Just 24 months ago, making a list of Houston's ten best beer bars would have been far easier. Since that time, not only have a ton of new beer bars opened up, many places have elevated their game. In fact, our rough draft for this list boasted over 20 bars.
It's true that a solid handful of bars could make a case to be on this list, so much so that we're sure we left out at least one of your favorites. A few, like Cottonwood and Nobi, are too new to be considered. Some places from our initial list were just too far away to be considered, like Brews Brothers in Galveston. Still more barely missed the cut, which made picking the eighth, ninth and tenth place spots far more difficult than determining our top three. Each and every one is a contender and we expect this list to look vastly different next year as a result.
With that said, here is our list of the ten very best beer bars in Houston.
10. Down House
This Heights wunderkind is finally on stable ground after a few shaky opening months. The tap list is small but usually packed with Texas beers that regularly hold best-in-state status. At one point this year, Down House's tiny tap lineup contained four of the top 15 Texas beers according to Ratebeer.com. That's an outstanding batting average. This is also one of the few surefire places to find Live Oak on tap in Houston. It doesn't hurt that the leather couches are one of the most comfortable places to throw back a pint in all of Houston.
The youngest bar on our list, Underdogs is one of the early signs that Washington might be able to survive its ongoing collapse and become a viable -- and far more egalitarian -- entertainment district. Owned by two passionate former bartenders, Underdogs boasts some of the cheapest craft pints in the city. A solid bottle list is home to some surprising rarities typically reserved for the shelves at Spec's downtown. We just wish it were closer to the already strong east end of the Washington Corridor.
Newcomer Mongoose versus Cobra started off as a beer bar but has found itself working to become more well rounded. One of the best-looking bars in Houston, Mongoose also has strong cocktail service, so this is a smart place to bring those pesky non-beer drinkers you inexplicably still hang out with. You will always be able to find a solid beer here from its lengthy tap list and large-format bottle selection.
One of the most enjoyable and well-rounded small tap lists in Houston is set in one of our favorite dining rooms. The long marble bar at BRC Gastropub is always home to a strong lineup of Texas breweries and selections of American craft beer from around the country. Every Tuesday, pints are just $3 and you can fill up on half-price appetizers.
This is a drinker's neighborhood bar, staffed with knowledgeable service alumni from places like 13 Celsius and Petrol Station. Exceptional cocktails are topped only by the small but well represented tap list and impressive can and bottle selection. This old gas station has seating in well sectioned areas both indoor and out. Also worth noting: the curated pop art from local artists which rotates monthly, letting Liberty Station function as one of the most well-visited galleries in the city.
Another old-school beer haunt, Rudyard's is many things to many people. Not satisfied to be a singular style of watering hole, Rudyard's manages to function as equal parts neighborhood bar, music venue, pub and beer bar -- and it scores top marks in each category. No other bar in Houston offers a pint of craft beer, an exceptional cheeseburger and top-notch touring and local music in one fell swoop. You also cannot call yourself a craft beer fan in Houston without having attended one of chef Joe Apa's monthly beer dinners.
A Houston original, it's hard to imagine that the posh, sprawling, oak-lined bar of The Ginger Man in Manhattan spun off from the small house in Rice Village. Its American craft selection cannot stand up to the next three big guys on this list but the selection of European beers is among the best in the city. It's also is very hard beat a pint on The Ginger Man's back patio in springtime.
Now celebrating its first anniversary, The Hay Merchant has had very few noticeable hiccups in its infancy. Server knowledge here is stellar, as Hay Merchant easily boasts the most well-rounded and well-trained staff in the city thanks to owner Kevin Floyd's university-style training courses. As with most other bars on this list, nights and weekends can be hectic. But if any bar can handle the traffic, It's this one.
With a selection of bottles and taps that is second to none for breadth, the recent addition of a younger sister in Sugar Land seems to have elevated the original Saucer's game.The bar now boasts a dedicated cellaring area in their cooler for aging bottles and kegs and service is at it's best in recent memory. Despite being well over a decade old, Flying Saucer is still a force to be reckoned with. We had a hard time choosing between the two locations, but gave the nod to the original over its streamlined new sibling largely for nostalgia and central location.
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The first Houston bar to focus solely on American craft beer has finally expanded the kitchen as well as the backyard. Further improvements -- proof that no one should leave a chalkboard menu in the hands of a bunch of bearded man-children -- include re-writing the once nearly unreadable beer menu in a legible format. Is it coincidence the first female bartender in Petrol Station's history started recently? Never afraid to shy away from its nerd roots, Petrol Station had sectioned its beers into Youngling, Padawan and Jedi the last time we visited. At just under 40 taps and no bottle selection to speak of, the bar doesn't have the selection of our second and third place winners, but the selection of rarities combined with untouchable special events makes Petrol Station our Best of Houston® winner for Best Beer Bar.