20 Mar Cycler’s Brewing Visitors Guide
Known for a cycling motif (duh), private reservations, a keen nose for spices, and their own private well
(Cycler’s Domestique Wit, our first beer of the evening)
What You Need to Know Before You Visit Cycler’s Brewing
Currently, Cycler’s Brewing only does private tours, and they have a 15 person minimum.
Price: $15 Per Person, includes 3-4 beers
Food: BYO, or possibly ask if Mrs. Tina can cook you something. (Might cost extra, but it’ll be worth it.)
Most Popular Beer: Domestique Wit or 55-11 Double Red
Kids/Pets: Kids and pets are welcome
AC: N/A, but the lakefront view and being in the center of a forest make up for it
Bathrooms: Porta Pottys, but they were some of the cleaner ones we’ve seen
Parking: Plenty of grass in front of the barn
Hours: Saturdays at 1-4PM – Make Reservations
(Incredible view of the sunset over their large pond – this is what you see when you look out the front door of Cycler’s Brewing)
The Cycler’s Brewing Intro
Let me start by saying, everyone we’ve met with so far has either met or exceeded our expectations. These guys all love what they do and they’re (so far) all damn good at it. The reason we write these posts is because these folks brew beer; they don’t necessarily tell stories. We want to help turn up the dial on their voice and share Houston craft beer with anyone that’ll listen. Today’s write up: Cycler’s Brewing.
If you’ve been following us through the last few months, you know that as we were building this blog, we searched high and low to list alllll the breweries in the Greater Houston Area. (We’re still probably missing a few, and if you know of some, please let us know). Cycler’s was one of the smaller ones, but they’ve been around for a while
Nick had business to tend to and Chris did too. Chris was able to make it about halfway into the interview, but for the most part it was Tam and Tony hanging out with Clay and Mrs. Tina.
It was a crisp, cold day in December where the sky was filled with chilly gusts and peppered with puffy clouds. I know what you’re thinking – December? WTF? It’s freaking March! We ended up having a very busy December and, due to some work schedules, we’ve had to slow down for a little bit. Therefore, we’ve been waiting so long to post so we could space these suckers out. Sorry Cycler’s. Even more sorry, 11 Below.
I digress. On the drive out there, we called one another and joked about helping each other keep from getting lost in the forest. Cycler’s Brewing is in historic Montgomery, Texas, nestled inside the Sam Houston National Forest. Once we made our way through long winding roads, it wasn’t really hard to find at all; however, when we pulled up, we were a little puzzled at first. At the end of the little dirt road, there’s a small brick and wrought iron gate that leads to a property with a few houses and a barn.
Feeling like I may be shot for trespassing, I entered with caution and kept my head on a swivel. As I followed the path onto the property, there were a few dogs that cheerfully greeted me, warned Clay of my arrival, and he soon followed. A sigh of relief. He started hitting me with facts and answering some of our interview questions almost immediately! I tried to make note; meanwhile, stalling a bit for Tam.
The Cycler’s Brewing Experience
Tam arrived shortly after and we pulled up a seat at the bar. This interview was unlike any we’d done before because Clay was just, boom boom boom, rattling off answers, and Tam and I were hurriedly trying to get it all down. After a few minutes of that, he asked if we wanted a beer and that’s when the pace changed a bit.
(Cycler’s Brewing – the showroom floor)
We pulled up a metal barstool and got comfy while we started asking our usual questions. Meanwhile, Clay poured us little half-pours of a few beers, one at a time. We go back and forth, asking and answering questions for a while, until Chris shows up and then all three of us were sitting at the bar.
Clay’s wife, Tina, joined us. Christen, their controller, was with us almost the whole time, but she was pretty quiet for the most part.
Cycler’s Brewing: History of the Brewers
Before Tina arrived, Clay told us of one of the funniest stories we’ve heard yet as it relates to jumping into craft. He and some buddies would always grab a few beers after a long ride, but he was a macro guy by default and never really considered craft as an option. That’s probably because there weren’t many craft options back then, but we’re not making age jokes!
Seriously though, he tried some craft beer and was enthralled. That led him to trying any craft option he could get his hands on and ultimately culminated with the day that changed it all. Clay visited the Yard House restaurant at the 2009 Fiesta Bowl Game (UT vs. Ohio State), and he said, with big eyes and an even bigger smile, “I saw over 200 types of beers there. That amazed me.”
