Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Whats on Tap

This week is another busy week in the Clear Lake area with a lot of different things going on.  
  • We'll start off with an event TOMORROW! At Beers Looking at You there is a special Southern Star Pint night, where they will be tapping a unique cask of their stout with hazelnuts and cocoa.  Their regular line up will be available as well as a snifter glass while supplies last.
  • On Saturday at the new HEB on Clear Lake City Boulevard there will be a Festival of Beers starting at noon and running until 4 pm.  There will be beer pairings, tastings, and much more to check out.
  • Saturday evening the amazing Hamilton Loomis will be playing at Haak Winery out in Santa Fe.  The concert starts at 7 pm,  Sounds like an amazing opportunity to drink some good wine and listen to an awesome blues artist.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

First Look: Duo Winery & Cider Co.

As I've written a number of times recently, the Clear Lake area is really booming when it comes to breweries.  From Galveston to Webster, there have been a number of new breweries popping up.  However, there hasn't been anyone making cider, not in this area at least.  That's not really surprising really, cider has been around for hundreds of years, and although its popular in other countries, its never had a huge market here.  That is slowly changing as peoples tastes change and develop, cider producers around the country are producing some really interesting things, with brett, or bacteria, or utilizing barrels to change and enhance the flavors.  There are a few cider producers in Texas like Argus out of Austin or Bishop out of Dallas, but this area really hasn't seen anything like that.  That has now changed.
A couple of weeks ago Duo Winery & Cider Co, opened its doors down in Dickinson near Texas Beer Refinery, and this past weekend, myself along with a few friends were able to stop by to check things out.
Duo has an interesting background and is starting with an interesting concept.  Duo is owned by a husband and wife team and they are partnered with a winery from Michigan (which is owned by the wife's step father). So the wine and cider they are serving right now are all produced in Michigan which was a little disappointing as I had hoped that there would be things produced in house.   However in talking to the owners, while they are currently bringing in cider from Michigan, the long term plan sounds a bit more up my alley.  They will eventually move to importing only the apple and cherry juice from Michigan, then fermenting those to make all the cider in house.  On top of that they will then look to Texas and the surrounding area to produce more local ciders, and seasonal rotations.  So their current set up is more of a transitional plan and not the long term plan. It sounds
like though, the wines will continue to be Michigan state wines, that are rebranded under the Duo label.  The day we were there, the only cider they had on tap was the apple as they were still waiting for the cherry to arrive.  The apple cider is well made.  It's very effervescent, crisp, and clean, some nice sweet and tart flavors, but finishes relatively dry.  Good solid effort that makes me excited to try the cherry.
Duo is a beautiful space inside which was surprising when you pull up to it and see the warehouse exterior.  It will a fun space to hangout enjoy wine and cider.  it will definitely be an event space for sure.  While I'm honestly not overly excited for what Duo is doing right now, I am excited to see where they go especially when they start producing ciders in house.  For now its a fun place to hang out as their current line up of wines and cider are good solid efforts and different from anything that is being produced in the area.

