When it came time to pick the finalists for the 2016 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Brewery of the Year, our panel of restaurant industry insiders had their work cut out for them, because craft beer is booming.
It seems like every month a new brewery opens somewhere in the Houston area. While their ambitions vary from being a neighborhood destination to matching the regional growth of the more established players, finding space on tap walls — and in the minds of drinkers — can be a challenge.
At least for this year, our panel stuck mostly with tried-and-true favorites who have been brewing consistently excellent products for years. And the most-promising newcomer to hit the scene in some time.
Brash Brewing Company
If our panel issued an award for Best New Brewery, Brash would be the runaway winner. Since ending its exile in Massachusetts and making its debut in Houston last year, beers like EZ7, Pussy Wagon, and Cali Green have become staples at the city’s best beer bars and restaurants. Brash’s decidedly low-fi tap room is a perfect nostalgia trap for anyone who maintains an affection for the '80s arcade games that serve as its primary form of entertainment.
Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co.
As it approaches its fifth anniversary, the Heights-adjacent brewery has become known for its experimental nature. While it offers an appealing selection of year-round brews, it’s also constantly experimenting with ingredients that most breweries wouldn’t think of using. Consider the recently released Maple Chili Jam that blends fresh blackberries and raspberries with Aleppo and Chipotle chilies.
Those flavors have helped it develop a devoted following that packs its weekly tasting sessions and sells out its various parties.
Karbach Brewing Co.
Houston’s fastest growing brewery made a dramatic move in 2015 with the opening of its $15 million expanded brewery. In addition to increased production capacity, Karbach now features a full-service restaurant as well as a beer garden, which gives its legion of fans more space to congregate.
Of course, none of that would matter if the beers didn’t taste great, but, whether it’s a standard like Hopadillo or something experimental like the BBH series, Karbach beers always deliver consistently excellent flavors.
Saint Arnold Brewing Company
Houston’s oldest craft brewery also continues to be one of its most innovative as well. Last year’s introduction of Art Car IPA has taken the city by storm, as craft beer fans can’t get enough of its fruity flavors and strong hops. The recently introduced 5 O’Clock Pils has also earned raves.
The brewery’s pub crawls draw hundreds of fans, and annual events like the One Pot Showdown sell out in a few hours. No wonder founder Brock Wagner says it would cost an international brewery a staggering $1 billion to buy him out.
Southern Star Brewing Company
Like Karbach, Southern Star dramatically upgraded its facilities with a move to a 13-acre property with an outdoor beer garden and a 3,200-square foot taproom (see this preview in the Houston Beer Guide). The new facility also brings increased capacity thanks to a 60-barrel brewing system, which means that the Conroe-based brewery can add some new offerings to familiar favorites like Bombshell Blonde and Buried Hatchet Stout. Look for an uptick in the company's well-received Taproom Series of specialty brews.
Join us May 18 at Asia Society Texas Center for the Tastemaker Awards ceremony as we honor the nominees and reveal the winners in a ceremony hosted by chef Bryan Caswell. Tickets are on sale now.