Although it might seem like Hay Merchant has been a Houston institution for decades, the widely acclaimed craft beer bar is actually celebrating its first anniversary this week.
The well-regarded drinkery never really did feel like an up-and-comer on the Houston bar circuit. With Anvil owners Kevin Floyd and Bobby Heugel as founders, the confidence behind Merchant was evident as early as its soft opening, when Floyd and Heugel flaunted a custom-pressurized line system and poured water from 40-ounce Budweiser bottles (which have since replaced by non-Anheuser-Busch bottles), a joke on mass-produced, watered-down suds.
A self-proclaimed beer hoarder, Floyd has a sizable collection of kegs that have been aging in the bar’s “cellar."
Merchant might have had high-profile name associations from the beginning, but it’s the level of thoughtfulness behind every deliberate detail that has earned the bar respect. The bar features two coolers at temperatures to suit different beer styles, offers 75 draft taps plus five cask engines and serves each distinctly-pressurized brew in style-appropriate glassware — from ordinary pint glasses to tulip glasses and snifters.
If that weren’t enough, Floyd personally trains his managers on proper line-cleaning methods instead of relying on distributor reps. Anytime a keg is rotated, bar managers purge the lines with cleaner so that there isn’t any residue from the last beer that was on tap. Floyd also has his managers perform a more thorough cleaning of the system regularly.
“It’s a very strict process, we disassemble the faucet and lines,” Floyd says. “We have 80 kegs and every week [managers] clean 10 to 15 different taps, so that every eight to ten weeks all of the taps have been cleaned.”
National Acclaim, Local Roots
Apart from a massive local following, after only a year in business the craft beer mecca has racked up an impressive list of national accolades. Shortly after Hay Merchant welcomed a horde of Houston hop heads for pints of Stone brews during the Most Arrogant competition, Shmaltz Brewing selected it as a Chosen Bar — one of only 15 in the country. Most recently, it earned a spot on Draft Magazine’s esteemed 100 best beer bars list, an honor that can be likened to making it on the Dean’s List as soon as you matriculate.
Even with all of the national attention it has received, this place is utterly Houston. From the building itself — a structure that has been stripped down to reflect the city’s heritage, embedded in the walls and foundation — to the tap handles made from relics found around the city. The name itself is a nod to Houston history, paying homage to Westheimer, a hay merchant who contributed greatly to the city’s beginnings, and the historical figure behind the eponymous thoroughfare on which Merchant sits.
Even with all of the national attention it has received, this place is utterly Houston.
Apart from the physical tributes to the city, Floyd has also honored Houston by encouraging the local craft beer movement around town.
Imbued with beer knowledge, Floyd has given lectures to educate consumers about the industry — from brewing processes to the laws and market. He also instituted the Mud Turtle Program, a competition that encourages Houstonians to learn about beer while challenging their palates.
With all of these pedagogic endeavors, it’s no wonder that the bartenders at Merchant are amongst the most beer-educated in town. They’ll always know the style and flavor profile of whatever it is they’re pouring, some can even list-off the hops used to brew the beer in your glass.
The Birthday Party
Instead of salivating over a birthday cake, Houston beer nerds will be excited for the brew lineup that only Merchant could pull off. A self-proclaimed beer hoarder, Floyd has a sizable collection of kegs that have been aging in the bar’s “cellar,” and he plans to share them as a way of thanking Merchant patrons.
“I’m really appreciative of everybody’s support because no matter how good my staff is or how good I am at my job, if people didn’t support us [we] wouldn’t be successful,” Floyd tells CultureMap.
After pulling out all of the kegs in the cellar, sifting through firkins and reorganizing his enviable stash, he and his managers emerged with 26 hand-selected brews ready to be tapped and poured.
Guests at the upcoming birthday party won’t just benefit from Floyd’s keg-hoarding addiction, they will also be treated to dishes that are no longer on the current menu. Included in chef Antoine Ware’s nostalgic list of offerings are the GH Dog, meat chips, pulled oxtail, blood sausage and chicken and waffles, all which will make a one-day-only comeback for this special occasion.
Here is the impressive lineup of celebratory brews that will be tapped starting at 3 p.m. Friday:
- Sixpoint Brewery 3Beans
- Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA 2012
- Dogfish Head Midas Touch
- Dogfish Head Noble Rot
- Great Divide Old Ruffian Barley Wine
- Stone Vertical Epic 08.08.08
- Stone Vertical Epic 10.10.10
- Stone Vertical Epic 11.11.11
- Stone Saison Du BUFF
- Jester King RU-55 (Cask)
- Jester King El Cedro
- Real Ale Scots Gone Wild
- Karbach Bourbon Barrel Aged Hellfighter 2012 (Batch #1)
- Brooklyn Monster Ale 2008
- Real Ale The Highlander 2012
- Avery The Kaiser 2012
- Harpoon Leviathan Quad 2011
- Karbach Bourbon Barrel Aged Rodeo Clown (Cask)
- Karbach Wine Barrel Aged Pumpkin (Cask)
- Unibroue Trois Pistoles 2011
- Sierra Nevada Ovila Quad With Sugar Plums
- Victory Helios Ale
- Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout
- Real Ale Empire 2012
- Harpoon Leviathan Czernobog
- Southern Star Bourbon Barrel Aged Buried Hatchet 2010 (The WORLD’S VERY LAST BARREL of Batch #1.)