Editor’s note: This brewery guide appears courtesy of the excellent local website beerchronicle.com .
Check them out for Houston craft beer reviews, brewery guides, and follow them on Instagram @beerchroniclehou for everything Houston craft beer related. They will be providing occasional content for Houston Sports and Stuff.
By TONY D and CHRIS ADAMS
Back Pew Brewing
KNOWN FOR VERY UNIQUE BEER STYLES AND PUSHING THE ENVELOPE CREATIVELY
26452 Sorters McClellan Rd, Porter, TX 77365
(Gary P. Nunn and band on the Back Pew Stage)
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU VISIT BACK PEW BREWING
Price: 9oz glass +4 pours for $9, 16oz glass +3 pours for $12. If you already have a Back Pew 9oz glass, buy 4 tickets for $7. If you already have a Back Pew 16oz glass, buy 3 tickets for $10
Food: Food trucks on site for events and weekends
Growlers: Not available on site
Kegs: Not available on site
Kids/Pets: Kids and pets are welcome, “but we can’t baby-sit/pet-sit for you”
Parking: Big grass lot out front – tons of free, easy parking
Hours: Saturdays from 12-5pm
(Cascade hop vines that dawn the front of the warehouse)
THE BACK PEW BREWING EXPERIENCE
To begin, if you’ve been following us through the last few months, you know that as we were building beerchronicle.com, we searched high and low to list alllll of the breweries in the Greater Houston Area. (We’re still probably missing a few, and if you know of some, please let us know). This was one of the smaller ones, but their reputation preceded them!
Somehow we made friends with Cameron of Garnet Heart on Instagram, and he mentioned to us that he frequents Back Pew Brewing and he’d love to show us around. A few weeks later, Back Pew was hosting Gary P. Nunn and we decided we’d stop by for a few beers. Cameron happened to be in town, so we decided to meet up and shoot the breeze a bit with him before meeting with Bobby Harl, owner and head brewer.
Chris and I headed out on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, and after he missed his exit, we made our way down Sorters McClellan Road a few miles until there was an opening in the tall pines to our left. As we pulled into the drive, there was a little bitty white church house on the left. There was a much bigger warehouse on the right, with little vines growing up the front of the building and big bay doors on both the front and back; they were both wide open, so you could see right through the building as you pulled up to park. We met up in the large grass parking area out front and walked in together. It was a day or two after the very first “cold front,” so the weather was absolutely perfect! Crisp, light breeze and not a cloud in the sky – terrific beer-drinking weather.
As soon as you make your way through the big bay door, Back Pew Brewing boasts big, comfy indoor picnic tables with industrial fans and a huge outdoor seating area complete with a stage for live music and covered picnic tables for enjoying the food trucks. Next time we go, we’ll bring a couple camping chairs to guarantee that we have a seat! There are also 2 big TVs inside that had football on.
We got the VIP package that day, which got us a big ass Gary P mug, a wrist band, and a chip. We got in line, and each of us went for the same beer by mistake, grabbing Hopostle. Whoops. It was great though, so whatever. We grabbed a table inside because all the good spots outside were taken already, and really we were there to speak with Cameron and Bobby, so we could write this post.
We sat there for a few minutes, notebooks in hand, and Cameron approached us. He sat with us, introduced us to Steven, Back Pew Brewing’s salesperson, and Jon from Drink of Ages. The five of us chatted a little while, sharing backstories and business cards, as we tasted some of Back Pew Brewing’s staple beers and waited for Bobby to come up for air. All the while, this bearded guy with “Spike” embroidered on his shirt kept running by the table, a brown and black blur.
BACK PEW BREWING: ABOUT THE OWNER
Bobby Harl is the owner and brewmaster, and this dude is serious. His nickname is Spike, and it turns out, he was the blur. “It’s a childhood nickname, but nobody really calls me it anymore. It’s starting to make a comeback now.” Since they began brewing on October 15th, 2015, he’s applied a different approach to craft beer, and it’s one part passion, two parts conviction.
Bobby’s a Klein High School grad. He chose to study at Trinity university in San Antonio TX and got his PhD and MBA at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee before returning home to brew at the little church called Back Pew Brewing.
When we asked him about the location, he explained how it kinda all came together. “I wanted to be in Porter because there were no other brewers out here, and the location fit perfectly with what we’re trying to accomplish here. We could really convert people out here,” he joked about loving the church rhetoric, and he sprinkled it in the convo at every opportunity.
Additionally, Bobby told us the story of how Back Pew Brewing got its name, and it was also one of those things that just came together. “See, we started as Saints and Sinners Brewing originally, but we had some trademarking issues. I actually picked that name prior to having the church as our location, but once we found out we couldn’t use it anymore, we didn’t want to give that up. Because of the way I wanted to sell beer, by having the duality of the Saint and Sinner lines, it seemed too good to be true once we found the church, so I wanted to keep it. While we were working on the logo, they were trying to show us some weird icon to represent the pews, and then boom, it came. Back Pew Brewing! That’s where the sinners and the saints sit, so it worked out beautifully. The best part is, we scrapped the actual pew part in the logo but stuck with the name!”
(Not the owner, but Steven, their Beer Prophet AKA salesperson. Photo courtesy of Garnet Heart)
It seemed like Bobby deflected every single compliment we offered. He was pleased to hear that we’d heard so much good about Back Pew Brewing and enjoyed a few of their beers already, but he was super humble about it all. He gave his whole team credit, even the volunteers. “This event is a testament to how badass our team is. We’ve got 7 employees and 24 volunteers, and these guys [and gals] have been busting their butts to pull this event off. Gary P.’s awesome too – what a class act…” He went on, casting the praises on to everyone around him.
