06 Apr 11 Below Brewing Visitors Guide
11 Below Brewing
Known for being too young to know exactly what they’re known for, being unpretentious, and possibly being the only brewery in town with their own custom server rack
(11 Below Brewing, their wall of cans, and the flags that represent them hanging modestly in the background)
What You Need to Know Before You Visit 11 Below Brewing
Price: $10 gets you three 12oz pours, and $15 gets you three pours plus an 11 Below can glass
Growlers: N/A currently (subject to change with new licensing)
Food: Food trucks on the regular
Kids/Pets: Kids and pets are welcome
AC: N/A but there’s a Big Ass Fan that makes even the hottest day feel just fine
Bathrooms: Medium sized and spotless
Parking: In large business park, plenty of parking out front
Hours: Thursday and Friday 5-8PM Saturday Noon-3PM
(11 Below Brewing kegs awaiting some fresh beer and a new home)
The 11 Below Brewing Intro
Picture this: You’re the owner of a small brewery, and roughly a year in, you see an Untappd rating of 0 stars and a caption of “Worst. Stout. In. Houston.”
It’s ok, right? Just thumb-thugs doing what thumb-thugs do? It’s just one review, who cares? AMIRIGHT?
Nope. These guys remember that kind of stuff. They might not put too much stock in all the ratings, but when you’re new, that hurts. Now, what could make something tough like that a good thing? Let me count the ways.
- When it was written by one of our writers
- When said writer is late to the interview
- When we have the chance to discuss it before said writer arrives
- When the 11 Below owners and the Beer Chronicle team welcome said writer with a ration of shit for it
- When this continues for hours over beer
- When it makes it into the big write up for your enjoyment
We’ve had a lot of fun every time we’ve sat with owners of the various breweries, but none like 11 Below. Maybe it was the fact that we all aligned around a common “enemy,” or maybe it’s the fact that these guys don’t take themselves too seriously, but we felt right at home literally minutes after arriving.
The 11 Below Brewing Experience
It was a humid, spring-like day in late December.
Tam and I pulled up a few minutes early and talked while we waited for Chris. Nick would arrive late, as he had a good friend that was traveling and had to drop him off at the airport, making him perfectly late to this sit down with Jeff Handojo, Bryce Baker, and Brandon Moss of 11 Below Brewing.
The brewery is a short drive to the Northwest side, just north of Beltway 8 and 249, but rush hour traffic coming back from the airport will always prevail.
As we walked in, did the pleasantries, got our first beers, etc., Bryce asked about a writer of ours. Nick.
He asked if it was the same guy that, “…wrote this? Hold on a second, lemme pull it up real quick on Untappd.”
We’ve been here for like 5 minutes at this point, and we know exactly what he’s referring to.
We’re dying laughing as he makes quick work of the scrolling on his phone. This is either going to go bad real quick or we’re going to have a hell of a good time. It was wholly the latter.
We confirmed it was Nick and just before we moved on with the real questions, we conspired to heckle him as he entered late with his friend’s dog in tow. It was easily a top 10 moment for Beer Chronicle.
Did we mention these guys have a great sense of humor?
Being at 11 Below is like being at home; except, the beer is better and it smells really clean.
There’s plenty of parking out front before you enter a big bay door into a large open-air space lined with picnic tables. Surrounded by all the brewing equipment, palettes of cans, and a Big Ass Fan overhead, you’re greeted by a bunch of smiling folks who are just happy to be there and a healthy mix of Tool and Drake as the sound-bed to your afternoon.
It’s not all fun and games here. These guys take this stuff a little seriously, and they were even recognized by the US Congress for their help with the benefit at Brash Brewing for SIDS last year. They’ve got big hearts and their efforts to support local causes are genuine.
They’re Houston natives – that’s what we do!
(11 Below Brewing also has water. And a sense of humor. And Doge.)
11 Below Brewing: History of the Brewers
When we asked Jeff, Bryce, and Brandon what made them special, the three of them looked at one another in utter confusion. “Are we even special,” Jeff and Bryce joked while Brandon chimed in on a more serious note, “We feel too young to know what would make us special. We’re just three jackasses who are following our dream.”
Bryce added, “We’re just trying to lubricate society. We don’t know, man!” This back and forth of serious, candid replies and self-deprecating jokes set the tone for the afternoon. While joking all the while, it spoke a lot to their humility. Bryce mentioned later on, “We don’t take ourselves too seriously. It’s got to stay fun. It is beer, after all!”
When we asked how the thing all came together, we got a lot more than we bargained for.
Brandon was the conduit for the whole thing. He and Jeff are high school buddies and Bryce is one of his co-workers. All three live near one another and have similar interests. Beer. Family. And beer and family.