Monday, July 11, 2016

First Look: Brasserie 1895

Clear Lake city and the surrounding area, including Friendswood, and League City have grown immensely when it has come to beer bars, breweries and as I've written recently, cocktail bars. One area that has a lot of room to grow is destination restaurants, a place that people will travel to, from inside the loop or Galveston just to eat at.  Maybe, just maybe that is starting to change with the recent opening of Brasserie 1895 in Friendswood.  The chef and owner is Kris Jacobs.  Chef Jacobs has a distinguished history, taking grand prize at last years Woodlands Food and Wine festival (beating out 50 other chefs), as well as having a place on the Houston Chronicle's Food Critique's top 100 restaurants the last 3 years for the work that he did at Kris Bistro.  When news first came out, last year that he was opening a restaurant, I was curious to see what he was doing.  After I found out that the focus would be on European cuisine as well as focus on craft beers, I knew this was a place I would be visiting as soon as it opened.  That time is now.  Brasserie 1895 opened its doors a couple of weeks ago to start a month long soft opening period, and last Friday I
was finally able to stop by to check it out.  One thing I'll make very clear, is that this was a soft opening so I didn't expect things to be perfect, instead I wanted to get a sense for where things will be going in the future. With that in mind, let's talk about my impressions.  1895 is in an old shopping center right across the street from the old Perry's meat market.  Its an assuming outside, so the inside can shock you a bit.  There is a lot of purple.  I mean a lot.  There is a really quaint bar area on the left when you walk through, white marble top, white shelves, lots of glass ware, and old antique objects scattered about.  The rest of the space is taken over by a scattered array of tables, booths, and along the opposite wall from the bar a large banquet
booth set up with tables and chairs facing the wall, and an open kitchen in the back. My date and I were early for our reservations so stopped at the bar for a beverage and to peruse the drink menu.  There is a small wine list that seems at first glance to be well priced with a smattering of offers by the glass. The beer menu has a list of 13 taps, almost all very reasonably priced (The Duvel seemed a bit expensive).  I settled for the Victory Golden Monkey, a Belgian style Tripel as we waited for our tables and I was able to take a look around.  We were sat promptly at our 7pm reservation time and quickly scanned the menu to find a few dishes we wanted to check out.  For an appetizer we shared a dish of fried oysters on top of baked strips of yuca, topped with green chile sauce and fish roe.  For the main course my date had one of the many wood fired pizza offerings, this one topped with pesto, speck, arugula and a fried egg.   I had the fried chicken with
foie gras gravy (yes you read that correctly) mashed potatoes, pickled carrots and green beans.  Dessert was an apple tarte tatin with home made ice cream.
Our waiter was very good, walking us through the menus as we ordered the food and our appetizer quickly came.  This dish of oysters and yuca was simply amazing.  Textually crunchy, with spicy, sweet, and salty flavors all playing with and against each other quite nicely.   Once we finished the dish, a waiter brought us another serving of the appetizer. We told them we had already received it, however after checking in the back they realized they had made a mistake, so we were able to score a second helping of this dish.  The entrees then came and they were both incredible.  Beautiful to look at as well as eat.  The texture of the dough on the wood fired pizza was crispy and simultaneously chewy.  The chicken fried steak reminded me more of schnitzel playing off of Chef Jacobs experience cooking European style foods, but again was well flavored.  The foie gras gravy I want to bottle up and
take with me wherever I go.  I truly loved how the flavors of that dish with the pickled carrots all played so harmoniously with each other.
Even after all this we saved room for dessert, especially after I heard that the apple tarte tatin was on the menu.  I haven't had one since a trip to Europe a few years back so was eager to try it. Simply put it was exquisite.  Piled high with apples and a dollop of rich vanilla ice cream it was part purely American apple pie, and something else.  It reminded me of my grandmother's cooking, as well as my European travels.  There was a little bump in the service here as it took quite some time to get our dessert due to some miscommunication between the front of the house and the kitchen, but it was definitely worth the wait.
Overall my date and I had a wonderful experience at Brasserie 1895, the food was outstanding, and yes, there were a few bumps in service, but some of that is excused during the soft opening period.  At least for me it is.  The grand opening is this Friday, so I plan to go back in a few weeks to see if all the kinks have been worked out, and do a full review.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Upcoming Events

For whatever reason this seems to be a busy week filled with some really fun events going on around town.  Things were kicked off this yesterday with Nobi hosting a Karbach Station 68 event honoring the Robert Garner FireFighters foundation.  If you missed out, head to J. Henry's tonight for another Station 68 (this version is a rye pale ale).  They'll also be tapping a cask of Chocolate BBH.  Some other events around town include:
  • This Friday Pearland's own Bakfish Brewing will be having their grand opening. Bakfish is a great little brewery that opened up a couple of months ago.  They are out near the wonderful King's biergarten. I've gotten to go out there a few times recently and enjoyed their offerings.  The Double IPA is pretty tasty, as is their wit.  Nothing too crazy on tap, but they seem to be offering beers for a wide range of palates. They don't usually have food (they do encourage you to bring in food from outside), but this Friday for their grand opening they've worked with a number of food trucks.  Festivities start at 3pm with a ribbon cutting ceremony so go check things out.
  • Alvin's Fetching Lab Brewery will be having an open house. A good opportunity to head over and try some of their line up. They'll open up at 1pm.
  • Clear Lake's Tiki themed bar Volcano Room is having their grand opening Saturday night.  They'll have a full night of events including cocktaills of course, but additionally they'll have some complimentary small bites,
    music, and some hand rolled cigars.  Sounds like an amazing time. The fun starts at 7pm.
  • Finally Texas Beer Refinery is hosting Texas Country music act Jake Worthington, with an opening act of Candy Bernaux.  This sounds pretty neat with TBR hosting an intimate music concert.  They'll be
    some beer specials during the concert.  If you can't get tickets for the actual concert, they'll be piping the music to outside.  
There are more events going on this week, so go check out the google calendar, and as always if you know of more things coming up, let me know so that I can add it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

