Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Flying Saucer Sugarland Beerfeast 2016

Last Saturday, the craft beer bar Flying Saucer hosted their annual Beerfeast in Sugarland.  There are different beerfeast's hosted by a number of different Flying Saucers around the country, but the one in Sugarland is the only on in the Houston area.  This was the 5th year for the event, and I've been twice before.  Once working a booth for Open The Taps which was their first year, and then once as just a guy drinking beer, which is what I was this last Saturday.
The festival boasted 50 craft breweries, and over 80 beers, and it seemed like more than that.  General admission tickets were $35 ahead, or $45 the day of (do some planning folks, no reason to get the tix the day of).  There were separate VIP tickets for $68, not available the day of.  The VIP tickets got you in an hour early and access to some special beers.  Each ticket gave you a card for 12 tasters, and you could purchase another card for $5.  This Saturday was a gorgeous day for an outdoor festival, which, you can't always be assured of.  For the VIPs the doors opened at 1pm, but for us plebes, we waited until 2 to get in. Before you enter you're handed a list of the breweries and beers to be served and it covered breweries from national craft beer brands like Avery, Boulevard, Dogfish, Deschutes, Firestone Walker, and Victory, to Texas brands like Saint Arnold, Karbach, Community, and even new comer Eureka Heights.  Additionally
the iconic Belgian brewery Cantillion was represented.  The lay out was simple.  There was one large tent that took over the back third of the Sugarland Town Square where he majority of the beers were served, there were additional smaller tents on the edges of the town square with sour beers, canned beers, pumpkin beers, rare beers (most of these were for VIPs) and Cask Ales. Lastly, Saint Arnold had their own large tent where they were serving some special beers, as well as 4 different Bishop Barrels and performing Beer
Weddings (whatever that is) conducted by Saint Arnold himself.  After getting one of the Cantillion beers (the Gueze, as the Kriek had already been kicked by the VIP crowd) I headed to the rare beer tent trying to get a taste of Brash's Hammer Smash Face a 15% barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout. It was then that I realized the rare beer tent was for VIPs, although later in the day I went back and they were serving everyone, but by then Hammer Smash Face was gone.  But no worries I did have a plethora of other outstanding beers to drink.  Some of the highlights included Deschuttes Pinot Suave, Brooklyn's Hand and Seal, Firestone Walker Velvet Merkin (FW was also serving Sucuba, Stickee Monkey, and Sour Opal), Oskar Blues HotBox (a tremendous coffee porter), and a few other ones.  I went with my girlfriend and we each tried each others beers so it was like getting to taste 24 different beers.  There were a couple of standouts that either blew me away or just surprised me.  First my girlfriend go Stone's 20th Anniversary Citracado beer that is made with avocado honey.  It sounds unusual and it was, but the avocado honey added this sweet green flavor, but the beer still finished hoppy and dry.  A really cool beer.  Another beer that I was impressed by was (512) Cabernet barrel aged Tripel.  Which is their 3rd anniversary Tripel aged in Cabernet barrels for a year which created a tremendous beers with fruity esters, oak, red wine, vanilla, and some tartness.  A surprising beer from 512.  Lastly, Saint Arnold served their Urbanhouse American Wild ale.  This was their saison finished with brett and aged in wine barrels.  This shocked me with how good it was, and was an almost perfect beer in my mind.  Beautifully balanced, nuanced, and flavorful.
Overall, I really enjoyed Beerfeast.  Its a smaller more intimate beer festival. No one was sloppy drunk while I was there, and you could move around, talk to some of the beer reps without shouting or constantly run into folks.  The lines for the beers moved quickly, traffic flowed really well, and as I've mentioned there were some tremendous beers available.  There were some negatives in my mind.  1) Not sure the VIP tickets are worth almost double the General Admission tickets.  One hour early and maybe a couple of beers that I didn't get to taste doesn't seem worth it to me.  2) They did run out of certain beers by around 4pm.  By that point most of the Firestone Walker beers were gone, so were a lot of the Prairie beers and some others, and the festival ran until 6.  Maybe they had more somewhere, but I don't think so as I was walking around for a bit and didn't see them replenish anything as I left by about 4:30.  So if you go next year (and you should), plan accordingly, and hit the rare stuff, big stuff, or popular beers early or you may be SOL.
I'll finish by saying this is a recommended festival for me.  $35 isn't too much to taste a bunch of good beers, and spend an afternoon with craft beer nerds.  Saucer always does a good job of bang for the buck in almost everything they do, and this is no different.  Also nice to see a festival like this out in the burbs and not downtown.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Book Review: A Proper Drink

