We are all, as beer lovers, leading a charmed existence. We have the pleasure of witnessing a state go through its own golden age as breweries show up in droves. I, for one, feel as though my career spent in smaller work environments has afforded me a different viewpoint than most.
Over the past 8 years I have had the privilege to witness so many events happen that have shaped and influenced the alcohol world as we know it. From the laws in Texas beginning to change to Ab-Inbev buying up 20-30 year old brands left and right, and all the way down to Constellation Brands (a company truly known as a bully in the wine community) shell out $1 BILLION for a top flight brewery just because they wanted a piece of the craft beer pie.
The small environments I have spent my career in have given me the opportunity to understand the importance of supporting the “little guy” or that “hot local micro brewery” in any given market. At the end of the day, very few people ever truly understand how much a ‘labor of love’ this industry is. Whether it is opening your own facility, making changes to the same beer over several batches, creating a lineup of variations on the same base beer, or simply trying to stay alive in a hyper competitive environment.
This entry was initially meant to be 4 individual articles, but as I began writing the first part I realized what follows really exemplified a larger ideal. The four topics I am about to touch on are very close to my heart because they truly exemplify the essence behind the idea of The Evolution of Brew.
Fetching Lab Brewery – Alvin, Texas
It is a very special relationship we all have with our Best Friends. No matter how much time you spend apart, regardless of how mad/irritated you can become with them, once you are around them everything is forgiven or forgotten, and that bond really shows its true form. This last statement could not be any more true when describing my relationship with Brett Bray, Theresa Hutchins, and Fetching Lab Brewery. I had the pleasure of sitting back, and watching as Brett evolved as a brewer. He is the man responsible for teaching me how to brew, as well as fostering the love for beer that I have now. It all started in their garage in Friendswood with 5 gallon partial mash batches. Those batches over a few years evolved into 10 gallon “All Grain” batches. Out of nowhere the three of us were brewing every weekend working out the kinks on 4 or 5 different recipes by repeating them over and over and over again.
I saw the American Dream come to life in it’s purest of forms. A hobby became a passion, and that passion slowly started forming into a business. Fetching Lab was born from the passionate hearts of two people I am proud and honored to count amongst my best friends. It took a lot of hard work, and a lot of worry and stress, but after 6 years Brett and Theresa got their dream off the ground on top of a property that they own in the sleepy town of Alvin. There is an inside joke amongst brewers that the only way to make money on a 7 barrel system is to sell it for a down payment on a 10 barrel brewhouse. That may be true for most, but not for this couple. That is also not true for many of the Galveston County Breweries as many of those brands started on 5 barrel systems themselves.
This brewery was not without struggle. Within the first 30 days of being open as a tap room they had to let their brewer go. “Personality Conflicts” is the nicest way of putting the situation. He was a good brewer, but a crappy human. What he did though was teach Brett and Theresa a few extra tricks. Honestly once Brett took the brewing duties over full time the beers quickly developed in a positive fashion, and their Blueberry Cream Ale (known as Blue Mischief) is their best release yet. It is not cloyingly sweet with a nice medium bodied feel, and an essence of berries on the exhale. Is their lineup filled with Whalez? Not at all, but what it does offer is a small selection of solid ever evolving beers that are getting better with each batch.
There is a problem though. How does a young brewery wade through the muck of the beer world dominated by “beer douces”, snobs, and “aficionados” that have been given a voice by Ratebeer, Untappd, and other social media platforms? Can a brewery survive multiple bad reviews of batches in the early going because there was something just “not right” about that experimental IPA? Of course they can. Fetching Lab is doing what all breweries should at their young age. They are picking and choosing their battles, taking the constructive feedback from their distribution partner, and paying little heed to the naysayers. Fetching Lab knows its identity, and it is very comfortable in how it stands as a brand now. Fetching Lab also knows which direction they are headed.
Keep your eye on this sleeper of a brand. The industry needs more breweries like it.
Flyin’ Monks Rum Aged Quad – Adelbert’s Brewery
Full Disclosure. This is my favorite Quad that has ever been produced. I also worked for Adelbert’s as their Houston Market Manager from Batches 3-7 of this glorious brew. I ended up lucking into a Batch 1 and 2 through a trade which set up for a great vertical on December 30, 2015 at a Holiday Bottle Share. Batch 1 was in the middle of it’s age curve at the time having just crossed the 3 year mark in the bottle.
This was an incredible experience, as when tasted in reverse order we could tell as a group what the younger batches would become. We could also tell how the beer had been changed and tweaked. A slight malt change happened in batch 3 that remained until batch 6. Batch 6 at 1 year tasted exactly like Batch 2 at 3 years. Batch 7 showed all the earmarks of being a repeat of Batch 3, but the boozy nature of the Rum was still hiding a lot of depth due to the excess sugar.
Batch 1 was a different beast though. It told a story of romance that could only happen with age. It is as close to perfect as it can be, and I believe that I have one of the last remaining bottles. No one at the time could have predicted what it would become, and I am hanging on to the rest of my bottles to try at the 3 year mark to see if any of them can live up to that first run.
Notes of date, figs, prunes, and oak laced the front pallet. Malt notes and muddled hops waltzed together in the caramel center. The rum and oak persisted through the finish with a dry sweetness on the exhale.
