The hearts of beer-loving Houstonians were aflutter when it was announced last year that popular San Antonio brewpub Freetail Brewing Co. would be opening a Bayou City location in the heart of downtown. After all, for a city that loves its beer, we are sadly bereft of any proper brewpubs. (I love the "pizookie" at BJ's, too, but it just doesn't count.)
However, expansion plans for Freetail fizzled almost as quickly as they were announced, leaving Houston brewpub-less once again. But instead of waiting around for another city to throw us its brewpub scraps, Houstonian Matt Schlabach and his wife Meredith Borders stepped up to create a brewpub of our own: City Acre Brewing, which is gearing up to open this October.
City Acre hosted its second-to-last beer tasting this past Saturday, an invitation-only event (to get around the TABC's outdated beer laws) that featured lighter brews like a citrusy Fermette de Saison and a Prost! Toasty Munich Helles that will be perfect for the humid Houston summers, as well as some darker options: Choctopus Stout (and a strawberry version of the same) and three different variations on a Chai Porter.
It was these darker beers that showed the more intrepid and creative side of City Acre, as well as its willingness to collaborate with other start-up brewers in town: One of the Chai Porters was made by Buffalo Bayou Brewing, and guests on Saturday were asked to choose which Chai Porter they liked best. Schlabach and Buffalo Bayou founder Rassul Zarinfar plan to create a blend based on the best components of all three porters, which featured varying notes of cardamom, cloves and ginger along with the darkly nutty notes of a good, strong porter.
"We used freshly-ground cardamom in our Chai Porters," Schlabach said. "And we only used half as much as [Buffalo Bayou] did, but it really made a difference." Zarinfar said they'd bought pre-ground cardamom and other chai spices from Penzey's, which -- remarkably -- made for the better tasting beer, with far less bitterness from the cardamom pods.
"Who'd have thought?" laughed Schlabach. They're still learning, after all. And he wants to make sure that City Acre maintains that creative brewing spirit after opening.
Says Schlabach: "We want to stay relatively small for a while so we can experiment with making many different beers along with the more conventional mainstays" like their hop-forward Girl From IPA-nema and their Hitchcock Blonde. The team isn't ruling out the eventual possibility of distributing City Acre's beers one day down the road, but for the time being, City Acre plans to open as a brewpub first and foremost.
They're still scouting for head chefs for the food end of the brewpub, with one front-runner that Schlabach hopes to lure home. "Our front runner is a Texas native and good friend who currently works as a chef and kitchen manager up north," he says. "But we're working to get him back to Texas by enticing him with beer."
When City Acre does open, it will be a sprawling concept not unlike the atmosphere at Moon Tower Inn's acreage in the Second Ward, where people came to party in the grassy lot and throw horseshoes between pitchers of beer and hot dogs. Moon Tower Inn is currently closed for renovations and -- coincidentally -- when it reopens this summer, will also open as a proper brewpub.
Instead of several outbuildings and a grassy lot, however, City Acre will offer its guests the first floor of a sprawling Victorian-style (not Victorian era; the house was built much more recently than that) manse and a backyard that's currently being renovated to resemble a modern American biergarten in which to enjoy the brews and food.
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Neither Moon Tower Inn nor City Acre will be traditional brewpubs in any sense. After all, Borden and Schlabach plan to live above the common area in the second floor of the home. But that's just how Schlabach wants it; a traditional brewpub is never what he set out to accomplish.
Instead, he says, "We truly hope that it's a place where people will want to hang out -- somewhere between a friend's backyard and a beer garden."