Lately, I've been pretty obsessed with sour ales, and there aren't many establishments in Houston that cater to my
sweet sour tooth. One that does, however, is The Hay Merchant. They have three sours on tap including my favorite, Brouwerij Bockor's Cuvée des Jacobins Rouge.
I stopped in this week to satisfy the craving and got to talkin' with Kyle Pierson. Kyle's also a big fan of the sour ales -- during the majority of the time he spent in New York in the '90s, he worked at Belgian bars, so he knows his stuff.
While picking Kyle's brain, I got to know a little about The Hay Merchant, the passion those involved have for a good brew and the city of Houston, and their dedication to spreading the craft beer gospel.
Where are you from? Houston.
How long have you been bartending at The Hay Merchant? We opened in February, and I've been here for about six or seven weeks.
What are some other jobs you've had besides bartending? I was a gymnastics coach at Byron's out on the West side, I worked in jewelry design, I did a little acting and modeling in New York -- I lived there for about 15 years. When my wife became pregnant with our twins, we left New York, came back to Houston and moved into the house next door to my parents, next door to the house I grew up in. Now I'm working in the exact same building where I got my start in the restaurant business. This used to be Charlie's, a 24-hour diner, and I was a busboy.
So you've seen two very different versions of Montrose. I feel kinda like Marty McFly. Everything's the same...but different. It's clean now, and there are some really nice places, but when I was working here as a teenager, it was all hookers and drug deals. You know all these really nice apartments around here that no one can afford? Yeah, they were crack dens. It's amazing. I'm all in favor of gentrification -- I mean, I like not being scared to walk to my car at night.
How would you describe the bar's aesthetic? I don't wanna call it...steam-punky, it's not really. I'd call it...industrial. The exposed beams, the concrete floors, that's all original. Everywhere you look, you see tributes to the city. It's all about maintaining the tribute to Houston; that was really important to the owners. The foot rail at the bottom of the bar is old track from the railway that used to be along I-10. The owners, it's the same guys that own Anvil, they're all native Houstonians and they wanted this place to be very much of Houston, not just in Houston.
How would you describe the crowd? We get a lot of beer geeks and people just looking to try something different. Maybe they've been Miller or Bud drinkers their whole lives and they want to branch out, try new things.
Fill in the blank: To work at The Hay Merchant, you have to be able to ______. Well, you have to pass the Cicerone exam before you start training here. You have to know about beer; you can't fake it. It's the most thorough, intense training I've ever had. There's a ten-day process where you learn about different styles of beer and different countries of origin. We focus on Belgian, American craft IPA, Scottish beers...a lot of people that work here are even home brewers, so I'd say you have to love it. You have to be passionate about beer.
At the end of my shift, I pour a ______. Nine times out of ten...a Petrus Aged Pale. Well...maybe a Coney Island Mermaid. It's a rye pilsner. I'm kinda on a rye kick right now, but we don't have any more...sold it all. So...Petrus.
Do you have a favorite menu item? In the last week, of the four nights I've worked, I've had three hamburgers, so I guess I'm a big fan of the burger.
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*Wildcard: What natural disaster are you most afraid of? Probably an earthquake. Just because the idea of concrete turning into mush scares the dickens out of me.
The Hay Merchant, located at 1100 Westheimer, is open Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. and weekends from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., and they just kicked off their Mud Turtle program. What's that, you ask? Here goes: You get points for every beer you drink. When you hit a certain level, you take a test and if you pass, you get a prize. When you get to 5,000 points, you go head-to-head with owner Kevin Floyd in a taste-off, and if you win, Kevin will fly you to Belgium to tour breweries. It's pretty exciting, so ask your server or bartender if you want to get started. Visit their Facebook page or follow them @HayMerchant for specials, events and more info.