Author's Note: When I first began my Top 15 Places to Get a Beer in Houston, TX list, Anvil Bar & Refuge had yet to open. By the time it was published, draft beer was fairly new to the bar. While I someday may update my list, I would like to let it be known that Anvil not only belongs on The Ferm's list, they belong very high on the list.


11 Drafts, 1 Nitro Keg, 1 Cask.

Beer bars whose selections include three Saint Arnolds, two Real Ales, a Dogfish Head or two, an Independence Brewing Company selection (I can hope, right?), and several pedestrian or safe selections are few and far between. However, Anvil is not that bar. Anvil is the kind of bar that truly cares about the way their beverages are served. They house a well designed and well maintained beer serving system. Each keg even has its own gas regulator, and Anvil takes it a step further and mixes their own beer gas.

I wore out the thesaurus looking for something to describe the special release and hard to find draft beers offered on Anvil’s thirteen taps. Esoteric is OK. Impressive may be better. However, unrivaled may be the most appropriate.

Check out their beer chalkboard to see what is on tap. This link is updated weekly!

The Bar Has an Understated Connection to its City

Amongst a plethora of franchises and quasi-unique establishments owned by mega-groups, Anvil co-owner Bobby Heugel built his dream bar. Anvil is tucked away in a trendy, but somewhat unaffected area of Westheimer in Houston, TX. The building originated as a Bridgestone-Firestone store built in 1959. What makes the facility impressive, however, is the marked passion in the interior design and décor (decidedly opposite of the Red Robin corporate design). The vintage glasses, resting on shelving from a piano store the owners worked at as kids, were acquired from local thrift shops. You can rest your feet at the bar on a piece of an old railroad track that previously ran through Houston.

The bar owners renovated the interior of the bar almost entirely themselves, and while some of the most interesting features of the bar are not evident at first glance, you cannot help but feel you are somewhere special while sipping a drink at Anvil.

These Guys Are Freaks

Hidden in the “About” section of their perpetually under construction website is a note that “Anvil Bar & Refuge is owned and operated by a small group of cocktail freaks.” What you will witness when you visit are people that create each drink as if it was a small piece of art that they are showing off to friend. If you have ever been at a loud bar and watched a bartender make a cosmo or mojito, you will really appreciate the love the folks at Anvil have for what they do. The bar's dedication to serving great drinks makes Anvil a great place, regardless of the drink ordered.

The website also states: “Our bar is a manned by the same individuals who built, bartend, and manage it. Anvil is a special place for us, and we hope that you will share what can only be described as our refuge.”

It shows.

Classic, Stylish, Pretentious Down-to-Earth

Everything about Anvil’s approach to serving prohibition era drinks and great beer is stylish, from your seat at the bar to the glass in which it is served. The atmosphere is what differentiates this bar from its corporate counterparts. Bobby describes Anvil as “an expression of who we are and a passion for making cocktails and sharing our evenings with a group of friends, some familiar and some new, every night.” Some may counter that any place that is often so crowded that there is a line to get in is more pretentions than down to Earth. To this I respond, is it the bar owner’s fault that the place is popular? An owner’s job is to create the best experience possible. If you are lucky enough to be inside, it is hard not to agree that Anvil overachieves at this goal.

“the List”

After finding a place at their large prominent bar, which is always a better place to enjoy a drink than a couch, I was handed “the List.” It is a large sheet of paper with a memo under the simple title stating: “We at Anvil would be remiss in our duties if we did not mention that there are certain libations we feel you should try at least once in your life...for better or worse. Below is a list of 100 of them.” It is arranged in alphabetical order and starts with an Absinthe Drip and ends with a Zombie. If anything, The List had me watching the bartenders all night to try to match what was being prepared with the 100 items. The purpose of my first visit to Anvil was to get a taste (or two) of the new limited release Saint Arnold Divine Reserve #9, but the List is certain to bring me back.


What do you know good?

Being that this is my first post on this blog and all, let me introduce myself. My name is Crawford Crapitto, CEM. I enjoy a drink or two every now and again. I am Vice President of Services down at the Solutions branch of the local utility. I have got a wife, a teenage daughter, and dog named Boozer. Seriously, if I tell you more I'm sure you'll be stalking me when I insult your favorite beverage -- and let's be honest, if you are reading this humdrum site then you probably need my help.

How did I get here? I stumbled across the site while Googling "what kind of cheese goes in a kolache" last Tuesday afternoon. While I didn't get any flipping cheese help, now I know that Minute Maid Park stocks like 87 different sizes of cups. Overall I found TheFerm to be satisfactory. It has got tabs up top for "Beer" (check), "Wine" (my cellar is stocked!), "Spirits" (hah hah, not ghosts), and a few other German items. However, I was searching around between meetings today and could not find any thoughts on actual beverages. Kolache contests, random news, a schizophrenic interview… but no drinking advice.

