Karbach Brewing Company (Houston, TX): Hopadillo, Sympathy for the Lager, Weisse Versa Wheat

When I decided to review Karbach’s beers in two separate reviews (as they loaded me up with a backpack full of beer when I toured their brewery!), I figured I should focus first on their seasonal releases, as they might not be around too long. This time, I’m bringing three of their year-round offerings, and this is great timing (sez me) because just this very week I found Karbach in cans at my local beer store. HOPADILLO, their flagship IPA, was actually the first beer I had heard of from Karbach, back when it was a featured review in Draft magazine.

Karbach Brewing Company, Houston Texas
Karbach Brewing Company, Houston Texas

Hopadillo

About the Beer (from the can):
Cuidado. He lurks in the shadows, waiting in bold anticipation. He’s surprisingly bitter. Bitter about something. Legend has it that he feasts on those with fresh hops coursing through their veins. This dry-hopped, Texas IPA has a flavor as defiant as the Hopadillo himself. It’s packed with the bracing bitterness of hops from around the world that this creature craves. He’s comin’ to get ya. You’ve been warned.

Style: American IPA
ABV: 6.6%
IBU: 65

 

I used to be really against craft beer in cans. There was no good reason for it; just the bias in my head that equated canned beer with crappy Adjunct American Lager, and a sneaking suspicion that the beer was going to end up with a metallic flavor. Oskar Blues finally convinced me that good beer can come in a can, and for the craft beer scene it makes sense; cans are more easily portable, more easily recyclable, and don’t allow any light or air in that can affect the beer. I really like the HOPADILLO can; most of Karbach’s cans have the dual color scheme going on, but I just really dig on the purple and green combination, it makes me think of the Joker. Pouring the HOPADILLO into my glass (‘cause I’m still not planning on drinking my beer OUT of the can!) I get a deep orange with flecks of gold, piggybacked by a very prolific, slightly off-white head that persists for an extended stay and leaves behind wonderful lacing.

The Hopadillo guards the cold room...
The Hopadillo guards the cold room…

The aroma this animal secretes is all piney, resinous, sticky hops up front with a sweet malt backbone. While the hops assault your nose up front, it is obvious that this is a very malt-forward IPA from the fragrance that lingers behind that initial onslaught. The hops also bring a bit of a tropical feel to the aroma too, but this is very secondary to the pine. Taking a swig, it’s hops, hops, and more hops. The initial touch on the tongue is nothing but lupulin, and as you swallow the strong, sweet maltiness makes itself known. This is a beer that has certainly grown on me; the first time I tried it at Karbach’s tap takeover at Big Hops here in San Antonio, I thought it was just your average IPA, and I wasn’t overly impressed. The more times I’ve been able to enjoy HOPADILLO, it’s really come to my attention just what a masterful job Karbach has done in balancing the high hop bitterness with the heavy malt backbone so that this beer is neither too bitter nor too sweet.

Hopadillo: American IPA
Hopadillo: American IPA

The HOPADILLO is not a beer that I could by a sixer of and sit around all day and drinking, because as you drink more of it, the hops eventually do build up on your palate and throw off that balance towards the much more bitter side. However, one or two HOPADILLOs would be easy to put away, and would make a wonderful compliment to some spicy food (as hops accent heat, and I like my food hot). The body of the HOPADILLO is a bit thicker than many IPAs – coming from the fact that it is so malt heavy – and this also makes it one that I wouldn’t want to drink a ton of in one sitting. It’s heavily carbonated, not to the point of being overly carbonated, but heavier than a lot of beers of the style. This carbonation helps to build that beautiful head that is one of the things I really enjoy about this beer. It is hard to stand out from the huge, huge pack of IPAs, and while HOPADILLO is not one that I would drive 500 miles to get, it will easily be a go-to IPA for me now that it is here in San Antonio.

 

Overall 6.5 / 10

Brewery site: http://www.karbachbrewing.com/

Beer page: http://www.karbachbrewing.com/beers/hopadillo-ipa/legend

 

Sympathy for the Lager

About the Beer (from the can):
Lagerhythm. Please allow me to introduce myself / I’m a beer of damn fine taste / I’ve been around for a long, long time / But many brewers ruined my name / I’ve watched now for several decades / As my character’s been disgraced / But now the boys down on Karbach Street / Have made me first rate / Full of fine malt and German hops / My taste is both fine and bold / And though my flavor always stands out / I’m best enjoyed cold / So if you meet me have some courtesy / Have some sympathy, enjoy my taste…

Style: Amber Lager
ABV: 4.9%
IBU: 45

 

When I met Blake Robertson at that original tap takeover here in San Antonio and we were talking about beer and beer reviews, he asked me about the types of beer I like and what I don’t. I went through his list, and we got to this one. I told him “I don’t really care for lagers.” His response was that very few of us beer geeks do, and that’s because they’ve been done wrong by those AAL jerks for so long (paraphrasing here). Karbach’s idea with SYMPATHY FOR THE LAGER was to re-introduce the idea of a good lager back to the craft beer world, and bring it back from the fizzy yellow water image we all have in our heads. I was skeptical, but decided to go into this one with as many preconceived notions put aside as I could. SFtL comes out of the can a super-bright yellow, and immediately made me think “oh no.” A luxuriant gossamer crystal-white head – that actually stuck around a bit longer than I expected, but did not leave behind much notice it was ever there once it was gone – tops this tawny liquid.

