Recently, to coincide with the release of Avengers: Endgame, Ingenious Brewing Co. released six sour-tasting beers spiked with fruit and spanning the colors of the rainbow—yellow, orange, red, purple, green, blue. Inspired by the Marvel Comic Universe’s six infinity stones, the beers had flavor profiles that matched their distinct hues. For example, the green beer, called Eye of Agamotto, was brewed with kiwi, key lime, vanilla beans, and jalapeño.
Since opening early in 2018, Ingenious has quickly gained a reputation as a beer geek’s paradise. Championing the adventurous and non-traditional, the brewery releases new beers that look awesome on an Instagram feed. For the most part, they also taste pretty good. Needless to say, demand is strong.
For example: When those Avengers beers, called Smarty Stone beers, became available at a special release event, tickets sold out immediately. The crush of demand, along with long lines just to buy a new beer, beg for comparisons to special "destination" breweries like Tree House in Charlton, Massachusetts, home to what's considered by many to be some of the best beers in America. These are places where, no matter when you visit, you're going to have to wait to get inside.
“Which I hate,” says Justin Gyorfi, co-owner of Ingenious.
"It never was our goal to have lines and to make it challenging to get our product,” he expands. “Instead of serving 200 people in an hour on a particular release date, I'd rather serve 10 people every hour during the week and give everyone a great experience."
Therein lies the challenge for arguably the Houston area’s most adventurous brewery. Up in Humble, Ingenious has positioned itself as a destination for beer geeks across the country. Its location, just eight minutes east of George Bush Intercontinental Airport—where you can sit outside at a picnic table and watch the 747s overhead—makes it often the first or last stop for beer lovers visiting Houston. Some of those fans bring Ingenious beer back home with them, maybe to drink, maybe to trade with their friends.
That was part of the plan, which broadly, was to ensure people want to return to try new stuff. In 2013, while in graduate school in Pennsylvania, Houston native Gyorfi plotted with friend Mike Broderick, a Philadelphian, to open a brewery in Texas. But instead of having a couple standard core beers (say, an amber, an IPA, and a pilsner), Gyorfi wanted to constantly shuffle his offerings, influenced by taprooms and bars he frequented up in the Northeast.
“I loved that idea,” says Gyorfi. “Beer was always fresh, always rotating, always changing, and at the time Texas didn’t have anything remotely close to that.”
Their building was constructed specifically for them; it took a few years to start production, but when the doors opened in 2018, Ingenious made a quick impression because its beers routinely changed, and because they looked and tasted different than the rest.
There are froyo beers—IPAs brewed with lactose and dry-hopped late so they imbue fruity scents and flavor profiles—stouts finished with non-traditional ingredients that add distinct flavors, such as vanilla beans and baking spices; and the Smarty beers, or kettle sours brewed with lactose and finished with gobs of fruit and other flavorful ingredients. The Avengers beers fall in that category.
Ingenious leans heavily on those three styles. Gyorfi and Broderick tried other styles early on but learned quickly that, to keep up its business model of rotating small-batch beer, it couldn’t keep anything on tap for long. So, says Gyorfi, “we make what sells.”
On any given day at Ingenious you’ll see a handful of froyo beers, a handful of imperial stouts that might taste like dessert, and a handful of the Smarty sour beers on tap at once. Sometimes popular beer comes back after a sabbatical, but often you can go two weeks between visits and see a completely different lineup. Can it turn off a beer drinker to encounter five kinds of stouts punched up with flavors of cinnamon, caramel, vanilla, and chocolate? Maybe. Does Ingenious have detractors? Sure. You won’t need to search long to find people who think it’s all a bit ridiculous. But visit the brewery and you’re bound to encounter a whole lot of people who think otherwise.
“We have a lot of people who hate IPAs but love ours, because ours don’t have bitterness,” says Gyorfi. “We’ve built up [a base of] a bunch of people who say 'I don’t drink IPAs, I don’t drink stouts, but they’ll come in here over and over.”
And as that Smarty Stone release indicates, demand outweighs supply. Gyorfi hopes to increase the latter so more people can have their beer; moreover, he says they’re planning “expansion out of Humble.”
“We have projects in the Houston area and outside of Houston that we're working on,” he says, declining to give details or give a full timeline.
But make no mistake: Ingenious sees itself as a destination brewery, a place that draws drinkers from other parts of the country, and a place that ultimately boosts the reputation of the Houston beer scene.
“People come in with their suitcases buying crowlers. They’ll buy beer and take it to their friends and continue to spread the culture of what we’re trying to do here, and increase outsiders’ impressions and opinions of Texas and Houston beer, which up until very recently was ‘It doesn’t exist’ or ‘It’s not good, we don’t want to trade for it,’” Gyorfi says.
“So we like being part of that, of getting beer outside the city to other people’s hands and getting people excited about it, and giving Houston a name in the beer community.”