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Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co

Let’s go to the drive-in

Yeah, I’m down with this.

Everything old really is new again.

In the midst of ongoing concerns and restrictions over the Covid-19 pandemic, Houston is going back to the future with a new drive-in movie theater. The Drive-In at Sawyer Yards, a pop-up operated by the Los Angeles-based Rooftop Cinema Club chain, is set to open May 12 with a line-up of classic films for an audience that doesn’t have to leave the car.

Located at 2301 Summer St., right near Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co., The Drive-In at Sawyer Yards will offer two screenings seven days a week. This is the company’s second drive-in venture as it already operates one in London, England.

“Bringing back the nostalgia of the drive-in theater as well as the return of a great American institution, the kings of outdoor cinema want to provide relief through the power of film to Houstonians during this difficult time. Guests of the new drive-in theater can have an away-from-home cinema experience from the security of their own vehicle,” the company said in a statement Wednesday.

The opening films are “Grease” and “Drive” and they will be followed by “Night at the Museum” (May 13), “Silence of the Lambs” (May 13), “The Princess Bride” (May 14), “Romeo + Juliet” (May 14), “The Greatest Showman” (May 15), “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (May 15), “Grease” (May 16), “Moulin Rouge” (May 16), and “The Sandlot” (May 17) and “Brown Sugar” (May 17).

Tickets — at $28 per vehicle regardless of occupancy — can be purchased online beginning today at noon at www.rooftopcinemaclub.com/houston/venue/the-drive-in-sawyer-yards. Moviegoers can bring their own snacks or order concessions from Rooftop Cinema or food and drinks from Buffalo Brewing Co. All orders are made online and guests will be notified for pick-up to avoid unnecessary time spent away from their vehicles.

I just showed this to my 13-year-old, and she was excited by the idea. (She also reminded me that I have not seen “The Greatest Showman”, which she considers a travesty on my part.) So yeah, I think we have a movie night in our future. Anyone know what Joe Bob Briggs is up to these days?

Coronavirus and beer

Houston’s craft breweries are adjusting to life with closed taprooms and beer-to-go sales.

The team at Saint Arnold Brewing sat down to taste some test beers one Wednesday morning, as its members do when they work on new releases. But their meeting didn’t happen in the usual conference room. Instead, the 10 staffers each sat at a separate table in the brewery’s 10,000-square-foot taproom, with ample social distance between them.

There was another difference from normal times, of course: The vast taproom, typically bustling with people, had not seen a single customer inside since the coronavirus-related stay-at-home order. Across Houston, craft brewers have shut off their taps and closed their beer halls, gardens and patios. But they want Houstonians to know that they’re still brewing.

“Our production side is operating at full strength,” says Brock Wagner, founder and brewer of Saint Arnold.

The team has stopped kegging, but has shifted to canning and bottling more beer than usual in order to ramp up to-go sales, something they had never really focused on before, being a destination brewery. They have also seen an uptick in grocery and liquor store sales as more people hunker down at home.

“Everybody’s consumption of alcohol has probably gone up a little bit,” says Wagner. “I know that mine has.”

These new sources of revenue aren’t even close to making up for the loss of business usually generated from Saint Arnold’s taproom being open, their bar and restaurant orders, and other big buyers such as the Minute Maid stadium. But every little helps, a sentiment many local brewers echo. As taprooms — a major source of revenue for these businesses — lay empty, to-go and off-premise sales, even if a drop in the bucket, have become crucial to the survival of the industry.

Brody Chapman, founder and CEO of Spindletap Brewery, says big stores like H-E-B, Kroger and Spec’s have moved a lot of inventory, which has helped local breweries immensely. He’s also been amazed at how many loyal customers have been supporting their business by taking advantage of Spindletap’s new curbside and drive-through beer sales.

“Without the local support, honestly, we would be dead in the water,” he says.

[…]

There are also efforts to lobby state and local governments for relief, spearheaded by the Texas Brewers Guild. While Gov. Greg Abbott issued a temporary waiver last month relaxing liquor laws for bars and restaurants, breweries are still not able to offer services like direct-to-consumer delivery.