First Look: Rosewater

Another week, and another craft cocktail bar has opened up in the Clear Lake area.  It started a couple months ago with Preamble, and then CLC got a tiki style bar with Volcano Room, and now we have a third option in Rosewater.  Its been open about a week, and I've already been there a couple of times to check things out.  I've been excited for this place to open up as soon as I heard about it.   The bar is owned and operated by a former beer distributor, and a NASA engineer turned cocktail enthusiast. (there is another partner, but they are not necessarily involved in the day to day operations).  Those two are usually behind the bar pouring tasty craft cocktails. Now full disclosure, I do know the two folks behind the bar, not extremely well, but we are acquaintances.
Rosewater located on the corner of Clear Lake City Blvd and El Camino is a small shopping center.  The place has housed many different concepts over the years including a coffee shop, wine bar, and a short lived yogurt shop.  When you walk in, you see no indication of its previous tenants.  There is a lot of wood, marble, and brick and moss (there is a framed area of moss on the right when you walk in).  Its a beautiful space really.  On the left are wooden benches with tables and chairs, for 2-4 people to sit.  The right hand side is filled by a long marble topped bar with high backed antique looking chairs. The bar back is wooden shelves filled with a wonderful array of spirits.
The first drink I ordered there blew me away, not for its complexity but for something else. The drink was a well made Negroni which is my go to drink a t a new bar to see how the bartender makes it.  No instead it was the ice.  It was beautiful. Clear, crystal clear.  I turned my glass around and from certain angles it didn't even look like there was ice in the glass.  it was beautiful, and I completely nerded out with the bartender who explained to me that they work with Moving Sidewalk downtown on their ice program.  Some folks may be reading this and be saying TED its only ice!!!
Well that may be true, but ice plays an incredible important role in certain cocktails.  Poorly made ice, that melts too quickly, waters down a cocktail, changing its flavors.  Well made ice on the other hand, won't melt so quickly, and won't give any off flavors to the cocktail.  If a bar puts that much attention on the ice, then you know you are at a special place.  I spent quite some time talking to the guys behind the bar and you can tell how passionate they are about making good cocktails, and making a place of the residents of Clear Lake to gather with a good drink in hand.  They are doing all the right things, fresh juices, house made components when it makes sense, good spirits and liquors, fresh ingredients. All these things help in making well made cocktails.
The other thing that caught my eye was the tap list.  Its not big, only 8 taps, but it was well made which isn't surprising.  What was though were the prices which may be the best priced beer list that I've ever seen in a cocktail bar.  Speaking of prices, the drink menu was well priced as well, with most cocktails around $9 or $10.  They have a happy hour menu from 4-7pm with $7 drinks. All in all I was impressed by their prices for everything including their spirit selection. Their spirit selection isn't huge yet, but they are working on expanding the offerings, although they do have a nice selection of special single barrel bourbons.  Right now there isn't a food program which is a draw back, but they are planning on offering some meat and cheese plates in the future.  I think this will be key as with any cocktail place, it helps to eat a little something even if its just snacks.
The overall feel of the space is very inviting, relaxed, comfortable. I haven't seen it packed yet, but the sound hasn't seemed to carry, although with as much brick and cement that could be an issue.
Rosewater has impressed me from this early stage and is definitely a place I will be a regular at, and very eager to see how this place grows and develops.  I'm excited for Clear Lake as I think the area is one of the more exciting areas outside of the loop for cocktails right now.  There are three different types of places that you can grab a craft cocktail, plus quite a few area restaurants are upping their game.  Its a good time to enjoy craft cocktails and live in the CLC.

