04 Aug Town in City Brewing Co. Visitors Guide
Town in City Brewing
Known for balanced beer, being animal lovers, and being the neighborhood pub/biergarten for the Heights
(The Town in City Brewing taproom and Chipped Tooth IPA)
What You Need to Know Before You Visit Town in City Brewing
Price: $3 per pour and up, $7 for a flight
Growlers: Can’t fill them on-site, but they sell the glass
Food: Rotating, but they have great in-house pizzas in case there’s no food truck or the truck doesn’t tickle your fancy
Most Popular Beer: City Amber and Chipped Tooth IPA
Kids/Pets: “All babies welcome, fur-babies included”
AC: In taproom, yes
Bathrooms: Medium sized and pretty clean
Parking: 4 parking spaces out front, so get there
early first. Also, if you are first, proceed with caution up the driveway – it’s extremely steep. There’s plenty of street parking around the brewery as well as a lot across the street. (Beware of parking in front of people’s gates if you park on the street – you might get a “Hello my name is” sticker with a threatening note on your window by someone affectionately known as Crazy Train.)
Hours: Wed and Thurs 3-10
Sun 10-10 with all day happy hour ($4 20oz pours)
(Town in City Brewing parking lot and biergarten)
The Town in City Brewing Intro
Have you ever visited a place with a good product? A place with great staff that are knowledgeable and passionate, but you can tell that nobody’s 100% sure of what’s going on at any given time…
That’s sort of how Town in City Brewing felt. Nailing down a date for the interview was a nightmare, and we lost a handful of other opportunities while we waited around for clarity. It might’ve been a curse and a gift all at once because that set the tone in a really negative way for how the night would go. It’s all up from here, right?
To be 100% honest, and we always are, a few of us have visited Town in City Brewing a few times for their Steak Night, Anniversary, and just for a cold beer on a slow afternoon and had varying experiences. Chris and Tony went a few weeks before this interview, and Tony got a really off pour of Chipped Tooth IPA from someone that didn’t seem to notice, but Chris had stellar, knowledgeable service other times.
We’d heard lots of folks say great things about them, and lots of others say terrible things, so our expectations were all over the
(A textbook mural dawns the back wall of the Town in City Brewing taproom)
The Town in City Brewing Experience
It was a balmy afternoon in the Heights as the crew pulled up to the little blue building off of Cavalcade and North Main. Having been there before, the Town in City vets warned the rest of the team of the super-steep driveway, and Chris was the only one that parked in the parking lot because his Jeep won’t bottom out like the rest of our 4-door sedans.
When we got there at our scheduled time, the owner we were there to meet wasn’t even there! We’ve pretty much sworn off doing these interviews during business hours because an owner/brewer wears a lot of hats, and can’t usually dedicate their time and attention to the interview.
But since we had such hell even getting the date nailed down, we figured doing it during working hours was better than not doing it at all. Until we got there and founder/head brewer Justin Engle was a no show. We were pissed is an understatement.
Here’s why: we have jobs (some of us have more than one), kids, significant others, and a litany of other responsibilities. That means when we go out for Beer Chronicle, we’re taking time away from those other things, and a wise man once said that time is money. Then a much wiser man punched the first guy in the nose and said, “No. Time is precious.” That said, our time is valuable and it’s offensive when it’s not respected.
But I digress. Thank God for Mario-Sebastian Berry, though! He really saved the day. He told us that Justin just left right before we got there to go grab something to eat, and that he should be back soon. Mario asked Brian Everett to hold down the bar meanwhile, he answered a ton of our questions, took us on a quick tour, tended a little bar with Brian, ran Bingo, and probably did a few other things that we didn’t notice. All without skipping a beat.
(Dear Town in City Patrons: Don’t park here. Dear Homeowner: You’re welcome. If you receive a note from the homeowner, please send it to Justin.)
He’s an ex herd-member from Buffalo Bayou Brewing, and Town in City got a real gem in this guy. His business card reads like an encyclopedia with all his certifications, and he backs it up with every answer to every question. (Brian’s also from the herd.)
If it weren’t for him, we would’ve bailed before Justin returned, and this write up would’ve been real nasty. Mario’s business card lists him as the Marketing/Events/Sales/Hospitality guy. Hospitality was the one that really shone that evening.
While we sat and interviewed Mario, large wooden picnic tables in their biergarten out front began to fill up with thirsty Townies as the sun went down and the balminess died down just a little.
