Houston’s Karbach Brewing Co.

Being the biggest doesn’t always make you the best. And when it comes to breweries that’s especially true.

Leah Walker takes a tour of Houston's Karbach Brewing Co.

The first time I saw Karbach Beer was in March 2011. My favorite grocery store was promoting Texas-made products in association with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Always on the lookout for new and interesting items, I scanned the aisle. My eyes stopped at a red and blue can holding Rodeo Clown Double IPA. With a tag line, “Get Down with the Clown!” I couldn’t help but giggle. I studied the can a bit more and discovered that the cute can with a funny name was brewed in Houston by Karbach Brewing Co. I’d never even heard of the place. Not being a big beer drinker, I left the four-pack on the shelf.

After nearly a year-and-a-half of seeing that eye-catching can in places like Whole Foods and Central Market, I thought it time to find out what Karbach Brewery Co. was all about. And with a simple tweet, I had an invitation from the self-professed social media nerd, David Graham, for a private tour.
Just minutes from the Galleria at the 610 and 290 Interchange is Karbach Brewing Co. Once the location of CR Goodman Distribution Company, the founders of Karbach, Ken Goodman and Chuck Robertson, sold their beer portfolio in 2007 to Ben E. Keith after two decades in the distribution business. They sold in order to finance their new venture and also because of a pesky Texas law that prevents alcohol producers from distributing their own product.

Named after the street the building is located on, not the village in Bavaria, Karbach Brewing Co. is relatively new, opening its doors in September 2011. Originally only available in draft form at bars and restaurants, they made the move to cans and stores in March 2011. Karbach opted for cans over bottles for a number of reasons: Cans weigh less, which reduce transportation costs; cans are more likely to be recycled; cans can be taken places that bottles are not allowed; cans keep out oxygen and light better than bottles {which apparently is bad for beer}.

The man behind the beer magic is brewmaster, Eric Warner. Formerly the CEO of Flying Dog Brewing Co. in Maryland, Eric moved to Texas to help start up Karbach. With a Diplom-Braumeister degree from the Technical University of Munich, this man knows his beer.

Karbach has four core varieties of beer available year-round. Their biggest seller is Hopadillo IPA, which I learned stands for India Pale Ale. Originally made for the British troops in India, the beer was shipped in barrels at a high percentage of alcohol in order to keep it from going flat. The soldiers were supposed to cut it with water to make it ‘pub strength.’ Of course that didn’t happen. Karbach’s version has an alcohol content of 6.3-percent and is “dry hopped for added intensity of hop flavor and aroma.” I don’t know about all that technical stuff; I just know that it is delicious.

Karbach’s second best seller, yet gaining fast on Hopadillo IPA, is Weisse Versa Wheat. This was the first beer I tried on my tour and was also my favorite. With the smell of tropical citrus fruits, coriander, and cloves, I wasn’t expecting such a light and delicious flavor. It certainly was refreshing on a hot and muggy Houston summer day, and at 5.2-percent alcohol, I could see myself throwing back more than one.

Sympathy for the Lager is named as a tribute to the Rolling Stones hit, “Sympathy for the Devil.” Apparently lager gets a bad rap as a flavorless beer, so this is brewmaster Eric Warner’s attempt to change that perception. With his German brewing background, Warner has developed this Bavarian-style beer. And even though I’m not a huge beer drinker, I found it delicious.

The last beer I tried was the Rodeo Clown Double IPA, the beer that first brought Karbach onto my radar. With an alcohol content of 9.5-percent, it is the strongest of all their beers. It also explains why Rodeo Clown is sold in four-packs rather than six-packs. With an alcohol content so high, it’s like getting two beers in one can. And to keep the price point below $10, Karbach sells them in fours. Essentially, consumers are getting eight wonderful craft beers for about $10. That’s a hard concept to argue with, plus it’s just simply tasty.

In addition to the four core beers, Karbach puts out seasonal favors. Barn Burner, a Saison beer, is for summer, while Oktoberfest debuts in August for the fall. The seasonal beer that I’m most excited to try is Pumpkin Beer, which should be available around October 1. Actual pumpkins will be roasted for flavoring this beer, as will cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Another limited-edition beer I’m eager to try is Yule Shoot Your Eye Out, a tip of the hat to the movie, A Christmas Story. The name alone is enough for me to put it in my shopping cart come Nov. 1. Add the clever name to the dark chocolate being used in the beer, and I’m sold.

Growing by leaps and bounds, Karbach put out 6,500 barrels in 2011 compared to an estimated 8,000 in 2012. Projections for 2013 are as high as 20,000 barrels, and with a recent deal with Silver Eagle, the nation’s second-largest beer wholesaler, this goal should be within reach. With such muscle behind them, Karbach is likely to become a larger player in the craft brew business. Come this fall, football fans will be able to purchase their favorite flavor on tap at Reliant Stadium during the Texans games. Football and beer…it doesn’t get any more Texan than that.

Karbach offers tours of its production facility on Fridays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. {tour starts at 6 p.m.} and Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. {tours start at 1p.m. and 2:15 p.m.}. The 30 to 45 minute tour is informal and questions are encouraged. For $7 you get the tour, a 9-ounce glass, and four tokens. The tour attracts about 200 people each day. Friday is a popular spot for an end of the week happy hour. During the tour times, food trucks set up just outside of the warehouse. They sell a variety of food including hamburgers, pizza, food-on-a-stick, and even Korean/Mexican fusion.

Karbach Brewing Company might not be a household name yet, but it will be soon enough. With their forward thinking, innovative flavors, and new partnerships, it’s just a matter of time.
But I can say I knew about them back when…

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For more of Leah Walker's travels, visit Leah Travels: Life Is Short & The Road Is Long.