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8th Wonder Brewing

Biking and breweries

Actually, this makes perfect sense.

This started off in the gray area between a good idea and a bad one. Two years ago, Jason Buhlman and Brian Kondrach got about 30 of their friends together for an afternoon of two-wheel tourism, in which they aimed to bike between as many breweries as possible in one day.

“At the time, there were only eight breweries that we could do inside the Loop,” Kondrach explains to a group of prospective riders on a sunny Saturday afternoon in late June. “It took us 14 hours. We were way too drunk. It was a mess.”

“A mess,” echoes Buhlman, who is standing just to the right of Kondrach, wearing a baseball T-shirt with the motto, “Wheels Down, Bottoms Up,” printed across his chest.

“So we put some rules on it,” Kondrach continues. “We made it so it was only 45 minutes at each stop – just one pint each, and then we move. And we added two breweries and did it again six month later.”

The ride was still fun. But much less … sloppy. And that’s when Buhlman and Kondrach realized that a curated version of this could potentially lay the groundwork for a business that could combine two of their loves: Craft beer and bicycles.

Then last May, their business, Tour de Brewery, was born. Rather than 10 breweries in an afternoon, they offer shorter tours in distinct pockets of the city, featuring about three breweries apiece.

[…]

Across Houston, breweries are becoming more bike-friendly. At Saint Arnold, a BCycle bike-share station opened earlier this Spring; there are plans to unveil one at 8th Wonder by the time the summer is through; and hopes of opening a third in Sawyer Yard, in close proximity to three breweries. And some of the city’s breweries are forming bike teams, and hosting bike crawls of their own. But as all this happens, it raises one big question: Should people hop on bikes after drinking?

“We’ve have people approach us and ask, ‘Why would you put a station at Saint Arnold or 8th Wonder?’” says Henry Morris, a spokesman at BCycle. “And the answer is, well, they have parking spaces. People drive there and drive back and they’re expected to be responsible. So if you take a bike share to a brewery and you have too much to drink, you should call an Uber home.”

That’s why the guys at Tour de Brewery emphasize that their outings are about discovering new beers.

“If you’re going to bike and drink, it’s important to remember that it’s a tasting experience,” says Jessica Green, director of development for Bike Houston, which is on track to add 50 miles of bike lanes to the city this year, including a stretch that will help cyclists close the gap between 8th Wonder and Saint Arnold. “Have one beer, and then ride. And the riding will help you metabolize the alcohol. But don’t drink more than a beer or two an hour, which is when you get into getting drunk.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but these breweries are neighborhood institutions as much as anything else, in the spirit of the old corner bar. They draw their customers mostly from their nearby surroundings, not the wider region. Also, and especially for the breweries in the inner core, parking is at a premium. That’s a combination that incentivizes biking, on both sides. For sure, as the story notes, you should imbibe carefully if you do this. Honestly, though, the same would be true if you drove. So plan your route, pick your spots, maybe give Tour de Brewery a look, and enjoy your afternoon.

“We (Heart) Houston” someplace else

Your favorite Instagram spot is moving to a new location.

The “We Love Houston” sign you’ve seen either near I-10 or in Instagram selfies is on the move.

Artist and die-hard Houstonian David Adickes told Chron.com in previous interviews that he planned to move the work, which features concrete letters ranging from 5 to 9 feet tall, separated by a 9-foot-tall heart, from a spot just south of I-10 East near Yale to more hospitable surroundings for the art and its fans.

Housing development behind the installation had cluttered the sentiment since it appeared back in the summer of 2013. It used to be at his former art studio SculpturWorx off Summer Street, near his Beatles statues and presidential heads.

[…]

According to KTRK-TV the signage is moving to a promenade near the 8th Wonder Brewery, which is the current home of the towering Fab Four statues. Chris Alan, who runs the Houston pop-culture site It’s A Houston Thing, told the outlet that this way Houstonians will be able to safely take pictures in front of it.

That’s something that Adickes had always wanted anyway. He is a fan of people of all walks of life enjoying his outsized art.

See here for some background. My fandom of all things Adickes is well known, and that includes this particular piece. Which was near where I live, but as of Sunday is not any more. I’ll miss it now that it’s fone. Here’s a map showing the new location. Having it at a brewery does have some advantages, and maybe now I’ll remember to get a picture in front of it.

Keg dispute

Your beer choices at certain fancy restaurants in Houston have been curtailed.

beer

A dispute over deposit fees for kegged beers could slow the flow of several craft brands, including a few that are made locally, at some of Houston’s best-known bars.

The issue boiled over this week when Silver Eagle Distributors instituted an unannounced 20 percent hike in the deposit it charges retailers when they purchase kegs filled with beer, local proprietors said.

Two said they will stop purchasing kegged beer from Silver Eagle, at least temporarily. Affected brands include Houston’s Saint Arnold, Karbach and 8th Wonder, and such national brands as Firestone-Walker and Sierra Nevada. Because of state laws governing how beer is sold in Texas, no other wholesalers are allowed to carry those beers in Houston.

“It’s a really hard decision,” said Kevin Floyd of the Montrose craft beer bar Hay Merchant, referring to the decision to not have the local beers on tap.

But he said the $10-per-keg increase, to $60, double what it was just a few years ago, has prompted him and other bar owners to act.

Although the deposit technically is refunded when a keg is returned to the distributor, the retailer typically doesn’t see the money because the credit is immediately applied to the next keg. Depending on the size of the bar, the deposits could tie up thousands of dollars.

