Image: Jenn Duncan

Ask any industry type about her go-to bar drink, and you’ll likely hear “beer and a shot.” This classic combination—offering both quick buzz and hop-fueled relaxation—is known as a boilermaker.

It’s an unfussy concept, and a cinch to prepare, which might be why Leslie Ross, director of the bar program at Decatur Bar & Pop-Up Factory in Old Sixth Ward, got a lot of questions from her staff after suggesting it as a menu item.

“Everyone kind of looked at me funny, and I said, ‘Trust me,’” she said.

With the help of a couple of other industry folks—Eureka Heights Brewing Co. founder Casey Motes, and Maker’s Mark sales rep Frank Krockenberger—she set out to put her own spin on the tradition. Ross chops up Maker’s Mark French oak barrel staves, then throws them in a bag with simple syrup, vacuum-seals that, and blasts it with ultrasonic waves—which are said to replicate the aging process, but within days instead of years—before adding poached orange peels to the mix. The result is what she calls “cuvée honey.”

The honey is poured into a can of Eureka Heights Buckle Bunny cream ale, giving it a Dreamsicle quality that smooths out the sharpness of the accompanying shot of Maker’s Mark bourbon.

Decatur has taken over the old Beaver’s spot off Washington, and some of the same players are involved: Partners include Adam Brackman (also of Axelrad Beer Garden) and legendary local chef Monica Pope, who helmed Beaver’s at one time. Ross herself used to bartend there.

The concept will continue to evolve, by design. Chefs will rotate in and out for months-long residencies and serve tasting menus on weekends; Ross will serve up cocktails to complement their menus. The bar will be open Tuesdays through Sundays, with drinks and chef’s bar bites on offer, and the space will host pop-ups and culinary workshops, too.

Currently in the kitchen is Evelyn Garcia, native Houstonian and former Chopped champion, who combines her love of Southeast Asian cuisine with her Latinx roots. She’ll be there through the summer. And after that? The hope is Garcia will open her own concept, maybe even take a bartender or two with her, and that Decatur will continue the Beaver’s tradition of serving as an incubator for the next generation of Houston food and drink talent.

“Hopefully we will create a culture here that will perpetuate in the same way that Beaver’s did, that’s continuously evolving,” says Ross. “I want it to be a farm team; I want people to want bartenders from here.”

And if those bartenders create their own boilermakers, all the better.

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