Thursday, August 21, 2014

New Beer Thursday: Southern Star Backwoods Lager

This edition of New Beer Thursday, finds me grabbing a beer not at home, but out at a bar.  The one the only Petrol Station, one of the great craft beer bars in the country.  The beer itself is from relatively local Conroe brewery Southern Star and is a beer that has been out for a couple of weeks at least.
Backwoods Lager is Southern Star's take on a Pre-Prohibition Lager.  What's a Pre-Prohibition lager you ask?  Its a lager that is significantly different than the typical American Adjunct lager that many are used to.  Much more malt based (although pre-pro lagers did use some adjuncts, just not as heavily as the mass produced boys do today).   They were traditionally made with six row pale malts and some flaked maize (corn).  But to emphasize, not in the manner of today's mass produced lagers, this ingredient helped give a little bit of flavor and nuance, helping give strength to the beer.  These pre-pro lagers were also much higher gravity, and much more hopped then what we are used to with respect to American Lagers today.
Backwoods Lager weighs in at 5% ABV and was poured into a typical shaker pint glass.  The color was golden with a thin white head.  Golden, but a bit darker then your typical American Lager.  The nose was of cereal grains, pale toasted malts, fruitiness, and a hint of pinkness.  The mouthfeel is mild, maybe not quite medium bodied.  A much bigger hop profile here than what I senses on the nose.  It finishes nicely dry.  Piney, citrus pith up front, with some sweetened cereal grains in the mid-palate, before finishing crisp, clean, and dry like a good lager should.  Good carbonation.  This is a great beer.  It hits all the right notes of a top notch lager, with the hop presence of a good IPA.  Great job by Southern Star.

Friday, August 15, 2014

First Look: Revelry on Richmond

It seems that there is a new place opening up every day in Houston, touting itself as the next "Great Craft Beer bar."  That title belongs to only a few in this city, but when one does open up I want to go check it out.  And so it was, that after hearing both good things and bad, that I went into Revelry on Richmond this last week.  I had heard rumors of frozen Red Bull and Vodkas, and sports bar, and bro-bar, etc, none of these things say 'Best Craft Beer bar' to me, but I wanted to see things first hand.
I'll be honest, I didn't expect much when I went there, and my expectations lowered even more when I got to the parking lot, and saw all the empty spots blocked by cones....mandatory of my pet peeves.  Alas, I found one spot that wasn't blocked by a cone, parked and headed inside.  Once inside, I found the space dominated by a giant U-shaped bar, with a slew of other tables to one side.  TV's all around the joint, which is fine, I love a good beer bar that can second as a good sports bar.  I took a seat at the bar, and perused the menu.
First, non beer stuff.  They have by the looks of the menu a pretty solid cocktail program (I didn't order one so I can't speak to how well they are made), good level of spirits and liquors.  The food menu also looked interesting, grouped by appetizers, salads, burgers, and other things like pot roasts, pork tacos, etc.  All of them looked really good.
My first order of business though, was to get a beer, and I did, Franconia Lager.  Its early evening, and I want something light and crisp.  Also you can never go wrong ordering  german style beer from McKinney's own Franconia Brewery.   The beer was served in a  shaker pint, clean of any residue (you can't imagine the number of places I've been too where the glasses aren't clean).  So no issues with the beer.  The staff itself seems relatively knowledgeable, in fact one staff person is going for their cicerone, (I think there are only 4 in all of Houston).  Additionally, the staff seems eager to recommend something and as all good beer bars should, willing to let you sample anything that is on the tap wall.  There are 40 taps, with a good sprinkling of Texas beers.  The night I went, there wasn't anything incredibly rare, but there were a few sours, IPA's, porters, and stouts.  A pretty good mix actually.  My one complaint with the beer list?  No cask.
Onto the food.  I ordered an appetizer of fried pickled jalepenos.  Let me tell you, this is the perfect bar snack.  Salty, tart, spicy, crunchy, all it does is make you thirsty for more beer.  Plus it came with a cilantro yuzu dipping sauce.  All in all this was a really really good appetizer.  For dinner I ordered their regular burger which came with house pickled onions, pickles, and a pretzel bun.  The meat was cooked perfectly with a nice amount of pink in the middle.  The pretzel bun contained most of the juices so it tended not to run down my hands.  Really well made burger.  I was a little disappointed in the fries however.  They were seasoned nicely, with a good balance of salt and pepper, but they were a bit mushy and limp for my preferences.
I enjoyed the atmosphere of the place, a mix of folks that already seem to be regulars at this joint that is only today celebrating its grand opening, and young people on dates, and folks like me just popping in for a beer or bite to eat.  I can imagine this place will be packed come football season, and rightfully so with well priced beer and decent (not great) food prices.  Which is really one of my few complaints, the food prices can vary from OK, to downright ridiculously high.  Yes they are large plates over all, but I can think that they could knock a dollar or two off of some items and it would make it more palatable in my mind.  The beer prices though seemed spot on.
One of their biggest attributes has to be their staff.  They seem incredibly passionate about beer, and all they do, eager to help, and I received great service.  I watched other tables, and saw great service as well.
I'll be back again, even if I have to deal with the mandatory valet, it's worth it for the good food, good beer, and good sports that are on TV.  Revelry is a good addition to that neighborhood, and I imagine with all the new apartments, and townhouses going in, it will end up being a great joint for those living there to walk to.
As hesitant as I was when I walked into the place, and it's by no means perfect, I give it a thumbs up, and will continue to watch and see how it evolves.  Does it take a step up and truly become what it wants to be, or does it slide down to be a neighborhood 'bro-bar'.  Time will tell and I hope it steps up to its potential.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