A few years ago I was absorbing as many books about beer as I could get my hands on, lately though as you can tell by my posts I've been obsessing more and more with books about the world of spirits and specifically cocktails. I am always on the prowl for new books and have even had some folks point out some older ones that I should check out. This book is the former, A Proper Drink: The Untold Story of How a Band of Bartenders Saved the Civilized Drinking World is written by the great Robert Simonson. He writes for the New York Times but is also the author of another of one of my favorite cocktail books The Old Fashioned: The Story of the World's First Cocktail, I can not recommend that book more. To me an essential book detailing not just that one cocktail but a history of how cocktails changed, plus it has some killer drink recipes. Honestly, I feel the same about A Proper Drink as I did about Old Fashioned even though they are very different books.
A Proper Drink is an amazing book, to me it almost perfectly captures the rise of the current cocktail movement although I do have one significant quibble that I'll touch on in a bit. In general the book focuses on the rise of the cocktail movement by tracing the bartenders who made it happen. The book is relatively chronological, starting really in the mid 90's through today. Each chapter looks at a specific bartender or bar, restaurant or group there of, why they were important, and how they kept the movement transitioning forward. Most chapters ends with one or two cocktail recipes that were mentioned. The format of the book makes it an extremely quick read in my opinion, I breezed through the book.
The book starts where any book discussing ground breaking bartenders has to start with the king of the craft cocktail, Dale DeGroff who was really one of the first guys to use fresh juices and to eschew the use of soda guns at his bars. It didn't hurt that he tended the bar at the iconic Rainbow Room and that he is an amazing mentor to a whole generation of bartenders. On the other side of the pond, the book also discusses not only the rise of the craft cocktail movement in America but in Europe as well and that pretty much started in London with Dick Bradsell. This is another one of the things that I really appreciated about the book is that it didn't just isolate the rise of the craft cocktail movement to the states but really showed how it started in England, Europe (Germany), Australia, and even Japan. This shows that its not just some isolated fad but that it has moved around the world much in the same way as good wine and good beer has done in the past few decades.
Going back to the states, Simonson does a good job of flipping back and forth between the east coast and the west coast, detailing the rise of this new generation of ground breaking bartenders on both sides of the country. How they established their bars, how they mentored the next generation, and who their inspirations were. Its this last point that I really enjoyed reading about. I am a huge fan of biography's of musicians. All kinds of musicians, as I love reading about who inspired the music they make and in many cases its very similar to bartenders. Watching a great bartender make a new drink, using new flavor combinations, and even how they build a cocktail; to understand why they do those thing you need to understand who their mentors and inspirations were.
The book covers all the places we know as ground breaking, the aforementioned Rainbow room, Milk and Honey, Pegu Club, Employees Only, PDT, The Atlantic in London, Flatiron Lounge, and many other places on either coast or in London. The book also doesn't just give credit to the bartenders for the rise of the craft cocktail movement. It also highlights retail places like the venerable LeNell a retail shop where early bartenders could obtain hard to find bitters, amaros, vermouth, and more. The book discusses the rise of the annual Tales of the Cocktail event in New Orleans as well as the cocktail authors like David Wondrich. What this shows is how widespread the movement is and how many different people it has taken to make the movement successful.
While I believe that last sentence of the previous paragraph is a true statement detailing how Simonson succeeds in A Proper Drink, it is also where he fails some which brings me to my one issue with this book. As I stated many times the book does a great job of detailing the rise of the craft cocktail movement on both the east and west coast as well as in places around the world in London and Australia; it doesn't do a good job of highlighting the movement outside of those places. I truly believe that if the craft cocktail movement was isolated to just New York, LA, Chicago, and San Francisco it wouldn't be much of movement it would be fad. Craft beer didn't become sustainable until it traveled from the west coast and Denver, to places like Texas, Louisiana, the Carolinas, Kansas City, and many other places. I feel the same way about the craft cocktail movement, and I think the Simonson does himself a disservice by not highlighting the rise of craft cocktails in places like Houston, Denver or Kansas City, all places with a pretty damn good craft cocktail scene with some folks who are ground breakers in their own right. I would have love to have seen him highlight people like Bobby Huegel (who is briefly mentioned in a discussion about sustainable liquor), Sean Kenyon or even Adam Hodak. I think highlighting some folks outside of the east and west coast and yes even New Orleans (which Simonson does do a good job with) would really show how widespread and sustainable the movement is.
That's it though, that's the only negative thing I have to say about the book. Frankly, this book is tremendous and if you're a fan of craft cocktails it should be on your shelf. Not only is the book put together incredibly well, the recipes sprinkled throughout are tremendous. Each recipe has a little history with it that help explains who made it, when, and why. For me I like that type of stuff as its good cocktail party fodder. So go pick this book up, read it, and let me know what you think.

