Tuesday, January 25, 2011

HB 660

A couple of weeks ago I wrote that there were 2 house bills going to the Texas Legislature this year. House Bill (HB) 660 and 602. Well since that initial article the blogsophere and more have blown up with folks chiming in with their opinions. There has been much more press given to these bills in particular HB 660 than any time I have seen in the past. If you are interested in more information on these bills I'd like to point you to a few sights:
1) This great blog by fellow houstonian breaks down HB 660 and 602. I think its a pretty fair overview and in my mind shows why we must get behind HB 660. I after reading this entry and doing some research of my own, I have some strong issues with HB 602. In reading it, I don't really understand what the bill is trying to do. It only allows breweries to give beer away after a tour and that beer can only be in 12 oz bottles (no large formats, no growlers). However, HB 660 can be applied to any company licensed as a brewpub that produces less than 75,000 bbls to not only distribute direct to consumers but to distribute through distributors.
2) Scott Metzger the man behind the great Freetail brewing and the force behind HB 660 has a blog up and running with information about the bill. Every day is a new entry as he fights to get the bill passed. Check out his thoughts and see the struggles he is facing.
3) There is both a Facebook page and twitter feed for HB 660 that is worth following.

Within the legislature there has been no movement on the bill, but that is not surprising. They have also not named the members for each committee. However if you want to know who your local representative is go here. If you are driven to write to your representative please do so. I won't tell you what to write, but here are a few pointers: Be respectful, tell them what you are asking them to vote for (YES on HB 660!), tell them why its important (industry growth, it will help Texas by increasing tax revenue, tourism, etc), ask them again to vote and then close. If everyone who reads this blog, or follows HB 660 on twitter or Facebook writes their congressman, or writes your local newspaper, this bill will pass. If you care about Texas and craft beer, get off the sidelines and get in the game.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Hay Merchant

Two days ago a short cryptic tweet by the Houston Press caused Houston craft beer lovers to jump up in joy. The folks behind Anvil Bar and Refuge will be opening a craft beer bar. Shortly thereafter the Press released a short article, more of a tease really. Finally yesterday, the Houston Chronicle's Allison Cook released a full article with much more information: This fall a new craft beer bar will be opening in the old Chances spot down the street from Anvil. The bar will focus on craft beer along with food. It will be managed by Kevin Floyd, while Bobby Heugel will stay managing Anvil. However, none of these articles gave me or other craft beer folks some of the technical information that we would like to know. With that in mind I spoke with Kevin and asked if he would be willing to sit down and discuss his plan for his new venture. Kevin was more than agreeable, so yesterday evening we sat down for a couple of hours to talk about his new bar: Hay Merchant.

First, to answer two questions that I saw asked repeatedly on twitter: 1) Anvil is not going away and it will continue with its small draft craft beer program along with a nitro tap and cask engine. 2) Yes Hay Merchant will have a growler program since they only have a beer and wine license and not a liquor license. If you know the old Chances bar you'll realize that Hay Merchant will be much bigger than Anvil. Anvil is around 2100 sq ft, and the space for Hay Merchant is around 9500 sq ft. This allows many more taps on the wall and a full kitchen instead of the shoebox that Anvil has. Kevin is planning somewhere around 60-80 taps on the wall. The number of taps will depend not only on cooler space, but the amount of people that can fit inside, and how quickly beer can move. Kevin wants to ensure that beer doesn't sit for long periods of time. With that in mind, there is a potential that Hay Merchant starts out with 60 or so taps, and then after a period of time expands their offerings.

I mentioned cooler space earlier, so let's talk about the cold box at Hay Merchant. There will be 3 different and separate cold boxes. The first cooler box will be the cellar held at around 55 degrees F. In this cellar there will be kegs and bottles that Kevin would like to age. There will be no tap lines, just aging. Having a cellar will allow Kevin to host beer vertical events after a few years. The other cold box will be held at 55 deg F and will serve warmer beer like strong ales and casks. Finally, the last cold box will be the true cold box held at 35 degrees and will house, lagers, pilsners, blond ales, wheat beers, etc. Kevin's plan is to have a 60/40 split of ales to lagers. He is going to keep his keg lines as short as possible, straight taps, and short draws to reduce any chance of contamination or stale beer. As with Anvil, tap lines will be cleaned by hand at least between each time a keg is swapped out and sometimes more frequently depending on how quickly kegs are rotated. Each keg will have individual gas regulators as well.