New Beer Thursday: New Republic Whipsaw

For this week's edition of New Beer Thursday, I reached for a Texas Brewery that is relatively new to the Houston market.  The beer however, is very new as I believe its only been available for a week or so.
New Republic is from College Station, and Whipsaw is their Double IPA offering. The first thing I notice about the beer is the label and all the great information on it.  For example, ideal serving temp: 54 degrees, parings: carrot cake, late nights, and good friends.  ABV: 8%, IBU: 84.  The final piece of info was the hops used.  There were 4 hops used in total and they were:
Columbus: a very typical hops for DIPA's, with high bittering potential.  Sharp and pungent.
Cascade: gives aromas of floral, citrus, grapefruit and pine needles.
Centennial: A high buttering hops with floral and citrus notes.
Magnum:  High bittering hops, with spice and citrus notes.

The beer pours a reddish copper with a thick taupe colored dense foamy head.  The nose is of pine resin, orange peel, marmalade, white pepper, a sticky smell if that makes sense.  The mouthfeel is medium bodied, but creamy.  It tastes almost sticky, coating the tongue, grapefruit, orange marmalade, tangerine.  Some slight toasty notes from the malts, but this is all hops.  Peppery, spicy, almost a funky astringency at the finish.  Incredibly hop forward, this one is a must to drink fresh as I have to think after the hop flavors go, its going downhill fast.  The finish is a slightly off putting to me, but not something that I wouldn't recommend looking out for.  Good solid DIPA.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bar Review: Julep

One of the most talked about and anticipated cocktail bars of recent memory has got to be newly opened Julep on Washington Avenue.  Julep is the brainchild of the Clumsy Butcher group, the folks behind Anvil, Pastry War, Blacksmith, Hay Merchant, among others.  However, this is really the baby of bartender extradonaire Alba Huerta who has been around the Houston cocktail scene for a few years now.  She helped Bobby Heugel with Pastry War, but as you can tell when you walk into Julep, this is definitely hers.  People have been eagerly anticipating the opening of Julep since it's announcement last year.  However, as with most things, getting the bar ready to open didn't go as planned.  But, they didn't just sit around waiting for things to happen.  Once the bar was built out, and they were just waiting on the city inspections to get finalized, Alba and company were able to use the time to train the staff.  The time and effort that they have taken in training and educating the staff is seen in every aspect of the service.
When you walk inside you notice a few things off the bat: lots of white walls, lace over the windows, lots, and lots of copper.  My first impression, was one of walking into an old Southern kitchen.  A kitchen that is with a lot of booze.
I must say, that in the short time it's been open, I've really fallen in love with this place from a cocktail perspective.  Well a cocktail and food perspective really. As one would expect, the cocktails are all top notch, many with liquor infusions, interesting herbs and spices, or fun takes on classics.  My personal favorite in the latter category is the spiced Julep.  This drink is made by dropping a tea strainer that has been filled with spices, and soaking in bourbon, lighting it on fire, and dropping it into a Julep cup full of the traditional julep ingredients, and then topping it off with a mound of ice.  A showy drink to be sure, but one that tastes amazing with the spices really playing off the bourbon, mint and sugar of the traditional mint julep.  My favorite on the former is probably the Cherry Bounce Sour, made with cherry bounce (a cherry infused liquor), Old Grand Dad, lemon, turbinado, angostura bitters, and egg white.   Truly an exquisite drink.