If you're looking for this book, support a local book seller and pick it up here.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Upcoming Events

As I hope many of you are aware, I always try to keep up the events calendar up to date with events going on in and around the Clear Lake area, and even down to Galveston.  You can check out the full calendar here.  Occasionally though, I like to use a post to highlight a few significant upcoming events.
  • First up, this Thursday, our local cider maker, Duo Winery and Cider Co., will be releasing their newest addition to the lineup, a cherry cider.  Also, that night you will have the opportunity to meet and greet the wine maker.
  • Also Thursday, Clear Lake's new HEB is hosting a beer dinner focusing on beers from Ballast Point.  Tickets are $25 and spots can be reserved at the store, just go to the customer service desk.  I've been really excited to see some of the beer events that the CLC HEB has been hosting.  Its also nice to see a beer dinner down here in the suburbs.  Would love other restaurants to step up and host some special events like this in the future.
  • Finally, Saturday Saloon Door will be hosting Friends for Life Animal Adoption.  Their mobile adoption center will be up, and there will be dogs and cats there, looking for a new home if you are so inclined.  Some of the proceeds raised during the event Saturday will go the Friends for life, so even if you don't go to the brewery looking to adopt a pet, you can go, and drink for charity which is always a good thing.
That about wraps up this week's events, but if you are aware of anything else coming up, please leave a comment below so that I can add it to the calendar.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