He went on, “I started looking around a bit more, and I was enamored by the variety! I didn’t know much, but I knew I wanted to be a part. Now look, all these years later, and I’m the one with a brewery – my friends and I always laugh about that.”
(Brewmaster/Founder Clay grinning from ear to ear like a proud father)
Before all this Cycler’s Brewing stuff kicked off, Clay was an area manager for Coors, where he saw the beer subjected to harsh conditions regularly. Because of that, they take cans and bottles of each batch, and put them through the elements, and taste them after the fact, just to see how they hold up. He didn’t mention changing any recipes to accommodate that though and I don’t think anybody would.
Around this time Tina joined us, and she began telling us of her culinary background and interior design skills. They’ve managed to leverage their unique skill sets to try and make Cycler’s something special, adding to that variety Clay mentioned.
(Left to right: Clay Brewmaster/Founder, his wife, Tina, the tastemaker, and Christen, the Controller)
Tina and Clay’s construction company is the fuel behind Cycler’s, or maybe it’s the big sprocket. Tina helps with the interior design for the construction company and she’s somewhat a tastemaker for Cycler’s. She injects her astute palette into the brewing process; offering knowledge of exotic spices and complex pairings with food.
Food and beer go together like cycling and sore legs. According to Clay, “They’re joined at the hip.” Both Clay and Tina’s love for good food helps drive their creativity as they create beer that is designed for pairing.
Speaking of food, it was at about this time that Tina disappeared for a quick spell. She popped back in with a small Gyro plate with Tzatziki and fresh-cut veggies for us to snack on while we pummeled them with questions. To be honest, this was a first. And a last. And it was greatly appreciated. Just about every craft brewer in town is a mom-n-pop shop, but something about Cycler’s has an extra layer of family to it.
(Chris, “I’m not shy. If y’all won’t grab the first piece, I’ll grab one for you.”)
They have the passion of brewing and they love to eat! Food has always been the main basis for the beer; to pair food and beer together.
When we asked Clay what was his favorite part of brewing, he replied, “All of it! I love it all – I enjoy the entire experience from creation to completion.” He continued, “I don’t do it all alone. My team really helps with input on what will be canned or bottled. We work together.”
Tina and Clay went back and forth all night sharing their history, perspective, and wisdom, and encouraging us to keep eating like a good parent would at a long-awaited visit.
When we asked how they decide what gets brewed and what ideas stall out, he explained that it’s a spontaneous thing without much standard process. Basically, they chat about it as a team and either go for it or don’t! The majority of the creativity comes a little more down the line as they begin brewing test batches (a minimum of four).
(Cycler’s Brewing Bonked, Ryed Hard, Derailler, and Palmarés bombers lined up, awaiting a good home in our bellies)
The Cycler’s Brewing Beer
We ate and drank, asking question after question. Just like at SpindleTap, when we started asking real questions about the beer – that’s when the two of them began having differing perspectives, and (similar to SpindleTap) I think that’s largely why they work so well together.
When we asked them what their goal as a brewery is (an intentionally vague question), everyone had a slightly different answer, but they all convened in the same place. “We want to take care of home and create our own existence,” Clay explained. They’re small and they know it. They’re ok with that though, as long as it means they don’t outpace their growth and they can take care of home-base – a common thread among all the brewers we’ve interviewed.
Another intentionally vague question: we asked them what they’re known for. Different brewers/owners interpret our questions differently and that’s what we want. They mentioned that they’re best known for 55-11 Double Red, to which I sighed.
I’ve had it twice, and while I enjoyed it, it’s a really complex beer. I explained to Clay that it’s gotta be a tough sell to macro drinkers, to which he replied “But have you tried Domestique Wit!?” He calls that their “grass-cuttin’ beer,” and while there are two styles of it at any given time, they’re far more approachable than the 55-11 they’re well known for.
Clay explained that neither of their more famous beers are his favorite and he began asking if we’d tried Derailler.
Christen chimed in a bit and echoed the sentiment that Derailler was one of her favorites, then Clay invited us onto the actual brewery floor to grab a glass straight from the tank! SCORE!
While we weren’t there to review beer, we did drink a handful of them, and since we’re here to share Houston craft beer, here it is.