Scott Hovey (owner of Adelbert’s Brewery)has a bottle of magic on his hands, and each of us knew it when batch 4 came out that we were all part of something special. Flyin’ Monk changed the way that the state looked at the Quad category. It paved the way for Real Ale’s Black Quad, as well as other breweries from Belgium to come into Texas. Flyin’ Monk also proved that Texas cared about Abbey ales that didn’t have the “Trappist” designation.
The best thing about all of Adelbert’s beers is that they are ever changing. In a world that preaches consistency, Scott and his brew crew strive for perfection. Consistency be damned if there is an aspect of his beers that he doesn’t like then it gets changed. Brewing with a fearless confidence makes Adelbert’s one of the premier brands in the state today.
Funky Gold Series – Prairie Ales
Ever get a crazy idea in your head and wonder “How many ways can I pull this off?” Prairie has done just this with the Funky Gold Series. So far we have seen 4 variations on the same base golden ale. Funky Gold Amarillo, Mosaic, Simcoe, and just GOLD.
Haven’t taken part in this group yet? Well if you are a fan of SMaSH IPA’s then you really are missing out. Now this is not a Single Malt beer, nor is it an IPA. What it is though is a Single Hop series that is fermented on a Brettanomyces (or simply Brett) culture and then dry hopped.
Trying all four in a modified vertical (normally a vertical is the same beer or wine over various batches and years… not variations) was not even my idea. A good friend of mine proposed the idea after Simcoe was released. We approached it very simply in the following order.
- Prairie GOLD
- Funky Golden Amarillo
- Funky Golden Mosaic
- Funky Gold Simcoe
Now even this flight is modified because normally you take a vertical in either the order (or reverse order) in which they were released. For Texas, Prairie Gold was released third, but is the base for the single hopped beers. All in all the Golden Mosaic was still our favorite, but to have the chance to do a tasting like this for under $40 was extremely enjoyable. It also made for a fun evening out on the patio. Beer is meant to be enjoyed amongst peers, and friends…. Not hoarded for any one reason. Then again…. It is also really really fun to have a healthy and full beer cellar.
Fort Bend Brewing, Wicked Beaver, Big Texas Beer – All Closed
Aright…. With those three really fun experiences above it is time for the following uncomfortable truth.
You cannot have prosperity without failure.
We as beer lovers need to sit down, and understand that while 30-50 more breweries and brewpubs will open in Houston over the next 3 years (with probably close to another 500 opening in the state of Texas) that there is always the chance that we may lose one of our personal favorite breweries. For me this was Fort Bend Brewing, but they aren’t the only closure in the past 18 months. Truth be told I was quite surprised with Texian recovered from their exploding cans.
Wicked Beaver would close over the summer, and Big Texas Beer in Buna just recently shut its doors as well. What does this mean for the Texas market? Why would a beer loving state allow breweries to fail in a fledgling market? Well quite simply it is Darwinism at work in business. These closures are a warning to anyone looking to open up their own brewery, as the market has now proven that it WILL NOT support every brewery that opens up just because they are a Texas Brand.
It is a real shame to see breweries close down, but that is the honest circle of business. I feel the same way about a brewery closing its doors as I do watching a bar or restaurant go under slowly. This is a painful process for those involved, and all of them deserve our utmost respect. They had the drive and the passion to strike out on their own, and try to create something great. Unfortunately they fell short for one reason or another, but that’s ok. It means that our marketplace is evolving as is our beer culture. We are in year 8 of a potentially 35 year golden age.
30 years ago the craft beer revolution in America started in the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, and New England. 22 years ago Saint Arnold Brewing opened up in Houston, but it was really when Southern Star opened up and became popular that the craft beer world really hit Houston. Within all these markets there have been closures. It is just the nature of this industry. As our own beer culture evolves some brands are going to be left behind.
It isn’t a personal attack on Texas brands…. It isn’t a sign that the beer bubble is bursting (Texas is still 47th in the nation in breweries per capita)…. It definitely is not a sign that the breweries that are getting ready to open are going to fail.
What breweries closing should teach all of us is that you cannot just brew beer anymore. As a brewer you have to dedicate your life to the passion, science,and art of creating the best product you can.
It’s isn’t meant to be mean….. It’s just business, and evolution, at work.
What does this all mean?
This is entire post is meant to send one message home. The beer world is a fun, competitive, and passionate industry. It is also a TON of hard work, and is definitely not for everyone. Great news though as the US now has over 4500 breweries and brewpubs with even more on the way. That number is going to be very stable over the next 10 years as brands come and go.
As a state, and a nation, we are truly watching a new version of the American dream. Breweries are creating jobs at all levels of the supply chain whether it is extra work at the Malt Houses, or the new Beertender that was just hired at your favorite beer spot. At the end of the day a brewery is a production facility, and they create goods for all of us to enjoy. Those who say that the country needs more manufacturing jobs clearly are not paying attention to what is happening in every brewing facility in the nation.
Do you have a story about the beer or brewing world that you would like to share?
Would you like to take the conversation on one of the topics further?
Let me know about it!!!
And as always….
Thanks for reading.