All The Gose

American craft beer drinkers are an unusual lot.  They aren't particularly loyal to any one brand or style, instead floating from new beer to new beer, and new style to new style.  The craft beer craze has chased double IPA's, Triple IPA's, barrel aged beers, sours of various intensity, and many many more.  Of late it seems that the craze has transitioned from high alcohol beers, to lower ABV beers that are just as flavorful as their stronger cousins.  Craft beer nerds have looked back to the old world to fulfill their needs, looking specifically to Germany and consuming some of their sour beers like berlinerweisse, and gose, which is the purpose of this post.  It seems gose is the beer of the summer, as many craft brewers are releasing all types of gose, flavored with fruits, spices, herbs among other things.  These beers of course range in range of quality, but for local picks, I would look at any of the gose offerings from Texas Beer Refinery, and the gose from Galveston Bay Brewery is very good as well.  However, this post is focusing on gose from the mother country, specifically a brewery from Cologne, where I used to live: Freigiest Geiserzug.  My tasting notes will look at their standard Gose as well as their Quince Gose, but first let's answer the question of What is gose?
The Style:  Gose was traditionally brewed in the German city Goslar.  It is a wheat beer that is soured post boil with lactobaccilus, although originally it was a spontaneously fermented beer.  Additionally, gose is brewed with corriander and salt adding an herbal sea note to the beer.  Gose is an ancient beer going back to the 16th Century.  Over the years its popularity declined and shortly after World War II, the last producer of gose close.  However, shortly thereafter in 1949 Friedrich Wurzler brewery started producing the beer in their home town of Leipzig which is where it was produced until 1960.  At that point there was no gose being commercially produced.  It remained that way until the 1980's where it popped up briefly before disappearing again briefly in 1988.  However by the late 80's there was one small brewery in Germany producing a gose.  However, as with many styles, it found its way to America where craft breweries started experimenting and helped revive the style, and as always they added their own twist to the original recipe with many version made with added fruit.
The Brewery:  Freigiest Geiserzug is based out of Cologne, Germany.  Cologne is mainly known for their namesake beer, the easy drinking Kolsch. Friegiest started as an offshoot of Cologne brewpub Braustelle.  Their whole goal is to stretch the boundaries of German beer culture and work to bring back and reinvigoarte old styles of beer.  Their line up of beers is tremendous with a ton of different and strange styles being made. But the two I am focusing on are their Gose, and Quince Gose.
The Beer:
Spruced Gose - This beer weighs in at 5.2% and pours a cloudy hazy straw colored with a thin white head of foam.  The nose is tangy, tart, smells of salt air, coriander.  Mouthfeel is effervescent, medium bodied.  Satly, tangy, sour, coriander, lemon peel.  Very easy drinking.  The label mentioned there were some funky notes, but I really didn't get that.  Maybe a hint of buttermilk?  Lots of acidity.  Lemon cookie batter.  This beer was awesome, and a near perfect example of the style.
Quince Gose:  Again this one weighs in at 5.2% and pours a honey golden color with a bright white head of foam.  This one is slightly darker then the previous example.  On the nose there are some fruity esters, tartness, sea air.  The mouthfeel is fuller bodied than the traditional gose.  Notes of salt, tanginess, quince on toast, some astringency, sour.  Not mouth puckeringly sour, but a nice hit in the back of the tongue.  A really nice level of acidity, really good.  Thirst quenching, but you want more.  Seems less salty then the previous version, or maybe there is a little more going on so it hides the saltiness.  More orange/lemony notes, versus just lemon notes from the other beer.  Another really good example of a gose.
Highly recommend picking up either one of these beers from Freigiest or any of their other offerings.

Monday, August 29, 2016

An Update on Texas Beer Related lawsuits

Last week some HUGE news came out of the Texas legal system that made it seem like a good time to review some of the current lawsuits that are working their way through the courts.  But before I get to that, let's get to what happened last week, and to do that, we need to go all the way back to the Spring of 2013. That was the first session that Open The Taps was around, so I remember those days clearly as the organization worked along with the Texas Craft Brewers guild, legislatures, and distributors.  On the positive side several bills were passed that had hugely positive effects on the industry.  Some of the highlights from those bills include SB518 allowing breweries to sell beer directly to consumers for on premise consumption (this is why we have tap room sales at St. Arnold), and SB515 that allows brewpubs to distribute their products (this is why Freetail is available at places like Nobi).  However, there was one bill that very few people wanted, but we were forced to support to get the bills passed we wanted.  That bill was SB 639 which restricts breweries from selling their territorial rights.  What does this mean? It means a brewery can't enter into a monetary agreement with a distributor to sell their beer.  It means a brewery can start out, building their brand, investing a ton of money, develop relationships with consumers, bars, restaurants, and retail places, and then once they feel like they need some help distributing, they can't make money off of that hard work.  Now some may ask, why oh why did anyone want this bill, and why was it signed as law back in 2013.  Well, that answer is relatively easy, the Austin legislature, the people that you voted for and put in office, are bought and paid for by large beer distribution companies (go look at which legislatures receive money from the big beer distributors).  This bill was put forth to appease the distributors who would have otherwise used their influence to stop the positive bills from passing.  So folks held their tongues and didn't fight back against SB639 so that the other bills could pass.  However, almost as soon as the bill passed, Texas Craft Breweries, started talking about a lawsuit because I think most everyone realized that what the legislation passed wasn't legal.  Which brings us back to the current day.
Last week, State District Judge Karin Crump ruled in favor of Live Oak Brewing, Revolver and Peticolas in their lawsuit that argues the 2013 state law unfairly hinders their ability to grow their business. This will now allow breweries to enter into monetary agreements with distributors, no longer having to give away their biggest asset. This will allow for greater growth within the Texas Craft beer industry as it gives them better access to capital, and maybe, just maybe help stave off more buyouts from big breweries like AB-InBev.  TABC can still appeal this decision, so all is not won yet, but I'm hoping that they don't, and that we can move on to working bigger and better things. Maybe just maybe this next session will legalize to-go sales at breweries.
Its unfortunate that issues like this have to be solved in the courts because we can't trust our legislatures to pass common sense laws. Make no mistake, there are more cases like this in the works. Your tax payer money will be used fighting lawsuits because your legislatures are bought. So let's take a look at some of the upcoming cases that should be resolved in the next couple of months:
1) Dallas's Deep Ellum Brewing has sued TABC to allow the aforementioned to-go sales. Currently, wineries, distilleries and brewpubs can all sale their products to go, however it is illegal for breweries to do so. This was something that was attempted to get through the legislature back in 2011, and 2013 (as well as many times before that) to no avail. Therefore Deep Ellum is doing the only thing they can, take it through the legal system.
2) Cuvee Coffee has sued TABC over the issue of whether retailers can sell Crowlers. For those that are unaware, Crowlers are like growlers, except they are cans, sealed at the site you fill them, and are single use, where as growlers can be re-used for ever. TABC came out and stopped bars, stores, etc from using Crowlers, because they consider them as re-canning beer which only a manufacturer can do. Cuvee Coffee was one of the first places doing Crowlers in Texas and they were also one of the first places that TABC went after. Currently the only places that can do Crowlers are licensed brewpubs and then only of the beer they produce on site.

