02 Apr Whole Foods Brewing is Constantly Up to Something
Known for brewing hazies before the craze and collaborating with everybody and their wife
What You Need to Know Before You Visit Whole Foods Brewing
Price: Pint: ~$6
Mondays $1 off all Crowlers, M-F $3 off any 3 Crowlers
Food: Yes, and the wings are dang good
Most Popular Beer: DL Double
Kids/Pets: Kids are good, but this is inside of a grocery store, so pets are restricted to service animals
Bathrooms: Plentiful and well maintained
Parking: Plenty of underground parking
Hours: Sunday 12:00pm-9pm
(Pictured left to right, Beer Chronicle Founder Chris, Whole Foods Brewing head brewer James Carlyle, and Nico the bar manager)
Whole Foods Market Brewing is one of two Whole Foods in the US with a brewery inside of the store, and our Houston location is the only one that distributes. The other location is in San Jose but they don’t serve other accounts. Busters.
Wait a minute… Whole Foods has a brewery? THAT Whole Foods?
And we sat with their head brewer James Carlyle to help shine some light on his sometimes-overlooked gem off of Post Oak.
Two words describe James and Whole Foods Brewing. Integrity and conviction. We like that. A lot.
Once we got into the meat of the questions, we asked James what his favorite style of beer was, and he shot back with absolute conviction, “Good beer, duh!” Then he paused for emphasis, looked over both shoulders, and leaned in with a whisper…
“It’s like picking your favorite child… the shit sucks. IPA I guess? Let’s be honest. It’s IPAs, y’all. I looove IPAs.”
This level of authenticity is rare, admirable, and absolutely magnetic. While we got off to a bumpy start, our time with James was an evening we’ll cherish forever.
(Good note-taking = the okayest interviews ever)
The Whole Foods Brewing Experience
We’re always honest. We always tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Even when it stings a little. At the end of the day, our integrity is all we have, right?
When we pulled up on a crisp February evening, Chris, Josh and Tony bellied up to the bar and asked Brochino, “Yo! Where’s James, bro?”
“He just went home about a half hour ago. Had to watch the kids or something like that…”
Tony was hot.
Josh and Chris were a bit more chill, but with varying levels of dissatisfaction we all agreed at the end of the day, we’d had this interview planned for over a month. WTF, dude?
Tony texted James, “Hey James. We had an interview with you at 6pm. You gonna be late or what?”
This was a pivotal moment.
Would we have to write a post that ran James and Whole Foods Brewing through the mud, or would he save face somehow?
James instantly text back, “Damn man. I had to get home to watch the kids, and I completely forgot. I can be there in 30 if that works.”
Not only was James Carlyle honest about his mistake, he was there in 20, and he was one of the most gracious hosts we’ve ever sat with for an interview. When he arrived, he bought us all dinner, and he wouldn’t let himself off the hook for his error despite it being completely forgivable.
Let us pause for the cause… Time out!
One of the coolest things about the beer industry is the character of those that make it possible. James is a shining example of that, and not only did he redeem himself, the interview, and our evening, he completely owned it like a man. Integrity comes to mind here.
Also, our families come first. All day. Every day. Unapologetically. And fuck anybody that doesn’t like it. James seems to have a similar value system.
While we each enjoyed a beer and ate awaiting his arrival, we had the opportunity to chat with Josh a bit about how these interviews play out. It was Josh’s first brewery guide interview with the team. In the end, it was a blessing that James had to take care of his kids.
Alright! Time in…
As soon as he arrived, James started busting his own balls about being late.
We actually had to tell him it was ok, but his integrity had him giving himself a ration of shit and encouraging Brochino, and later on Nico as well, to do the same.
At the time, he’d recently returned from a family vacation in Colorado, and he wanted to tell us all about it.
James went on to tell us his assistant brewer recently got in a hell of a motorcycle accident. It was one that left James’ snowboarding incident looking pretty humble, but it also left James doing double time upon his return from Denver.
James poured us all a beer, filled a pitcher, and we started in with the questions.
We started off big picture with, “Where would you say the industry is headed as a whole, nationally?
“Really, there’s no clear path for beer. People said Hazy IPAs were a fad, but it’s now the most entered category in GABF. If you put a row of different Hazy IPAs from Houston, I fully believe you can now distinguish them from who made them.”
He’s so right. Triquetrilization is a perfect example.
He continued with pride, “I get to be a part of defining that.”