Beer Review: Saint Arnold Bishop's Barrel 14

For my money, Saint Arnold has one of the most exciting barrel programs of any brewery in Texas.  They have continuously brought out top quality barrel aged beers.  Some of these are tiny one offs available only at the brewery, others however, become part of their Bishop's Barrel series, the latest of which, number 14 was released yesterday.  As with all Bishop's Barrel this one is released not at retail shops, but at bars only.  If you find it a bar that just does beer and wine, but not liquor you can usually get one to take home and cellar which is always a good idea.
The base of BB14 is a Russian Imperial Stout, the same recipe that they used for their terrific Divine Reserve 5 and 15.  They took that base beer and put it into Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels for 11 months.  This helped take the alcohol of the base beer from 10.1% to a whopping 12.1%.  They then blended the beer with Java Pura espresso.
When I heard that BB14 was going to be released yesterday I made it my mission to get a bottle (or two), and did so at the wonderful J. Henry's in Clear Lake.
The beer poured an almost completely opaque black with a cafe colored head.  The nose was boozy, tingling the nose with alcohol fumes, notes of coffee and vanilla from the barrels penetrated the alcohol.  Chocolate, oaky notes came on the second whiff.  Some dark fruits were there as well.
The beer was slightly warmer than I would have liked, but the mouthfeel was medium to full bodied, not quite chewy.  Some boozy notes hit me at first, but as I slowly sipped, I started to pick up the other flavors, coco powder, chocolate, a light flavor of coffee, although this was slighter than I thought it would be based on the nose of the beer.  Vanilla notes come out on the finish giving the beer a sweet note, but not too sweet since there is also some oakyness to help dry things out.  There is a burn of the alcohol too, that isn't unpleasant, but lets you know this is a BIG beer.  And yes, it is a BIG beer, but its also incredibly well balanced.  Oaky, Vanilla, chocolate, sweet, dry, subtle coffee notes.  Its a wonderful beer that will age incredibly well.  If I had to pick some nits, I'd wish for slightly more coffee notes, and maybe just a bit more mouthfeel.  Not much, just a smidge.  Overall another fantastic Bishop Barrel release.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Upcoming Events

As we head towards Father's day weekend there some really cool events coming up over the next few days that should interest beer, booze and coffee folks.

  • We'll start things off with spirits company 86co doing a tasting of their lineup at Volcano Room on Thursday June 16th. Starting at 3:30 and going until 5, means you may have to take off of work early.  But if you do you'll get some education from one of the more exciting craft spirit producers around, and may get to taste some including their amazing Ford Gin or Cana Brava Rum.
  • Saturday the 18th is a great day for those that missed out on last weekend's anniversary party at Saint Arnold.  Nobi will be hosting a tap take over including 22 different beers from Saint Arnold.  Their regular line up as well as some special brews will be available.
  • Lastly, Barbazzar will be hosting a special Father's Day brunch.  Starting at 8 am and going until 2pm there are quite a few special menu items like biscuits with sausage and gravy, two special pancakes, and of course as always you get to enjoy their amazing coffee.

Of course the google calendar on the right hand page is always up to date.  If anyone knows of any special events going on for Father's Day please let me know so that I can add it.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Book Review: Southern Spirits