Problem solved kids. During my 3:00 PM strategic planning teleconference I broke out my Crackberry (my daughter calls it that) and emailed SirRon (not his real name it turns out). He shot a message right back, which was disturbing given it was the middle of a work day. After a few more back-and-forths, it was like we were old drinking buddies. I like that young man. He reminds me of a younger, less successful me with twice as many kids as necessary. Long story short, he gave me the keys to the company car, and I am ready to get this site rolling.

Full disclosure: I do not have any blog experience. However, I have been told I can email my posts to the admins over at TheFerm and they will take care of the rest. Thanks in advance Candee! Lesson #1 kids, delegate. (Although I plan on grammar checking these before I send them, that young girl cannot even spell her own name.)

My journey to this post's beverage selection starts at Whole Foods. Despite all of the smelly hippies and tiny architects pondering which of the 31 flavors of granola to buy, I prefer Whole Foods to my other local grocery. Sure, there is a Kroger across the street, but there are way too many "people who live in large apartment complexes" (yeah, I remember my sensitivity training) shopping there for comfort, if you know what I am saying. Whole Foods has a sound selection of beers. They also sell singles, which allows me to make my own six packs without having to resort to the sneakery I must perform at Krogers. I put together five Sierra Nevada Celebration Ales and one Twisted Tea (the commercial said it was Man-Tea… sold!).

When I get to the checkout, there is this man buying like 10 pounds of salmon. What is this guy, a bear? I looked the other direction, because while everyone thinks bears are so cute, bears kill. What is the cutest bear you know? That bear you are thinking of right now will kill you.

Seriously, I will maul you just to get that
cutesy look off your face. Just sayin'.

I am still avoiding any eye contact and fail to notice when the bear clears out. Ziggy the check out guy must have already initiated some sort of check out guy small talk, which I obviously had not reciprocated. I assume this because he had a look on his face like I chopped down his favorite thinking tree. Whatever. He could also be in a bad mood after hearing the news of the Massachusetts Senate election. Sorry Zig, it looks like my family will not be footing the bill next time you take too much acid.

Tonight is not my first dance with Celebration Ale. If I was marooned on a desert island and could only take one beer, Celebration would be on my short list. Not only is Celebration Ale delicious, it embodies everything I think the perfect beer should be. It is full flavored, very hoppy, and bottle conditioned, yet it is readily available at stores everywhere (i.e. I do not have to promise the creepy beer guy at the local liquor warehouse a Cuban cigar just so he will reserve a sixer in the back for me). Being bottle conditioned, I try to hold one or two Celebration Ales back every year so that someday I can have an epic vertical tasting. I currently have about four or five vintages in the cellar. To top it all off, this beer is seasonal, so the "for a limited time" or "while supplies last" mystique applies.

Well kids, until next time, imbibe that! You can thank me later or in the comment section.

(This has got to be the easiest check I have ever cashed.)

Goodbye(?) to the Outpost

Posted by J.R. Ewing | Sunday, January 17, 2010

When I began to construct this blog as a farewell to a Houston area watering hole, I thought it would be relatively straight forward. Local bar is founded in the suburbs. Has a rich and unique history and list of patrons because of its location near NASA. There's no other place like it in the United States, but as times change, time seemed to move on and it didn't, and as a result its relevance is diminished and even as a patron, it seems to be for the best that it moves into our memories vs. our present. But the picture is now murky, I'll expand later.

Let's start with the introduction and background. In 1981, on the heels of the Apollo program and as the Space Shuttle program was just beginning, The Outpost Tavern opened in Webster, Texas, at the corner of NASA Rd. 1 (no, there's not a NASA Rd. 2) and Egret Bay Blvd. This is just a stone's throw from the Johnson Space Center in Clear Lake, NASA one of the pillars of Houston culture since the Mercury days. Outpost was founded less than a decade after the last moon landing (about the same time from now back to 9/11 to put it in temporal perspective). But the area was invigorated with the new prospect of a Space Shuttle Program launching and a new era of space flight. In 1981, the JSC area only had a few neighborhoods, and very little social options, and The Outpost was a local watering hole that was unmatched outside of the Bonanza Steak House and Monterrey House Mexican Restaurant.

What The Outpost turned out to be a historical local bar, which astronauts, JSC management, engineers, and non-NASA locals frequented for decades. It became primarily known as the "hangout of astronauts". Touchdown parties were booked for every flight. When I was a co-op student working at JSC in the mid-1990's, several crew appreciation parties were held there (nothing like comped beer at 21 years old, shooting the breeze with astronauts). It was a place where "plain old" engineers were invited to mix with the crew and flight operations personnel to share in the celebration of a successful mission.

It had all the makings of a neighborhood bar. Memorabilia everywhere the eye could see, wood siding and primitive chairs and tables, a simple bar with a handful of taps, parking on pebbles or grass. For 28 years, locals shuffled in, day after day, to grab a little beer, some basic food made by the two or three staff while you waited, and share stories of design reviews, EVA excursions, and successful touchdowns. It was rumored that if you were selected to serve in the Astronaut corps, you opened a tab at The Outpost to kick off your journey, and didn't get to close it until you returned from your first mission. In the meantime, those "in the know" would run it up as an initiation rite. Good stuff.