“That’s money that’s just caught up,” said Ben Fullelove, owner of the Petrol Station in the Garden Oaks/Oak Forest area. “You’re not going to see that money again unless you close down.”

Fullelove, who usually has 70 to 100 kegs on hand from various distributors, said he will be out of those supplied by Silver Eagle by the end of the weekend and does not intend to purchase more unless the deposit hike is rescinded. He said he wants to support local breweries as well as the national brands his bar is known for carrying. But he, too, cited the steep increases over the last six years and said enough is enough.

“How does it end?” he said. “Suddenly I’m paying $100 a keg? $200 a keg after a year?”

In an emailed statement attributed to John Johnson, executive vice president of sales and marketing, Silver Eagle Distributors cited increases in the deposit fees it has to pay when it receives the kegs.

“These deposit fees are a standard operating procedure in the industry and from time to time are increased by suppliers, resulting in an increase by distributors,” the statement read. “As a result, Silver Eagle recently increased the amount of its refundable keg deposit.”

Hope this doesn’t ruin anyone’s dinner plans. For a perspective from one of the microbreweries affected by this, read what Scott Metzger of Freetail Brewing has to say. From my perspective, this just highlights another flaw in Texas’ byzantine tiered distributorship model for wholesale beer sales. In a sane world, there would be more than one way to get their beer from the breweries to the retailers. Microbreweries won some freedoms from the Legislature two years ago, but they still don’t operate in anything resembling a free market. This is just one illustration of that.

Our stupid beer laws in action

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Owners of the popular Eatsie Boys food truck will open their first stand-alone restaurant later this year on Montrose Boulevard, serving everything from breakfast items to sandwiches to house-made gelato.

Closer to downtown, and possibly around the same time, the young entrepreneurs will cut the ribbon on their 8th Wonder Brewery. They recently took possession of a brand-new brewhouse and three shiny tanks that will produce craft beers like Alternate Universe, Hopston and Intellectuale, “the beer that makes you think.”

But don’t expect to see any of those brews on tap at their restaurant. Texas law forbids it.

“What a joke is that?” asked Ryan Soroka, a founding partner of both operations. ” … It makes no sense that we’re doing things the way we have to do them.”

[…]

In Texas, brewers must decide whether they want to be a shipping brewery, á la Saint Arnold or Anheuser-Busch, which are prohibited from selling their own products directly to consumers, or a retail brewpub, which cannot distribute to bars, stores and other restaurants.

The catch for 8th Wonder as a shipping brewery is that holders of a Texas brewer’s license are barred from selling alcohol on-site or at any other establishment they own. Licensees are forbidden even from giving away samples at any retail site they own, a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission spokeswoman said.

So for now, at least, Soroka and his business partners will make beer in an old warehouse east of downtown and run a separate (and dry) cafe in the former Kraftsmen site at 4100 Montrose.

Despite what the shill for the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas says later in the story, this arrangement, which is solely to the benefit of the distributors and the big brewers, is hurtful to small outfits like 8th Wonder and to beer drinkers everywhere. It’s the same old story and will continue to be until there are enough members of the Lege who are willing to do something about it. Towards that end, I will point you again to Open the Taps and their Beer Voting Guide. Beer lovers have made progress in each of the past three legislative sessions, and as long as we keep up the pressure, we will eventually get the Lege to do the right thing.

Still more microbrew options

Our flagons runneth over, as new microbreweries keep springing up.

If each opens as planned, Buffalo Bayou, 8th Wonder and Yard Sale Brewing companies would bring to eight the number of plants making beer within an hour’s drive of downtown Houston, up from two less than four years ago.

The newcomers hope to profit from the continued migration of U.S. beer consumers away from the established, internationally owned conglomerates MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev, which runs a large Houston operation.

[…]

The 8th Wonder crew has signed a five-year lease on a 5,000-square-foot space on the east side of downtown, within walking distance of Toyota Center and the Dynamo soccer stadium under construction. By opening the warehouse for tours and parking food trucks across the street, it seeks to be “some sort of tailgate presence” on game days, president and co-founder Ryan Soroka said.

Soroka, 27, and brewmaster Corsi, 31, are joined in the effort by executive chef Matt Marcus, 28, and chief financial officer Alex Vassilakidis, 27. They’ve been quietly raising funds through friends and family and are in the midst of getting their state and federal alcohol licenses and local business permits.

Soroka, Marcus and Vassilakidis have known each other since childhood in Houston and are partners in the successful Eatsie Boys operation, catering to the downtown lunch crowd, farmers markets and occasional excursions outside bars. They plan to open their brewery in the first quarter of 2012 with three beers: an India pale ale, an amber ale and a blonde ale.

Buffalo Bayou is a bit farther along, with some tanks awaiting installation at a 7,800-square-foot space south of Interstate 10, near Washington Avenue. It expects to start selling its first beer, a “copper ale,” by year-end.

[…]

Yard Sale Brewing founders Justin Engle, 28, and Steven Macalello, 27, seek an even more intimate neighborhood setting, perhaps in a renovated Heights bungalow or other architecturally interesting structure. They have chosen a smaller brewing system and want to offer daily “happy hour” tours in addition to self-distributing their beers to local bars and restaurants.

These are good days to be a beer drinker in Houston. I wish them and all their microbrewing predecessors well.