petrol Station? The interwebz were abuzz with anticipation for IPA Day, and the social beer drinking app Untappd even rolled out a brand new badge for the occasion. The Untappd servers buckled under the weight of IPA check-in’s, and the throng at Petrol Station would not be denied their hoppy happiness. Fully 24 of Petrol’s taps were converted to IPA’s, naturally featuring Texas brews, as well as the likes of Green Flash West Coast IPA and Great Divide Brewing Co.’s Hercules Double IPA. Further, the fine folks from Austin’s own Independence Brewing Co. were on hand with a couple of special releases. A little before 7:00, a cask of their Gold Deluxe was tapped. While not an IPA, but rather a golden ale, this is part of their Brewluminati series, shrouded in secrecy as their mad scientists aimed to formulate a brew based on the golden ratio. This was a surprisingly smooth ale despite the slightly higher ABV of 7.5%, with strong fruit notes as of citrusy mango – although the Indy reps assured there was no fruit in this beer whatsoever – just the exotic Sorachi Ace hops. They also brought along their Double IPA, and the Petrol folks were able to get their hands on a Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA which is perhaps the hoppiest beer out there, hopped continuously for 2 hours, and a coup de grace for IPA Day. I wasn’t able to stick around for these latter two tappings after 7:00, but thankfully I was able to try the 120 at Flying Saucer the next day, which, coincidentally, was actually International Beer Day, which came and went with less fanfare. Smoother actually than the 90 Minute I thought, although at 18% ABV it had quite a bite and a strong nose of alcohol. I bet if you took a lighter to the rim of the glass it’d flare up. I don’t know if I can go back to the now ubiquitous 60 Minute IPA after trying its twice removed cousin.
Regardless of the elbow room inside, the spacious deck out back and patio in front provides ample seating for Petrol Station patrons on beautiful Spring and Autumn days, or even blisteringly hot Summer ones (at this point, Houston, we just have to own it.) The added charm of being tucked away in this Garden Oaks neighborhood draws in locals on bikes, just as the burgers and beer draw visitors from far and wide. What keeps me coming back though is the beer. And how can you argue with a bar whose signature Facebook and Twitter avatar is a suited-up hop bud?