First sip: It's never been a better time to be a HouTX beer nerd with Karbach'sbeer coup
"Karbach" is not only the name of the tiny street off old Hempstead Road where the new Karbach Brewing Co. is located.
It's also the same site where Karbach founders Chuck Robertson, Ken Goodman, David Greenwood and Brad Batson all worked for specialty beer distribution company C.R. Goodman from 1994 until it was sold just a few years ago. Greenwood, who worked for C.R. Goodman for nearly 20 years, rattles off a list of top-shelf imported beers and national craft offerings that came through the building, and says it's fitting that Karbach's brews will now be manufactured in and distributed from the same hallowed halls.
Karbach is one of several new craft breweries soon-to-open in Houston, and it's something of a family company in that most of the 10-man crew have worked together before, and many are related. Greenwood's brother, Paul, works in sales, and Robertson and Goodman each have sons on board.
Karbach is one of several new craft breweries soon-to-open in Houston, and it's something of a family company in that most of the 10-man crew have worked together before, and many are related.
Newer to the crew is brewmaster Eric Warner, whose personal beer history makes the fact that he moved here to start Karbach — and from Denver, no less — a major coup for Texas craft beer.
Although he's modest about his achievements, Warner's colleagues are more than happy to toot his horn for him. For one, Warner literally wrote the book on hefeweizens. Literally, literally. It's called German Wheat Beer, it was published in '98, and you can buy it here.
(A friendly argument between Warner and Greenwood over Belgian versus German wheats actually resulted in my favorite Karbach brew, Weisse Versa Wheat Ale, but more on that later).
Warner has more than 20 Great American Beer Fest medals, more than 10 World Beer Cup medals and was trained at Weihenstephan in Munich, one of the world's leading brewing schools. To be accepted as a foreigner is especially impressive (Warner shrugs it off and prefers to emphasize that his degree was free) and required him to learn fluent German — both spoken and written.
He's a certified cicerone, helped produce the first GABF and was a founder of Tabernash Brewing (now Left Hand Brewing Co.) in Colorado and eventual CEO of Flying Dog in Maryland before finding himself at Karbach. Basically, he's a BFD.
Warner's only been living in Houston full-time for about a month, but started test batching just over a year ago while splitting his time between Houston on weekdays and Denver on weekends.
There are four beers fermenting at the moment: Hopadillo IPA, Weisse Versa Wheat Ale, Sympathy for the Lager and an as-yet-unnamed double IPA.
The beer names are all Texas-inspired and brainstormed in-house. The copy is all written in-house, too, and the label designs each contain funny little ditties and limericks, the lager's being a Rolling Stones-inspired poem by Warner dedicated to "a lager of damn fine taste."
But the general levity at Karbach belies its seriousness about beer. In fact, Karbach makes most other microbreweries look amateur in comparison.
Karbach uses a four-vessel system, which Warner insisted on for greater flexibility (many microbreweries start with a two to three-barrel system, with a kettle that does double duty both mashing and brewing). He also uses reverse osmosis to strip the water of its lesser Houston qualities, re-adding minerals later as needed. They've got a Clean-In-Place system for automated, more efficient and safer cleaning, and Warner chooses to filter inside the cold storage room for greater clarity and to avoid the sometimes-backwards effects of Houston's heat. Also on-hand at Karbach is a diatomaceous earth filter purchased from Avery Brewing Co.
That kind of equipment and expertise, unsurprisingly, leads to some quality beer. I tasted three on my early morning visit: The Hopadillo IPA, the Weisse Versa Wheat Ale and the Rodeo Clown Imperial Porter.
First, my favorite. The Weisse Versa is the brewery's so-solid wheat offering, and was born of an argument between Greenwood and Warner over which was better — Belgian Wits or German Hefes. After each downed a few, the men decided to mix the two in some kind of boozy truce. The result — with tastes of citrus and coriander from the Belgian and bananas, cloves and yeast from the hefe — was determined to be better than the sum of its parts. Weisse Versa is the official Karbach iteration and is unfiltered and conditioned in the package with an ABV of 5.2 percent.
The Porter has a heavier 8.5 percent ABV, although it (thankfully) doesn't drink like an 8.5. The IPA finished remarkably dry and made a near convert of this IPA-shy writer. Made with six different hops sourced from both Germany and the U.K., it was simultaneously citrus-y and earthy. Refusing to subscribe to the East Coast/West Coast IPA battle, Greenwood says the 6.6 percent ABV Hopadillo IPA is simply "Texas-style."
I didn't get to taste the lager or the double IPA, but they, along with the tour glasses — which are numbered and designed by a different local artist for each generation — are more than enough to bring me back.
The brewery is tentatively expected to open for public tours and tastings Sept. 24, and kegs should start hitting the better inner-loop beer bars (plus Petrol Station) next week, distributed by Karbach's own 16-foot refrigerated box truck.
Look for Karbach brews and a seminar by Warner at the Galveston Brewmasters Fest over Labor Day weekend.