We sat at the bar in the dimly let, semi-loud atmosphere rapid-firing questions at him, and he didn’t skip a beat. He poured each of us a beer and began sharing the back stories on some of them as well as a few little Easter eggs that Tam would’ve loved to hear about.
(Town in City Brewing taproom beginning to buzz with the evening’s first patrons)
Sometimes we go for the flight of tiny 4oz pours, so we can experience as much of their offerings as possible like we did at BAKFISH, Cycler’s, and Baa Baa. Other times we know what we’re there to drink, and we go for the full pours like we did at the others.
This time at Town in City Brewing, it was a bit of the latter mixed in with suggestions from Mario. He’s a Certified Cicerone, Certified Sommelier, Certified Specialist of Wine, Certified Specialist of Spirits, WSET Advanced in Wine & Spirits, WSET Advanced in Sake, and he had a cool shirt and a beard. Yeah.
Town in City Brewing: The History
It’s a great location as far as the map’s concerned, but as they grow, that parking is going to continue to be a little bump in the experience. They chose the location because owners Justin and Steve live in the Heights. The two met in Golden, Colorado at the School of Mines.
The name Town in City directly pays homage to their home in the Heights, as it’s affectionately known as the “small town in the big city.” Mario joked, “For some reason, people have a hard time with the name. We get Town and Country, Town and City, and so on. People even mix up the beer names on the tap board! We just embrace it. We’re considering brewing a City City, a Magic Stout, and even a Porter Amber!”
Let us know when that Porter Amber makes it’s debut. That oughta be interesting.
(The infamous tap board that’s spawned so many creative names)
After a dozen questions and a handful of beers, Justin showed up! He apologized profusely, and told us that he was handling paperwork for legislative stuff. He’s really active with the TABC happenings and Brewer’s Guild, and he splits his time between being at Town in City and roadtripping back and forth to Austin.
Justin explained, “I had to meat with TABC attorneys because I got a phone call from [a very high profile name in Houston beer] and had to act.” We began going through a few of the more important questions that Mario already tackled in an attempt to get a bit more for y’all to read about!
We jumped right into the history stuff. So here we have two home-brewers that meet up in Colorado, so of course their big, crazy brew day story had to be from those days.
Before he could even get into the story, Justin was giggling like a kid that can’t wait to get to the punchline. “So here we are in our apartment one night, and we hear a gunshot! ‘Pop!’ My roommate and I look at one another in shock. Then another, and another, ‘Pop! Pop! Pop!”
(Town in City Brewing Owner/Head Brewer Justin Engle)
Justin continues, all of us on the edges of our seats now, “As we’re trying to figure out what’s going on, I realized they were coming from the closet where we stored our 36 bottles from the latest brew. They were fermenting and began busting open, leaking everywhere. So we did what anybody would do, we started dumping them down the drain in the bath tub.”
After dumping them one after another, he told us they heard a knock at the door. It was a maintenance person. “‘Some people around the complex are complaining that they’ve got foam bubbling up from their drains. Is that happening to y’all too?'” We’re all cracking up laughing now. Justin said they replied nervously, “Yeah… Yeah! It’s happening to us too!”
Town in City, before they were even in the big city, might just have told the best crazy brew day story we’ve heard yet. Mario told us that they had the power go out just as they began to brew, but this was much more recent and not nearly as entertaining. Seth at Copperhead shared a similar story. Sometimes the beer gods need a sacrifice, I guess.
Justin went on telling us more about his history as it pertained to Town in City Brewing. He grew up on Yuengling and said he didn’t really experience much beer until his 20’s in Australia. After digging into beer, he got his real start in the industry in graduate school.
“It’s very different,” he said curtly, as we moved on to another subject.
(Town in City Brewing brite tanks and storage + their pretty rad sticker collection)
Speaking of the beer industry and other breweries, Justin mentioned to us that the AB propaganda saying that wine and spirits were the true enemy was fact, but he said that TABC rules and regulations as well as property taxes were to blame. Hence his constant roadtripping to fight for the cause.
“Business is actually going down and the AB-driven High End rebuttals that wine and spirits are the real enemy aren’t just propaganda. We lost 25 accounts from Nov-Dec of 2016 (62 for all of 2016) – not because our beer wasn’t good, but because the taxes were too high for them to continue operating. We’ve had 22 accounts close so far in 2017 for the same reason. Most of this is due to property tax and not to alcohol tax, which is also sufficiently high – 14% for anyone carrying liquor.”
Somewhat to the contrary, Mario mentioned that people’s palette’s are growing. “They’re eating and drinking more adventurously now. The food scene is helping beer grow.” In a city like Houston that’s pretty far behind the rest of the nation on average when it comes to beer, we agreed that we’ll take the growth however it comes!