“When breweries are fighting for their lives, it would be nice to have more opportunities to get product out to people,” says Chapman. However, he says that a Houston-based start-up called HopDrop, a craft beer delivery service, has been instrumental to propping up local breweries during this time.

The craft brewing boom in Houston, with its lively on-premises social scene and great dining options, has truly been one of the best things to happen in my thirty-plus years in this town. These guys are huge supporters of school and charitable/non-profit fundraisers as well, which we’re going to need a lot more of in the coming months. There are many good reasons to stock up on your favorite brews at this time, which you can do via curbside pickup at the breweries – It’s Not Hou It’s Me has a handy guide to what’s available – or at the grocery store. As with so many other things, let’s make sure this part of our lives is still there when we get to have a life again.

Oh, and for sure let’s remind the Legislature again that the existing laws we have regarding beer distribution were ridiculous in the best of times and super anti-business in the worst. Let’s hope that our archaic and bizarre beer laws are among the things we learned we could do just fine without when this crisis is over.

(Turns out I was a little skeptical of home beer delivery in general and HopDrop in particular when it first came out. Shows how much I know.)

The year in beer

It was pretty good overall for Texas craft brewers, especially in Houston.

Texas craft brewers will close the books on 2017 having made more beer, opened more breweries and garnered more national recognition for the state than ever.

Looking ahead to 2018, Houston appears positioned to keep the party going. Commercial real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield recently identified Harris County as second in the nation for number of breweries in planning.

Many of these newcomers are likely to be small, inviting people to walk or bicycle from nearby homes or workplaces. But at least two established local companies recently announced major expansions that should continue the trend of making breweries bona fide tourist destinations.

Such developments have craft industry leaders upbeat about the future, though they are still seething over a law change enacted last spring that they believe has hurt the value of breweries and penalizes those seeking to grow significantly.

The law now forces breweries that reach a certain size to sell and buy back their own beer before they can offer it in their taprooms, cutting into profit margins. Because the size restriction includes production totals of parent companies, brewers fear it could deter future acquisitions – not just by global giants but from other craft breweries as well.

Charles Vallhonrat, executive director of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, this week called the measure “nonsensical” and pledged to continue efforts to “modernize” the alcoholic beverage code.

Regardless, for the most part and in spite of a historic flood that knocked much of the Texas Gulf Coast onto its heels, it was a year of rewards and resilience for local brewers.

The trend these days is for the breweries to focus on taproom sales aimed at neighborhood customers. I’ve had a hard time keeping up with all the new construction, but I know there are more options near where I live now, and more are coming. One of those expansions mentioned above will be pretty close to my home, more of a bike ride than a walk but exactly the sort of thing that would be appealing on a warm day. Saint Arnold is building a beer garden in the space next door to their facility, which ought to be awesome. Maybe one day we’ll get our Legislature to fix the idiot anti-consumer beer laws we have in this state, but until then it’s on us to support these vibrant job (and beer) creators.

Buffalo Bayou Brewing to build new facility

We remain in a craft beer renaissance.

Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co., which launched nearly six years ago with a beer called 1836 honoring the date of Houston’s founding, is preparing to break ground on a $14 million brewery and restaurant that would be one of the largest and most visible of its kind in the city.

The announcement marks another milestone for the industry, as breweries continue to pop up and civic boosters market them more heavily.

The three-story, 28,000-square-foot Buffalo Bayou Brewing facility is planned for Sawyer Yards, an artist studio-anchored development just south of Interstate 10 near downtown, the Woodland Heights and other bustling neighborhoods. The brewery would boost production capacity significantly and take fuller advantage of state laws that allow it to sell some beer on-site.

Founder Rassul Zarinfar said his business outgrew its original location, a converted warehouse near Memorial Park that is expected to ship about 8,000 barrels this year. The new facility, 3 miles away and expected to open in 2018, will provide immediate relief and could be expanded over time to a 50,000-barrel capacity.

The company has begun the permitting process and expects construction to take nine months.

The new site will include a taproom and 200-seat restaurant that would be larger and more comfortable for visitors, who currently squeeze into an un-air-conditioned corner of the brewery and a small outdoor patio to sample the wares and snack from food trucks.