(James’ face when he told us about how opinionated the Houston beer community is)
Whole Foods Brewing: The History
As James was telling us about his Denver trip, he also mentioned running into Whole Foods Brewing’s old head brewer.
“I got shitwhipped while snowboarding halfway down a mountain. You wouldn’t believe it, but I ran into Dave while I was there too!”
What a small world. Dave Ohmer is Whole Foods Brewing’s OG head brewer, and somebody that James refers to as a mentor. He’s since moved on to B52, and then made another move that we’re unaware of to date. Whodathunk, new brewer runs into old brewer roughly 1,000 miles away from home? Wild.
See, unlike many other head brewers, James didn’t choose the location of his brewery. Instead, it chose him.
James used to be assistant brewer under Haze-gawd Dave Ohmer, and when Dave decided to head out for greener pastures in Conroe, James was left holding the brewing paddle.
However, he wasn’t instantly promoted to head brewer. Instead, he had to basically re-interview for the job he already had.
We dug in pretty deep and asked him what changed when he took over Dave’s spot.
“Whole foods policy has a kind of a chain of command… Everyone gets a shot. I had to bring beer that I brewed to the interview.”
“My beer was the best beer out of the panel, but I wasn’t picked initially.”
“A brewers resume is this *points at beer*”
James went on, candidly, emotionally, and vulnerably.
“The hardest part for me was all the emotions. I was next in line. I’d already put in the work. Yet I still had to interview for the job I was already doing.”
Shaking his hands with big eyes and raised eyebrows, “AT THE BREWERY I WAS ALREADY DOING IT AT!”
“Like, I had to come in here, crowler up some beer I had brewed, and then take it to the interview at the other Whole Foods location, so I could interview to basically keep my job. It was emotionally taxing, but at the end of it all, I was told I had the best beer. [There was a bit of paperwork on the Whole Foods side before I was actually chosen.] But at the end of it all, the Regional President said, ‘We’re glad it worked out the way it did.'”
The handing of the torch took a whopping 4 months. Living with uncertainty about your job for that long sounds daunting at the least, and Whole Foods Brewing is lucky that James’ loyalty kept him put while he waited.
At the end of the day, James can’t help but give Dave praise for all he learned from him, “As far as Dave goes, I’d still love to say that he played a big roll in where I’m at today in the industry, but I do not know any of his future plans. I’m positive he’ll pop up somewhere and immediately start killing it again though.”
As the conversation twisted and turned, we ended up talking a bit about why James chose Whole Foods Brewing to begin with.
“Whole Foods Market Brewing was an off the wall concept of grocery store and brewery in one, and I’m an off the wall kind of guy, so it seemed like a natural fit. I can go grab anything I want to brew with!”
James has been with Whole Foods for 2 years in February. His first day was actually Valentine’s, so each year, he has something a little extra to celebrate on Hallmark’s biggest holiday.
(Nico and James sampling a barrel-aged milk stout full of adjuncts that was stored in an unused employee nursing room – the irony)
Whole Foods Brewing Beer
Opinions are like… well, you know the phrase. We had to start off the beer questions with, “How would you describe the local craft beer community?”
James didn’t skip a beat as he replied emphatically, “Opinionated,” followed by a deep sigh and an eye roll that’d send shockwaves through the interwebs if only they could feel it.
We’ve got plenty of pet peeves when it comes to beer, but we wanted to know what James’ was.
“People being overly opinionated and not trying the beer for themselves. It’s a double edged sword when it comes to following along with the critics. So many folks that check in an IPA as hating it with something like, “I hate IPAs tho.”
He went on to say, “Honestly, it could be any kind of beer. Just when people try and rate something that they don’t care for, that shit gets me every time. Also, those trolls on the Facebook groups. Man, fuck the Dirty Glass Mafia people.”
DGM as they’re affectionately known (affectionately is open to interpretation) are the folks that troll people because their glass is dirty, as a dirty glass provides a less-than-optimal sensory experience both visually and with aroma. At the end of the day, very few at-home-drinkers have “beer clean” glassware, so it’s pretty easy to see how that’d be an annoyance.
Nobody else has been so open about their disdain for DGM, or for an thumb-thugs, but this just adds to Jame’s authenticity and credibility.
Both of those personality traits shine real bright in the beer he creates and the way he goes about it. Everybody’s a part of the team. Everybody gets a shot. Plenty of Whole Foods employees have mashed in alongside James, and they’ve brewed some terrific beer. Try a pour of Brewchino next time you stop in. You’re welcome.
