Monday, May 13, 2013

The State of the Texas Craft Beer Scene Part 2 - The Bayou Complex: Houston vs. The Fringe Movement

In what is hoped to become a semi-regular feature of [AA], the writers (that's "writers" without the 's') of this spotty publication will attempt to occasionally examine the current state of affairs regarding the craft beer scene in this Great State; it being a reeaaally long limb to step out onto, given that nothing else appears to be as healthy economically, socially, and culturally within the last 28 months than small beer -- and thusly, becomes a pretty goddam easy thing to babble on and on about.  

You can read The State of the Texas Craft Beer Scene Part 1: Fort Worth here.

Part 2: Houston, Texas

It used to be Houston was just a good place to do some crimes and easy heckle-bait when scraping the bottom of the barrel for roomie trolling.

Myself, I had been pretty casual about engaging with Houston at all, apart from a Cure gig in late-college, where during the 9 PM encore, Robert Smith more closely resembled a black-cloaked receptacle of gelato left out to render in the courtyard of the Uffizi than a British icon.  The other time was to catch a Gold Cup match between two largely uninspired national football teams with my then-pregnant wife.  Fun times.

Because of those adrenalizing adventures, I was able to see upfront 'why' Houston was considered the most cultured city in Texas by not-at-all link baiting publications like the venerable Complex Magazine (Who? Mike Jones.).

So, when Buick sends something to one's inbox about an opportunity to experience H-TIZZOWN in a supplied loaner Encore, the only real decision is, how the fuck would I choose a lucky companion?

Who I did pick was, in fact, a native of Houston.  A dude who served as the beneficiary of decades-long hometown ribbing at the benefaction of me and fellow mates.  A guy who would prove to be a worthy apostle for the new Houston -- because he has forever deemed it as a city that has become progressively cooler and more invigorated than it was at any point before this very moment.  An agent provocateur of great taste in booze and beer and overall atmosphere (and friends?); and finally, one who would lead us both in a venturesome direction.  Yep, a perfect ambassador for interpreting the mass of concrete and humanity that is Texas' largest and most derided city, but leading us into the underbelly of all that is cool and current.  Along with, of course, that Buick.

For the entertainment of you bastards, I'll spare the details of the 100%-dry Buick Discovery Tour in which we partook, but then ventured off to find a safe parking for the Encore for the rest of the evening so that we could cab the shit out of the rest of our time there.

First stop on the Houston Re-Discovery Tour: The Hay Merchant.

What I discovered almost immediately about a city still bewildered by the news of the Oilers bouncing to a shithole like Nashville, and the total failure of the 1996 NBA season led by the newly acquired Sir Charles, was that the population feels like it has a reason to get fucked up.  Its this general mood that permeates every drinking establishment we would later visit.  Good for them.  I like to drink the pain away as well, so I fit right in.

The second thing I learned is that it took but a single man with an glamorous vision to provide all of the necessary counsel for Houston to gain back its civic pride -- and to work towards a more positive approach to drinking.   But it was gonna take a fuckload of taps.

Mononyminity is the honor bestowed upon the ubiquitous, and like "Magic" at the The Forum or "Pele" at The MaracanĂ£, "Bobby" is the dude that maneuvered the correct angles and set up an offensive strategy.  Out of the six establishments we visited while drinking across Houston that night, Bobby had influence over five of them (-- and if you're counting the next morning's breakfast, then it was six).  By no means was a pub crawl of this sort our intention, but in Houston's current iteration, almost impossible to avoid.

The Hay Merchant was a solid place to have a pint.  Its exactly the experience one expects to have out of a beer bar: choices and a nice chair, with 'fair prices' being a nice bonus characteristic.  Its got the trinity.  And so, the opportunity to lay waste to a Karbach Bourbon Barrel Aged Hellfighter felt like a great way to begin a night of drinking.

Its also, however, a very quick way to end one as well, with one's head stuck down a bowl.

But what kind of adventure would this be if I didn't allow this beer to lay it on me thick with a blanket of digression and fuzz.  Besides, we don't get anything from Karbach Brewing in Austin, and I wasn't gonna let irreverent math like 10.8% and 12 ounces get in my way of a long evening.

After the Hellfighter, was the customary visit to Bobby's first born, Anvil, which if this was a craft cocktail blog and I had a cleft asshole like so many cocktailians assume from having a pestle so far up their asses, I'd go on endlessly about how fucking brilliant it is.  It is. It is a brilliant place. Though I'm a beer guy, I understand the value of a great drink and the importance of a good time.  A real good time* (*Pit Bull).  And so, with three cocktails massaging my insides -- including a very clever Nitro'd Cuba Libre that approximated a creamy imperial porter -- we headed off to the next gig in town: Mongoose vs. Cobra.

Look, with a name like Mongoose vs. Cobra there is almost no fucking way it could live up to anyone's expectations, like Wolf Blitzer or my deadbeat cousin Tyrannosaurus Rex Munoz.

In places like that, most of the creativity stops at the entry, hoping to capitalize on themes and the general fuckery of its clientele.

But as we enter through its gorgeous cedar paneling ...

Amazing Larry gonna amaze. (which, BTW, should be the name of MvC's expansion bar)
...We're like, 'is there something you'd like to share with the rest of us, Houston'?

Jesus fuck.  This place is a beer drinker's dream: long, handsome community tables, 1800's UK sweatshop architecture, an expertly curated beer selection -- tight and tidy, fucking Jester King's RU-55 ON CASK!  The shit?  Where is the satellite branch in Austin?  This place immediately becomes my newest favorite bar on earth.

As Austinites I know that we find it difficult not to exhale the bored and jaded sigh of those who have seen it all before, but srsly-to-death, Houston, I'm impressed.  I want to drink beer with you.

And it continued like this onward, to several other Bobby-influenced establishments; Goro & Gun (for tonkotsu pork belly ramen and Lone Stars), OKRA Charity Saloon with its majestic wooden bar, and finally at Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar, which i proceed to immediately declare as my new-newest favorite bar on earth.

Past the fellow on the street wearing the 'Fuck You, Houston is Awesome' tee, behind a darkened door with Lawyer-ly fonts, up a long and narrow stairwell, and between the narrowest of railcar confines hides the gem of the night; a bar as sharp as it is smudged.

Barmen, here, are differing to the palates of the customers selections -- and so, it was my obligation to order something from my limited cocktail memory.  On one of the meteorologically wettest nights I'd experienced in a long time, I ordered a Dark & Stormy, which I guzzle with approval.  I keep eying their small, but inspired beer offerings.

The barmen are also differing to the auditory preferences of their customers, and so someone has donated something more obscure than Youth Lagoon b-sides to the interior, and they are fine songs, wafting through the bar at just the right decibels for a place that doesn't take too many to make it feel full.  It's a poignant moment.

If only the day was 30 hours long.

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