Make no mistake, while, the cocktails reign supreme, the food is a must try as well.  Unlike other cocktail bars, Julep has a focus on seafood, especially cold servings, so you will see oysters from around the country being served (hopefully some good gulf oysters in a couple of months will show up on the menu), along with smoked trout, smoked salmon and very uniquely, full caviar service.  These are all reasonably priced options, well with the exception of the caviar which runs about $120.00.  However, as good as some of these are, none of them are my favorite on the menu.  That falls to the simple, but wonderful, hush puppies.  For $4 you get a small plate of crispy on the outside, still moist, on the inside, hushpuppies served with a serrano aoli.  The aoli is OK, and maybe the one inconsistency I've noticed. One visit it had no apparent kick, the next, there was just enough heat to keep me interested.  But honestly?  The hushpuppies were perfect by themselves.

Behind the bar is plenty of small batch liquors, a great line up of bourbons, whiskeys and ryes including more of the cult bourbon Pappy Van Winkle than I think I have ever seen in one place.  There is also gins, rums, etc to balance things out.  One of the things that I've appreciated is that I've been able to get some really good old fashions, by just asking a bartender to surprise me with something at the mid level price point (they've hit the price point perfectly both times I've done this, which hasn't necessarily been the case at other places).
Lastly, Julep has a small but interesting wine menu, and promises a draft beer menu soon, but honestly, you aren't going for beer or wine, your going there for the cocktails.

So, sit at the bar, watch the bartenders meticulously make each drink, don't be afraid to ask what a strange ingredient may be, you may get a taste, at the very least, they will be more than happy to talk to you about what they are making, and what's in each cocktail.  That really may be why I enjoy this place so much, so that everyone I have met so far at Julep, is passionate about making good drinks, does it well, and also takes the time to talk to customers, educating them as well.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

New Beer Thursday: Odell Fifty-Niner

Now that I am slowly, but surely getting back into blogging, one thing I am going to start instituting is a weekly (hopefully) New Beer Thursday post.  This will be an opportunity for me to write and review either a beer new to me (maybe a classic beer, that for one reason or another I have never gotten around to drinking), or a beer new to the Houston area.  For the first one, it will be the latter, a beer new to the area.  In fact its  a beer from a brewery that is relatively new to Houston, although one that I have been enjoying for quite sometime, Fort Collins, Colorado's own Odell Brewing.  I can't tell you how excited I was when I heard that Odell was finally coming to Texas.
This particular beer, Fifty-Niner is part of Odell's Cellar Series and celebrates the great Colorado Gold Rush of 1859.  The beer weighs in at 10% ABV, is aged on oak staves and is 100% bottle conditioned with brettanomyces.  Before I get into my review, I need to make a quick comment.  After I had this beer, I was doing some reading of other reviews and many mentioned disappointment over the beer not being sour.  I tend to think there is some confusion from folks when they see the term Brett Beer.  Brett beers are NOT sour beers.  They are two different things (note that brett beers can be sour beers, but that is not due to the brett).  Brett beers are traditionally funky, and dry, not tart, sour, etc.
OK, enough of that onto the beer.
Serving Vessel: Ommegang Chalice.
The beer pours a deep copper color with a thin white head that quickly dissipated into a thin lacy film sitting atop the beer.  The nose is fruity and funky, a bit of pineapple, a bit of barnyard.
The mouthfeel is medium bodied, a bit syrupy.  Sweet up front, almost cloying.  Pineapple, vanilla, hay, again a hint of barnyard or horse blanket (or what I imagine horse blanket to taste like as I've never stuck one in my mouth).  A hint of lemony brightness, before a dry somewhat oaky finish.  I keep going back to that initial syrupy texture and the cloyingness.
This beer really has me struggling.  There are parts of it a I really enjoy.  The beer struggles and sometimes succeeding in finding a balance, but then the next sip is full of cloying syrup.  I really like the finish of the beer, but the up front its just so sweet.  Odell's is a brewery I love, but this one disappoints a bit.  Its OK, but it should be great.  I'm going to buy another bottle and give it a year to see what that does.  I think there is good structure, and with the residual sweetness and ABV, this one should age well.