Even in the midst of an unprecedented boom in Houston's craft beer scene, the city's drinkers are always looking for something new. In 2011, Houston looked poised to land the second outpost of San Antonio's Freetail Brewing, but a deal to open a downtown brewpub unexpectedly fell through.
Four years later, that wrong has been righted with a full-throttle entrance by Freetail into Houston. Credit a recently opened, 30,000 square-foot production brewery capable of producing 40,000 barrels a year for taking Freetail beyond its brewpub roots and into the Bayou City.
"We knew the support was here," Freetail owner Scott Metzger tells CultureMap. "We almost felt indebted to Houston. It had to be the first place we came."
Like another recent arrival, Georgia-based SweetWater Brewing, Freetail has partnered with Silver Eagle for distribution. Metzger thinks that business relationship is a key component of introducing Freetail to Houstonians who may not be familiar with his product.
"We almost felt indebted to Houston. It had to be the first place we came."
"How do we go from just being another brewery on the wall who sells a little bit of beer to being something that people turn to over and over? Quality of beer is the first step, and you can’t do it without that, but you’re right on," Metzger says.
"It’s about building that community. That’s why we partner with a distributor who has good resources and good reach who can help us in that process."
As Saint Arnold founder Brock Wagner noted in a recent interview with CultureMap, building a community is an essential step in connecting with craft beer drinkers. Even though Metzger doesn't have a local brewery for Houstonians to visit, he has a plan to make Freetail a local presence.
"We don’t want to treat it like it’s just another market we send beer to," Metzger says. "We literally want to treat it like it’s another home. We want to get involved in events. We want to sponsor things the community cares about. I think people are going to see over time, as we gain more of a foothold, that we invest the resources to do that."
The beer matters, too, and Freetail's offerings, which range from an easy-drinking Helles to more collectible brews like a Russian imperial stout and beers brewed with wild yeast, should appeal to a wide range of palates. For now, Freetail is draft-only in Houston with four year-round offerings and one seasonal beer.
As for where to start, Metzger demurs. "When you have a diverse portfolio, there’s not an easy answer to that. What are you into? What’s the weather like? How was your day? These are the kind of questions that go into that recommendation," he says.
Still, Metzger's proud of the Bat Outta Helles. "The Renaissance of the lager in craft brewing has been a wonderful thing," he says. "Overcoming the stigma that lager means watered-down, fizzy — that’s not what lager means at all. Lagers can be complex and delicious.
"That’s a great place for someone who’s looking for a steady ship to sail them through the night."