Last week, the Chicago Tribune ran an article that dubbed Houston “Chicago’s newfound nemesis to the south” and focused on one thing residents of both wonderful cities love — beer. According to the article, Houstonians drank more than a billion dollars’ worth of it last year. Chicago did stake its claim in higher sales of craft beers, but the abundance of choice craft-brew options cropping up here all but ensures we will soon own that title, too.
We don’t consider it a competition. Both are great cities with excellent tastes in beer and music. The two frequently go hand in hand. We’ve gone beyond the reliable tastes of Heileman’s Old Style and Lone Star and past the Muddy Waters and ZZ Top standards to respective beer and music worlds filled with new and interesting flavors.
So, fret not, fellow beer nerds in Chicago. Here’s a toast to you from your friends in Houston. Just to prove we love you, here’s our compilation of ten excellent local craft brews and Houston-based bands to check out if you’re soon in town. First beer’s on us:
10. 8th WONDER DOME FAUX’M and THE SUFFERS
Houston is hot. This classic cream ale has a low, 5.2 percent alcohol-by-volume (ABV) content and is light on the hops — only 24 on the international bittering units (IBU) scale — making it tasty and easily quaffable on warmish days. Also, every 8th Wonder brew harkens to Houston in some way. One stout is dubbed Dream Shake; the candy-apple ale called BrewGK is, apparently, a collaborative effort between the EaDo brewery, Eatsie Boys and unofficial mayor of H-town Bun B.
Still, we’d have to pair our favorite 8th Wonder offering with The Suffers, who are also hot and representative of all things Houston. Multicultural, talented, hard-working and emerging as a force to be reckoned with, the band is the face of everything we love about this city. By the way, Chi-town, they’ll be at Lincoln Hall + Schubas this October, near the end of a tour stretch that’s taking them to Paris, Tokyo and elsewhere.
9. BRASH EZ7 and SOME NERVE
The best beer from the upstart Brash Brewing Company is a double IPA called Pussy Wagon. Because we’re not damn fools, we’re not going to attempt to pair that beer with any specific band here in town, though you’re certainly welcome to do so down there in the comments box. Good luck!
Instead, we wimped out and chose Brash’s EZ7, which is also quite tasty and ruggedly hoppy. The beer is named after a renowned skate spot in Houston, a graffiti-strewn ditch that has seen its share of Mickey’s Big Mouths over the years. A beer named for a skate spot deserves a band that would be required listening for skateboarders. Our choice is Some Nerve, young guys with an old-school, hardcore sound. You aspiring Rodney Mullens out there (best street skater ever) should be blasting Some Nerve whenever you’re out practicing your pop shuvits and kickflips. Recently, the band visited Makena Janis and Brandon Walsh at Punk With a Camera’s DIY Sessions and ran through a stirring version of “Wolves” from their newest release, Vultures. If this can’t help you land an ollie, just give up already, kid.
8. BUFFALO BAYOU MORE COWBELL and FOX PARLOR
Coming in at a whopping 9.1 percent ABV rating, More Cowbell is the beer on this particular list that packs the biggest punch in one serving. It has a beautiful color and a sassy nose that makes beer snobs weak in the knees. As sexy as it is, it’s also very palatable. You feel the buzz coming on, but you know you’re gonna want more…more cowbell!
Unless you’re already drunk or just slow to catch on, you probably get how this works now. The sneaky hotness of Fox Parlor is what links it to the American Double IPA from our friends at Buffalo Bayou Brewing Company. The band is handsome, sure, but what makes your knees wobble is the promise of very good, very bad things to come. You hear it in songs like “Alligator” and “Do What I Want” from the band’s new EP, West Dallas Rodeo. The group is straight-ahead rock and roll, the kind that seems innocent enough until you get a taste. Then, you’re swaying your hips like your mama told you not to and ready for a second serving.
7. GALVESTON ISLAND BREWING TIKI WHEAT and DEM
The brewery and band both began around the same time and might be the best things to come from Galveston since Mario’s pizza or those little tri-colored, frosted cakes they sell at Texas Star Bakery on Broadway. Those cakes might provide a sugar rush, but it’s an easy, delightful come-down if you choose either the beer or the band. The former is the brewery’s flagship offering, a light-bodied wheat beer with hints of coriander and honey. The latter is the new roots-reggae project from former Cassette Tape-r Louis Morales. The band delivers rhythms that recall their influences, like Desmond Dekker and The Gladiators. Check out the track, "Justification," to see how the islanders put an exciting spin on the genre with lyrics sung in Spanish against a solid musical groove.
