04 Sep Musical Box Brewing is Houston’s Newest Beer Project
Musical Box Brewing is Houston’s Newest Beer Project
Leading with FOMO and 10lbs of hops per barrel, Larry Koestler teams with SpindleTap for series of limited releases under the moniker Musical Box Brewing.
Houston has come a long way since 2013 when the craft beer boom began in the Bayou City. Going from just a handful of breweries then to over 60 now, Houstonians have many more options to choose from on the shelves and in taprooms.
No single style has caused more clamor among beer geeks than the Hazy IPA, or NEIPA as some call it, and nobody’s name gets thrown around more than Larry Koestler’s.
After calling Houston brewers to an
arms hops race for IPAs, we’ve seen the style busting at the seams. We’ve even seen a few breweries like SpindleTap, Ingenious, Baa Baa, and B52 develop cult followings nationwide. These followings allow Houstonians to have some serious ammunition when it comes to trading beers.
As the style has grown in quality and variety of offerings, Larry Koestler is often credited with that call to
arms hops, and he’s not shy about his passion for the style.
That passion has led to Larry having a hand in multiple local Hazy IPAs, including SpindleTap’s Juiceton; Baa Baa Brewhouse’s Group High 5 (with local homebrewer Laser Brewing); and two Ingenious beers, Joose Wayne and The Hop Knight.
We were excited to learn of his latest project, Musical Box Brewing. Larry is partnering with SpindleTap to see Musical Box Brewing come to life.
SpindleTap is taking responsibility for the brewing, packaging and sale of Musical Box beers, while Larry handles recipe creation, names, artwork and marketing. Think of it as an ongoing collaboration of sorts.
Larry was kind enough to send us some notes on Musical Box Brewing, which plans to have its first can sale on Saturday, September 21, 2019 at SpindleTap, alongside SpindleTap’s own can releases that day.
What’s the significance of the name Musical Box Brewing?
The idea behind Musical Box is a joint creative effort between me and my wife, Lyndsay. As we discussed what we wanted to call this project we’d initially settled on a more bucolic name that we really liked the sound of and the imagery it evoked, but as we got deeper in we latched on to the idea of tying the project to something that was more meaningful to us.
The Musical Box was a bar in NYC’s Alphabet City neighborhood on Avenue B between 13th and 14th Street (next to Uncle Ming’s for those who remember) that was my absolute favorite spot for a drink in the mid-2000s. Lyndsay and I had our first date there in 2006, and the rest was history (so is the bar, sadly).
We’re also big music fans — Sirius XMU is basically always on in our house — and liked that the name indirectly threads that particular shared-pastime needle.
Given your proclivity toward hazy IPAs this may sound like an obvious question, but what kinds of beers do you plan to produce?
Those familiar with my drinking habits know I almost exclusively drink Hazy DIPAs, and so yeah — we’re definitely gonna be brewing delicious hazy DIPAs and IPAs packed with so many hops in the dry hop we will push the limits of fermenter efficiency.
If you liked Juiceton, Joose Wayne, or any of the collabs I’ve been involved in, you know I like hops — and am not afraid to spend a lot of money on them — and chances are you’ll like the beers Musical Box releases.
However, as someone who previously had skin in the game (Larry was a co-owner of now-defunct New York City-based gypsy brewery Third Rail Beer) I’m highly attuned to beer trends, and how quickly said trends can change, and the last thing I’d want to do is put out savagely hopped DIPAs if there suddenly wasn’t a market for them.
While I’ve publicly stated numerous times that lactose IPAs aren’t my thing, don’t be surprised to see one from Musical Box — there’s no point in doing this just to brew beers that only appeal to me.
I’ve also recently started diving into the world of Sour IPAs. I’ve actually loved sours for years — people are often surprised to hear this since all I ever talk about are hazies, but it’s not like I can go down the street and buy Supplication or a bottle from Cantillon any time I want it. They’re also not exactly daily drinkers — I don’t think many people are pounding, say, four American Wild Ales in a row on their own and then hopping into their swimming pool. But having gotten my hands on several Hudson Valley releases I can safely say I’d love to be doing something like that at some point, though the logistics of sour production and blending make it more of a long-term goal.
