It’s amazing how the oil industry creeps into the beer industry, especially here in Houston. One of the first questions bandied about is always why are barrels abbreviated “bbl” when breweries talk about production. Well, that harkens back to the days when oil barrels weren’t standardized until Standard Oil started transporting their crude in blue barrels that held a guaranteed 42 gallons, which then became the standard: 1 blue barrel = 1 bbl.
The “bbl” became the standard abbreviation across industries, even though a beer barrel only holds 31 gallons. Thus, when brewery founders Bryce Baker, Jeff Handojo and Brandon Moss left their jobs in the oil industry to set up shop, the discrepancy became the name (I was told there would be no math.) Initially focusing on the Willowbrook area, head brewer Keenan Zarling launched over a year ago with three broadly palatable beers for the Houston market, and 11 Below now find themselves with sales clear down towards League City, and a core lineup of five brews and a few new releases.
Located in a northwest Houston business park, 11 Below now hosts regular weekday taproom hours which appear popular with the surrounding pump, compressor, and energy services clientele rolling in around 5 pm. The proprietors are obviously catering to that petroleum industry thirst, especially with oil hovering in the forties. I had first tried the pale blonde 7-Iron over a year ago, at the now defunct eT Burgers off 290, a crisp and refreshing summer ale. The Color Blind IPA takes its name from turning the expected profile of an IPA a shade darker, with a richer malt body creating a Red IPA, yet leaving those hop notes intact. Sidling up to the bar in the brewhouse, I went for one of the brewery’s newest offerings, the Lame Duck pale ale, a difficult style to nail for finicky craft beer fans. It’s really the standard bearer for ales, but also basically an un-imperialized pale ale, so it should still have a hop bite. 11 Below gets it right, light bodied with a crisp bitterness from the Aussie and Kiwi dry hopping.
After visiting customers in the area, 11 Below makes a great stop to grab a pint or have a bite from one of the rotating food trucks. The spacious brewhouse has plenty of picnic tables and a patio out back, along with a couple TV’s, foosball and jenga for the Willowbrook weekend crowds. In the current downturn, the 11 Below crew may have picked the perfect time to jump from oil to beer – they’re certainly getting a better price for a barrel.