6. KARBACH SYMPATHY FOR THE LAGER and PICTURE BOOK
Karbach does nothing to hide the fact that the name of one of its mainstay beers is an homage to the Rolling Stones and/or their classic tune “Sympathy for the Devil.” The biggest hint is right there on the can, where an inscription titled “Lagerhythm” is the first verse of the song, rewritten to “introduce myself,…I’m a beer of damn fine taste.” It certainly is. The folks at Karbach suggest pairing Sympathy with street tacos, pizza or fried okra, but the best possible pairing is with Picture Book. The band does nothing to hide the fact that it loves 1960s and ‘70s rock, especially Brit rock. They’re easily one of the best cover acts in town, able to go from Beatles harmonies to ear-splitting tunes by the Who with ease. Their take on the Zombies' “Time of the Season” is like hearing the damn thing for the first time, it's so good. And, of course, they offer a healthy dose of Stones in their repertoire.
5. NO LABEL RIDGEBACK and RADIO FLYER
Ridgeback is a year-round brew offered by Katy’s No Label, which also boasts a great German hefeweizen with a boss name (El Hefe) and a relaxing Saturday-afternoon tour and tasting. The brewery frequently books music for that family- and dog-friendly afternoon, but to my knowledge has never tabbed Radio Flyer and the Wagoneers for the fun. The two were practically made for one another.
Radio Flyer is the brainchild of folkie Andrew Hoskins, whose songs sound like the lives of many of the brewery's suburban visitors. They’re songs about being sons and daughters, what it means to be growing up so fast as husbands and wives and parents in this day and age. Recently, Hoskins added players to form a fuller sound behind his guitar and banjo. We saw them last week at Alley Kat, and longtime Radio Flyer fans were blown away by the reformed effort.
4. LONE PINT 667 NEIGHBOR OF THE BEAST and DOOMSTRESS
This American IPA from Magnolia’s Lone Pint Brewery is more than just a clever name. According to its webpage, the brewers adopted the name for one of its core brews from writing on the wall of a favored bar. The beer is devilishly hop-heavy, with a 66 IBU count. Doomstress is heavy, too. It’s the new stoner-rock project of Project Armageddon’s Doomstress Alexis and Brandon Johnson. They team with Ohio drummer Tomasz Scull for this group, which was officially announced only this month and has already received high reviews for its debut EP, Supernatural Kvlt Sounds. With covers of occult rockers Uriah Heep and Coven, the band is settling into its diabolical neighborhood rather nicely.
3. SAINT ARNOLD AMBER ALE and THE SUSPECTS
One is a pillar of its community, with a familiar, beloved flavor and staying power that’s allowed it to survive long enough to see newcomers ascend, become critical darlings and fade away. The other is a beer. Saint Arnold’s Amber is the first beer produced by Texas’s oldest craft brewery. It debuted in June 1994, at which time The Suspects were closing in on a full year together. And, like the ska band, the beer has made its own scene better by remaining true to its original recipe. Both are still going strong and are highly recommended any hot summer night. You can catch The Suspects next on July 16 at Warehouse Live. You can catch Saint Arnold’s Amber practically any time at your local grocery.
2. SOUTHERN STAR BOMBSHELL BLONDE and THE FREAKOUTS
There’s some nonsense about not judging books by covers, but in this instance we’re going to admit we were attracted to both the beer and the band by the eye-catching first impressions they made. The beer is an ale, brewed year-round by Conroe’s Southern Star Brewing. Inside, it’s a smooth, full-bodied ale with a low hops count and a moderate, 5.25 percent ABV. Tastes wonderful. But look at that can, wouldja? The artwork, set against that cool blue background, just jumps off the shelf at the supermarket. Thankfully, the beer inside the container is just as pleasing.
As for the band, they’re glam-rockers whose fashion isn’t an afterthought, but an integral part of what’s being presented. And, like the beer, the band kicks ass on its own, even without the look. Judge for yourself by catching them at this weekend's Velocityfest at Fitzgerald’s. Additionally, Freakouts front woman Ash Kay is a blond bombshell by any measure. But, unlike the beer, she’s intense, in your face and highly intoxicating.
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1. TEXIAN CHARLIE FOXTROT and THE SOUL CREATURES
A sour beer is just what it sounds like — a brew that’s intentionally tart. It’s one of the craft-beer world’s hottest styles, but not many local breweries are mass-producing the pungent stuff. Richmond-based Texian Brewing Company has a couple of fine ones, though. The limited-run Donkey Lady Sour Ale is like a bushel of sour apples to the face. Charlie Foxtrot, a sour wheat ale with an alcohol-by-volume rating of 7.5 percent, is available year-round. It gets funkier in the wheat than the farmer’s daughter.
When it comes to the funk, Soul Creatures serve up the face-contorting good stuff. The band isn’t content to trot out the same played-out staples of the genre, but skews heavily towards its own soulful, soul-lifting originals. Appropriately enough, you can catch them next at the H-Town Beer Fest June 11 at Jones Plaza, ahead of a July 23 White Oak Music Hall gig for Muddy Belle’s album release.