Full- and part-time employment would approximately double, to about 100, Zarinfar said.

[…]

[Last month], Houston tourism officials began selling one-day, three-day and 90-day Brew Passes at VisitHouston.com that purchasers can redeem for a sample flight of beers and other discounts at six Houston breweries.

Maureen Haley, director of strategic tourism initiatives at Visit Houston, said locals and tourists alike seek out unique experiences.

“As more breweries that have smaller production get into the game, you have to go there to get the beer,” she said.

I’ve been to a few events at the current Buffalo Bayou location. Good beer, but definitely crowded and loud as a result, and parking – it’s on one of the narrow streets a block south of I-10 between Shepherd and TC Jester – is a problem. The new location sounds great, and I look forward to visiting. Also, I need to get a couple of those three-day Brew Passes for the next time my dad is in town. Best of luck with the construction, y’all.

Have we reached peak beer in Texas?

Maybe not, but we are surely testing the limits of the market.

beer

Owners of Eureka Heights Brewing Co. signed up 40 bars and restaurants to sell their beer during their first three weeks in business. The taproom was drawing such crowds that they quickly expanded hours. Saturday afternoons are now quite a scene, especially when a tour bus drops off a clutch of beer explorers.

They made opening a brewery look so easy, it’s perhaps no wonder others continue to jump in.

In late June, the Chronicle published a comprehensive list of 36 breweries operating between Galveston and Bryan-College Station, including 12 in Houston proper. In the three months since, five more breweries have opened within the city limits. Two were hosting opening events Friday night alone.

It’s a startling number, even given the surging interest in locally made beer.

“We often do see little bursts of activity as people get excited and open at the same time,” Brewers Association chief economist Bart Watson said Friday.

Brock Wagner, who founded Saint Arnold Brewing Co. 22 years ago, called it “the type of coincidence that is likely to occur when you have so many breweries in planning.” He cautioned that the new brewers may find it tougher to find shelf space in stores or room on a tap wall for their draught products.

“I think we may be at peak brewery opening,” he said, adding that it may still be two to three years before a shakeout begins and some breweries close. “I’ve been predicting a slowdown in brewery opening for a while and been proved wrong. I think we are at that point.”

Jason Armstrong, vice president, sales and distribution, and co-owner of Buffalo Bayou Brewing, sees room for more breweries. But he agreed it’s an open question.

“How many people can you fit in the boat?” he said. “I don’t think we know that yet.”

I confess I’ve lost track of the microbreweries in the Houston area. There are a few brands I buy – mostly but not exclusively Saint Arnold – and a bunch that I’ve never tried. I hope they all make it, and I hope they take an ever-increasing share of the market from the big conglomerates, but the odds are that in five or ten years’ time, the total number of micrbreweries will be smaller than it is today. In the meantime, I need to do some touring and sampling. I’ve been missing out.

My craft beer options runneth over

2015 could be a very fine year.

My personal beer map

Several local brewery construction projects headed for completion in 2015 are designed to draw in visitors as well as ship beer out the door.

The neighborhood-centric Town In City Brewing Co. in the Heights could open in February, co-owner Justin Engle said earlier this week, as workers poured and leveled concrete for sidewalks and a driveway entrance into the startup brewery at 1125 W. Cavalcade.

In addition to selling beer to other retailers, Town In City will open each Wednesday through Sunday for customers to buy beer that they can drink in its 700-square-foot taproom or 1,400-square-foot outdoor beer garden. Food trucks will be invited on-site, and there will be a dedicated secure bicycle parking area.

Engle said the goal is to create a neighborhood gathering spot like many of the breweries he enjoyed visiting when he lived in Colorado. He’d prefer a steady daily business to a more crowded once-a-week tour.

Engle and partner Steven Macalello bought a vacant lot on Cavalcade, between Main and Airline, and built a brewhouse with initial capacity of 2,300 barrels of beer a year. Watching over the final concrete pour was a major step for a project that began more than 3½ years ago.

“I’m ecstatic,” Engle said.