None of us actually work in the beer industry, so this was all news to us. But it got us all talking a bit more about the actual beer Town in City’s brewing.
(A 0 IBU IPA awaiting a name and a home in your belly)
Speaking of Town in City’s Beer
Currently, you can’t get anything from Town and City Brewing outside of the brewery unless it’s on tap or in a growler from elsewhere because of their brewery license. They’re about two years out from canning, though!
Town in City’s beers could best be described as on point. They don’t have a big-beer approach nor a drinkable-match-the-Houston-weather approach. Instead they brew, “Balanced beers that aren’t overly hoppy,” Justin shared with noticeable pride. He added that they were one of the first five brewers chosen for the GABF Meet the Brewers Pavilion.
They’ve got a 15 BBL brewhouse and make test batches daily on a small pilot system, and every employee brews a test batch.
They choose what to scale up largely by vetting their beers with their Townies Club. It’s a limited-member club that holds monthly meetings where they, “Gather to taste experimental test batches and discuss our likes and dislikes and provide input on possible tweaks for the recipe. On occasion, we’ll also do sensory taste panels for pallet enhancement. You’ll learn to detect desirable and undesirable flavors in beer and discuss how we as a brewery work to enhance or eliminate these flavors.”
They even tweaked the recipe on Mosquito’s Revenge Pale Ale base on Townie feedback! Membership is a little under $220 annually, and there’s apparently a really long waiting list. Spots only open up when somebody backs out.
(The outdoor biergarten as they were closing down shop – one last straggler nursing his last beer)
Along the lines of feedback, off-flavors and the beer, Mario mentioned to us that there’s a chemical in Mosaic hops that yields a cat urine flavor that some people are very sensitive to. Justin happens to be one of them, so you probably won’t be having catty, litter box discussions at a Townie meeting.
With Steve being a geologist and Justin a chemist, there’s a common consensus around here that science trumps art when it comes to brewing. In fact, Justin mentioned “When brewers don’t have a scientific background – not knowing chemistry and biology is probably my biggest pet peeve about beer. All we really do as brewers is provide the raw ingredients. Science does the work.”
Mario, a bit more practical about the matter, said “My biggest pet peeve about beer? The Texas heat! It gets up to 115 degrees in here when we’re brewing!”
(Mario doing his best Superman Pose while he shared a bit behind the scenes)
Since they’re a bit cramped in the back of the house, taking beer from test to Townie to full scale is really contingent of the brite tanks and cooler space, so they’re admittedly limited, Mario continued.
Mario’s favorite beer is Mafic Stout, “Even on a Houston summer day,” and Justin’s is City Amber.
As usual, we weren’t there to review beer, but we did drink a handful of them, and we did have our favorites:
- Chipped Tooth IPA – 7.1% ABV, 60 IBU
To-the-book good. West Coast in nature with a pronounced malt backbone; well balanced without being overly bitter
- T in C Lager – 5.2% ABV, 20 IBU
Pronounced bready maltiness, slightly tangy on the finish, sourdough. Tejas pale malts and liberty hops.
- City Porter – 5.8% ABV, 24 IBU
Justin , “Down to their last kegs. Very basic, to-the-book. Nerds don’t appreciate it much.” Mario echoed, “It’s the base style.”
- City Amber – 5.8% ABV, 39 IBU
Mario, “Bars can’t keep it stocked.”
- Uncommon Cowboy California Common – 6% ABV, 45 IBU
Justin, “Our answer to an American Bock. Texans love it. A big seller at rodeo and cowboy-themed events.” Seemingly no nose at all, but sweet, mild and smooth. American malt and Northwestern hops.
- Mafic Stout – 6.8% ABV, 40 IBU
Justin, “Another common” named after a black, igneous rock found at the bottom of the ocean, hence the barside squid on the artwork
- Mosquito’s Revenge Pale Ale – 5.5% ABV, 45 IBU
Also pretty malty but again good and common
- Hawaiin Stout – 6.8% ABV, 40 IBU
Smooth creamy macadamia nut notes, a little bit of vanilla, and a floral citrus-ness that makes it very aromatic with a great after taste
- 0 IBU Single Hop IPA – 5.5% ABV, 0-5 IBU
“Hop debris makes the haze because it was DDH w/ pellets. If using leaf/cones it’d be clear” A light and very unique IPA
- Raspberry Amber – 5.8% ABV, 40 IBU
Nose is all fruit. Tastes like raspberry candy. Tangy notes on finish. One of their more interesting beers
- White Oak Wit – 5.2% ABV, 15 IBU
Strikingly similar to Buffalo Bayou’s Wit according to Nick
Their flagships are City Amber and Chipped Tooth IPA, but despite their favorites or the winners in sales, the common thread with their beers is they’re all pretty good. Aside from the Hawaiin Stout and the Raspberry Amber, there wasn’t anything that really blew us away because it was so good, but there wasn’t anything we’d turn down either. This could be a strength or a weakness, and that middle of the road-ness might be why there are such mixed reviews about Town in City Brewing!
