This Dud's For You: Houston Welcomes a New Microbrewery Like Nothing You've Ever Seen Before
At the end of its first year in the beer business, Rassul Zarinfar hopes that his new brewery -- Buffalo Bayou Brewing -- will have released at least one huge dud.
"Hopefully, we will have brewed a beer that was completely unexpected," Zarinfar said over the phone on Monday afternoon, "and hopefully we have a beer that completely fails as well."
If this sounds odd, that's because Zarinfar wants it that way. He and his co-founders -- 50 of them in all -- have created one of the most unique concepts in brewing that Houston has ever seen: a brewery that makes only small-batch beers, only two at a time, personally delivering each micro-batch in kegs to local bars and other tasting venues.
Each batch of beer will fill up no more than 20 to 30 kegs, a system that's designed to let Zarinfar and his co-founders experiment with wild abandon on each brew.
"The small batch size allows us to take huge risks," he said in one breath, while in the next discussing the possibility of a cilantro beer for the summer. "We want to do really crazy, innovative stuff," he says.
But that's not the only way in which Buffalo Bayou Brewing is wildly different.
Rassul Zarinfar, left, with cofounders.
Perhaps never running up against the difficult prospect of coming to a decision by a committee, Zarinfar plans to allow the 50 co-founders to be the ultimate arbiters of which beers will be brewed and exactly how they will taste.
"It's a paradigm shift," he said. "There's no longer a single brewmaster," making grand decisions for the entire brewery, which will be based in a warehouse in Cottage Grove. Instead, he says, "at every point of the way, we're trying to make this a lot more decentralized."
He laughed knowingly when I mentioned the difficulties that lie ahead in allowing 50 different palates to determine final product.
"The whole idea is that I think more ideas in the mix is better," he said in response.
"But you have to have strong leadership," he conceded. That's one of the main reasons (legal issues being the other) that he didn't follow his initial concept of creating an out and out brewery co-op.
At its recent first tasting, the 50 co-founders gave input on all the various recipes that Buffalo is currently testing.
And with that in mind, Zarinfar has hired a brewmaster whom he promises will stun the Houston beer community with concoctions like a Saison brewed with lemon peel, orange peel, coriander and black pepper.
"No one's going to know him from where he is right now," says Zarinfar. "He's kind of tucked away on the fringes." He plans to announce the brewmaster's name later this week, after the man has given notice at his current job in Dallas.
But will the brewmaster or the committee have more control over the beers that are produced at Buffalo? Zarinfar hopes that it's a combination of both.
"Everyone [at other breweries] does a homebrew competition," he said. "But the brewmaster still selects it. And in the end, a brewery is just a group pf people that drinks together." In Buffalo's case, those people include a mix of lawyers, accountants, microbiologists, homebrewers, beer connoisseurs and Zarinfar himself, who has nine years of beer-related experience under his belt from giants like Silver Eagle Distributors.
In Zarinfar's vision of his brewery, those people will exercise ultimate control over the product: "Everyone just comes in and they vote and we'll do whatever the people want." Out of this, he hopes to see production of what he calls "aggressive one-offs, just over and over again."
"I like to think that we're unique in this method," he added, somewhat redundantly. And when asked if he knows of any other brewery that's adopted this pseudo-co-op format, he said that he didn't, proving that Houston is not only fertile ground for adventurous chefs but for adventurous brewers as well.
Buffalo's first batch of beer is undergoing trials and assessments by committee right now. It's a 10 percent Imperial stout with gingerbread spices that Zarinfar hopes will be in production by the end of the year. And if all goes well, they'll move to bottling their beer at some point. But for now, he just wants to experiment.
"I believe very much in the creative process," he said. "You need to know the rules before you can transcend them and rip them apart."
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