Three years ago, half of the location of the old Chances bar was converted into the Hay Merchant (1100 Westheimer Road, 713-528-9805), which quickly became the go-to spot in Montrose for craft beer. Once again, the Hay Merchant is clearing out its tap lines in preparation for an anniversary party, where co-owner and beer guru Kevin Floyd will roll out some of his favorite rare beers and special finds to be tapped on Thursday, February 12.
I attended last year's party, and if it was any indicator, this'll be a must-attend for Houston beer fanatics.
Last year, I was able to sample a number of beers I wouldn't have been able to any other way, a mix of vintage favorites, infrequent releases that rarely make their way here, and barrel-aged specialties. I was on a bit of a sour beer kick at the time, so among my favorites were two offerings from Austin's Jester King which sources tell me are usually only available at the brewery: the La Vie En Rose, a lighter, more delicate sour with a dry and crisp mouthfeel, and the RU-55, a fruity, well-rounded sour that ranks among the best beers made in Texas. The RU-55 is also comparable to the most expensive beer in the Hay Merchant's bottle cellar, and one of the best beers in the world, the Abbaye de Saint Bon Chien by Brasserie BFM. (Lest I forget, that was available on tap at last year's anniversary party, too.)
Local breweries got in on the act as well. Buffalo Bayou released two special beers for the anniversary that merit mention: The Sour Old Bum was a fine attempt at a brown sour, with a good balance of flavors and body, and the Mud Turtle was an attempt to duplicate the flavor of an actual candy turtle (chocolate, caramel, and pecans), that, if not a complete success, managed to be drinkable without being too sweet, cloying, or artificial. Karbach released a version of their potent Hellfighter porter aged in Buffalo Trace barrels.
While a complete list of the beers for the event wasn't available (and hasn't even been finalized), a similar lineup of rare and vintage beers will be tapped that day. Among the confirmed beers will be a barrel-aged brown ale and an oak-aged Belgian IPA from Upslope Brewing, a barrel-aged version of North Coast's Old Rasputin Russian imperial stout that dates back to 2012, and several specialty releases in recent years from Real Ale. You'll also be able to sample vintage offerings from the likes of Deschutes, Boulevard, Firestone Walker, and Founders, among others. Cask and nitro beers will be available from the likes of Oskar Blues, Prairie, and New Belgium, for starters.
For some local flavor, if you didn't get a chance to try Saint Arnold's 20th Anniversary Ale aged in tequila barrels when it made an appearance at the Pastry War, you'll get the opportunity here, alongside a tequila barrel-aged Divine Reserve 14. The 2013 Saint Arnold Bishops Barrel 2.1 will be there as well. Buffalo Bayou will release a barrel-aged version of its Smoke on the Bayou as well as a sour Summer's Wit. This isn't a complete list; while the Hay Merchant released a partial list on Facebook on Wednesday, they were still holding some beers back as a surprise.
I should say you'll get the opportunity to try those beers if you show up on time: Last year, a line started forming outside the bar before it even opened. (I actually got lunch at Blacksmith, across the street, and scouted the Hay Merchant until a line started to form.) I'd imagine this year's event will be similarly anticipated, so if you want a seat, show up in advance of the 3 p.m. opening. It's a commitment, but if it's anything like last year's event, beer lovers won't be disappointed.
This article has been updated with the current information on the beers available at the event.