While I enjoy writing about spirits, beer, and wine, and of course I rather enjoy imbibing in them as well, what I truly love, is educating myself on those things.  I have a voracious appetite for new books on booze, cocktails, and beer and every time I go to a book store, the first section I head to is the food and spirits.  A couple of weeks ago, in visiting the wonderful Brazos bookstore downtown I ran across this book: Southern Spirits by Robert Moss.  Now here's a book that combines drinks and its role in southern culture, sounds like a book right up my alley.  I must say I was not disappointed, this is truly a tremendous book, capturing almost everything you could ask for in a book about about history, the south, and spirits.  The book reads as part history book, part spirits history, travel guide, and cocktail recipe book.  Its extremely educational as well as book that keeps your attention, and doesn't drag on.  I found it to be a relatively easy read, and not overly dense.  As someone with a large collection of books on spirits, beer, and wine, there was still quite a bit I found to be educational so I think this one is a good pick up for folks with all different levels of knowledge.
The book follows an easy linear pattern, starting off with the founding of the new world, and the first alcoholic beverages made on this land.  Each chapter starts off with a recipe based on a spirit that is the focus of said chapter.  For instance the 2nd chapter that focus on the early 18th century starts off with a recipe for Rum Punch which leads into an in depth discussion of Rum's place in the new world. A later chapter concerned with the golden age of the southern cocktail starts off with a recipe for the classic Sazerac.  All the recipes are great, some are easier to make than others, some are single servings, while others (the aforementioned Rum Punch is one example) are for larger groups of people, some of these cocktails are fairly standard fair familiar to most consumers of craft cocktails, but there are some that stand out or at the very least unfamiliar to me. Another thing I enjoy that this book does is it highlights new produces of spirits.  For example in a brandy drink they call out Carriage house brandy which is out of North Carolina.
The book wonderfully captures the rich history of drinks in the south isolating each spirit to a specific time frame.  Brandy, Madeira, Whiskey, Rum, beer all have a very specific place in southern history.  Yes of course there is some overlap, but I believe the premise still holds, and this book does an exceptional job of highlighting that.  Southern Spirits also pulls no punches in debunking well spread falsehoods on the birth of your favorite cocktails.  From drinks like the aforementioned sazerac to the mint julep, Mr. Ross goes in depth on the history of how these drinks came to be, which is one of the strengths of this book.
If I had to highlight a weakness of this book it would be that it finishes too soon. While this book does an outstanding job of highlighting where southern spirits have been, I think it could have done a little more to highlight the resurgence and where southern spirits is going.  While I understand this isn't the primary purpose of the book, I think its a small miss in an otherwise amazing book.
This is a must add for anyone that enjoys southern culture, spirits, or like me, both.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Upcoming Events

A quick post today to highlight a couple of significant area events going on this week.  I'm hoping to have a second post out this week with a review of a really great spirits book, so stay tuned for that.  Let's highlight two major events going on this weekend:

  • Saturday J. Henry's Draught House celebrates their first anniversary with a day of absolutely amazing beers on tap, and some available by bottle to take home.  A sample of their list: Avery Tweak, Boulevard Rye on Rye on Rye, Dogfish Raison D'Extra, Parabola, Karbach Kentucky Habit, Cask Ballast Point Sculpin with some goodies in it.  They'll have some special glass ware and in the evening live music.
  • Also on Saturday Galveston Island Brewing is celebrating their 2nd anniversary.  Lots of beers being tapped throughout the day, 2 food trucks, and live music all day long.
So, go hit up J. Henry's for lunch and beers then head down to the island for more beers and some dinner.  
Additionally, I'll put a quick plug in for a puppy adoption event at Texas Beer Refinery on Saturday which will be fun and supports League City Animal shelter.  As always, the barleyvine google calendar is always up to date.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