Jeff’s a Coog, Bryce is a Longhorn, and Brandon’s an Aggie, but he got his MBA from UH, so we’re gonna give him a pass this time.
There’s quite a bit of pride among them, as well as all the others on the team. They fly the flags of UH, UT, and A&M side by side, although UH is just a tad bit higher than the other two, but that’s none of my business. *Sips Color Blind from tea cup*
After college, they decided that beer should be more than a hobby and they began Pump Jack Brewing. Wait, wut?
Pump Jack Brewing was meant to pay homage to Texas’s rich oil and gas history as well as the professional backgrounds of the three founders, but apparently there’s some other purveyor of spirits with the same name.
After already investing time and money into the previous brand and printing merch, they succumbed to the Cease and Desist.
They locked themselves in a small room with a whiteboard until they came up with a new, better idea. They told us of a few other names that didn’t make the cut, and laughed the whole thing off, but as a good story often happens, 11 Below was sort of an accident.
They were working with math and numbers (crazy) and somehow they came to 11 Below by subtracting the number of gallons in a barrel of crude oil (42) from the gallons in a barrel of beer (31), and boom, there was the name we are all familiar with.
They all agreed it was a far better name than Pump Jack, and the success that they’re having now feels a little vindicating.
(The bar and the barrels. Mmmmm *Homer SFX* Barrrrrrels)
The decision for the location wasn’t one of chance though. Instead, they chose it strategically because there weren’t breweries there.
It didn’t hurt that they all live pretty close by too. It took them three years to plan the brewery and the day to day operations. Since they’re constantly having to change the plan to keep up with the ever-growing demand, it’s been more of a guideline than a step-by-step checklist, but they like it that way.
They all kept saying this over and over again in one way or another, “We’re living the dream. We’ve managed to turn a hobby into a business, so we’re just taking it one day at a time.”
It’s hard not to root for guys like this. Just sayin’.
Some breweries tell stories of a hard time getting started, mainly because of the laws in Texas, but 11 Below Brewing had no such trouble. Baa Baa was one that shared of some headaches.
Brandon took the lead when it came to getting the licensing. “You work within the confines of the law. They started to relax a bit as we were moving along, so everything was really in perfect timing. If anything, we benefited from all the laws,” he shared.
They planned to open the brewery before the laws relaxed and, whatever the case was, they were going to work within the law. Even if that meant opening under those ridiculous laws, they just got lucky with the timing.
Keeping on with some of the frustrating questions, we asked them what pisses them off the most about the Houston beer scene. Before the words got out, Bryce hollered, “FANBOYS!” We laughed a bit and they went on to say one of the real issues is bars, cleanliness, and proper maintenance of the lines. “You don’t know if they’re crazy enough to put our beer on after some crazy BA Pumpkin Stout. We have to check on them all the time.” Among a few other gripes were inconsistent beer.
It wouldn’t have been a beer-drinking session if somebody didn’t bring up Karbach being bought out, and somebody did. They spoke of the whole ordeal with sort of a fondness.
The sentiment went something like this: Overall, it sucks that they sold out to AB, but good for them! They didn’t get that offer by being lazy or brewing bad beer. They earned every bit of that through hard work.
Karbach was one of their biggest inspirations here in Houston, and Austin Beerworks inspired them the most because, “They started it from scratch.”
In the vane of inspiration, we went on to talk about our first few craft beers – the ones that converted us. Bryce’s was Shiner Oktoberfest, Jeff’s was Fat Tire, and Brandon’s, ever the hop-head, was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
(A picture perfect pour of 11 Below Brewing Oso Bueno Amber. Oso Bueno is a pun: Oso Bueno=Oh-So-Good and oso bueno is Spanish for good bear. The artwork for Oso Bueno Amber is adorned with a luchadore bear)
Speaking of 11 Below Brewing’s Beer
These guys weren’t shy about saying they’ve been a little shy. They mentioned that they can’t start off with all these big ass beers, and they have to grow into that. That’d be a big mistake.
The 11 Below Brewing team started off with the goal of brewing to match the Texas weather. Light and refreshing, straightforward and sessionable. “We want to be approachable and open to anyone,” Bryce elaborated. “We’ll start working on some bigger stuff soon, though.”
PERFECT TIMING FOR A SHAMELESS PLUG, YEAH?
Speaking of bigger beer and big mistakes, they’re celebrating their 2 year anniversary this Saturday, April 8th from 1-6pm. VIP passes sold out in like 30 minutes. Duh. It might have something to do with them releasing the BA version of their crazy ass RIS Big Mistake, and errybody wants to be a part of that. Could be other stuff too.
Guess who's turning a whole 2 years old! Come join us for live music, food trucks and plenty of beer to help us celebrate. After aging in Yellow Rose Distilling rye and bourbon barrels for 8 months, it's time to crack open the Big Mistake barrels for 2017!
