Lately, I've been finding the best beers in some unexpected places.
On Monday night, it was a jaw-dropping line-up at the brand-new D&T Drive Inn, where the guys behind Down House have renovated a neighborhood icehouse and installed a huge tap wall of eccentric draft beers to rival the records in its equally adventurous jukebox. I found Brooklyn Blast and La Chouffe -- both favorites that are hard to find in Houston -- as well as two aged kegs of Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co.'s bourbon barrel-aged Gingerbread Stout and the last keg in existence of Saint Arnold Bitter Belgium.
Should any of the following be floated, Real Ale Devil's Backbone is a reliable fall-back beer for all occasions. Trust me on this.
5. Pyramid Weiss Cream
Get in and get this one while you can. It's on nitro -- and Witchcraft has but the one nitro tap. You can't miss its tap handle: Weiss Cream is the giant, ice cream-filled waffle cone. The brew tastes anything but super-sweet, however. It's a pleasant cross between a cream ale and a Hefeweizen, with hints of orange and vanilla throughout and only made creamier by that soft nitro pour.
4. North Coast Scrimshaw
Fort Bragg, California-based brewery North Coast is more well-known for its Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, but that's not the beer I'd turn to in warmer months. Instead, try North Coast's lesser known but equally exceptional Scrimshaw. It's a medium-bodied Pilsner that's a perfectly light and refreshing patio beer, but with far more character than you'd find in a traditional Pilsner such as Amstel or the always-skunky Heineken. This is a beer that will pair easily with simple dishes like burgers and sandwiches.
3. Karbach El Hopadillo Negro Black IPA
Along with other "light" dark beers Revolver Bock, Franconia Dunkel and Saint Arnold Santo, this is a dark beer you still want to drink in the dead of summer. Texas breweries have figured out how to brew a rich, malty beer that isn't heavy and finishes clean as a whistle. El Hopadillo is an incredibly well-balanced beer that's both hop-forward and full of roasted malt flavor. As a result, it pairs well with food (and you'll want to eat all the food here -- trust me) but is just as tasty on its own.
2. Crazy Mountain Horseshoes and Hand Grenades
I fell in love with Extra Special Bitter (ESB) as a style during a tour of the Red Hook Brewery in Washington and never looked back. These days, it's American ESBs like Crazy Mountain's Horseshoes and Hand Grenades that have me captivated. This is an approachable example of a complex beer, precisely because it's so well balanced between toasty caramel malt and clean, bright hops. This is smile in a glass, and also happens to pair well with the heavier, heartier items on Witchcraft's menu.
1. Karbach Barn Burner Saison
Yes, this is the second Karbach entry on this list. (If Saint Arnold Icon Green were on tap yet at Witchcraft, it would take the No. 1 spot -- but Barn Burner would still be No. 2.) But it's also one of my favorite Saisons to come along in quite some time. Because it's a seasonal brew, the Barn Burner is only available for a limited time, so get some now while you still can. If Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is a warm, friendly smile in a glass, this is pure sunshine in a pint. The pale wheat color of the beer belies its peppery, coriander-laced flavor, with bright citrus notes of grapefruit, lemon zest and orange zest.