Some of the other beers they’re well known for are
Since James and the Whole Foods Brewing team are working with a 5BBL system, the beers come and go quickly. Many times they’re gone the day of. Back when Sam (AKA Samber) used to write for us, we’d get a text about once a month, “So and so beer is gone. Only lasted three hours this time.”
With beer of this caliber, it’s no surprise that James is the type of person that’s constantly pushing himself.
“I live by these two things: If I feel like the smartest person in a room, it’s time to find a new friend. And if somebody tells me it can’t be done, I’m gonna ask why not. Better yet, I’ll say, ‘Hold my beer and watch this!’”
His enthusiasm and conviction shine through in everything this guy says. No answer was filled with more conviction than our favorite, though.
Is brewing art or science? Pick one. He didn’t bat an eye, y’all.
“It’s easy. It’s Art. No matter how much I know about how to brew beer, I won’t ever know what makes a beer good to everybody because I just can’t. All I can really do is paint my best picture of what I think it should be. And after all the paint and brush strokes have been applied, I have to be able to find a finishing point; I have to be able to walk away knowing I’ve put my best foot forward on that one before I move on to the next.”
This is easily the most polarizing question that we ask brewers, or anybody really, and the coolest part about it is how everybody shares their answer as if it were a persuasive argument. They try their best to convince us, and even though all the answers and persuasion are different, they always convince us somehow!
Anyhow, you’re here to read about Whole Foods Brewing and James Carlyle, so here’s something else he told us, “If I see anything SpindleTap or B52, I have to try it out. I absolutely love Real Ale, and it doesn’t hurt that my wife works there. Also Holler! I love John, he’s hilarious! I love where they’re at right now.”
As it relates to collabs, Whole Foods Brewing is probably collaborating on a beer with your mom right now, and you don’t even know it. From Baa Baa to Baileson to Houston legends that aren’t even in the beer industry, these guys want to push the envelope. James is well aware that two heads are always better than one.
He’s even collaborating with some of Houston’s most prolific homebrewers. Jamie from Secret Beach has a beer with Whole Foods that oughta be in kegs soon. Laser, Wooden Bus and Patience are on the schedule as well.
As a matter of fact, his advice to homebrewers looking to make the jump is, “Just do it! Don’t hesitate! You just have to take the fucking jump. Volunteer as much as you can. Your reputation in the scene is super important.”
You heard the man. Or heard it in your head… Unless you’re reading out loud right now, in which case this just got awkward. Moving along…
(Whole Foods Brewing James’ face 100% of the time when he’s talking about beer)
The Future for Whole Foods Brewing
What does tomorrow hold for James and Whole Foods Market Brewing?
A lot more of the same.
Pushing boundaries, collaborations, and proving doubters wrong at every opportunity.
“I’ll be focusing on pushing the brand outside of Whole Foods, and trying to figure out how to finagle a canning line. Whole Foods isn’t fully aware of what we have when it comes to the beer. They need to realize what we have here. We can do so much! I’ll keep pushing that too.”
You can find Whole Foods Brewing beer on draft at places like The Flying Saucer and Craft Beer Cellar, and a few spots in Austin and Dallas. We’re patiently waiting for Hop Drop to start delivering for them, and that canning line will be a sight for sore eyes!
He closed with this, “I want to be known as someone who’s gone from homebrewer to pro-brewer. I started out homebrewing in 2011, and I’ve always pushed the boundaries. From adding kiwis in homebrew to berry chantilly cake in the latest IPA, I’ve always wanted to push the boundaries. But at the same time, I want to push them while maintaining the restraint that’s needed to brew classic stuff like our Kolsh.”
You can get a sample of some Whole Foods Brewing beers at Wild West Brew Fest in Katy on April 27th. They’ll be pouring two of their most popular beers, DL Double IPA and Post Oak Pale Ale as well as two other surprises. You can grab some tickets for 5% off using code “BEERCHRONICLE” Just know that 100% of your money will be put right back into the community.
Whole Foods Brewing is on to something, and they have James Carlyle to thank. James will likely scoff at this closing and pass the gratitude on to Brochino, Nico, and others on the team that make it possible, but we’re going to put it on him.
As always, beers to you Houston! Thanks for reading and sharing. These are by far our most labor intensive write ups, and every time you share them, it reminds us why we do it!