The canning line at Karbach is small but mighty...
The canning line at Karbach is small but mighty…

Sniffing the SFtL I get at first… lager. Again, “oh no!” in my head, but I’m still not making up my mind yet. The initial whiff smells much like any other lager I’ve had, with that characteristic dry lager ester that if you know beer you know what I’m talking about. Giving it another inhale, there’s something else creeping up behind that average aroma, a little honey-like sweetness and could that be a hop or two I’m getting on the back end? I think so. Hmm. Maybe this isn’t your average lager. It’s when I finally take a sip of this beer that my mind is starting to be swayed a little more. SFtL opens up with a nice sweetness, almost a bit candy like, which is then balanced by some actual hop bitterness on the backend. There are actually real ingredients in this lager… it’s not corn! The malt is present and smooth, and the hops are not bitter but are enough to actually remind you that a beer that looks like this is actually supposed to have some hops in it. SFtL has some of the standard golden lager flavors to it, but it is much more complex, much deeper in its flavor profile from the fact that this beer is made from actual malt and not a bunch of adjuncts that make it cheaper (and bland) like the lagers most of America is familiar with. This beer is not fizzy yellow water. Thankfully.

Sympathy for the Lager: Amber Lager
Sympathy for the Lager: Amber Lager

As I would expect from a beer of this style, SFtL is thin with light carbonation. As I would not expect, the mouthfeel actually gets a bit of a velvety feel to it, and I’m sure this comes from that fact that there is real malt and not cheap crap in its place. SFtL is easy to drink, and would be a good hot day beer for sure. It doesn’t make me want to go out and start drinking lagers, but it does make me re-think my idea that lagers are boring. This one is not. It’s not my favorite style, and it wouldn’t be something that I would be stocking my fridge with, but if I was having friends over that don’t “get” craft beer and said that want that average AAL type beer, I would buy this instead. That way, they will get that yellow lager they are used to, and I will get to have some flavor and some texture to my beer instead of fizzy yellow water. Everyone wins.

 

Overall 6 / 10

Beer page: http://www.karbachbrewing.com/beers/sympathy-for-the-lager/info

 

Weisse Versa Wheat

About the Beer (from the can):
Wheat’ish. Sometimes, the obvious is ingenious. It might also settle the argument. The fantastic flavors found in a Bavarian hefeweizen? Or, the intriguing spices that a Belgian white embodies? Which is better? Turns out, both. At the same time.

Style: Hefeweizen Wit Hybrid
ABV: 5.3%
IBU: 20

 

Hefeweizen and Belgian Wit are beer styles that I cut my teeth on. I spent my high school years in Germany, and grew up drinking German hefes all the time. As I got more into craft beer after college, and my palate expanded, hefes and wits lost some of their appeal. I found them both to be a bit more boring; the wits not as much as the hefes, as they don’t follow the Reinheitsgebot but neither one did a whole lot for me. This is not to say that there aren’t good hefes or good wits out there, but with a world filled with Imperial IPAs and Barleywines and Sours and so on, they just seem a little one-note. WEISSE VERSA WHEAT attempts to fuse the flavors of a hefe and a wit into one beer, and this seemed an interesting experiment. WVW pours a lemon-honey blonde, which is nice a cloudy as it should be as a hefe or a wit. When I pour an American “hefeweizen” and I can see though it, it’s immediately suspect. This opaque canary liquid is topped with a very dense white head that remains for a drawn-out period, and when it does finally recede it ends up as clouds that ride the top of the liquid and leave behind decent lacing.

Some of the many, many tanks at Karbach...
Some of the many, many tanks at Karbach…

WVW smells exactly like I imagined it would: Belgian esters, German malt body, and some banana that I expect from the hefe. It’s weird, it really makes me think that someone poured a half a hefe and a half a wit into this glass; on the scent Karbach has really pulled this experiment off. Sipping it, I am impressed. I don’t really do much hefe or wit anymore, and did not expect to really care for WVW too much, but this beer is really much better than just a sum of its parts. It takes bits from both beers and makes them into something that is both familiar and new at the same time. WVW has that nice wit spiced smoothness, a thick middle ground to the flavor from the hefe, and some lemon like zing on the way out. Complex and (again, this seems to be a theme of these reviews) well balanced, you really can get a hint of both styles from one sip.

Weisse Versa Wheat: Hefeweizen Wit Hybrid
Weisse Versa Wheat: Hefeweizen Wit Hybrid

The body on this beer is not too thick but certainly not thin either. The carbonation is on the light end, and this would be expected from these styles. WVW feels heavier on the palate than many beers, but not thick like a stout or anything like that, just a bit heavier than its color or ABV would lead you to expect. I find the WVW easy to put down, and would be one to recommend to fans of either style, and I think it would be a great compliment to some brats or pizza. This is a really cool experiment, and while these are styles that just don’t do that much to get me excited, I really enjoy the outcome the mad scientists at Karbach have realized.

 

Overall 6.5 / 10

Beer page: http://www.karbachbrewing.com/beers/weisse-versa-wheat/both

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