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Over the years, I have developed a rather narrow range for what I like in a craft brewery. I prefer the closet sized breweries - the ones with a modest bar, a few tables, lots of sunlight and a simple beer list. There is a definite correlation between the amount of time and money I want to spend at a brewery, and the size of the brewery. Why? In my opinion it comes down to beer quality and the feel of the place.
Our agenda always includes hitting up at least one local brewery whenever we go out of town to visit friends and family. This time around, we wandered over to Houston's Holler Brewing and Buffalo Bayou Brewing. I could probably throw a baseball from Buffalo Bayou's rooftop patio and hit some poor schmucks car in the parking lot of Holler. They're practically neighbors. Where Buffalo Bayou rocks a free standing three story building, Holler occupies a cozy spot in an industrial warehouse type building.
As you walk up to Holler, you can already feel the beer-nerd vibes reverberating from the hipsters (and their furry friends) already crushing beer on the concrete patio. The taproom fills with light from the two full sized garage doors, fully open on a beautiful Texas day. The whole place, while very small, feels open, airy, and cheerful. Hop cone lamps dangle over the bar, and a nice big wall of windows offers a great view of the brewing equipment.
What's the coolest thing about Holler Brewing, you ask? They serve their beer "tank fresh", meaning the beer never hits a keg, bottle, or can. It comes straight from the brite tank - to the tap behind the bar - and into your glass. While I can't say how many breweries do this, I can say that Holler is the first i'v ever seen advertise it. I'm a big believer in serving beer straight from the tanks. Here's why:
Less Transfers = Less Oxygen. When you add an additional transfer from the brite tank to a keg, bottle or can, you introduce the chance for oxygen (among other things) to get in and mess up your beer. Serving from the brite tank keeps beer safer from the environment by eliminating that extra transfer.
Less waste. When I worked at a brewery, one of my jobs was to clean kegs. One day, out of curiosity, I measured how much water the cleaning machine used during one cycle. It took 10 gallons of water to clean a 5 gallon keg. Now I'm no tree hugging hippy but that's a lot of water going down the drain. If you serve beer from the tanks, you only have to clean one tank - not a mountain of kegs.
Easier on the bartenders. For anyone that has bartended, you know how frustrating it is when you're slammed and a keg blows. If you don't have a bar-back, guess who's going to lug that keg? You are big guy. Serving from the tanks eliminates the need to change out kegs every 10 seconds, giving you more time to talk with enthusiastic patrons.
The beer a Holler Brewing was great. And then we went over to Buffalo Bayou Brewing and I realized how great Holler's beer really was. Between the three of us, I didn't try one beer that I though could stand up to Holler. They were all flat, lifeless tasting beers. Not bad, just not good. How could a brewery so much grander than Holler fall short on the beer? I'll tell you my opinion. It's because they have a full scale restaurant on the second floor.
My parents opened up a restaurant in my home town in Colorado. I worked in the kitchen everyday during high school. Running a restaurant is EXHAUSTING. It's constant work, a rotating door of employees, and the never-ending gauntlet of overly critical, pretentious patrons. How could a brewery integrate something so consuming and expect not to have a backlash in their beer quality? I don't believe it can be done. Not only does the split focus effect the beer, it effects the atmosphere. I want to go to a brewery to feel like i'm at the source. When breweries try to be both, the food usually takes center stage, and beer feels like an afterthought.
I brought along a growler from home and figured I'd fill it at whatever brewery we went to second. We left Bayou Buffalo and drove the few blocks back to Holler to get the growler filled.
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