This Dud's For You: Houston Welcomes a New Microbrewery Like Nothing You've Ever Seen Before

Categories: Brew Blog

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Photos courtesy of Facebook
Co-founders taste batches of Buffalo's latest brew in front of renderings of the brewery's facility.
At the end of its first year in the beer business, Rassul Zarinfar hopes that his new brewery -- Buffalo Bayou Brewing -- will have released at least one huge dud.

"Hopefully, we will have brewed a beer that was completely unexpected," Zarinfar said over the phone on Monday afternoon, "and hopefully we have a beer that completely fails as well."

If this sounds odd, that's because Zarinfar wants it that way. He and his co-founders -- 50 of them in all -- have created one of the most unique concepts in brewing that Houston has ever seen: a brewery that makes only small-batch beers, only two at a time, personally delivering each micro-batch in kegs to local bars and other tasting venues.

Each batch of beer will fill up no more than 20 to 30 kegs, a system that's designed to let Zarinfar and his co-founders experiment with wild abandon on each brew.

"The small batch size allows us to take huge risks," he said in one breath, while in the next discussing the possibility of a cilantro beer for the summer. "We want to do really crazy, innovative stuff," he says.

But that's not the only way in which Buffalo Bayou Brewing is wildly different.

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Rassul Zarinfar, left, with cofounders.
Perhaps never running up against the difficult prospect of coming to a decision by a committee, Zarinfar plans to allow the 50 co-founders to be the ultimate arbiters of which beers will be brewed and exactly how they will taste.

"It's a paradigm shift," he said. "There's no longer a single brewmaster," making grand decisions for the entire brewery, which will be based in a warehouse in Cottage Grove. Instead, he says, "at every point of the way, we're trying to make this a lot more decentralized."

He laughed knowingly when I mentioned the difficulties that lie ahead in allowing 50 different palates to determine final product.

"The whole idea is that I think more ideas in the mix is better," he said in response.

"But you have to have strong leadership," he conceded. That's one of the main reasons (legal issues being the other) that he didn't follow his initial concept of creating an out and out brewery co-op.

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At its recent first tasting, the 50 co-founders gave input on all the various recipes that Buffalo is currently testing.
And with that in mind, Zarinfar has hired a brewmaster whom he promises will stun the Houston beer community with concoctions like a Saison brewed with lemon peel, orange peel, coriander and black pepper.

"No one's going to know him from where he is right now," says Zarinfar. "He's kind of tucked away on the fringes." He plans to announce the brewmaster's name later this week, after the man has given notice at his current job in Dallas.

But will the brewmaster or the committee have more control over the beers that are produced at Buffalo? Zarinfar hopes that it's a combination of both.

"Everyone [at other breweries] does a homebrew competition," he said. "But the brewmaster still selects it. And in the end, a brewery is just a group pf people that drinks together." In Buffalo's case, those people include a mix of lawyers, accountants, microbiologists, homebrewers, beer connoisseurs and Zarinfar himself, who has nine years of beer-related experience under his belt from giants like Silver Eagle Distributors.

In Zarinfar's vision of his brewery, those people will exercise ultimate control over the product: "Everyone just comes in and they vote and we'll do whatever the people want." Out of this, he hopes to see production of what he calls "aggressive one-offs, just over and over again."

"I like to think that we're unique in this method," he added, somewhat redundantly. And when asked if he knows of any other brewery that's adopted this pseudo-co-op format, he said that he didn't, proving that Houston is not only fertile ground for adventurous chefs but for adventurous brewers as well.

Buffalo's first batch of beer is undergoing trials and assessments by committee right now. It's a 10 percent Imperial stout with gingerbread spices that Zarinfar hopes will be in production by the end of the year. And if all goes well, they'll move to bottling their beer at some point. But for now, he just wants to experiment.

"I believe very much in the creative process," he said. "You need to know the rules before you can transcend them and rip them apart."



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17 comments
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Just Curious
Just Curious

Any idea how they are planning to deal with the TABC laws regarding label approval of everything that goes into the market? In Texas, a brewer can't just brew something and send it out, which it kinda sounds like what they are planning to do. You actually have to submit the names well in advance and plan months out. It makes it tough for a packaging brewery to do these "on a brewers, or in this case, a group of owners whim kind of things."

Also, don't you feel a little sorry for this professional brewer that will be at the behest of 50 bosses ordering him or her to brew this wacky chocolate irish stout with sage and lemongrass? 

And one more thing... if you go out to a bar, pay $6 or $7 a pint and get a couple stinkers from one particular brewery, wouldn't you be a little less likely to take that financial chance the next time you went out? Wouldn't you be more apt to buy a beer from a brewery that you knew put out a consistent product, no matter what the style? Intentionally hoping that you have a few failures could quickly turn to having nothing being purchased from your brewery again. Craft beer bars are pretty willing to let you try a sip of something before you buy a whole pint and if it sucks then the bar is just going to end up sitting on the keg. That is really the difference in being a homebrewer, where you can experiment and it really doesn't matter if you brew a couple that aren't great, and a commercial brewery, where your livelihood and reputation rest on each keg you put out in the market.  

Lauren Marmaduke
Lauren Marmaduke

I was wondering the same thing - the legality of it all. The distribution companies don't take too kindly to breweries distributing their own product. Although I seem to remember the current law being a micro-brewery or brewpub can sell and distribute their own product, up to 5,000 barrels (which ain't a whole lot). Hard to make a profit in Texas as a microbrewery w/o a large scale distributor or an adjacent restaurant. 

Just Curious.
Just Curious.

my name is also Just Curious and I don't come to the Houstonpress site to read about business plans. I've never met a $6-7 beer I won't finish and I'm really excited there's a new business in town interested in building the Houston community

Jeff R
Jeff R

Sounds like a fun idea for a brewery but a terrible plan for a business.  It'll truly be a labor of love as I don't see it making any money.  Hopefully that won't stymie their production or end operations all together... I like the sound of their beers.

Jeff R.
Jeff R.

My name is also Jeff R. and I would never use the word stymie.  I think the concept is awesome and I'm looking forward to the beer.

Shannon Mcnair
Shannon Mcnair

Interesting concept, I can't wait to give it a try.

Christyna Lewis
Christyna Lewis

This is a really interesting article.  I wonder if such a degree of variety and democratic process will find a following.  It's an exciting experiment; I'll certainly take a chance on Buffalo Bayou Brewing when I'm out for a pint.  The rise of microbreweries in the Houston area is just another feather in the cap of our great city.

{equanimity restored: grammar marm comment snipped}

JB
JB

Copy editing criticism is one of the most uniquely annoying types of blog comments on the web pages of the internet.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Thank you for the copy editing skills. I will try to remind myself not to modify the word "unique" in future posts.

Kylejack
Kylejack

Zarinfar, you weren't able to keep the location secret from the sleuths at Culturemap, so what makes you think you can keep the brewmaster a secret? :P  Anyway, I look forward to trying your stuff.

Kylejack
Kylejack

Sleuths at Swamplot, I meant to say. My bad.

Bruce R
Bruce R

I for one welcome Buffalo Bayou Brewing to Houston with a laurel, and hardy handshake.  But I'd like to see them change their minds about their Saison.  The American Saison seems to focus on the addition of spices, not unlike a wit.  I realize the style is loosely defined, but I'd like to see a more traditional approach where hoppy bitterness and maybe a bit of sourness are the dominant flavors.  Save the ginger and (big yawn) orange peel.

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