- Bonked Pumpkin Ale – 9.5% ABV, ? IBU
- Ryed Hard Rye IPA – 6.6% ABV, 68 IBU
- Derailler Scotch Porter – 8.5% ABV, 78 IBU
- Palmarés Russian Imperial Stout – 9.2% ABV, 82 IBU
- Domestique Wit – 5% ABV, 10 IBU
- Breakaway IPA – 6.4% ABV, 62 IBU
- 55-11 Double Red Ale – 7.9% ABV, 62 IBU
They would all land somewhere between great and “Man, hold up,” but we left a bit stumped. 55-11 and Domestique Wit were probably our least two favorite of the bunch! Now I get it, a Scotch Porter isn’t going to move units like an Ale, but these guys have some real gems hiding off in that forest!
We’ve got a few of these already reviewed on the site, with more to come and they’ll be linked once they’re posted. Bonked Pumpkin Ale is one of the better pumpkin spice beers I’ve tried, and Chris, who historically is a big hater of the style, actually enjoyed Cycler’s. It has a bold spice profile that makes it unique. The first time they brewed this beer, there was a pumpkin explosion that took a whole day to clean up.
(Clay pouring some Derailler fresh for Chris while Chris stares intently – doesn’t get any better than that)
On to the next, Ryed Hard is a Rye IPA that’s creamy, silky, and resinous with a sharp finish and bold rye flavor. This one’s on tap at the airport, but we didn’t catch which one. Hopefully they’ll remind us when we send this to them for proof-reading!
Derailler is the next on the list, and it’s a special beer. It’s a Scotch Porter that’s uber-smooth. It starts off slick and ends off roasty; an amazing beer that’s creative and really well-executed.
Palmarés is their Russian Imperial Stout and it’s full of roasty dark chocolate – another terrific beer that I’d love to see more of on tap around town. The ABV is almost unnoticeable. It’s just so smooth!
Domestique Wit was the one that surprised me the most. I remembered having a canned iteration during summer of 2016 and thinking it was a bit strong on the citrus notes, but the one I had this day wasn’t the same. Clay explained that there are two versions – a summer, more citrus-heavy version, and a milder “winter” version. I preferred the latter. It was a lively-carbonated, light, sessionable beer that’d definitely go well with a day of yard work.
There were a few others that we couldn’t get to simply for the sake of safety, but we definitely will in due time.
We weren’t there to write about the beers specifically, and much of the above is either from memory or from reviews that are still in my journal waiting to be posted to the site. If the overview isn’t good enough for you, go try some in the wild and if they don’t have any Cycler’s Brewing at your local craft spot, just ask, “Why not?!” Their bigger beers are definitely worth fussing over.
They’ve won 2 Gold Medals at the Hawaii Brewers Festival, and their distribution focus is establishing themselves in Texas. You can find them at a handful of places all around town, but more so in Conroe, The Woodlands, Bryan and a few places in Austin that are in-the-know.
(The barn that serves as home to Cycler’s Brewing set amidst the backdrop of endless trees #nofilter)
While there’s no formal process for how they select what to brew next, Clay bluntly said, “I’m more than willing to be wrong. If what I think is a good idea isn’t actually a good idea, my team will let me know and we’ll end up with a better beer in the end of it.” You can really get a sense that team is valued here and there’s no autocracy.
One thing they mentioned was that they have their own little water well on site, and they’ve designed their beers specifically around that.
The Future for Cycler’s Brewing
The Cycler’s Brewing team has grown slowly and steadily. That success is soon to explode if Clay, Tina, and the team have their way. What’s the future hold for the bike gang over at Cycler’s Brewing? LOTS!
They hope to open their tap room by next summer on another piece of property they own. The idea is to make it more convenient and get the word out a little more. The proposed tap room sits on 5 acres in Montgomery, where they want to expand, and it’ll fit 75+ people complete with live-music!
(Product, product, product)
Cycler’s Brewing has a few beers coming out soon. They’ll have an India Pale Lager, a RIS with vanilla beans, a Rye Pils, a wild-plum kettle-sour, and a new Belgian Trippel, as well as some Barrel Aged fun in the works for 2017. Seriously, keep your eyes out for Cycler’s Brewing in 2017.
When asked about any potential collaborations coming soon, they quietly replied, “We’re open to the idea, but it has to fit the objectives of both us and them, and we’re kind of far out for it to make sense for most of them.”
Clay and Tina sent us off with a solid handful of beer, so expect some more Cycler’s Brewing beer reviews from the team in 2017, but continue to be patient with us. We drink much faster than we can post!
Do yourself a favor, and get a few of your buddies to round up a few of theirs, and reserve a spring afternoon at Cycler’s Brewing. Let us know what you think below. Beers to you, Houston!