Since opening in 2012, Hay Merchant on Westheimer has become the premier craft beer bar in Montrose and possibly all of Houston. Five years ago, only a handful of such establishments existed in the city. Kevin Floyd’s brainchild presaged an explosion of craft beer in Houston, as demonstrated by the many new breweries that have opened since 2012 in the greater Houston area as well as the many taps around town that carry the product, even in establishments that aren’t “craft beer bars.”
Every year, Hay Merchant holds an anniversary party with specials on draft and rare selections pulled from the cellar, and this year is no exception. The theme of Thursday’s big day is the “Square Root,” meaning that for its fifth anniversary, all beers on tap will be either $5 or $2.23 (the square root of 5). The event itself takes place on 2/23, continuing the theme.
The complete selection of beers will be available on the website before the party, but in the meantime, some highlights to look forward to include some rare selections from the cellar, some as old as the bar itself. Among them are Oskar Blues Ten Fidy, Real Ale Scots Gone Wild, Brooklyn Monster and North Coast Old Rasputin XV. Fittingly enough, Brasserie BFM’s Square Root 225 will also be available.
Hay Merchant, of course, shares a kitchen with Underbelly, and though the menus are different, chef Chris Shepherd designs the menu and his team cooks the food with just as much care. Shepherd began adding family-style dishes to Hay Merchant's menu in 2015, and among the delicious feasts are chicken fried steak with biscuits and gravy, lasagna and a whole pig’s head, an item Shepherd wasn’t sure would sell at first but since has become one of the bar's most popular dishes. According to Floyd, the bar sells about 20 pig heads a week. (And even if you’re not that adventurous, you’re sure to find something on the menu you’ll like.)
A big anniversary bash isn't all that's in the works, however. Coming up, look for another run of Hephaestus, a collaboration between Hay Merchant, next-door neighbor coffee shop Blacksmith and Clown Shoes Brewery in Boston. Hephaestus is a spin on Clown Shoes’ A Fistful of Unidragon special release—itself a barrel-aged version of The Good, the Bad, & the Unidragon, which in turn is a special Texas-sourced and Texas-released version of their standard Russian imperial stout, the Blaecorn Unidragon. (Did you follow all of that?)
For the Hephaestus brew, first released in December 2015, Blacksmith owner David Buehrer hand-pulled 1,000 shots of espresso which were then vacuum-sealed, sent off to be pasteurized in a high-pressure process, then shipped to Boston to be added into the beer. "The use of coffee is very clear, but not in the traditional way," says Floyd of the result. "You get classic notes of coffee but those flavors are coming from the beer itself. The coffee adds a complex fruitiness to the finished beer. Classic barrel notes of honey and vanilla are also clearly there." The project was considered a success, and another batch of Hephaestus is expected to be released soon.
It’s that kind of innovative and forward-thinking approach to beer that’s kept Hay Merchant one of the best bars in the city, if not the country, for craft beer. The party promises to have a well-curated and diverse list of high-quality and rare beers, and is a must-attend for any serious craft beer aficionado.
The Hay Merchant 5th anniversary party is Thursday, February 23, beginning at the bar’s usual opening time, 3 p.m.