Hoping to hear good news regarding both of these lawsuits in the next month or two.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Book Review: The Manhattan

In the last few years there has been a new theme in cocktail books.  Initially it seemed most cocktail books were a collection of recipes, with some stories interspersed, then more and more books came out from different owners of bars that focused on how the bar came to be, along with different cocktail recipes that the bar may be known for.  Thinking Dead Rabbit, or PDT.  The third family of cocktail books is taking a single cocktail, then diving deep into the history, with the second half of the book containing different variant recipes.  The first of these, at least as far as I'm aware, was Gaz Regan's Negroni, another great example is Robert Simonson's Old-Fashioned.  Now there is a new one on the block.  Phillip Green, co-founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail has written The Manhattan: The Story of the First Modern Cocktail.
The book is packed, with a capital P, full of information.  As with others it's divided into two primary parts.  The first takes a look back at the history of the Manhattan, with the second part containing different recipes from the past, along with some modern variations.  The historical part of this book is just tremendous, and anyone with any interest in cocktail history will enjoy it.  Its quite interesting to see the roots of the Manhattan starting with the origins of the simple basic cocktail of bitters, spirit, water (or eventually ice).  How the creation of Angostura bitters helped shift things along, and then came the popularity of the European produced vermouth.  I enjoyed how Mr. Greene took each piece, and went down the various rabbit holes, producing vast amount of data backed by impeccable research.  A lot of the research is re-produced on the pages of the book with copies of advertisements, or recipes, and in some cases old letters. 
As with many cocktails, how and where the Manhattan was named is disputed with many a bar claiming to be the founding home.  Mr. Green does a fantastic job of breaking down each case, detailing why certain claims are nonsense, and then presenting a most likely case.  I will say, there are portions of this book that are not the easiest to read, meaning it may not be something to just pick up if you want to read something easy.  You are drawn into the book, and following along down a researchers path and to me its fascinating, although I can also see where  some folks could get lost. Overall the first half of the book is an outstanding example of a well researched cocktail book, that would educate even the most knowledgeable drinker.
The second half of the book is full of well written and easy to follow cocktail recipes, broken down into six different categories.  The first is a short section of classic Manhattans, Traditional, Dry, and Perfect.  The next section are inspired variations from the Manhattan Club, then pre world war drinks based on the Manhattan formula of spirit, vermouth, bitters.  Then Americano, Contemporary variations, and finally Sons of Brooklyn, which focuses on drinks based on the different boroughs of New York City.  
Most of these recipes have short stories go along with them, all of them are relatively easy to make. Some have some very specific vermouth's, that really can make a huge difference in the taste of the cocktail.  Almost all of them pack a big punch, as they are heavy on the alcohol.  Again, overall, this is a great addition to any cocktail library as it gives you some really great ideas as a foundation, and will help in creating your very own Manhattan variation.
In summary, a highly recommended read for the cocktail historian, or just someone that wants to gain a little more insight into what makes a Manhattan a Manhattan.
If you're interested, you can purchase the book here.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Saloon Door: Summer IPA