Meanwhile, Brash Brewing, at 510 W. Crosstimbers in Independence Heights, also could begin producing beer in February. Owner Ben Fullelove said the brewery plans to install glycol lines for chilling next week and get a final city inspection soon after. It’s licensed as a brewpub, though Fullelove said it won’t be open to the public right away.

“We are almost done,” he said in an email.

Although its beers have been brewed under contract in Massachusetts since 2012, Brash has strong Houston roots. Fullelove founded craft beer hot spot Petrol Station, and he hired Vince Mandeville, formerly of Saint Arnold, as head brewer for the local operation.

[…]

Last spring, Karbach broke ground on a $15 million project that will do more than just boost capacity.

The project, facing Dacoma on a 1.2-acre tract adjacent to the current brewery at 2032 Karbach, includes not only a new 19,000-square-foot, two-story brewery but also a public tap room and kitchen that will be open daily, plus space upstairs that will be available for special events.

Spokesman David Graham said Karbach hopes to open the space around the end of the first quarter.

I’ve highlighted these three breweries, plus Buffalo Bayou Brewing, on the embedded map. All are within about ten minutes of my house, with Buffalo Bayou and Town In City both being within biking distance. City Acres up on 59 North isn’t too far away either. I’m thinking I need to plan a few weekend beer tastings once the weather gets warm and all these places are open. Sounds like a good reason to get out of the house and hang out with some friends. For all that could be better in the world today, we do live in prosperous times.

Still more microbrew options

Our flagons runneth over, as new microbreweries keep springing up.

If each opens as planned, Buffalo Bayou, 8th Wonder and Yard Sale Brewing companies would bring to eight the number of plants making beer within an hour’s drive of downtown Houston, up from two less than four years ago.

The newcomers hope to profit from the continued migration of U.S. beer consumers away from the established, internationally owned conglomerates MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev, which runs a large Houston operation.

[…]

The 8th Wonder crew has signed a five-year lease on a 5,000-square-foot space on the east side of downtown, within walking distance of Toyota Center and the Dynamo soccer stadium under construction. By opening the warehouse for tours and parking food trucks across the street, it seeks to be “some sort of tailgate presence” on game days, president and co-founder Ryan Soroka said.

Soroka, 27, and brewmaster Corsi, 31, are joined in the effort by executive chef Matt Marcus, 28, and chief financial officer Alex Vassilakidis, 27. They’ve been quietly raising funds through friends and family and are in the midst of getting their state and federal alcohol licenses and local business permits.

Soroka, Marcus and Vassilakidis have known each other since childhood in Houston and are partners in the successful Eatsie Boys operation, catering to the downtown lunch crowd, farmers markets and occasional excursions outside bars. They plan to open their brewery in the first quarter of 2012 with three beers: an India pale ale, an amber ale and a blonde ale.

Buffalo Bayou is a bit farther along, with some tanks awaiting installation at a 7,800-square-foot space south of Interstate 10, near Washington Avenue. It expects to start selling its first beer, a “copper ale,” by year-end.

[…]

Yard Sale Brewing founders Justin Engle, 28, and Steven Macalello, 27, seek an even more intimate neighborhood setting, perhaps in a renovated Heights bungalow or other architecturally interesting structure. They have chosen a smaller brewing system and want to offer daily “happy hour” tours in addition to self-distributing their beers to local bars and restaurants.

These are good days to be a beer drinker in Houston. I wish them and all their microbrewing predecessors well.

Yet another new microbrewery to open

Not far from my house, as it happens.

Startup Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co. will be located much closer to I-10 than to its namesake waterway, but founder Rassul Zarinfar says that’s by design. […] The company has leased a 7,800 sq. ft. warehouse at 5301 Nolda St., at the corner of Detering, in Cottage Grove.

Zarinfar tells Swamplot he was happy to find a location that wasn’t “on the outskirts of town in a super-corporate industrial project.” The company plans to hand-deliver all the kegs it brews themselves, so highway access mattered. Having a location people could easily walk or bike to was also important to him. “Plus,” Zarinfar adds, “we wanted a warehouse that didn’t feel too much like a warehouse, but instead more like an art studio (since beer is art!).”

See this earlier Swamplot post and the comment thread for more. The barebones website for the new place is here. Welcome to the everexpanding brew club, y’all.