First Look: Volcano Room

It wasn't but a short two weeks ago, that I wrote about what I would consider the first craft cocktail bar in Clear Lake, and a second one has joined the ranks.  What's really special in my mind is how different this one is.  While Preamble focuses more on traditional craft cocktails, and a little upscale (or they try to be at least), newly opened Volcano Room is an island themed bar, laid back, almost tiki, with lots of bamboo accents, nautical, Caribbean, and Hawaiian features abound.  Volcano Room is located in the old Coffee Oasis spot on NASA Rd 1 and Kirby Ln in a shopping center with Arlen's Market.  At this point, they are early in a soft opening phase, having only opened about a week ago.  Right now, when you drive up to the space its hard to even know that there is something occupying the space.  There is no sign, and the windows are heavily blacked out.  The only thing that gives you a clue that there may be something interesting going on are the tiki torches surrounding the place.  Once you walk in, you are welcomed by a very large open area, with a bar at the back, two more cozier lounge rooms on either side of the main area.
Both times I've been there I've been able to talk to the owner Steven, who is very passionate about bringing a laid back craft cocktail bar to Clear Lake.  He has a lot of experience in the restaurant business, and seems to know the area, and what folks want.  The head bartender is a gentlemen by the name of William who again seems to have a great passion for making good cocktails. Most of his experience is local CLC joins, but what he doesn't have in experience he makes up for in an eagerness to learn, read, and study about cocktails.  I really enjoyed sitting down with him and talking cocktails, and the making of different drinks, and philosophies on different spirits and cocktails.
Speaking of the cocktails, they starting off with a small list of incredibly well priced cocktails, including one of my favorites the Hemmingway Daiquiri ($7) along with some more tiki drinks like Mai Tai, Painkiller, and a Pina Coloada, all under $10.  Eventually they will expand their cocktail menu, offering a group of 7 cocktails for $7, and then a larger section with various prices depending on what it is.  In addition they'll have a food menu.  As of right now they are working out the kinks, but have a couple of Hawaiian Roll sliders, and a tropical mac & Cheese, which is an interesting mix of sweet, salty, and spicey.  They are bringing in a chef from a pretty popular spot in side the loop, which is nice to see talented folks come to Clear Lake from downtown.
Overall the space is nice, and has a genuinely relaxed vibe.  That along with well made cocktails, and good food, I can see this Volcano Room being very popular with Clear Lake area residents.  Even at this early stage its quickly become a place I enjoy immensely.  If they continue to move forward from where they have started I believe Volcano Room can do some incredible things for Clear Lake with respect to helping making craft cocktails popular in the suburbs.
There are some quibbles with the Volcano Room.  They don't seem interested in beer at all.  There bottle selection is full of macro lagers, with a couple of Karbach cans thrown in.  They'll have 6-8 taps probably soon, but beer is definitely not a focal point.  Additionally, as I have mentioned in previous posts, I worry about bench depth, meaning beyond their primary bartender, do they have enough talent to put out consistently good cocktails.  Time will tell.
Look for a follow up in a couple of months, and we'll see how the cocktail menu has evolved and what the food menu looks like.  In the meantime go check it out, and make a pit stop in the restrooms as they are not your typical boring bathrooms.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Quick Hits and Upcoming Events

The still small, but ever expanding cocktail scene in the Clear Lake area has a new member.  Tiki bar, island drink themed bar Volcano Room is opened in the old Coffee Oasis spot on Nasa Road 1 and Kirby lane.  I'll have a first look review up tomorrow.

In upcoming events news, my calendar is always up to date, but I wanted to point out two cool events coming up this weekend:

  • Saturday starting at 11 AM when Nobi opens they will be celebrating Real Ale's 20th anniversary with a tap takeover.  And the tap list looks ridiculous.  Multiple Myserium Vernum's, 20th anniversary beer, and many many more.  Go celebrate one of the fathers of Texas craft beer.
  • New brewery Saloon Door continues to have some neat events and this Saturday they will be celebrating the birthday of their brewmaster by having music, food, beer and other fun things going on.  So go grab some Real Ale at Nobi, and then head over to Saloon Door to sing happy birthday.

As always if anyone knows of any upcoming events not on the calendar let me know.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Quick Hits - American Craft Beer Week edition

Happy American Craft Beer week everyone!  Starting today and running through next Sunday is the annual American Craft Beer week.  A time to honor great American beer, where bars and breweries around town are hosting special events, and tapping special beers all week long.  However, before I get to that, I do want to mention some pretty cool news.  Houston Beer guide, published my review of Clear Lake's newest craft beer grolwer spot Beers Looking At You.  Feel free to go over and checkout the article and leave a comment if you so wish.