The other day, I got to run by Webster's own Saloon Door, the new local brewery that I've written about before. I had heard that they had come out with a summer IPA and wanted to go and check it out.  This summer IPA was brewed to be light, refreshing, and utilized the more tropical flavored New Zealand hops of Nelson and Motueka.
Both of these hops are relatively new to the market.  Neslon Sauvin was released in 2000 through a breeding process lead by the Horticulture and Food Research Institute.  This hops brings Savignon Blanc, grapefruit, and rhubarb flavors and is normally used as an aromatic hop. Motueka is another new and interesting hop, bred from the great noble European hop Saaz.  It has a low alpha acid, and shares the clean bitterness of its parent. Normally utilized as an aroma hop this will bring some notes of citrus and flowers. Nelson is definitely a darling of the craft beer community with many beers out there highlighting this hop. Motueka I was less familiar with, so a beer with this combination had me intrigued.
The Beer:  The beer poured a sunny golden color with a thin white head of foam that remained throughout drinking.  The nose was like a bowl of citrus, or walking through the citrus section of a grocery store.  It was very bright, clean smelling.  Mouthfeel was a little thin.  Maybe medium bodied up front, but finished a little thin.  There some tongue coating, tingling resinyness.  Lots of floral hoppy notes, grapefruit, and citrus pith.  Star fruit, marmalade, biscuits were all there.  The flavors remained bright, crisp and clean throughout drinking the pint.  Some notes of apricots, maybe a hint of lemon as it warmed.  Overall I really enjoyed this beer.  The hop flavors were on point, and the main expression of the beer, however there was enough pale malt backbone to give the beer some spirit. I'd wish for just a little more body, maybe a bit more carbonation, but overall a solid B+ beer.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Updates to the Blog

After getting back into writing a couple of months ago, and realizing how much I missed talking about beer, food, and booze I've been looking for a 'what's next'.  A way to expand my interests, while still writing here, but allowing myself to do some other things.  Part of that expansion was really getting into instagram, taking more photos of the breweries I visited, the food I ate, the books I read (and if you follow me there, you'll see the music I listen too).  But I wanted more, and recently, I found a new outlet that will affect what I do on the blog.
1) First, I have started a podcast with a friend of mine up in Dallas.  We will be publishing our podcast twice a week, usually on Monday and Thursday evenings.  The podcast is called The Hangout and the topics covered will be beer, bourbon, sports, movies.  We'll be talking a lot about the local Dallas and Houston beer scene, as well as cocktails, sports both in Houston and Dallas, and finally another passion of mine movies.  We'll mostly be talking about comic or Star Wars movies, but we'll mix in some other things as well.  If that sounds like something you'd be interested in hearing about, please check out the podcast on iTunes, or Soundcloud.  Also, please follow The Hangout on twitter where we'll be interacting talking about the things we'll be discussing on the podcasts.
2) Due to my involvement in The Hangout podcast I have realized that I am not going to be able to write as much here as I'd like to, so I want to revamp the purpose of this blog.  Therefore, I am inviting my friend Will, co-host of The Hangout to start writing here, but his focus will cover the Dallas scene, while my focus will remain as always on my home Houston and the Clear Lake area. You'll start seeing some changes to the blog, but I hope that folks will enjoy the expansion of coverage.
3) My goal is to continue to write a post a week to this blog, sometimes that may just be some quick hits, but I am going to really try to do more than just that, whether its beer tastings, or restaurant/brewery/book reviews.  The google calendar will remain as up to date as I can make it, and may start including some more Dallas events if folks would like that.

Thanks for reading.

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.