Austin-based Independence Brewing Co. began expanding into the Houston market this week, distributing its Austin Amber and Independence Pale Ale to eight H-E-Bs in north Houston and stocking all six of its styles at the Smith Street Spec's, co-founder and brewmaster Rob Cartwright said in an e-mail.
Cartwright also reports the following watering holes are on board:
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We are trying to catch up with Cartwright for an interview but haven't caught him yet, what with him driving all over the state delivering his brews. We'll shoot for that next week, but for now we can at least share the happy news about his brews: They're good.
We went to Spec's looking first for the Convict Hill -- we mean, really, an imperial oatmeal stout? That's got to be awesome -- but found only three styles in stock, and no Convicts among them. Nevertheless, we walked out happy with Freestyle Wheat and Bootlegger Brown.
The wheat offering was sharp and crisp, with tons of pillowy head (and plenty of sediment), but it didn't approach the fizziness that bothers us about some wheats. 'Tis the season to say this, but this beer really does taste like summer. You can bet we're going to reach for one (or four) of these when it gets really hot. The finish is mellow, with a nice touch of malt in there to pat you on the back. This is an accessible beer for those used to light lagers, but it's still good enough to stand up to a more discerning palate.
The brown ale was a joy. The Web site says Independence uses Belgian chocolate malt, and that makes sense. Whatever region this smooth chocolate taste hails from, it works. And to be clear: It works without hitting you over the head. They didn't and shouldn't put "chocolate" in the title.
It's a nice, lingering flavor in there, but this is still a mellow brown ale, cool and laid back. As it warms, the flavors start to darken and grow a bit maltier, and the taste starts to drift closer to a porter, which followers of these posts will know was not a disappointment to us.
At its core, however, this is still a light-bodied brown ale, not a porter. We'd hazard to say we've never had a beer that carries all the positive aspects of a porter or stout while retaining all the smooth, light qualities of a more nimble brew. This could be an excellent choice for dark-beer drinkers after sundown in the summer, whereas few would have the guts to reach for a heavy porter.
A note on the packaging of these brews. The art on the six-packs and bottles is just great, very Edward Hopper. But enough art criticism for one day.