Over on the right hand side of this blog is a calendar list of up coming events, including this weeks activities for ACBW.  If anyone sees something that I haven't listed please let me know and I'll add it to the list.  I do want to highlight a couple of cool things going on this week:

  • Galveston Island Brewing will be having a bunch of different tappings, or special pricing on beers throughout this week.
  • Thursday the great Nobi Pub will be hosting an Odell Brewery tap take over.  Expect some special beers to be available as well.
  • Friday Nobi will be hosting another brewery, this type new to Texas New Holland Brewery.  This will be a good chance to try some beers that are new to the area.
  • Also Friday, J. Henry's will be tapping a cask of Karbach's 3 Legged Lab with lactose.
  • Saturday Dickinson's own Texas Beer Refinery will be celebrating their second anniversary.  Go out and celebrate their second birthday with some amazing beers, music and food.
  • Finally, on Sunday, Nobi will be hosting another tap take over, this time for one of the original American craft breweries, Sierra Nevada.
Again, if anyone knows of ACBW events going on around the area please let me know and I'll post it on this google calendar.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

First Look: Preamble Lounge & Craft House

For a few years now the Clear Lake area has been doing some pretty exciting things with respect to craft beer.  For my money CLC has one of the best craft beer bars in the Houston area with Nobi Pub.  Add stalwart Boondoggles and other new comers like J. Henry's and Skallywags, CLC has done pretty well for itself with craft beer.  Unfortunately that's not the case with cocktails.  CLC is pretty much a cocktail desert. There are hardly any places to get a well made craft cocktail. Sure there are places to get margaritas, and flavored martini, but I'm talking about a place that can serve great classic cocktails.  That just hasn't existed.  Until now.  Preamble is the first of quite a few new cocktail bars that will be opening up over the course of the next few months in the CLC area.  Preamble's location is a little surprising, located across from the Cinemark, in a shopping center that hasn't seen a lot of love.  The slot Preamble has filled actually belonged to a Daiquiri shop.  Walking in, you immediately know that this place is as far away from the previous tenant as it can be.  There is lots of stone and brick walls, steel, glass.  Modern, but comfortable, with a corner filled with couch's.  The back wall is filled with glass shelves full of a really strong selection of various spirits.
The bar itself has enough for a few bartenders to work, and there is a handful of taps on the wall, all Houston area selections.
I spent a couple visits sitting at the bar, talking to the bartenders and even the owner, trying to understand what their vision is for this place.  They are truly passionate about craft cocktails and bringing that to CLC.  They want to cater to the community, will be offering a food menu in the future (from the looks of things, the area for the kitchen looks like a decent size), as well as classes focusing on various different spirits which I think is a really good idea.  Of course I didn't just go to the bar to talk, I came to drink, and I have to say overall I was pleasantly surprised.  They have put together a small menu of cocktails right now, and as they train their staff (more on that in a bit) they'll expand the menu, but they want their bartenders to be proficient in what they have on the menu first.  I had a few different cocktails, including a Boulvardier which is my go to drink at a new bar to see how they make it, i wasn't disappointed in this well made version.  Other drinks like the bees knees were amazingly presented, and tasty as well.  I was impressed by the speed, consistency, taste, and presentation of all the cocktails I had.  While they have a small standard menu, when the head bartender is around you can pretty much ask for anything and he'll make it.  Speaking of which, the owner brought Carlo, the head bartender, down from Dallas where he worked at a top cocktail bar.  Carlo is a great bartender, makes great drinks, has a wealth of information, interacts very well with the customers, and is always willing to make a suggestion on something to drink.
However, there are some things that can be worrisome.  Primarily, lack of bartending depth.  If Carlo is there, you are assured of getting a good drink.  If he isn't?  It can be a crapshoot.  They are having some difficulty getting good bartenders, that can make good drinks consistently.  Being a bartender at a craft cocktail spot isn't necessarily like working at Chili's.  Not that someone can't go from that to Preamble, but it's not an easy transition, and I think Preamble is struggling with that.  Additionally, I think the cost of some of their cocktails can be a little high outside of happy hour.  Some of the prices for their cocktails can be 1 or even 2 dollars higher than cocktail bars downtown.  I think there will need to be an adjustment on the price over time.
Overall, though, I'm extremely excited for a place like Preamble in Clear Lake.  I think this is a place that is much needed in the area and they are already doing some great business.  I'm excited to see where they go, what the food menu looks like, what the expanded cocktail menu develops into, and all the other plans they have.  I'm always rooting for folks that have a deep passion for food and or drink, doing good things in the right way, and the folks behind Preamble are one of those people.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Beer Review: Ommegang Game Of Thrones - Seven Kingdoms

