We sat down (virtually, and we wore masks anyways) with James “Huggy Bear” Wolfe, Co-Founder and Head Brewer of Local Group Brewing, for a short interview about how Houston’s local craft breweries are getting along.
Q. What stands out to you about the way the Houston craft beer scene has weathered COVID-19?
A. I’ve been very impressed with the pivoting of business models that everyone has made so quickly. Breweries and brewpubs see their community in distress and are adapting to help meet their needs. Even new breweries are opening which is awesome! I see us all as a third place, after home and work, where community gathers and strengthens. And more and more people are recognizing that need.
Q. What beers are you looking forward to releasing in the near future?
A. Since we just opened in February before Covid, we’re just getting started on our beers, both perfecting the recipes and coming out with new and exciting offerings. In addition to those, we have a barrel-aged imperial stout coming out later that I’m very excited about. It’ll be a small release, but we used all different spirit barrels to learn how those flavors interact with the beer. We have some cool plans for the first release and hope to make it a bigger and better release every year.
Q. What challenges do smaller craft breweries face in Houston?
A. We are in the group that has limited packaging capabilities and don’t distribute to grocery or liquor stores, where people are buying more of their beer. Our draft sales to bars and restaurants are also limited. We currently hand-can on our 16 oz. machine with an eye towards keeping our quality high. It’s been awesome seeing the community respond and help with beer runs and buying more beer to go.
Q. Aside from tasting the beer, what is your favorite part about your job?
A. I really like recipe development. When tasting new beers, I prefer to drink with others and get their feedback to sharpen my palate and cultivate ideas for new beers and improving our current recipes and processes.
Q. You’ve done some awesome collaborations with other Houston craft breweries! Houston obviously has a very tight-knit craft beer community, how do you think that influences Local Group beers and Houston beers in general?
A. I love the beer industry! I have never seen a community so helpful, passionate, and open about what they do. I want Houston to become the most collaborative and helpful beer city in the US. I want to create excitement with beer fans and elevate the quality of the beer made here. I’m planning more collaborations, both on our system and at other local breweries.
Q. It’s fall, that means pumpkin and yam beers are hot – do you have any favorites?
A. I love well made pumpkin beers so I’m very choosy. My out of state favorites are Steven’s Point Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale, and Southern Tier’s Pumking. Locally it’s Saint Arnold’s Pumpkinator and No Label’s Nightmare on First Street. I’m hoping to try more this year and come out with our own next year.
Q. What’s the easiest way for Houstonians to grab some Local Group beer right now?
A. We are open Wednesday through Thursday from 4pm to 10pm, Friday and Saturday from noon to 10pm, and Sundays from noon to 9pm for dine-in and to go. We have a full kitchen with an amazing chef and kitchen team putting out awesome food. We have beer to go of almost everything on tap (except nitro, sadly) and our beers are available through Hop Drop for delivery.
You can order beer and food to go through Local Group Brewing’s site or by clicking here… and you should because their beer and eats are trucking delicious. If you drop in on Wednesday, Texas tap wines at Local Group are 50% off! A little birdie (okay, it was a Huggy Bear) told us that Local Group will also be distributing kegs to bars and restaurants across Houston and canning more of their beers soon, so look out for those!