When Whole Foods Market announced a craft brewery would open inside its Post Oak Houston store, it seemed an odd location to launch a grocery-branded beer.
After all, Houston is a craft beer kind of town. The Brewers Association lists 29 craft breweries in metro Houston. The BA also estimates Texas independent breweries contributed more than $2.3 billion to the economy in 2013, second only to California. This is a state, and a city, that has embraced craft brewing.
With so many microbreweries and rapidly expanding craft breweries like Saint Arnold and Karbach, why open a Whole Foods Brewery here? Is the market big enough to sustain another brew?
Karma Clark, the Whole Foods Market specialty coordinator for the Southwest region, has an answer. “Houston is on an aggressive growth trajectory in the craft brewing industry with a community that is ravenous for the local craft experience.
Houstonians are ravenous for craft beer? Well, yes. Houstonians are also notorious food lovers. That’s probably why the new store will have a bar that seats 40, an upstairs mezzanine with a second bar, a bar menu with cheese plates and charcuterie and three prepared food stations to choose from… oh, and a team member on a keg-fitted tricycle will deliver beer to you while you shop.
The concept goes beyond Houston, though. This marks the first in-store grocery brewery in the country. The five-barrel, two-vessel brewing system from Criveller fits neatly in the store and will produce 400-500 barrels of custom brew per year.
Brewmaster Dave Ohmer plans to experiment with fresh produce from the store to create original flavor combinations. The bar has 20 taps; eight will always be dedicated to in-house brews.
First up is a sweet potato weizenbock made with 50 pounds of roasted sweet potatoes straight from the produce section and roasted in the bakery. Also on the opening menu: DL Double IPA, FlasheWeizen and Side Street Session Ale.
Ohmer will be on-hand for tasting events and brew classes. The store also hosts “Ask the Brewmaster” sessions on Twitter.
Doug Bell, the company’s global beverage buyer, says the company’s goal is to provide as many “adventurous” craft brews as possible in all stores. Whole Foods Market carries over 1,000 items in the beer section, aiming for at least 25 percent of the brews to be locally produced.
“We want to continue to innovate. This brewery is a natural extension of that,” Bell says.
The brewery, and the store, opens Thursday, Nov. 6.