Mind you, the whole time we’re sitting with Bobby, Chris and I are jotting notes down so quickly, that we literally can’t make out half of them in order to write this post. The dude was like an auctioneer, but instead of calling out numbers and pointing at people, he was answering questions and sharing neat little stories that somehow ran together coherently, while jumping up from the table to inspect a beer that looked off from across the room.
He very quickly said, “Gimme a sec,” or “Excuse me real quick, y’all,” as he’d run over to someone share a quiet word, then run back with a big smile, explaining what was off about this or that. He’s got a real eye for quality, and it shows in how he talks about ingredients and the beer.
THE BACK PEW BREWING BEER
We laughed each time he’d blast off and blur right back. Chris asked him, “You got some strict standards, huh?” Bobby, still smiling, but very serious, replied, “Yes I do. I’ll dump it if it’s not perfect, and I’ve been telling them to do that all night!! But we’re working with alotta volunteers. They’re doing their best!”
We asked a bit about the philosophy behind the beer and who they’re trying to reach. Bobby explained to us that Back Pew Brewing isn’t really interested in brewing beer to transition people from macro to craft. He believes there are plenty of other breweries that’ll do that just fine. “We brew beer that we believe in, simple as that.” That’s why they put so much effort into brewing a Pilsner, a commonly overlooked style – usually because it lacks lots of flavor or uniqueness. He told us about how he had a hell of a time chasing down corn to make Blue Testament, their mainstay, and he went on to say, “If your Pilsner is sh–, you may not be ready to brew.”
They want to make beer that’s creative, not because it has a ton of fruit in it, but because maybe it’s a unique style.
(The aforementioned big ass Gary P. Nunn mugs we got and tap handles in the background – saints on the left, sinners on the right). When Back Pew Brewing first started, he didn’t even want to make an IPA. It’s the most common style for craft-drinkers, so after getting enough requests for one, he gave in. He laughed, “Some dude seriously asked me to make a clone of Yellow Rose and said he’d rather drink it here than drive all the way to Lone Pint just cause we’re closer.” He’s dead set on doing beer that’s uncommon and untraditional, but only if it’s done well. “Everybody in town has an IPA, an ale, and a Heff. That’s fine for them, but we wanted to do something different. We don’t want to make their beer – we want to make ours. That’s what’s great about our industry, we all have our own unique take on the market.”
Their beers are broken up into two categories – saints and sinners. Saints are the more tame brews, and sinners are the heavier, higher ABV ones. The idea here is to collapse the whole decision making matrix that someone goes through when they’re in the aisle buying some beer.
“When you’re standing there, you’ve got hundreds of beers to choose from with all this elaborate artwork on the cans, all these colors, etc. We wanted to make something simple, and easy to understand. Once you see us, you know us. Once you know us, your choice is easy: heavy or light – saint or sinner.”
(The first ever cans of Blue Testament, awaiting their beer and lids)
We weren’t there to review beers, but of course, we took a few notes. Here’s what they had at the time:
• Satyr’s Swill, Bock – 7.2% ABV, 22 IBU
• 9th Circle, Black IPA – 8.5% ABV, 90 IBU
• Hopostle, IPA – 7.2% ABV, 80 IBU
• Act of Balor, Imperial Milk Stout – 10.3% ABV, ? IBU
• Blue Testament, American Pilsner – 5.2% ABV, 30 IBU
• Sweet Salvation, Brown Ale – 6.0% ABV, 29 IBU
• Ryesurrection, Roggenbier – 5.6% ABV, 15 IBU
• Oktoberfest (This one was ready taste-wise, but Bobby wasn’t happy with the clarity. Didn’t get any info on it)
They would all land somewhere between great and man, hold up, but we weren’t there to write about beer this time. We’ll stop by Growler USA, Katy to get a fill one of these days. I wrote a review on Sweet Salvation a few weeks before we visited to write this guide, and I really enjoyed it. I also wrote one on Ryesurrection, and it was good too, but I have yet to post it here. He wouldn’t let us try the Oktoberfest because it wasn’t perfect. All quality. All the time. No exceptions.
Aside from that, 9th Circle was pretty good too. It had the heavy malt profile you’d expect of a black IPA. Hopostle was delicious, and yet another candidate for the argument that not all hop bitterness is created equally, as it’s pretty smooth for 80 IBU. Blue Testament was delicious, and the hard work put into sourcing the ingredients shows. I don’t think either of us tried Satyr’s Swill, but if we did, we didn’t make any notes on it. As we were on our way out the door, Steven gave us each a small taster of Act of Balor, and keeping with their love of the church rhetoric, it was divine.
THE FUTURE FOR BACK PEW BREWING
What’s the future hold for the sinners and saints over at Back Pew Brewing? A ton.
They’re already working on canning and distributing will begin November 20, 2016. They’re also hoping to bottle March of 2017. For now, I think they’ll be self distributing, but that’s not in either of our notes.
They’re hoping to roll out a barrel program, and they joked about releasing a Pineapple Pils. This wasn’t one of those jokes that’s actually laced with a bit of truth, though. The only thing they’re considering bottling currently is something barrel-aged.
Finally, Bobby ended our little interview with one last church pun, “We make our beer. We’re preaching something a little different around here,” accompanied by a smile and a handshake, and then he zoomed off again. We had a blast.
Do yourself a favor, and visit these guys. Let us know what you think below. Beers to you, Houston!