"It was very planned out," said Sixpoint founder Shane Welch of his brewery's recent move into the Texas market. The Brooklyn, New York-based brewery hit Texas this week with an initial offering of five different beers, a number Welch promised would grow in the near future.
We had a chance to check in on Welch's visit to Houston late last week during his stop in to Rockwell Tavern in Cypress. Given Rockwell's far-flung location, any excuse to get out to the craft beer and burger hotspot is always welcome. After we pounded down our burgers and finished sharing the various Sixpoint beers available on draft at Rockwell, Welch sat down and offered some insight into his brewery's latest sales expansion.
From the get-go, it was apparent Welch has very happily done his homework on the Texas market. Boasting that this was his tenth trip to the Lone Star State, he was capable of speaking to hometown favorites Karbach and Saint Arnold just as easily as he was his own beers. This was especially impressive, given the relatively low profile of Texas beers on the national stage.
"The culture here...the culture is good," said Welch. "There are certain states across this country that aren't beer drinkers. Texas has a beer-drinking culture in spades...from top to bottom."
"And," Welch added, "now there's a vibrant craft beer culture, too."
In fact, the more he spoke, the more it became clear that the Sixpoint tagline -- "Beer is Culture" -- isn't a passing marketing concept but rather a life philosophy for Welch. The guy is literally a sponge of information, and not just information about beer, either.
Throughout our hour-long discussion, he discussed his world travels prior to opening the brewery and then effortlessly engaged the Fashion Institute of Technology grad student at the table, aptly discussing fashion production as it relates to the brewing industry. For Welch, it seems, everything he engages can be logically pinned back to brewing. And conversely, beer relates to the world around him -- his is a life of true beer culture, if you will.
In talking beer with Welch, one of the more interesting discussions revolved around where brewing trends are heading. Lager styles have not been fleshed out, Welch posited -- an ironic fact given lager styles' overall dominance worldwide. He hopes that Sixpoint's recent expansion efforts will help address this.
"I feel lager is incredibly underdeveloped," Welch said. "With ales, innovation comes through formulation. But with lager, innovation comes through technique and different brewing methods."
We talked with Shane well into closing time at Rockwell, continuing to broach a wide array of topics, including Live Oak Brewing, barbacoa at Tacos Tierra Caliente and his discovery of the six-pointed brewer's star that now stands as his company's logo.
Clad in an Open the Taps T-shirt, owner Tiffanie Richie joined the table as we wrapped up the night. Ever the gracious host, Richie was quick to thank Shane, challenge me to shotgun a pint with her and remind me exactly why one of the hottest breweries in the country chose her little, out-of-the-way bar to visit when entering such an important market.
Here's a quick look at the first five beers from Sixpoint Brewery:
An American IPA with Belgian ester notes and mouth feel. Also packing a strong, concise floral hop character, Bengali was my favorite all-around beer of the night. This may be the best East Coast IPA in Texas right now.
Along with beers like Russian River Pliny the Elder and The Alchemist Heady Topper, Resin Double IPA is a nationwide buzz name among craft beer lovers. I can tell you firsthand, the buzz here is deserved. This is a top-notch Double IPA. Look for this to be one of the best-selling beers in Sixpoint's lineup.
Sweet Action Cream Ale
The surprise of the night went to Sweet Action, which combined a light, easy-drinking character with sweet malt and sucrose notes on its finish. Watch for Sweet Action to become a cult favorite among lighter-beer drinkers, much like Live Oak Hef and 512 Wit have been at Hay Merchant.
The Crisp Pilsner
The Crisp was again a surprising favorite. Light and succinctly sweet, this lager has a crisp hop bite finish that makes it approachable yet complex. In keeping with Shane's previous comments regarding lager-style beers, I look forward to more lagers from Sixpoint going forward.
Righteous Rye IPA
Despite enjoying the booming rye style quite a bit, I find many fall short of the bar set by everyday favorites like Ruthless Rye from Sierra Nevada. Sixpoint's rye IPA is no exception. Lacking the distinct hop character present in the other four Sixpoint beers, Righteous is left relying on its rye malt backbone, which -- despite being plenty sweet -- comes off like day-old burnt bread, ashy and harshly acidic.
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All five styles are now available in four-packs of 16-ounce cans and on draft at local craft beer spots throughout the city.
Personal tip from the author: If you do find yourself at Rockwell Tavern and owner Tiffanie Richie challenges you to chug a pint of beer, feel free, but do not expect to win. If you foolishly engage in this challenge after polishing off one of the joint's awesome half-pound burgers and a plate of wings like I did, expect to be thoroughly embarrassed.