I'm a sucker for a beer that has a tie into pop culture.  I can't turn down a nice tasty Brothers Thelonious from North Coast, or a Bitches Brew from Dogfish Head.  There are many of these type of beers, most tying into music.  However, American brewery Ommegang (owned by Belgian brewery Duvel) has made a line up beers tying into the hit HBO TV series Game of Thrones, a show I'm a huge fan of.  I was out of town last week for the season premier, and didn't sit down to watch it until yesterday, figuring I would do a double header of watching the premier, and then yesterday's show live.  What better beer to drink with a GOT doubleheader than one that ties into the show.
All of these Game Of Thrones beers are a different style, this particular one is a Hoppy Wheat Ale that weighs in at 6.9%.  It pours a cloudy hazy pale straw yellow capped by a half inch head of white frothy foam.  The nose is lemony, biscuits, pale malts, yeasty bready dough.  The mouth feel is bubbly, effervescent, almost tingly.  The taste is of lemon, marmalade, biscuits, lightly toasted bread, yeasty esters.  There's a bitterness, it lies like a film on the tongue.  Some notes of orange peel as it warms, citrus resiny notes grow as well with the warmth.  A nice wheat beer.  Fairly easy drinking, light bodied, but with quite a bit of flavor and a nice hoppy bite as well.  A good beer, that paired well with two amazing episodes of Game of Thrones.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

First Look: Saloon Door Brewery

Anticipation.  That's what I've been feeling ever since I saw the first Facebook post for a new brewery in Webster.  Initially called Southern Draw, its since been changed to Saloon Door and it has softly, but not quietly (more on that in a moment) opened its doors and started serving some delicious brews.  I can not tell you how excited I was for the first brewery to open up on Webster, which is very close to where I live.
Saloon Door is nestled in a newly constructed area of warehouses near the end of the NASA bypass and I-45.  Recently they opened their doors on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays as they prepared for their upcoming Grand opening.  I've made two trips there recently.

The outside looks like a typical warehouse, except for the small patio with tables, chairs and umbrellas. Once inside I was impressed by how big and open the area is with projector screens showing the Astros, I can tell this is going to be a place to hang out on Sundays and watch football.  I made my way to the bar and looked up at the wall to see all the different plaques with their different beers.  They typically have about 10-11 beers on tap that range from two different cream ales, two different wheat ales, an amber, pale ale, IPA, to three different stouts.  Since I had brought someone with me I decided to do a tasting of all their beers.  What impressed me the most after tasting all of them was that there were no off flavors.  Many times with young breweries, you'll find a beer, maybe two that they offer, that just don't taste right.  This is usually indicative of someone that isn't used to brewing on bigger equipment, and/or that particular set up.  This was definitely not the case with Saloon Door.  All the beers I had were very solid, with a couple of standouts including their stouts (all three on nitro), their vanilla cream ale was very good too.  Overall I was impressed by what they were putting out considering they haven't even had their grand opening yet.  I feel as they dial things in a little more they will be producing some really good beers.  As we sat at our table moving through the tasting I saw the room fill up with fellow beer drinkers sitting at one of the mismatched tables that are scattered around.  All were smiling and talking amongst themselves enjoying the atmosphere and the good beer.  It is evident that even during this soft opening phase Saloon Door has become a good place to hang out.
The second time I went, I brought my daughter since it looked pretty kid friendly the first time I was there, plus I wanted to try some of the food they are providing, and I'd heard their double IPA was on tap, something that I had missed before.  Honestly the food was OK, brisket sandwich with potato salad and green beans.  The sandwich was fine, the potato salad was wonderfully mustard-y.  The DIPA was again very very solid.  A little tweaking and it could be wonderful.  Hoppy, resiny, and it hid the 9.5% very well.
The kid enjoyed the free wifi, and peanut butter pretzels as well as bites of my potato salad and green beans.  There are card and board games lined up along the side windows that are fun to play as well.
Overall, I think Saloon Door is doing an amazing job of positioning themselves as a place for families to hang out, watch sports on TV and drink some really good beer.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that this weekend starting, April 29th is Saloon Door's grand opening.  There will be lots of beers on tap and food available as well so be sure to stop by and support them if you can.