Starting this week, I'll be reviewing more than one beer, spotlighting a local brewery while also recommending something on local grocery shelves. Happy hunting!
If someone who has never been to a brewery asked me, "What is a brewery like?" I would point them to Astral, on Shepherd Drive north of 43rd Street in the GOOF. An industrial, high-ceiling space of cafeteria-style tables, a few high-tops, and modest bar seating, it's the dictionary definition of a brewery. It also has a couple of unique touches: The brewery logo is fashioned into the bases of the chairs, and there are a few cool murals depicting Houston as Space City. Finally, there's outdoor seating. It's a cool, casual hang.
Beer offerings run the gamut, but you'll generally find a couple IPAs on tap, plus sour-fermented fare and a couple basics (porter, kolsch).
Astral Brewing's EarthRise IPA
EarthRise is a very down-the-middle IPA at 5.6 percent ABV that plays off the nuances of its hops. Made with Chinook and Columbus hops, it could be a piney, bitter spectacle that goes too far, but instead it's refreshingly balanced, even creamy at one point. You might smell some grapefruit and grassiness, and the taste is easy and just hoppy enough. I could drink multiple. Rating: 8.4/10
Astral Brewing's Kveik
Recently released in a pilot batch, this uses kveik—or a kind of Norwegian yeast cultures—which is pretty popular in beer circles. Kveik is a workhorse yeast that can operate in warmer fermentation temperatures and still eat tons of sugar to deliver a dry, clean beer. Astral fermented its Kveik beer in temps 20 degrees higher than usual, and the fermentation ended in two days, which is borderline outrageous. It was then dry hopped with Australian Vic Secret hops. The result is a cloudy, yellow-golden beer that imparts citrus and grapefruit on the nose, and ends drier than expected. I wouldn't go back to it repeatedly, but it's a well-made beer that utilizes the yeast well. Rating: 6.9/10
On The Shelf: Spindletap Brewery's Hops Drop IPA
Checking back in with Spindletap, you can find this tallboy on grocery store shelves. Hops Drop is the result of a multi-layered process (triple hopped with Citra, Motueka, and El Dorado), and has that tropical scent and mildly juicy blast, yet goes down pretty smooth. At this point I can trust Spindletap with just about any Citra-made IPA, and this is no different. This is a weekend hangout beer, and while it's not necessarily as good as Citra gets, it's a winner. Rating: 8.0/10
Explanation of ratings: 9.5-10: as good as the best beer in America; 9-9.4: the best beer in Houston; 8-8.9: among the better beers in Houston; 7-7.9: really good beer; 6-6.9: try this beer at least once; 5-5.9: if you’re stuck, this won’t hurt; 3-4.9: among the lowest-quality beers in Houston; 0-2.9: as bad as the worst beer in America.