A two-man show
It's a crazy time for craft beer in Houston. Although it failed to come to fruition, Freetail Brewing's interest in downtown as the site for its second Texas brewpub is promising, and there are enough new craft breweries opening to make your head spin, and not just from the higher alcohol by volume (ABV) you can count on in craft brews.
Buffalo Bayou Brewing is one such brewery, soon to open near Petrol Station in Garden Oaks.
Full disclosure: I've never seen the inside of Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co. (we had our interview in the offices of their PR rep) and I've never tasted their beer. So, what follows is speculative on my part, at best, but it's at least straight from the horse's mouth.
"It's just me in the pickup truck delivering beer and Ryan brewing," Zarinfar says of the set up. And it should be noted that they have no intention of hiring a distributor.
Maybe it's part of a marketing scheme to keep people guessing to keep them excited, but I could barely glean specifics from founder Rassul Zarinfar and brewmaster Ryan Robertson. Those I could get I'm not allowed to print as they are strictly off-the-record, which is a shame because there are some truly exciting things afoot at 5301 Nolda St.
To name a few, Robertson, who seems to have an aversion to simplistic brews, will be experimenting with barrel aging. He'll be sourcing local Texas ingredients culled from our ample farmers markets and aims to work with Utility Research Garden and Knopp Branch Farm. We feel comfortable saying that Robertson will be drawing some inspiration from artisan teas. And in the spring, we can expect a serious Belgian with a high ABV — either a saison or a Belgian triple — but that's about all I've got for details.
Zarinfar and Robertson are basically the only two full-time Buff Brew-ers, with a diverse group of 50-some investors backing them behind the scenes. (Many of the investors have beer-centric backgrounds themselves, and Zarinfar characterizes the group as being akin to "a banana company run by a bunch of monkeys.")
"It's just me in the pickup truck delivering beer and Ryan brewing," Zarinfar says of the set up. And it should be noted that they have no intention of hiring a distributor. "It allows you to ensure the absolute highest quality product," says Zarinfar, who spent five years working in distribution. "We clean our own taps."
Robertson says it's his mission to produce beer that can compete with import brews from out-of-state, and that means taking some risks outside of the standard IPA, Amber, Brown and Wheat offerings.
The brewery's flagship beer is complete, and borrows victory malt from Flat Tire with a hoppier backbone that recalls Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. A Gingerbread Stout you may have read about — which Zarinfar describes as a big, dirty stout at 10 percent ABV — is the brand's first one-off.
Robertson started his brewing career at a chain brewpub in Florida called Hops Grill and Brewery, where he trained on a commercial system but found little room for innovation. He began experimenting with small batches and secondary fermentation, and later put the results of his scientifically informed playtime to use at Uncle Buck's Brewery and Steakhouse in Grapevine.
With an upper limit of 20 barrel-batches, Robertson says it's not intimidating at Buffalo Bayou Brewing to take risks. Those risks will likely include playing with color, experimenting with non-traditional ingredients and, Zarinfar says, challenging our notions of what beer even is.
The guys wouldn't discuss specifics for future brews, but they did reveal the brew that got Robertson hired on as brewmaster: A saison that utilized caramel rye, Valencia orange peel, California lemon peel, black peppercorn and coriander, as well as Brettanomyces. "The longer I brew, the more I want to experiment," Robertson says, which was just the outlook that Zarinfar, whose brewmaster search had spanned the globe, was looking for.
The guys have a cautiously optimistic target of early November for their brews to hit beer bars on draught, and say the brewery should be ready for visitors in October. Stay up-to-date in the meantime via the Buff Brew Twitter and Facebook feeds.