Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co., which launched nearly six years ago with a beer called 1836 honoring the date of Houston's founding, is preparing to break ground on a $14 million brewery and restaurant that would be one of the largest and most visible of its kind in the city.
The announcement marks another milestone for the industry, as breweries continue to pop up and civic boosters market them more heavily.
The three-story, 28,000-square-foot Buffalo Bayou Brewing facility is planned for Sawyer Yards, an artist studio-anchored development just south of Interstate 10 near downtown, the Woodland Heights and other bustling neighborhoods. The brewery would boost production capacity significantly and take fuller advantage of state laws that allow it to sell some beer on-site.
Founder Rassul Zarinfar said his business outgrew its original location, a converted warehouse near Memorial Park that is expected to ship about 8,000 barrels this year. The new facility, 3 miles away and expected to open in 2018, will provide immediate relief and could be expanded over time to a 50,000-barrel capacity.
Opening in 2018: 3-story brewery, restaurant and event space at 2101 Summer St.
The company has begun the permitting process and expects construction to take nine months.
The new site will include a taproom and 200-seat restaurant that would be larger and more comfortable for visitors, who currently squeeze into an un-air-conditioned corner of the brewery and a small outdoor patio to sample the wares and snack from food trucks.
He and Jon Deal, one of the Sawyer Yards developers building the brewery and leasing out the 1½-acre parcel it will sit on, envision a gleaming urban destination that will attract beer fans and tourists to a sprawling artistic and retail center that boasts 355 artists, dozens of creative services companies and a growing number of restaurants, fitness spots and other businesses, including another craft brewery.
Deal said developers are seeking next-phase businesses to complement the established ones. For example, a visitor might stop by Buffalo Bayou or the year-old Holler Brewing for a beer and learn about art exhibits at the Silos on Sawyer. Maybe they'll wander over and buy something.
"Each step we take, the discussion of how we benefit the artists still comes up," Deal said.
The new brewery design by Method Architecture incorporates lots of glass inside and out to capture skyline views and give guests a glimpse into the manufacturing process that yields such popular local beers as 1836, More Cowbell and Gingerbread Stout.
Zarinfar said the design had to live up to the standards of all the "creative geniuses" nearby. Visitors will enter through a 25-foot-tall cutout the shape of a buffalo head.
"We had this incredible opportunity with a blank canvas," he said. "You can't walk into an environment like that and bring your B-game."
His plans arrive at a high point for craft brewing in Texas and the Houston area in particular. The state collected a record number of medals at the Great American Beer Festival last month in Denver. The Houston region claimed six of those, with Saint Arnold Brewing Co. also being named the nation's top midsize brewery.
About the same time, Houston tourism officials began selling one-day, three-day and 90-day Brew Passes at VisitHouston.com that purchasers can redeem for a sample flight of beers and other discounts at six Houston breweries.
Maureen Haley, director of strategic tourism initiatives at Visit Houston, said locals and tourists alike seek out unique experiences.
"As more breweries that have smaller production get into the game, you have to go there to get the beer," she said.
Meanwhile, craft brewing continues to grow dramatically. When Buffalo Bayou Brewing sold its first beers in January 2012, for example, it joined Saint Arnold as one of just two craft breweries in the city limits, with two others in surrounding counties.
Today, 60 breweries and brewpubs are licensed by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission in an area from Galveston Island to Bryan-College Station.
Charles Vallhonrat, executive director of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, said Buffalo Bayou is following a path of other breweries that started out in modest digs, often in light-industrial areas. After state lawmakers relaxed some of the restrictions on breweries selling beer on-site in 2013, several of those expansions have included fancy taprooms that help build awareness and brand loyalty and increase sales in stores, bars and restaurants.
"It's the expansions that are driving the construction," Vallhonrat said. "But when that construction goes forward, it makes sense to optimize the taproom."
For fans of Buffalo Bayou Brewing, many of whom brave sweltering heat for its annual Christmas in July party, the new brewery optimizes something just as important: air conditioning.