Craft Culture X | Thai One On Lemongrass-Basil Blonde Ale
The beer scene in Texas is in a state of flux, with multiple closures, including many fan favorites, leaving drinkers reeling and owners uncertain as to what the future holds. Against this precarious background, the opening of Houston’s Craft Culture X is a beam of positivity for the industry for multiple reasons.
Craft Culture X is Houston’s first beer co-op, comprising of primarily woman-owned Ovinnik Brewing and For The Culture, the Bayou City’s first Black-owned brewery. With a shared focus on diversity and inclusivity, the two breweries-in-planning were able to overcome the financial and strategic challenges of opening a taproom by coming together and have successfully set up a fully shared space in Houston’s Timbergrove area, close to the popular brewery hub of The Heights.
In the two-plus months since Craft Culture X opened, they have made a strong impression on the Houston beer scene, running a full gamut of styles across the their 16 taps with a focus on the clean, specific and traditional, such as dry stout, English pub ale, pale ale and witbier. However, the collaborative team, who plan to develop their own solera cellaring system over time, are pushing flavor envelopes with a few experimental brews, including their Thai One On lemongrass-basil blonde ale, an original Ovinnik recipe brewed by the collab. While vegetal brews are quietly gaining traction beyond the standard Fall explosion of pumpkin beers, they are still much rarer than their fruited counterparts, but for those with a more savory tooth, finding a Thai-cuisine-inspired brew on a brewery menu is a real treat.
This particular flavor combination comes with a specific set of challenges to ensure neither flavor overpowers, particularly with the use of Thai basil, which has a unique intense spicy aroma. “The lemongrass was pretty easy to figure out; we just boiled it for the last 15 minutes of the brew, but the basil was trickier,” explains For The Culture’s Carl Roaches Jr. “Add it too early, and it just turns bitter. Add it to the fermenter, and the flavor doesn’t come through as strongly. We added it to the kettle right after the heat was turned off, and it acted like brewing a tea- that’s the one that worked.”
The beer has the characteristics you’d expect from a blonde ale – medium-light bodied with some sweetness, with a delicate note of fragrant lemongrass to the fore and the firm distinct notes of spicy Thai basil on the finish. It’s a careful balance, sophisticated and elegant, that captures the essence of a Thai stir fry without getting lost in it so that it’s wonderfully easy-drinking.
Thai One On is an ambitious undertaking, particularly for a new brewery, but their collective expertise has brought these complex flavors out with aplomb.
Roaches Jr is specific about Craft Culture X’s approach unusual, adjunct-forward recipes.” It isn’t as though we are against adjuncts, we just believe the beer should speak for itself for the most part,” he explains. “An adjunct is “a thing added to something else as a supplement rather than an essential part.” He adds that while there are more experimental brews in the works they will be trialed as small batches first. “Our brewery philosophy is that the beer comes first, and that anything we add to the beer should be done in a way to bring out flavors inherent, or complimentary to the particular grain bill.”
The choice to make a beer based around Thai food is emblematic of the co-op’s commitment to diversity and cultural inclusion and their collaborative goal of “bringing craft beer to more people of all colors and genders.” Houston is the fourth most diverse city in the US with residents from over 80 countries and a dynamic international dining scene. Seeing this reflected in the local beer scene is just the shot in the arm Texas craft beer needs at the moment, and will hopefully help the industry to grow and reach out to new diverse drinkers.
Beer provided by Craft Culture X, opinions writer’s own