Call us crazy, but we decided to contact 16 noted craft beer connoisseurs*—respected beer writers and community advocates with no ties to any local bars or breweries—and bring them down to the Houstonia offices, where they were not allowed to leave until they’d agreed on what our city’s best brewery was. The discussion—over beers, of course—covered such topics as consistency, innovation, variety, style, execution, and other considerations. Miraculously, consensus was achieved.
*Our expert panel: Kelly Bishop, Matt Chow, José Luis Cubria, Ted Duchesne, Leanna Fossler, Jack Highberger, Nena Lamb, Jamie McMinn, Rainer Schuhsler, John Speights, Leslie Sprague, Philip Stephenson, Robert Stokes, Chris White, Russell Wing, and Jonathan Yoo
1. Saint Arnold Brewing Company
Founded: June 1994
Tours: Mon–Fri: 2pm–4:15pm; Saturday: 11am–2pm; $8 (includes souvenir glass and four 8 oz. pours)
Best Beer: Boiler Room Berliner Weisse
The oldest craft brewery in Texas also ranks as Houston’s most beloved. Since moving from an un-air-conditioned warehouse off Highway 290 into its spacious new facility—a former HISD food service warehouse, now renovated and welcoming—Saint Arnold has become even more innovative. The larger facilities allow Brock Wagner and his team to create brand-new summer-perfect beers like the Boiler Room (a crisp, tart Berliner Weisse), increase production of its coveted Divine Reserve limited-run brews, and usher in its Icon series, creative interpretations of iconic beer styles such as Bière de Saison and Bohemian Pils.
“Houston's standard bearer.” —Chris White
“Clear No. 1; nobody else is close.” —José Luis Cubria
2000 Lyons Ave., 713-686-9494, saintarnold.com
2. The Lone Pint Brewery
Founded: December 2012
Tours: Saturday 12–4pm; $10 (includes souvenir glass and three 16 oz. pours)
Best Beer: Yellow Rose IPA
Though it’s the youngest on our Top 5 list, this Magnolia brewery has had no small amount of impact since Heather Niederhofer and her brother Trevor Brown opened it in 2012, later joined by Heather’s then-boyfriend, now-husband Blake Niederhofer. The team has already created one of the city’s best brews: a grapefruit-tinged IPA called Yellow Rose, which beer fans consume as fast as Lone Pint can brew it. And as it’s grown, the brewery has begun experimenting with other creations like Gentleman’s Relish, a brown ale, and fun projects such as the Zythophile series—beers made with a single variety of hops, like El Dorado and Azacca. For now, you can only find Lone Pint’s offerings on draft or at the brewery itself—but given its wild popularity, can bottling be far behind?
“Nailing hoppy beers.” —Rainer Schuhsler
507 Commerce St., Magnolia, 713-304-5069, lonepint.com
3. Karbach Brewing Co.
Founded: August 2011
Tours: Monday: 4:30–7:30pm; Thursday: 4:30–8:30pm; Friday: 4:30–7:30pm; Saturday: 12–3pm; $8 (includes 9 oz. souvenir glass and four 9 oz. pours) or $12 (includes 16 oz. souvenir glass and three 16 oz. pours)
Best Beer: Rodeo Clown Double IPA
From the very beginning, it was clear they weren’t messing around: brewmaster Eric Warner had put in 10 years as brewmaster at Flying Dog Brewery in Maryland; his partners had founded a successful beer distribution company which they later sold to finance Karbach; and the sparkling new facility itself was stunning. Only three years later, it is the second-fastest-growing brewery in the US, having produced over 8,000 barrels of Sympathy for the Lager, Weisse Versa, and Rodeo Clown—among other popular brews—in 2012 alone. Given Karbach’s spectacular growth curve (they produced just 674 barrels in 2011), its beers may soon be as ubiquitous as Shiner.
“Hop Delusion is one of the best DIPAs in the state.” —Leanna Fossler
2032 Karbach St., 713-680-2739, karbachbrewing.com
4. Southern Star Brewing
Founded: July 2007
Tours: Saturday: 2–10pm; free (includes one 16 oz. pour)
Best Beer: Buried Hatchet Stout
The appeal of this brewery? Its clearly-defined, straightforward products—Pine Belt Pale Ale, Buried Hatchet Stout, Bombshell Blonde Ale—and approachability. Bombshell Blonde, in its iconic blue can sporting a blonde pin-up girl riding a WWII-style bomb, has been Southern Star’s calling card for many a moon now, thanks to its clean, crisp taste and that attractive packaging. And the brewery’s easygoing vibe extends to its free brewery tours, in which patrons are welcome to bring food, kids, even dogs to a weekly celebration of all things beer.
“Best gateway brewery.” —Philip Stephenson
1207 N. FM 3083 Rd. E., Conroe, 936-441-2739, southernstarbrewing.com
5. Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co.
Founded: December 2011
Tours: Saturday: 12–3pm; $10 (includes souvenir glass and two 16 oz. pours)
Best Beer: Lenin’s Revenge Russian Imperial Stout
While Southern Star’s appeal is simplicity, this young brewery courts the outrageous and eccentric whenever possible. Such a stance has gained Buffalo Bayou a huge following among fans of the unusual and odd. Its beers—usually limited, and only available on draft or in bombers—have ranged from an apricot-flavored Belgian IPA to a red velvet stout, although the brewery does have a few year-round beers that have become local favorites: 1836, a “copper ale” that’s refreshing on a hot day, and More Cowbell, an American double IPA so popular it became the first Buff Brew sold in cans.
“Love their experimentation.” —John Speights
5301 Nolda St., 713-750-9795, buffbrew.com
On the next page: five up-and-coming Houston breweries.
8th Wonder Brewery
Founded: Feburary 2013
Tours: Saturday, 6 to 9 p.m., $15 (includes three 12 oz. pours), $8 with 8th Wonder pint glass
Best Beer: Rocket Fuel Vietnamese Coffee Porter
2202 Dallas St.; 713-229-0868, 8thwonderbrew.com
Founded: January 2012
Tours: The Montgomery-based brewery does not yet offer tours
Best Beer: Ryed Hard Rye Pale Ale
Fort Bend Brewing Co.
Founded: December 2012
Tours: Saturday, noon to 3 p.m., $10 (includes souvenir glass and four 16 oz. pours)
Best Beer: Texas Thunder Stout
13370 S. Gessner Rd., Missouri City, 281-769-8618, fortbendbrewing.com
No Label Brewing Co.
Founded: February 2011
Tours: Saturday, noon to 3 p.m., $8 (includes 4 oz. tasting glass and four 4 oz. pours)
Best Beer: Ridgeback Amber Ale
Building A, 5351 1st St., Katy, 281-693-7545, nolabelbrew.com
Texian Brewing Co.
Founded: November 2012
Tours: Occasional Saturdays from noon to 3 p.m.; call brewery for dates and details
Best Beer: First Stand Belgian-Style Saison
1125 FM 359, Richmond, 281-762-2604, texianbrewing.com