Either way, they’re owning it. That’s honorable.
Justin shared with us that their approach and, (according to him the approach of all the breweries in town) is to, “Get national beers off of the tap walls in bars/restaurants rather than competing against local breweries. Nobody steps on one another’s toes.” We’ve heard that again and again, and it’s one of the things that makes beer (and Houston) so special.
(Town in City Brewing Uncommon Cowboy. Maybe. Or another beer.)
They’ve helped a few of their “competitors” when something breaks, and the favors are always returned in kind.
He went on to sing the praises of the team over at Sigma. He said when they’re not at Town in City Brewing, they’re at Sigma. He also spoke highly of Eureka Heights because, well, they’re both representing for the Heights. He mentioned City Acre as well for their fresh, homegrown approach.
Since we’re a beer blog, and we were there drinking beer, interviewing the brewer and other staff about beer, it makes sense that we talked a bit about beer. Town in City isn’t hopping on with the haze craze. “I hate NEIPAs!” Justin posited. “Nobody knows their shelf life! But they are showing some legs as the brewing community has added them to the vocabulary. I’ve heard of breweries using flour to get the haziness.” We heard some similar comments on HopCast Houston.
We’ll be reviewing a few more Town in City beers as the opportunity arises, but for now, they’re working on some pretty innovative stuff moving forward.
(We definitely had a night on the town at Town in City Brewing. This is their Raspberry Amber alongside studious notes)
The Future for Town in City Brewing
It might’ve already been released (or dumped) at this point, but Justin told us about a beer they were working on that featured Sour Patch kids in it. This is not a descriptor for a sour. They really put candy in it. (Justin’s update: “Still working on it. Haven’t dumped the first batch yet.)
They’re also working on a 0 IBU, single hop IPA that was briefly mentioned above. Aside from trying to provide the freshest beer they can to the Heights, they discussed some possibilities for collaboration with Whole Foods Market Brewing. “We love Dave. We just have to get our schedules aligned.”
They’re not working on any barrel aged stuff any time soon, as floor space continues to be an issue. But, they’ve been working tirelessly to get a winery license in order to be able to mark themselves as Houston’s first production Cider company. Creatively named Houston Cider Company.
They’ve been “fighting the state, suing the state, and hopefully getting an answer in the next few weeks. The Houston Cider Company was a go until TABC said, ‘Just kidding!'”
They recently hired a Cider Maker from Colorado’s C Squared. So be on the look out for more fruit beer coming soon. “It won’t dominate the tap wall, though,” Justin assured.
(Town in City Brewing has some good lookin’ merchandise for you to sport if you so please)
They currently self distribute, and they just got a delivery truck a few weeks ago, so you might see a bit more of them around town in the coming month, but they have a “Portland style concept” although around only 25% of their beer is sold on-site on a monthly basis.
They’ve always got something going on at Town in City Brewing. They do a lot with local artists by using the taproom as a rotating gallery. Artists receive 100% of the sales.
Aside from the art and the Townies, they’ve got a running club that meets on Fridays, they’re always doing benefits for animal-related causes, they’ve got charcuterie/beer tastings coming soon, and *drum roll* they’re about to be celebrating a birthday!
They’ll be having their White Linen Night 2 Year Anniversary Party (tomorrow), Saturday August 5th from 6 to midnight. The evening will be capped off with the release of their famous beer, White Linen IPA (wheat with grapefruit and orange). White Linen IPA pays homage to the Heights very own White Linen Night where everyone gets out in their best white linen to check out local art and faire. Check it out!
We’re more interested in honesty than popularity, so we have to call it as we see it, but despite the bumpy start, we ended up having a good time. Justin made up for it in the end.
Are you going to be out there this weekend? Let us know in the comments below! And as always, thanks for reading and sharing all this stuff with your friends. The breweries really appreciate it, and we do too. Hopefully we’ll convert them all one day.
Until then, beers to you, Houston!