I’m not a brewer and never have been — I’m just a guy who loves craft beer and knows a ton about how it’s produced, and am thankful to be surrounded by ultra-talented folks that are way better at brewing beer than I could ever hope to be.
For Musical Box to be successful, I knew I needed a partner that I could implicitly trust to brew exceptional-quality beers. Despite my close friendship with SpindleTap — Juiceton was the first collaboration I was fortunate enough to be a part of — I never thought they’d be an option for this project, as I assumed there wouldn’t be any available tank space.
Much to my unexpected delight, I was wrong, and I keep having to pinch myself at the notion that my buddy (SpindleTap brewmaster) Garrison Mathis and his incredible brewing team are going to be the stewards of this product line.
Garrison and his crew have played a central role in elevating the Hazy IPA locally — and truly, Hazy IPAs in Houston have really become their own thing, with their bright pineapple yellow appearance and monstrous amounts of hops creating a unique profile (while the last thing the beer world needs is yet another substyle, you could call it something like Southern Haze) that is even more flavor-bursting than many of the traditional New England iterations produced by the originators — to the point where beer fiends in Houston now have legit ammo to trade for anything they want across the country.
How often do you plan to hold can releases?
Ideally, we’ll be doing a new can once a month, though we’ll see how things shake out. A lot of that depends on the reception to our beers, as well as tank availability. It could be closer to every two months, though I will say — I plan on stuffing these beers so full of hops that they will hopefully still be pleasant to drink (even if not at peak form) by the time our next beer is ready for release.
What can you tell us about your first beer?
It’s called Where It All Began, and it’s a 4XDH 8% DIPA dry-hopped to the tune of 10 pounds per barrel with a blend of Citra, El Dorado and Vic Secret. Cans will be available for sale on Saturday, September 21, 2019 at SpindleTap, alongside the beers they are releasing that day as well.
How much beer are you planning to produce?
Batch sizes are going to be kept intentionally small. While I’d hate for anyone who really wants this beer to have to beg/borrow/steal to acquire it — and I’m all for making beer more readily available as long as quality isn’t sacrificed — I do think we’ve lost a little bit of the excitement around that feeling of discovering something new that you love and that only a few other like-minded souls know about.
While lining up at Tree House back in the day — first for growlers, then for 6 cans, if you were lucky — seems antiquated given how much more widely available hugely flavorful hazy beers are now, there’s a small (clearly masochistic) part of me that misses the idea of this one-of-a-kind product having limited accessibility to the point of requiring you to go out of your way to take a flier on something you’ve never had but feel pretty good about it being great thanks to word-of-mouth.
I’ll grant that in that particular scenario you can also set yourself up from some lofty, unrealistic expectations, but oftentimes if a product is indeed harder to access because folks are eagerly snatching up a limited supply, it usually ends up being of higher quality (Hudson Valley, Root + Branch and Monkish immediately spring to mind).
Additionally, following my experience with the collaborative efforts I’ve been involved in, I’ve gravitated more toward the idea that the smaller the batch size, the more intense (and longer-lasting) the flavor tends to be.
Basically this is a convoluted way of saying we’re not going to brew a ton, so if you do want it, you should make plans to come get it.
When you launched gypsy brewery Third Rail Beer in NYC in 2014, you and your partners were staunch in your desire to eventually inhabit a physical location of your own (which unfortunately did not pan out). Do you have a similar goal for Musical Box to eventually become a brick-and-mortar operation?
No, not one bit. I was all-in on the idea of a physical location in the Third Rail days (as unrealistic a goal as that ended up being), but I currently have zero desire to own my own steel.
Similar to how Third Rail was able to develop a following without a home — not to mention Evil Twin, Grimm and more recently Root + Branch (though all three now have or are about to have spaces of their own) — I think there’s plenty of room in a still very underserved Houston craft beer market for a local label that carries deep relationships with some of the city’s highest-regarded breweries.