Hay Merchant will be rotating taps in a similar fashion to Anvil. As an example, let's use the number of 80 taps that was mentioned before. Out of those, 30 will be static tap lines. Lots of local brews along with national craft beer. The other 50 would be rotating special ales, seasonals, etc. Of the taps on the wall, there will be 2-3 that are on nitro with the potential to add more if more craft nitro beer becomes available. Now that we've talked about all the taps, let's talk about Cask Ale. I've already mentioned that Cask ale will be kept at a separate warmer temperature, which will make Hay Merchant the only place to do that, and use a hand pump (versus gravity tapping and placing the cask on the bar). Kevin plans on having 3 to 5 casks on engine at any one time. 3 of these will be Texas beer main stays like Saint Arnold's Elissa and Real Ale Rio Blanco. The other 2 will be rotating specials using Kevin's own firkins that he sends out to brewers to fill.

Kevin along with one of his business partners is creating an employee handbook to help educate Hay Merchant employees. The goal is for each employee to know as much as possible about beer, serving conditions, and food pairings. Each beer will have a one sheet created giving details on the beer as well as proper serving vessels and temperature that each employee will need to memorize. Hay Merchant will have different glassware all kept at room temperature. Kevin plans on having at least British and American Pint glasses, Tulips, Pilsner, Snifter, and half pints. Before being filled with beer, each beer will be placed onto a glass washer. The water from the glass washer will be run through the different cold boxes so that the water cleaning the glass will be at the same temperature as the beer filling it.

We've gotten the more technical things out of the way, but a bar can't be successful without good ambiance and so I asked Kevin about that. As he stated to Allison Cook, Hay Merchant is not a gastropub, its a bar that will have good quality, well priced food. Its not a sports bar, but yes there will be TVs. Kevin wants the TVs available but not intrusive, so it will be interesting to see how he does this. Yes, there will be servers going to tables so you won't be served only at the bar like you are Anvil.

Hay Merchant will be open from 3pm to 2 am 7 days a week with extended weekend hours for lunch.

It's clear from talking to Kevin that he is extremely passionate about craft beer. I asked him about his philosophy on serving craft beer and this was his reply: "It is my job to be a steward and a representative of the brewers intentions of their beer when serving it....craft beer is not a business model. You have to believe in it and design your draft system around it, you have to do things correctly" I also asked him what he was most excited about this new adventure: "I love beer, and hope this new bar will give me a platform to positively influencing the beer market and distributor decisions." I asked what he meant by that statement and he said that by doing a larger volume than he does at Anvil and by working closely with distributors (and even other craft beer bars in the area) maybe he can get them to carry beers they otherwise wouldn't. He wants to use Hay Merchant to show distributors that there is a market for certain beers that they haven't been carrying for one reason or another. A noble cause in my opinion.

Hay Merchant will definitely be welcome addition to the craft beer bar scene in Houston. Its managed by someone with a lot of passion who is committed to great beer. Along with Petrol Station, Flying Saucer and Gingerman, Hay Merchant can hopefully make Houston a place to go for craft beer. I'll definitely be following the progress of Hay Merchant over the course of the next few months and as I find out more information I'll be posting it here. I want to thank Kevin Floyd for his time yesterday. I know the man is busy, not only is he planning a new bar, but he's also planning a wedding.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Vertical Abyss

In the beer nerd world, top of the line imperial stouts are some of the most sought after beers around. More so when they are limited release. One of the great imperial stouts comes from Oregon brewery Deschutes called Abyss. Released each year to much anticipation it comes in black wax dipped 22 oz bottles. Each year Abyss is made with licorice and molasses 33% of it is aged in bourbon barrels. At 11% these beers are meant to be aged. Unfortunately unlike other Deschute beers Abyss has not been available in Texas, well this changed this year. To celebrate coming to Texas I wanted to do a Vertical of Abyss to highlight just how well this beer ages. Lucky for me (and thanks to Monsters of Beer) I just so happen to have Abyss 06-09. With a friend of mine scoring an early bottle of Abyss (I just grabbed a couple today) all was set to do a 5 year vertical this past Sunday. Me and 5 other beer nerds gathered to taste, here are my notes (as well as comments made by others).
Abyss 2006 - This is the original, the first release by Deschutes. As expected it poured a dark brown almost but not quite black, good carbonation is evident in the pour. The nose is of dark fruit licorice, anise. Many at the table were surprised by how apparent anise was on the nose. Some vanilla and bourbon were also there. The mouthfeel is amazing, rich silky. Some roasted malt bitterness not only from the black patent malt but some hops. Very little if any oxidation. Tongue coating and rich with dark fruits like raisins, prunes and figs. At 5 years this is ridiculously good and if well cellared has many years left.
Abyss 2007 - It pours a dark brown with a thick head than the 06. More boozy notes on the nose, but otherwise its not as strong an in your face as the 06. Around the table we agreed it seemed much younger than the 06. We confirmed our initial thoughts upon drinking the beer. It wasn't nearly as complex as the 06, more dryness, less astringent. Lots of roasted malt, but very little fruit characteristics. I mentioned to others at the table that there were more coffee notes in this version and most agreed comparing the bitterness in the beer to over extracted coffee. There was a staleness to this beer. Not bad, but the 06 blew the 07 away.
Abyss 2008 - This was more like it. The nose here is much bigger than the 07, closer to the 06, a little sweeter some residual sugar on the nose. More oak and bourbon on the nose as well. Good mouthfeel, chocolate, some citrusy notes as well as some dark fruits. Lots of roasted malts here some coco as well. None of the licorice notes that we got from the 06. There was a weird graininess that many around the table mentioned. Not that there was sediment in the bottle it was more a feeling of it. A great nose to this beer. While I am not sure how much longer I would age the 07, I think the 08 has many more years to go.
Abyss 09 - This one was the one I was least looking forward to. Unfortunately I had heard many stories that this beer was infected and had soured. As soon as we opened it up the storied I'd heard proved true. While it poured a beautiful black color, the darkest so far with a wonderful head, the nose gave truth to its nature. Sour cherries, lots of sour lactic notes. Strange as it was, it was drinkable. Some (me) liked it more than others. To me it tasted like milk chocolate covered sour cherries. Others got a metallic like astringency almost vinegary taste. Its not bad, but it's a shame this occurred as I can't imagine that this is cellar worthy due to its defect.
Abyss 10 - We end our vertical with the newest of the bunch. It pours dark, darker than all the rest. A rich deep coal black with a thick tan colored head. The head is actually not as dark as others for whatever that's worth. The nose is full of rich vanilla and oak and bourbon flavors. The mouthfeel is dry, so. very. dry. A heavy dose of alcohol as well, and very little fruit flavors. Fruity esters and toasted oak are the big players here. This is drinkable, but definitely needs some age to help mellow things.

As we finished the vertical we kept going back to the 06 and how incredible that beer was. By far it was our favorite and if we had to rank it the order would probably go: 06, 08, 10, 07, 09. What amazed many of us was how different each beer was. There wasn't a gradual transition from one beer to the next. Some were very heavy with dark fruit, others heavy on licorice and malts, and yet others were heavy with oak, vanilla and bourbon. Deschutes has done a wonderful job with this beer and its definitely cellar worthy material. If you can pick up a few bottles of 2010, drink one, and keep the others to try in 5 or 10 years. I want to thank Dave and his wife, Chris, and Casey and his wife for participating the vertical and for bringing other beers to the gathering. It was a wonderful time.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Beer Bills

2011 marks a year that the Texas Legislature is actually in session (mind boggingly they only meet once every other year). There are many important bills that will go in front of this legislature, but this is a beer blog so my focus of course will be about those bills that will affect you, the beer drinker. In that vein there are two bills that you need to be aware of, and hopefully support. First reported yesterday by Ronnie Crocker of the Houston Chronicle two bills will hopefully be introduced to give breweries and brewpubs more freedom and help our small but thriving brewpub and craft brewing industry grow.
- The first bill HB 660 sponsored by San Antonio Democrat Mike Villareal allows brewpubs to sell to distributors (currently brewpubs can only sell on site). The bill does additional things so please read the bill fully here. That link is also a good indication of where the bill is in the approval process.
- The second bill HB 602 sponsored by Houston Democrat is a bill we should be familiar with. It allows a small portion of beer to be sold on site at breweries. Similar bills have failed in the Texas Legislature in 2009 and 2007, hopefully the third time is the charm. Once again see here for more details of the bill.
If the past is any indication House Committee on Licensing & Administrative Procedures will be the committee where these house bills are heard. It must get a hearing and get out of this committe before going in front of the full house for a vote. Therefore I urge everyone to write to the members of this committee and inform them why it is important to vote for this bill. Many Texas Legislatures, talk the talk about being supportive of small business, low taxes, and that decreasing regulations helps create growth. Well now is the time for them to walk the walk. Get them to help small business, lift ridiculous and unfair regulations to allow craft breweries to compete just as Texas wineries do (in a bit of irony, Texas wineries can actually sell beer on site, while craft breweries can not). So far members of the committe have not been named, but when they are I will post members, and their email addresses. Let's get a grass roots campaign started. Its time for many of us, that are supportive of craft beer in Texas to do more than talk about it and start doing something. Write to legislatures, write to local papers, campaign, raise awareness through education. Show the folks in Austin that they need to pay attention to craft beer lovers.