B52 Brewing, Southern Star Brewing
If you’re not from or regular to Houston, it’s easy to underestimate just how damn huge the city is. Being a former Londoner is actually more of a hinderance than a help here, as London’s dense, claustrophobic upward squeeze and narrow, stagnant traffic jams contrast so dramatically with Houston’s epic ten-lane freeways spanning vast distances and spaciously laid-out homes. Conroe is located 40 miles north of a city, yet a mere 40 minute drive from Downtown – an equation that would be impossible in my hometown metropolis but is incredibly handy for visiting. Like the neighbouring suburbs of Porter, Humble and Cypress, Conroe offers the comforts of the countryside with easy access to the city, but the lure of cheaper real estate and a local market also mean it has its own thriving craft beer scene, with three well-known breweries that punch well above their weight. Due to Covid restrictions, I was only able to visit B52 and Southern Star on this visit, but a return trip to both of these and Copperhead is certainly on the cards.
Imagine that the witch’s cottage in Hansel and Gretel was actually a delightful hidden Fruited-Sour-drinker’s paradise and you can get a strong visual on the B52 taproom. Nestled in a woodland of tall tall trees, B52 is a naturally socially distanced space with picnic tables spread loosely around the forest, perfect for creating a sense of atmosphere while staying safe. Don’t let the cute, diminutive taproom fool you either – at the time of writing, B52 had a mighty 24 of their own beers on draft, as well as 17 available in bottles or cans, and trust me you will want to try all of them. While B52 might be best known for their chewy, full-bodied Fruited Sours and creamy lactose-infused IPAs and DIPAs, there’s plenty more on the menu to choose from, including Lagers, Saisons and some absolutely crackin Stouts. That said, B52’s Fruited Sour range is truly exceptional. Rivalled, in my experience to date, only by their neighbours at Ingenious and the mighty folk at Burley Oak Brewing over in Maryland, the quality and flavours of B52’s beautifully calibrated, unusual and exciting Smoothie Tart series are just magnificent. My absolute favourite to date is the Boysenberry, Key Lime and Gardenia Fruited Berliner Weisse, a wonderfully fragrant-floral beer in bright cerulean that perfectly combines the bright dry berry with tart and juicy lime, topped off with the gently herbaceous and aromatic gardenia – just wow. From this series, the Strawberry and Plum Crumble is also a total winner, the brown sugar and cinnamon perfectly capturing the bite of a crumble, married tightly to the smooth, full fruit flavours.
The Fruit Tart series also has some delicious brews including the beautifully balanced Cherry, Mango and Marshmallow, and bellini-esque Peach, Tangerine and Vanilla. I did not want to stop! Of the non-fruited fare, don’t miss the delicious Dandelion TIPA – a beautifully executed 4-hop combo that’s scarily moreish, showing nothing of it’s 10.3% ABV. There are so many Stouts I could also recommend, and other Sours – quite frankly you won’t want to leave. If you’ve had B52 beers elsewhere but weren’t convinced, don’t let that put you off. The fresh-from-the-source experience is well worth the journey and you won’t be disappointed. The taproom has a warm, community atmosphere and service is enthusiastic and informed – exactly what you want with so many beers to choose from. Put aside a fair whack of time and enjoy your adventure in the forest!
Southern Star Brewing
I must confess that we visited Southern Star at the end of the night, which meant that a decent quantity of beer had already been consumed by the time we arrived. Not that this proved disadvantageous at all – the terribly nice Southern Star folks actually let us bring our tacos into the taproom so that we could refuel in order to fully enjoy their beery delights – an excellent start to our visit. The Southern Star taproom has a warm golden pine interior with cool neon-blue signage, and on our visit we were treated to a rather fabulous brass band belting out pop hits, which was incredibly fun and a brilliant end to our evening. Southern Star aren’t big on taproom exclusives but their full core range plus a few seasonals mean that there’s a decent amount of choice, plus the Southern Star experience isn’t about novelty.
This is a friendly local with a pubby charm about it, and it was ever so satisfying to sit down with a pint of Southern Star’s excellent Buried Hatchet Stout fresh from the source, a bold rich coffee delight that is my favourite of their brews which tasted especially good on draft. We have the luxury of easy access to Southern Star’s beers over in Austin, and their mix of solid, accessible IPAs and Lagers makes them a staple of many beer bars, particularly the bright, refreshing Humidity Kolsch and smooth, malty Conspiracy Theory IPA. Although Covid hours meant getting turfed out at 10pm, you get the feeling that in better days folks would be hanging out late into the night, propping up the bar and chewing the fat. Oh, and listening to the brass band. I really hope they are a regular feature – definitely worth the drive out to Conroe just by themselves!