So why would a place like this close? Well, the area outgrew it. There are more than a dozen other local bars, some chains, some independent, that far exceed it in accommodations, tap options, location, and "buzz". Slowly but surely, it no longer was "the place" to celebrate a successful mission, there were several other options that were easier to get to, had better parking, and more than two people cooking food. It's not to say they were more convenient or had better prices, they just slowly sucked the regular traffic away, and The Outpost slowly faded into irrelevance.

That's not to say if you stopped by you wouldn't have good time. It just wasn't the good time anymore.

A few snapshots from my last trip:

It might have been given up for dead in 2005, when in January it suffered a devestating fire that gutted the establishment. But through extreme vigilance by local fire departments, lots of services provided at cost by local contractors, and patron donations, the place opened within a week, a little bit worse for the wear, but back serving the community.

Flash forward to the present. As it turns out, during it's near 30 year run in the Bay Area, The Outpost never owned the land it resided on, nor was it an issue. Until 2009. When the property was sold to a developer. Unfamiliar with the new owners, The Outpost declared that they'd just go ahead and close, instead of waiting for the other shoe to fall and get a vacate notice. To be honest, it seemed a bit quick, as there was no indication that negotiations or intent were discussed with the new owners. But I would also respect that if the ownership after 30 years thought it was time. The Outpost time had past, they no longer wanted to endure the uncertainty, nor the economic downturn, or the prospect of selling it to someone who might turn it into a Chili's clone, and just use the name as a token for profit.

But this week, things took a very unexpected turn. In a bizarre twist of cultural respect and information release, it seems as if the new property owners have locked out the management, claimed no rent has been paid for two years, but vowed that they intent is to move the establishment to a very close location and "upgrade the place to make it more family oriented" (hopefully not another Chili's). The physical structure (which was obviously compromised and rebuilt in 2005, we're not talking about that much original here) was a WWII "quonset hut" (see above link) that could quite frankly be moved. Both side vow court action, which I know means lawyers will win (sorry Mr. Smokeypants). The original owners don't want The Outpost name to be used in vain, the new property owners seem to think they have rights to the structures on the property.

So we sit in flux. I'm not sure The Outpost has relevance anymore. However, when it was going to be closed, the calls for "national landmark" and "fundraising effort" resonated deep in the JSC community. But I personally think, "all good things must come to an end" and this was a prime example.

What happens next, remains to be seen. But a toast to a place not like any other!

“Beer may cause you to digress - and lead a happier life.” -- Michael Jackson

The pour inspired a perfect, thick, one inch head on top of a bright orange body. The carbonation was heavy and consistency clear when held slightly above the eyes. A gentile swirl of the glass released a peppery aroma on top of the notes of Pilsner malts and Belgian yeast. A second agitation reveals additional aromas of hops and candi sugar. The bouquet is not as prominent as a typical Saison style, but this is not a typical Saison.

The beer’s complexity unfolds as it wanders on the palate. No flavor really dominates despite the inclusion of sweet potatoes in the fermentation. The mouthfeel is characteristic of a Saison, with the carbonation allowing the spices and complex yeast flavors to dance on the tongue. The finish is interestingly dry, perhaps from the sweet potatoes. What does the addition of a starch do to beer anyway? If only I had bought two of these so I could try one after aging. As the beer warms, the sweet potato flavor emerges slightly.

At least that is how I remember Allagash Fluxus 2009 the day after. While time and sobriety allow for a more decorated story, more credible reviews than mine of nearly every beer available are readily available on RateBeer or Beer Advocate. Each can be accessed from your home computer or even your Smartphone of choice right from the liquor store aisle.

My internal battle… whether or not a review on a beverage is worth a blog post.

Will not a simple tweet do the trick?

theferm: Poured @Allagash Fluxus 09 tonight. Made w/ sweet potatoes & pepper. A slightly sweet & spicy Saison. 8.3%ABV. Recommend highly! #craftbeer

The web is littered with Joe Webloggers and their opinions on their favorite beverages. For the most part, the posts are about as interesting as reading about their family vacation or funny things their cat does. Here at, our charter was to share drinking related experiences, but Google Analytics provides evidence that readers are more likely to land on the page if we mention Russian River’s “Blind Pig” than if we cover SAVOR. If the goal is to only attempt to share something about our passion for fermented beverages with the blog reading public, the clear move is to crank out short tasting notes posts.

I currently have two refrigerators full of beers that I am procrastinating drinking. Why? Because I feel obligated to write about the experience of my most interesting bottles. I suppose I can make a resolution to write more about my drinking endeavors while they are fresh, but drinking is a social affair (usually) and writing is a private matter. Come to think of it, this may explain why I have four unfinished blog entries sitting on my hard drive. But I digress…