#17 Southern Star Brewing Co. in Conroe, TX

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On the morning of 1/14/14 we packed up our gear and headed east from San Antonio to Conroe, TX which is about 40 miles north of Houston. There we enjoyed an afternoon touring the facilities of Southern Star Brewing Company and speaking with head brewer Sam Wright. We began in the spacious new taproom which is just across the loading docks from the 10,000 square foot brewing space. The taproom is separated from additional storage space in the warehouse by a massive wall of empty cans waiting for their run through the canning line.

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Southern Star was founded by Dave Fougeron and Brian Hutchins who met playing disc golf and were both long time homebrewers. Dave worked two stints brewing professionally at Saint Arnold Brewing Co. in Houston before undertaking the Southern Star project. They began production in March of 2008 and were the first brewery in TX to distribute their libations in cans, utilizing Crown cans whose facility is conveniently placed just two miles from the brewery. The first beer produced was the American hopped Pine Belt Pale Ale which is still in the year-round repertoire along with the super popular Bombshell Blonde and roasty Buried Hatchet Stout. Sam explained that over half of the company’s production is the blonde which can be found in kegs, 12oz six packs or in 16oz tallboys at local beer establishments. The beer is served at the Houston Texans’ Reliant stadium and quenches thirst outdoors at the nearby Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in the Woodlands, TX. Recently added to the year round list from the seasonal rotation is the 9.5%ABV, 100 IBU Valkyrie Double IPA.

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The current seasonals include La Mort Vivant biere de garde, Red Cockeyed ale, and Walloon grisette (If you are unfamiliar with this beer style I recommend looking up the intriguing history). Of additional interest is the Pro Am series which is the product of a homebrewing competition judged by the brewery employees. Begun in 2009, the beer style changes each year and previous winning styles have included a saison, black IPA, smoked porter, and rye red. The winning homebrewer gets to produce a batch at the brewery which is then distributed in cans and entered into the GABF competition. Sam shared that his favorite beer currently is the Serial Keller and kindly offered a sample. The brewers have also begun a barrel aging program. A biere de garde named Blind Ambition has been aging in red wine barrels along the taproom walls for the past 10 months. In addition, another site houses 15 gallon whiskey barrels filled with Black Crack imperial stout.

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Southern Star has a 15 bbl brew house and makes use of two shifts of brewers to make about 15 batches a week, producing just under 10,000 bbl in 2013. The facilities consist of nine 60 bbl, three 50 bbl, and two 30 bbl fermenters with a new 120 bbl fermenter and 120 bbl bright tank on site waiting to become operational. They currently utilize a 4-head Wild Goose canning line which can push through nearly 30 bbl a day with only two operators. There are two cold storage rooms that provide ample space to store cans before they are quickly distributed to the market. A pilot system is utilized for the brewers to experiment with new recipes that are sometimes available in the taproom. Sam discussed the idea for the Taproom IPA which would utilize the same base malt recipe with changing hops.

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Taproom hours are Friday 4-10pm and Saturday 1-10pm. We recommend a stop by to enjoy special releases and year round beers alike. A huge thank you to Sam Wright for taking time out of his day and showing us around. We truly enjoyed the conversation over cold craft beers in the taproom.

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Author: Brandon Wurtz

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[L-R:Michael, Sam, Me]

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