Call me Scrooge, but I am not much of a Christmas kind of dude. The unsightly sweaters, the incessant muzak, pounds of fruitcake — these are things I can live without. Though one taste of Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co.'s yuletide suds could spur on good cheer of a different type.
It's often said that you know you've grown up when none of the things you want from jolly Saint Nicholas can't be bought at a store. On that list is this microbrewer's whiskey-barrel-aged Gingerbread Stout, a dark beer that on first look appears to have the viscosity of molasses, but finishes clean, fresh and smooth. It pours an opaque ebony color, creamy with a thick inch-and-half beige head that firmly holds its shape.
The Russian-style imperial stout begins with warm notes of nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and a semblance of java, cocoa and a hint of malt, measuring 23.5 on the Plato scale (density) and gages 30 IBUs of bitterness.
It's joy-to-the-world in a snifter glass. It's earned it.
"You could go two ways with a stout," founder Rassul Zarinfar explains. "A stout can foster strong, burnt coffee flavors or you can opt for a sweeter version, which is what I wanted for my Gingerbread Stout. It has oatmeal, lactose — that's milk sugar, which doesn't ferment with yeast, but adds much to the flavor — and spices, and ends up in a beer with 10 percent alcohol."
This brew is Buffalo Bayou's second ever concoction and the first in its Secessionist Series, in which Zarinfar strives to break away from traditional methods of developing recipes.
A small batch of 40 kegs was released in February, landing at Hans Bier Haus, Houston Flying Saucer, Valhalla, Hay Merchant and Little Woodrow's, among other local pubs. Zarinfar personally delivers every keg from the back of his pickup truck. The supply was depleted quickly. But on Wednesday night, it was brought back for one-night-only at a happy party in Buffalo Brewing's Rice Military warehouse — where the magic happens.
"Just like Picasso started with still lifes, I also start with the true form of brewing beer."
It may have been too muggy for "Christmas in July," though that didn't deter many of the 250-plus craft beer enthusiasts from sporting Santa hats and frumpy sweaters. The promise of an "unlimited" supply was enough to sellout the event, though alongside raucous tunes by Nick Gaitan & the Umbrella Man and H-Town StrEATs food truck fare, unnamed "crazy test-batches" were also a main attraction.
Like the Wit Da Eff?, the latest in the Secessionist Series. This beer takes on one of the five ingredients Zarinfar labeled "the impossibles" a year ago. Lemon peel was key to making sweet California basil work. And how will he incorporate onion, garlic, cilantro and tarragon?
If he can work around bacon, chili and jam, which he devised for BRC Gastropub, I have faith the others won't require a miracle.
"Just like Picasso started with still lifes, I also start with the true form of brewing beer," Zarinfar says about his beginnings as a beer maker. He credits his years as a bartender and distributor in learning about taste, and gives props to Saint Arnold Brewing Company founder Brock Wagner for helping him refine his technique.
Zarinfar resorts to a "crowdsourcing" model for forging recipes. He invites many of his investors and friends to taste tests and takes their suggestions and comments to heart. When the ingredients and process are finalized, the end product is truly a group effort.
As for this potion, Zarinfar predicts it will come out sometime in November, though he isn't sure exactly when. Though he's planning to churn out 80 kegs, that's all up in the air, he says, as he has enough vats to produce two types of beer at a time.
Before you know it, the holidays will have come and gone. And so will have his Gingerbread Stout.
If I miss it, I suppose I'll always have this Christmas in July.