Buffalo Bayou founder Rassul Zarinfar could seem eccentric, even obsessed, to the casual observer. (“People call me the Willy Wonka of beer in Houston,” he says.) But more frequently, he uses the word “kinetic” to describe the energy around food and brewing in Houston, where Buffalo Bayou set up shop in 2012, and to describe his approach to beer. Buffalo Bayou tends to brew beers people love, but they might brew them only once. Or the brewery latches on to an ingredient or concept—rye, flowers, coffee—and brews beer after beer with it until Zarinfar and his brewers have exhausted their curiosity.
The brewery’s first release was a knockout Gingerbread Stout, which Buffalo Bayou releases annually in Texas’ 100-degree July weather. “I think it’s the perfect summer pool beer,” Zarinfar says. The second beer was a chai porter, which Zarinfar begrudgingly brought back for the first time this year.
“Everyone’s like, ‘When are you gonna bring that back?’ I’m like ‘I don’t know; I’m over it.’ It’s still good and still delicious, but we have other ideas too,” he says.
Those other ideas include only two flagships: 1836, a hybrid hoppy, Belgo-British ale; and More Cowbell imperial IPA. But what Zarinfar prefers to spend his time on are the beers that comprise the one-off Secessionist series. Under that umbrella, Buffalo Bayou has explored a spectrum of witbiers (look for Wit Da Eff, brewed with basil); coffee (we were super impressed by Buffalo Sunset black IPA, made with coffee from local roasters Amaya); and a group of beers Zarinfar refers to as “Fat Kid Heaven.” It includes Black Raz, a version of a previous Red Velvet Stout that subbed in plenty of raspberry instead of the original cherry flavor; as well as Mud Turtle, a chocolate-pecan Scotch ale; plus a forthcoming beer that riffs on bananas Foster.
Zarinfar doesn’t think it’s overly ambitious to have put out 32 beers in just three years. “People say that’s a lot, but I say, ‘It could have been 36.’ We could have done one every month.”
He also has no patience for the naysayers who told him a few years ago that Houston didn’t have a market for the type of beers he wanted to brew. “They were saying that Houston wasn’t ready for what we’re doing. I said, ‘You’re not spending any time on bar stools at Petrol Station or Flying Saucer. Texas is ready.'”
And he’s proven to be right. Buffalo Bayou is now in its third year and has become the largest self-distributed Houston brewery, sending its beer to Dallas and beer-soaked Austin. There’s more to come, thanks to last month’s purchase of a nearby warehouse that will allow for a sour beer program and barrel-aging space. No surprise, Zarinfar is looking beyond bourbon barrels to age his beer in other spirits’ barrels.
“We’re not just going to do bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout. This is another opportunity for another exponent on top of already interesting beers.”