Welcome to the Bayou City Beer Club. We're here to celebrate Houston's burgeoning brewing culture, so each week we'll offer a beer review. We'll do old favorites, new sensations, and wild cards. Join us!
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Karbach: Yule Shoot Your Eye Out
Let's talk about Karbach. It opened in 2011. In 2013 it was called the fastest-growing craft brewery in the country, and in 2015 it finished a major renovation. And about two years ago, Anheuser-Busch InBev acquired it.
When InBev or another multinational beverage company buys a craft brewery, a lot of things happen. For one, the craft brewery's distribution potential soars. Having InBev's industry clout behind a relatively small-time brewery can be a huge benefit, leading to raised profits, more jobs, and bigger facilities. For many breweries, and the people running them who have spent their lives trying to do what they love while making a living, this can be a great thing.
On the flip side, when a craft brewery joins up with a multinational company, it's branded a sellout by many inside the craft community. Beer lovers may argue that brewery's beer has declined in flavor, that its offerings are too corporatized, or that its leaders lost a passion for the craft. In short, when craft goes corporate, a line is drawn.
So it goes as no surprise that when Karbach announced a new recipe for its Christmas seasonal, Yule Shoot Your Eye Out (that's a reference to A Christmas Story, the most overrated movie of all-time), some craft fans got angry. The argument was, essentially, that by changing the recipe from a spiced ale at 8 percent ABV to a red ale at 5.6 percent ABV, Karbach was putting profit over loyalty.
Here's Eric Warner, brewmaster at Karbach, on why the brewery changed the recipe.
"We've been doing more or less the same recipe every year," he said. "A lot of seasonals can get stale because it's the exact same thing every year. So what can we do to shake it up a bit and broaden the appeal of Yule Shoot Your Eye Out a little bit?"
Karbach wants more people to drink its beer, and it's working. According to Warner, Yule Shoot Your Eye Out is selling at a much faster rate than in previous years. That may not sit well with craft fans, but on one level Karbach is just being savvy: How many Christmas beers aren't big, spiced ales or dark, boozy stouts?
"It's for the people out there who don't want an eight percent beer. It's more approachable now, I think," said Warner.
As for loyalty, one can argue that by changing the Christmas beer the brewery is snubbing the fans of the previous recipe. On the other hand, loyalty comes in all forms, and maybe Karbach is showing loyalty to people they're trying to turn into beer drinkers.
"The landscape is changing so rapidly," said Warner, mentioning that beer overall is losing shares in the beverage sector to wine and spirits. "You need concepts that keep consumers interested and happy."
Karbach may be focused right now on attracting new customers. But if it gets more people to drink beer—and then start looking into craft—that's a win to this writer.
As for Yule Shoot Your Eye Out's flavor, it's extremely accessible. Warner brews it with candied orange peel (Warner apparently got an orange in his stocking every Christmas), which is supposed to add sugary and bitter citrus elements to an otherwise lightly biscuity, toasty ale with a strong amber hue. I only detected a faint hint of the orange, and it would've been nice to get a little more zip out of it. I like the biscuity profile, though I longed for a more complex flavor, as it came and went pretty quickly.
It's not what I'd immediately consider a Christmas seasonal, but Yule Shoot Your Eye Out recalls a fresh baked batch of Christmas cookies. It's a nice changeup from the big, bold, and spiced. And it's one December beer non-beer drinkers could get into.