There are still only 64 craft brewery/brewpubs in the Greater Houston area, a geographical designation home to nearly 7 million people. For context, Portland has 84 breweries and a population of 653,000. Obviously cultural comparisons are apples and oranges, but I do think it underscores that the Houston area can still support many additional beer purveyors, as long as the beer quality is excellent.
What kind of branding/ethos are you hoping to impart with your label?
As a New Yorker that has also fully embraced Houston as my adopted hometown, I expect future beer names will playfully reference certain aspects of life in both cities that folks who have spent time in either will hopefully connect with.
Back in the Third Rail days, being native New Yorkers was such a core part of the identity of the brand. For Musical Box ultimately it’ll be more about the liquid than the location. That said, to see the beers that are coming out of Houston now is simply staggering compared with where things were just a few short years ago — and I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face, but I’ll put Houston’s top hazies up against anyone nationally, and that includes Tree House, Other Half and Monkish — and I just hope we release a product that can continue to make Houstonians proud of their beer scene.
You’re a well-known hophead. There’s a case to be made that we are reaching — if we haven’t already — an oversaturation point for the Hazy IPA. Where do you see IPAs going?
I’ve been pondering this question for a while now, and no one really knows the answer. I think it’s pretty clear Hazy IPAs aren’t going anywhere. I also think it’s clear that — to an extent — the fervor around them has settled down a fair amount given how much more ubiquitous and readily available they have become.
But — like any beer style — ubiquity doesn’t also translate to good. And just because everyone is brewing a style doesn’t mean the style is suddenly boring. As long as there continue to be world-class purveyors of Hazy IPAs out there, people will continue to drink them. It’s reminiscent of what people go through when they first convert to craft beer — few fall down the craft beer rabbit hole only to eventually go back to macro. With Hazy IPAs, while you might want to take a break from time to time, you’re probably not going back to something with less flavor.
That said, as I mentioned in the answer to the question about what Musical Box will be brewing, we do need to be cognizant of trends, and clearly Milkshake IPAs are continuing to have a moment, alongside Sour IPAs. I see less enthusiasm around fruit-adjuncted IPAs, especially since, if done well, hazies should be imparting massive fruit flavor with the addition of actual fruit.
Sour IPAs are becoming increasingly popular, but given how labor-intensive they are to make, I’m not sure they can be produced with the efficiency of a regular hazy to upend that paradigm, but instead continue to play a more complementary role.
Will you continue to work on collaborations?
Absolutely! Marcus Wunderle (Baa Baa), Chris Anderson (Laser), and I have been discussing a follow-up to last year’s Group High 5 collab.
And Ingenious and I need to close out our Joose Wayne/Hop Knight series before the end of the year with the third beer in that trilogy.
I’d also love to explore projects with breweries outside of Houston as well!
What are your current top five hazy IPAs (excluding beers you were involved in)? Yikes, what a question. I’ll often refer people to my annual Favorite Beers write-up if they really want to get a sense of what floated my particular boat in the most recent calendar year.
Root + Branch’s Do We Live in a Society of Spectacle Citra is the best beer I’ve had in 2019.
Other favorites include Parish’s DDH Ghost in the Machine, a beer I just could not get enough of when they finally released it in cans last November; SpindleTap’s Heavy Hands DIPA, which I consider the greatest all-Citra DIPA of all time; Vitamin Sea’s Elusive IPA was perhaps the best single-IPA-strength hazy I’ve had all year; Other Half & Foam’s Mouthful of Diamonds was the rare collab that actually outshone many of the breweries involved’s individual offerings; and SpindleTap’s Hirsch Rd. Hop Heads was a mostly-Nelson absolute banger from the beginning of the year.
That’s five, but I’m going to cheat and also add Baa Baa Brewhouse’s Calvin & Hops, a gem of a hazy hopped with Citra, Galaxy and Cascade; and Ingenious’ Infinity Hopped, an ultra-rare incredibly smooth 10% TIPA that completely masked its ABV.
If you thought you were done sweating in line and toting along your doting spouses to mule extra allotments, think again. Larry, Garrison, and the gang at SpindleTap are here to bring music to your ears and hops to your bellies with Musical Box Brewing.
We can’t wait for Where it All Began DIPA! See you at SpindleTap.