Updated: Jan 29, 2020
Saturday, January 18 was the last night of the 2-weekend run of shows in Texas that kicked off the 2020 Winter Tour. The final night of a run can be funny, sometimes you're pretty worn down, or just aching to get home to your own bed. Other times you feel like you're just getting cookin' and hitting your stride, and the shows are a ton of fun. On this night at Houston's Klaus Brewing Company, it was a bit of a strange mix... I was definitely feeling tired and not at all looking forward to the 17 hour drive home... but I also felt like I was playing well, and was feeling pretty good about a stretch of shows with really great, enthusiastic crowds. As it turned out the stop at Klaus was one of the most fun ones of the tour, with great beer and a really fantastic crowd. The show flew by and was actually invigorating, which left me in good shape for the long haul home.
Klaus is an authentic German brewer, which means they adhere to the German Purity Law of 1516. The purity law originally stated that beer could only be made with three ingredients: water, barley, and hops... and then a few hundred years later they added yeast when it was discovered to be a fermentation agent. All authentic German beers must adhere to using only these four ingredients, no other additives are allowed. Variations in the different styles of German beer (Dunkels, Kolshe, Hefeweisen, etc.) are achieved through slight differences in the brewing process, or different types and mixes of the four permitted ingredients.
Klaus Brewing Company - Houston, TX
Currently the beers are available on tap at the taproom and many drinking establishments and restaurants in the region. Limited cans and bottles are available at the taproom only. Played: 1/18/20
This law has been adhered to over the centuries and served as a sort of standard, but has been the source of some controversy lately, as the rise of “craft beers” in the US has spread to Europe, and with the trendiness of fruited beers, coffee infused beers, brews incorporating nuts, etc. have put German breweries at a disadvantage, some would say, as those additional ingredients are not allowed. Prior to the recent rise in craft beers the purity law was a badge of pride and quality for German beers, which were largely regarded to be among the better beers on the planet.
So that's something that is largely a controversy primarily for Germany. Here in the States, obviously the purity law is an option, and at this point only adhered to by breweries that want to honor the fine German tradition. With craft breweries and the wide variety of beer styles that are now popular, from all the different takes on IPAs, to sours and milkshakes and stouts and so on... the vast majority of breweries out there are NOT authentically German.... which makes Klaus Brewing such a treat.
Located in the northwest quadrant of the greater Houston area, Klaus is housed in a large converted warehouse type building, with the brewing operation to the rear, a long taproom with big garage doors to open it to the outside, and a big beer garden outside. The brewery is completely focused on brewing beers of the German tradition, although they do also offer some wine and seltzers at the bar. Food is available via a rotation of food trucks, which by the way are on a whole different level of incredible in Texas. The decor, as you might imagine, is that of a German beer hall.
It was one of those shows where the place was pretty empty as I was setting up, but just as the clock approached show time the crowd showed up pretty much at once. It's funny how this seems to happen fairly often for me, yet I still worry right up until everyone shows up that I might be playing to an empty room. Anyway, not on this Saturday night, as the room filled right at the get go, and was one of the more energetic and attentive crowds of the run. They were a pleasure, and I had fantastic conversations with so many people on this night... the staff was great and knowledgeable, and I was drawn into great conversation with several parties both at setbreak and after the show. The people can make all the difference, really.
The other factor that makes a huge impact on the quality of my night, though, is the quality of the beer. Like I said earlier, for as much as I love everything about the creativity and inventiveness and variety of the craft beer era, it was really nice for one night to just pick from quality German styles instead of IPAs and such. My beer snobbery dates back to well before the rise of the microbreweries, as my dad was German and had a taste for good German beers, so I developed a preference for German beers early on... it's safe to say I was never excited by Miller Lite or Busch or whatever most kids in America tend to start out on. One of my earliest crushes was for the blonde beer maiden on the St. Pauli Girl bottles...
I was drawn like a magnet to the Dunkel Breakin' My Heart (5%) Dunkel, which is my favorite of the German styles. Usually somewhere between a dark auburn and a medium brown, Dunkels ideally have a medium body and crisp drink, with a somewhat malty flavor. This one was spectacular, with slight hints of chocolate and spice, the almost toasty maltiness balanced with a touch of hops (but nothing like hops as most people now think of them due to the IPA craze). What I love about Dunkels, and this one certainly delivered in spades, is that they are extremely sessionable and a great beer you can stick with for the long haul at the beer hall, but with a touch more flavor and body than you'd normally expect from a lager, yet without drinking and sitting like a heavy beer. So I started out with this one, fell in love with it, and bought a couple of 22 oz bottles at the end of the night to take with me.
For my first set I went a little lighter, sipping on the Kaiser Kolsh (5%). The kolsh is a more golden hued blonde ale, again very crushable, light and crisp and refreshing, with a bit of hop flavor to make it more complex and interesting than, say, a pilsner. Again, though, the word “hops” or “hoppy” has been bastardized by the IPA explosion, and the German styles are much more subtle in their hop characteristics than what we've come to expect from IPAs, etc. This was another great one that you could buy in bulk and enjoy all day.
Klaus had two special releases on tap, and they were both fantastic. The first was the Doppelsticke – Dark Double Altbier (8%), which is a darker and somewhat heavier version of an Altbier. Almost like a German take on a dark porter or stout, with bold chocolate, coffee, and roasted elements, but then hints of vanilla on the finish... giving you a full bodied and rich brew perfect for finishing off the night. The second was the Vom Fass No.2 – Bourbon Barrel Aged Doppelsticke (9%), which was the Dopplesticke but aged in 10-year bourbon barrels, which delivered all the greatness of the Doppelsticke enhanced by hints of woody/toasty bourbon elements that balanced perfectly with and drew more attention to the chocolate and vanilla overtones. This beer was complex and gorgeous... for me I get the sort of joy from this sipper that others get from an exceptional dessert. A terrific way to cap off the night, and the Texas leg of the tour, for that matter.
After a short rest I hit the highway and drove through the night through northern Texas and well into Arkansas. Austin and San Antonio were phenomenal tour stops, and while I didn't have the time to explore Waco and Houston, it was my first time in each and the breweries and people did not disappoint. Driving through Arkansas reminded me of Mad Max.... everything was grey and dead and most exits looked like the towns and businesses were closed and abandoned. I'm sure there's bound to be a nice part of Arkansas somewhere, but I didn't see it on the route between Texas and Memphis. I've done the route between Memphis and Cincinnati (via Nashville and Louisville) too many times to count, so the last leg of the drive was pretty easy. I was surprised to see some snow on the ground as I entered central Kentucky (Texas was near 70 degrees each day, and 81 on one day), which never fails to serve as a reminder of why I tour as much as possible in the South during the winter.
I have a few shows in Cincinnati and Cleveland, then head off to Florida for a couple of weeks of shows and hopefully sunny weather and beach time.
Thanks to everyone in Texas for a fine time and great run of shows in great breweries.... I will be back!