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.


air said...
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air said...

Wonderful reporting and thanks for digging up the info on these inquiries!

To me, the concept sounds like they blended strengths that differentiate two exceptional beer bars on opposite sides of the country:
Toronado in San Francisco, which has a strong tap selection and inimitable character, which you'd expect from as they are taking over a space that was once an iconic Montrose bar.

Couple that with the technical features of Birch & Barley/ChurchKey, a bar in DC which has 55 taps run on a trio of coolers (42, 48, and 54 degreees), 5 cask engines, as well as good food.

All the best for them. Sounds very exciting, and not gonna lie, kinda wish I lived in Houston!

Cathy Clark said...

Ted-- many thanks from those of us in the beer community who wanted more information than was initially provided in Alison Cook's article. I should start a savings account now for Hay Merchant since I expect I will be there far too often!

SirRon said...

Kevin is a freaking hero.