By Bobby Bush
SWM seeks great beer in San Antonio. Style unimportant. Run-of-the-mill budmillercoors need not apply. Send photo of beer.
Still in search of drinkable beers in the hotland of Texas, multi-handle taproom Houston Street Ale House was recommended by several locals. Just two blocks walking from my downtown hotel, this long narrow bar had the seats, live music and the taps, but the 25 choices were somewhat disappointing, unless you get dry-mouth just thinking about a Shiner trio: Bock, Blonde and Summer Stock. Dundee’s Honey Brown was available for contrast. Seriously, there were ten imports, including Belhaven, Manneken Pis, Hacke-Pschore Weiss and Dos Equis, and only one Texas micro: Texas Tornado Great Grain from Dallas. That left Sam Adams, Anchor Steam, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Colorado’s Fat Tire Amber as the rest of the micro line-up. All good beers, but with 25 to work with, I expected a few more Texas beers, especially since San Antonio has lost three breweries over the past few years. Micro Frio Brewery, Lone Star and Pearl have all ceased operation. Guess my expectations were unrealistic.
Next morning I was up early, prior to a noon meeting, on the hunt for local micro Yellow Rose Brewing Company, whose beer was unexplainably absent from Houston St. Ale House’s repertoire. Located much farther than I intended to wander on the north side of San Antonio, Yellow Rose has been producing kegged and bottled beer since 1994. I had not pre-arranged this visit, but was greeted warmly by head brewer Jason Courtney who took me on a tour of his ten barrel brewery. On track to produce 1,000 barrels this year, Yellow Rose is the city’s only surviving distributing brewery, the state’s second largest in market presence and the most widely distributed Texas brewery.
Glen Fritz and Carolyn Flannery built Yellow Rose from scratch. Neither were on hand, but Glen’s 60-something parents were pitching in to help the family operation. Mrs. Fritz fed empty 16 ounce bottles into the bottling machine. At 12 bottles per minute, Mr. Fritz had time to bring her more new bottles and man the label machine. Assistant brewer Starr Center was busy sanitizing one of the five stainless fermentation tanks. For such a small, well-organized operation - tucked into an industrial building about the size of three garages - Yellow Rose puts out some pretty interesting brews that are eye-catching with colorful label graphics as well. An office wall full of medals, mostly World Beer Championship awards from 1996 onward, attests to their brewing success.
Bubba Dog, which is also labeled Buffalo Butt for a few select accounts, is their biggest seller. Named for the Alamo mascot, a forgotten survivor of that deadly battle in 1836, Bubba Dog Beer is a cloudy American wheat beer perfect for scorching Texas days. Yellow Rose Pale Ale is a traditional English Extra Special Bitter, while Blonde Ox, proudly brewed without corn or rice, plows the lighter side of the taste spectrum. A painting of cowgirl Belle Starr graces the informative label of Cactus Queen, a hoppy IPA. Made from UK-grown malted barley, Honcho Grande Brown Ale is a sweetish English Brown. Coffee flavor surfaces from the malty mouthfeel of Vigilante Porter, while Wildcatter’s Crude Stout offers a roasted malt taste and more bitterness than the “sweeter” Porter.
Surprisingly, Yellow Rose’s beers are difficult to find in their own town, especially on draft in bars. They are well received, however, in the Lone Star State’s other large cities - Dallas, Houston, Austin - and many smaller markets. A distribution system, with a helpful push from the multi-location Flying Saucer and Gingerman taprooms, may find Yellow Rose beers available in Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia before long.
See what all the fuss is about at www.yellowrosebrewing.com.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush