At last night's grand opening for Karbach Brewing, Rich Arnold walked over to me with a glass of Karbach's Weisse Versa wheat in hand. "Have you ever had a beer that tastes so much like..."
"Banana!" we both finished at the same time. The wheat beer gave off the striking scent of the tropical fruit, mixed with an unusual combination of cloves and other warm spices -- one that doesn't sound good on paper, but works brilliantly in execution.
Arnold, the sommelier at Restaurant Cinq at La Colombe d'Or, was just one of the dozens of beverage industry big shots at last night's grand opening for Karbach Brewing, the newest of a slew of craft breweries to open in Houston.
The facility on Karbach Road, just off Hempstead Highway, was immediately notable for being big, bright, shiny and new. I couldn't help but think of fellow Houston craft brewery Saint Arnold's humble beginnings in an office park warehouse not far from Karbach, and the differences between the two start-up breweries' initial operations.
But that's because Karbach's swank digs reflect the fact that it's no normal fledgling brewery. After all, brewmaster Eric Warner was brewmaster and CEO of the popular Flying Dog Brewery in Maryland for ten years. And that's just the tip of Karbach's impressive resume.
Warner also studied the art of brewing beer at The Technical University of Munich at Weihenstephan, where his German courses were influential in the creation of at least one Karbach product so far: Sympathy for the Lager, a brew that aims to change public perception of the lager as a fizzy but flavorless beer.
In addition to Warner's pedigree, the founding members of Karbach were already experienced players in the Texas beer world, having founded the CR Goodman Distribution Company. The founders sold their beer portfolio to Ben E. Keith after 20 years in the distribution industry to help finance the creation of a brewery of their own. Thus was born Karbach.
The fact that Karbach's beers seem to have caught on in Houston far more quickly than any other craft brew in the past is a tribute to the brewery's experience and standing within the beverage industry, and what drew so many bar owners and beer mavens to the grand opening last night. From the Continental Club to McGonigel's Mucky Duck, Houston's bar community was well-represented.
Even restaurateurs made appearances, including Indika and Pondicheri owner Anita Jaisinghani. Jaisinghani excitedly told me how she's moving to an all-Texas beer menu at Pondicheri -- including taps devoted to Karbach -- "except for Kingfisher," she joked.
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Jaisinghani even admitted that prior to Karbach's brews, she hadn't been a beer fan. The beer that changed her mind? The double-hopped Rodeo Clown IPA, which Jaisinghani said pairs extremely well with the spicy Indian food served at her restaurants.
Pondicheri is just one of the many places in town that currently sells Karbach, in addition to spots like The Queen Vic Pub & Kitchen, the Flying Saucer, BRC and Down House. But you can also taste the beer straight from the source now that Karbach has opened its doors: The brewery offers tours every Friday and Saturday. There's usually even a food truck hanging around, so make an afternoon out of it and welcome Houston's newest craft brewery to town.