Well, the initial tour of Karbach Brewing is now history. Approximately 200+ craft beer loving fans in the Houston area turned out on Saturday, September 24, to witness the grand opening of Houston’s newest brewery and the from the comments and general feedback I heard/witnessed, Karbach is going to be a highly successful brewing operation and could easily become one of the premier craft breweries in the Houston area.
I was among the craft beer fans present at Karbach’s initial tour and from the moment I entered the brewery, it was obvious that the atmosphere was alive and abuzz with the talk of craft beer and Karbach’s contribution to the craft beer business in Houston. Some seemed a little anxious but were ultimately at ease once the crowd started to grow and the beer started to flow.
So, what is Karbach Brewing all about? Let’s take a look:
Karbach was organized in the first half of 2011 and I admit, when I first heard about this brewery, I was cautiously optimistic. Houston craft beer fans are fully aware of the lethargic craft beer business in our fair city and just about any word of a new brewery is greeted with anticipation and a warm, two- fisted embrace. On the other hand, most of us are fully aware that the business of craft beer is highly volatile. If the individuals involved are not fully committed, experienced, or at least ready to learn a great deal in a short time, the operation could go belly- up faster than a frightened opossum on steroids.
I was one of those concerned individuals at first, but my worries faded quickly a short time ago when I learned that Eric Warner was joining the Karbach organization. Craft beer lovers the nation over know Eric Warner- he is an award winning brewer and one of the individuals who helped craft the many fine products at Flying Dog brewery in Denver, Colorado for several years before Flying Dog shifted its canine- themed malt beverage brewing to Frederick, Maryland. When I got word that Eric Warner was coming to Houston and joining Karbach, my interest and expectations reached new heights. Warner is an expert in the business of craft beer and seeing his name on the employee roster gave me a newfound feeling of confidence.
Before we talk about the Karbach business and its future plans any further, let’s first discuss the tour. Karbach opened its doors for the first time on Saturday, September 24 and presented its first tour at approximately 12:30pm. I was part of that first tour and it included some informative talk, from Warner himself, on the brewing operation and process.
The cost of a Karbach “tour” has been initially set at $7 per person with the cost reduced to $6 if guests contribute a can of non- perishable food (donated to the Houston Food Bank). The reason I placed the word tour in quotations is because Karbach Brewing operates its Saturday tour as an open house, similar to the way tours are conducted at other Houston area breweries. Guests receive a small tasting cup and four tokens, good for four refills of their favorite beer. Those who want a little more than the (approximately) 10 oz. tour glass can purchase a larger pint glass and use it for four refills. Tours are offered at 12:30pm, 1:30pm, and 2:30pm, but there is no requirement to take a tour. Guests can spend the time socializing with others, eating their own food (Karbach permits guests to bring along outside food to the tour, but not alcoholic beverages), and otherwise hanging out as they enjoy their brew.
Tour time on Saturdays is between 12 noon and 3pm. There will also be a Friday evening happy hour tour between 5pm and 7pm.
Karbach Brewing, at present, offers three different malt beverages, each with its own flavor profile and unique personality. The beer options are:
Weisse Versa Wheat– Described as a cross between a Belgian wit and a German hefeweizen, this beer is complex, refreshing, and eminently drinkable.
Hopadillo IPA– An American IPA with about 70 IBU of bitterness, Hopadillo IPA is a hoppy brew with a good deal of malt character to balance out the experience.
Sympathy for the Lager– A lager that seems like an ale, this beer is nothing like the mass- produced swill your dad and grandfather choked down during Monday Night Football. No, this is a full- flavored lager brewed in the German tradition with pale malts and plenty of German hops.
All three products are highly enjoyable in their own way and it will be interesting to see which one winds up as the company’s top seller. Any one of them could take the coveted number one position and based on my own interactions and conversations with other beer drinkers, all three have a large number of loyal fans.
I got a chance to converse with Eric Warner about Karbach Brewery following the 12:30pm tour and I was able to find out a few things about Karbach and its future. One question on everyone’s mind was the introduction of new products. As I said, each of the three beers in the initial lineup had its share of followers and this only served to fuel speculation about future products. With so many tasty brews, what else could be in store? Would Karbach concentrate on its core lineup before new brands were introduced, or would it immediately branch out into new malt beverage ventures? According to Eric Warner, the company already has plans for a double IPA (a batch is in process, right now) and an imperial porter. Depending on the success of these products, others will likely be introduced in due time.
Another big question on the minds of Karbach’s early fans is packaging. Right now, the only way to enjoy Karbach is to visit one of the drinking establishments currently selling its brew, but Eric Warner told me not to worry- canning will likely begin in January, 2012. Initial plans called for earlier canning, but Eric told me that sales of kegs have been so brisk they have decided to push off canning to a later date. He said there may be some bottling as well, but canning will reign as the packaging of choice.
Karbach brewing delivers its beer to multiple Houston establishments and this number is likely to grow quickly in the coming months. Part of the reason Karbach has hit the ground running so quickly is because several members of the Karbach crew- Chuck Robertson, Brad Batson, Ken Goodman, and David Greenwood- worked for Houston beer distributor C.R. Goodman. These guys already have decades of experience in distribution and, with the added PR clout from David Graham and assistance from the rest of the crew, they were able to establish Karbach accounts and spread the word about the business in relatively short time.
The Bottom Line:
Karbach Brewing is a welcome addition to the craft beer scene in the Houston area. Houstonians have been annoyed, puzzled, and ultimately frustrated for years by the lack of fresh craft beer but the options are improving and the gap between craft beer imports and exports is narrowing. Turn back the clock to the Fall of 2010 and there were only two fully- functioning craft brewing operations in the Houston area. Today, there are five with at least another seven to ten in the planning stages.
Karbach Brewing has three beer products available at the moment and, as expected, Eric Warner and the guys have certainly delivered on taste and quality. Hopadillo IPA, Vice Versa Wheat, and Sympathy for the Lager are all very tasty, very above average beer products. The company has already produced thousands of loyal fans and, judging by the reactions from those present at the first tour, the fan base is only going to expand as word gets around and more Houston craft beer fans sample the products.
Karbach Brewing has sprung up quickly and there are many reasons why. The business has the brewing expertise of Eric Warner and a well- developed distribution system in place, thanks to the industry experience of Chuck Robertson, Brad Batson, Ken Goodman, and David Greenwood. The company has delivered its products throughout the inner 610- loop with plans to expand further as time and fermenting permit.
My first visit to Karbach Brewing is behind me now, but I have emerged feeling stronger than ever about this Houston craft brewing startup. My expectations were high, my anticipation was strong, and my curiosity was piqued. Karbach Brewing delivered on all counts and as I walked out of the brewery at the close of the day’s tour, I couldn’t help but feel strongly optimistic about the Houston craft beer scene and the many great things that Karbach Brewing brings to the table.
A toast to Karbach Brewing Company, its crew, and the excellent experience had by all on this, the occasion of its first public tour.
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