Last year, on August 4, craft beer afficionados across the country united in one voice, declaring that they wanted to taste their beer, not dump swill into their gaping maws because it had fewer calories, or had a punch top on it, or came in a can that turned blue when cold. IPAs are often the Rex Manning of craft beer, the one that may burn out after awhile as fans move on, but always dazzling brightly as drinkers emerge from Plato’s Cave of macro dregs. Serving as the Houston hopquarters, the Petrol Station converted all 24 taps to IPAs last year, and took the #3 spot in the entire country for IPA check-ins on Untappd, commensurate with their back-to-back titles as Stone Brewing’s Most Bitter Bar.
As the first Thursday of the month, August 2 marks IPA Day 2012, and the beer drinking app Untappd is releasing not one but two badges for users to earn, the IPA Day badge itself, and through a special partnership with the Flying Saucer, another specifically for that chain’s 12 locations. Their Austin venue took the #1 spot last year, and they appear poised to shore up that position. When opportunities like this arise, I like to support Houston-area brands and venues for posterity, so while I may visit Flying Saucer for the latter badge, I’ll swing by another bar first so that they’ll be linked to the former. Last year I earned it at the Petrol Station, though I accidentally started off with a West Coast IPA from Green Flash – an oversight I shall have to remedy this year. And in just that short 365 days, there are more Houston IPA options than ever. To wit:
This little upstart really changed the game for craft beer in Houston, in my estimation. Southern Star out in Conroe had been around for awhile, and had some great beers like their Bombshell Blonde and Buried Hatchet Stout, but Saint Arnold was the elder statesman when Eric Warner arrived from Flying Dog, and I think Karbach really caught Saint Arnold on their heels. Double IPAs like Russian River’s Pliny the Elder are often the crown jewel of any brewery’s lineup, and a favorite among the craft beer community, yet there was, at that time, not a single full-time DIPA from any Houston brewery when Karbach released their Rodeo Clown DIPA – and really knocked my socks off. Hop forward with citrusy grapefruit notes, this is really a beer that I keep going back to regardless of style and a leading contender for my IPA Day 2012 first choice.
I suppose you could technically say that Saint Arnold had a Double IPA before Karbach ever lautered a mash, since they had not only released Divine Reserve #11 in March of 2011, but also Divine Reserve #3 way back in aught-6. However, as most beer-drinking denizens of the Bayou City are aware given yesterday’s hullabaloo over the DR12 release, these are scarce, special one-off brews, never to be heard from again… until DR11 was reborn as Endeavour. DR11 was a great recipe, hoppy, citrusy, and after some debate over the name, Endeavour carried the torch from its Divine parentage – released 11 months prior – making an interesting comparison between the two. Endeavour joined the Saint Arnold ranks as a full-time offering and the first to be bottled in 22 oz. bombers. The beer – and its name – is a worthy standard bearer for the City of Houston.
Elissa is the OG of Houston IPAs, and the name of the Official Tall Ship of Texas. Its a hoppy beer to be sure, but the bitterness is tempered by the Maris Otter malt, resulting in a well- balanced beer. This IPA has been around the block, got in a few scrapes, held its own, and is still here to tell about it – just like its namesake. You can find this beer almost anywhere, always makes a solid choice, and can often be counted on to be one of the few craft beers to barge its way into a venue that may otherwise only serve macros. In fact, I was delighted to find it in bottles this past weekend at Padre’s, out in Marfa, TX. Apropos, since we caught Houston band The Sideshow Tramps during the Viva Big Bend music festival. If you want a classic Houston IPA, look no further than Elissa.
Perhaps befitting the brewery’s hallmark as a
maverick (stricken from my lexicon, thank you, Sarah Palin) young Turk on the Houston beer scene, Hopadillo is a hoppier version of the Single IPA style that Elissa embodies so traditionally. The latter is already smooth, while the former would have to be stored awhile to let the hops mellow out, flying the North American brewing flag of citius, altius, fortius. Stylized as a humuloid monster coming to attack your palate, Karbach begs you heed their warning, but I think it’s a benevolent beast, serving only to awaken the tastebuds of drinkers dozing through watered-down macros. Another excellent Houston option, with a name evoking the most famous of Texas roadkill.
Craft brewers, especially in North America, are notorious for flouting convention and experimenting with unique and surprising flavors. Until Buffalo Bayou Brewing opened their doors and released beers like their Chai Porter or Gingerbread Stout, the No Label Brewing Co. in Katy seemed to be the only one in the Houston area really pushing those boundaries, with the possible exception of Saint Arnold and their Divine Reserve #9, a Pumpkin Stout, which became a regular seasonal release as Pumpkinator just last year. No Label was the first to release a Milk Stout (a Panamanian Coffee version at that), they came out with a spicy Jalapeño Ale, and they’ve recently put out a Mint IPA – which sounds just crazy enough to work. The vegetal notes of the mint and hops should play well together, with a pleasant minty kick akin to the peppery flavors that showed up in the Jalapeño Ale. In another big step for Houston beer, bottles of No Label’s original 3 brews will start showing up in stores as early as next week, but heretofore the brewery’s offerings have only been available on draft, making them a bit more difficult to track down. Complicating matters for the Mint IPA is that it’s a limited, seasonal brew, and I still have yet to track it down. Ideally, this will be one of my two badge-earning IPAs today, and I’m willing to drive out of my way to get it.
The Best of the Rest
That does it for Houston IPAs, but if you’re not too concerned with keeping it local (for shame!), you can at least keep it Texan. There are a number of other single and double IPA’s from Texas breweries readily available around town. The newcomer Deep Ellum Brewing Co. out of Dallas makes a terrific IPA, and the second in Austin-based (512) Brewing Co.‘s annual series, TWO, is a Double IPA that can also be easily found (I had both of these just last night at Down House). Spreading the wealth around, since Austin has plenty of breweries, you might look for the Stormcloud IPA, a sort of copperish German-influenced version, from Fort Worth’s Rahr & Sons Brewing. Your best bet would be in bottles from a liquor store like Spec’s.
Whatever you do, be sure to get out there and find a unique IPA if you’re a fan, or simply try one to expand your horizons if you’re not. Spread the local love by promoting Houstonian and Texan breweries as well as your favorite local watering hole. Let’s see if we can’t get Petrol Station, Hay Merchant, Mongoose vs. Cobra, and their ilk some national attention through websites and apps like Untappd. I’ve linked to their current draft lists below to help you track down that special draught of choice.
Cheers, and as ever, drink responsibly on your hunt.