Big Mistake was brewed after they’d only been open for 3 months. It was their 11th beer brewed, and they were shooting for 11% ABV; there’s definitely a common thread here.
Big Mistake took them forever to brew. “It’s a double mash process and we have to do it four times to fill up one of our tanks, so the name just felt right.”
We weren’t there to review beer, but we did drink a handful of them, so here they are.
- 7-Iron Session Ale – 4.5% ABV, 13 IBU
- Oso Bueno Amber – 5.3% ABV, 22 IBU
- Lame Duck Pale Ale – 5.5% ABV, 45 IBU
- Color Blind Red IPA – 6.2% ABV, 64 IBU
- Negative Space Imperial Chocolate Milk Stout – 9.5% ABV, 15 IBU (And no, Nick did not write this as an apology, but they accepted it as one)
- Big Mistake Russian Imperial Stout – 12.3% ABV, 68 IBU
Oso Bueno’s their flagship because it’s tame enough to offer to anybody, but flavorful enough even for the most elitist of beer snobs to enjoy. Truly unique.
We asked them what their personal faves were and we couldn’t get a straight answer from Bryce. “I like them all! Depends on my mood and the weather,” he laughed in that “I’m not really kidding” kind of way.
Jeff and Brandon both listed Oso Bueno as their first, but Jeff mentioned Lame Duck as a close second, and Brandon honorable mentioned Negative Space.
We’ve got a few of these already reviewed on the site with more to come, and they’ll be linked once they’re posted.
(We came to drink all the beeerz and has a good time like Doge)
When asked about the brainstorming process for what to brew next, they’re a bit more pragmatic. They come off very chill, but when it came to this, Brandon didn’t mix his words, “We temper our excitement with logistics.”
One of the most interesting questions we ask is something like, “Is beer more art or science? Pick one.”
The responses are fun, but these guys kept on with the stone faces here, and they all instantly agreed, “Science.”
“Art will get you there, but you have to have science to stay consistent and have any repeatability,” Jeff said without so much as a smile. He went on, “Regardless of the romance, your expectations are set at a certain place. The science keeps it the same. A brewery will last through science.”
Brandon piggybacked the sentiment with the same conviction, “This isn’t just a hobby anymore. It has to be better. It’s real. Our lives are now tied to this.” They mentioned that was the lynchpin to scaling up from home brewing to being one of the big boys.
When we met with them, they were still self-distributing at a rate of 1800 bbls and they’ll double that in 2017. Their wives helped distribute to 40-some-odd HEBs, convenience stores, and bars in Houston. They mentioned that they can’t get out to cool events like the GABF simply because they’d be understaffed in the case of an absence.
Bad news for beer nerds, but there’s a silver lining! On February 20, 2017, 11 Below Brewing announced their partnership with Ben E. Keith; pushing them a little further than the Houston area into Galveston, Sugar Land, and a few others.
For almost 2 years, we've self-distributed our beers to over 300 accounts in greater Houston and College Station. Our small team has done an amazing job getting our products to your hot little hands and mouths but we are by no means experts in beer distribution. That said, the time has come to partner with an expert!
They’ll still handle the bulk of the bars and restaurants in Houston, but Ben E. Keith will handle all of their off-premise locations like HEB, Spec’s, Whole Foods, and Total Wine. This will give them a little more free time, so they can finally make good on bringing you guys some new beer styles!
The Future for 11 Below Brewing
11 Below Brewing has covered a lot of ground in a short two years and their goals stay ambitious.
Jeff, lightening up again, said, “We want to be on the ‘short list’ of the best breweries in Houston. It’s fun to think of taking over the world.”
2017 has already seen them double capacity, ink a deal with a distributor, and possibly work on some collabs. They were open in saying that they didn’t have any in the works, but they also said “yet.”
(Holy barrels, Beerman, that’s a lot of Big Mistake)
11 Below Brewing has some new beer in the works as well, but they’re just going to work on keeping it real and pouring a few out for the homies erry now and again. The demand is greater than the supply, so Dallas is just going to have to wait.
Every time we visit a brewery, whether for a big write up like this or just for a few beers one afternoon, we always leave with a little gem. Jeff gets the credit today. “Beer is a commodity. We don’t sell beer. We sell memories.”
Let that sink in for a minute. That’s good stuff.
Do yourself a favor and go make some memories with the team at 11 Below Brewing. We guarantee you won’t be disappointed. 100% satisfaction guarantee, and if you’re not satisfied, we’ll buy you a beer. From 11 Below.
What’s your favorite thing about these folks? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks for reading and sharing all the stuff we write. We really don’t deserve it.
Beers to you, Houston!