Kemah Beer Fest and Galveston Bay

7 May

I have lived in Houston for nearly 12 years, and I had never been to Kemah. When the gf suggested we go to a beer fest at the Galveston Bay tourist attraction, I thought “hell yeah!” and “I knew I’m dating this chick for a reason.” There was also the option to attach a beer drinking boat cruise on the bay to the festival package, but the threat of rain had us not wanting to be out on the water. With Google Maps leading us to Kemah, we set out Saturday afternoon and drove through parts of Houston I had never seen before. When we arrived at Kemah, we were greeted by a welcome banner.

The setup of the festival was interesting. Once we had checked in and received our wristband and tasting cup, we were free to walk around the Kemah Boardwalk in a non-exclusive environment. What that meant was we were mixing and mingling with the standard tourists and groups of young kids while imbibing on adult beverages. I didn’t mind the unique atmosphere, and I imagine that it emulated the general vibe of craziness that pervades the boardwalk.

On to what you really care about: the beer. There were 3 separate beer tents, each housing 8 breweries who were each serving 3 beers. Some quick mental math tells me that adds up to a total of 24 breweries and 72 beers which is on the small side for a beer fest but also very manageable to at least give everything a once over. My MO was to make my way through the different breweries and check out beers I either had not tried before or ones I knew I loved. My girlfriend drank everything and mostly made fun of me as I frantically attempted to check in all the beers I was tasting (ALL ABOUT THE UNTAPPD UNIQUES!!!).

Some quick stats on my Untappd check ins at the fest:

  • 27 check ins
  • Average rating of 2.73 versus all-time average of 3.64 (don’t even ask me about Shelton Brothers Festival average rating)
  • Average ABV of 5.41% versus all-time average 7.21%
  • Most popular style: American IPA with 5 check ins (no surprise there)
  • Worst “beer”: other than the requisite Karbach hate, far and away the worst was Truly Spiked and Sparkling from Boston Beer Company. My check in says it all.
  • Best beer: Windows Up by Alpine Beer Company. Even though I had had it before, it was in a league of its own.

In addition to the unlimited tastings, our wristband also granted us one free “bratwurst” which seemed like your standard ballpark hot dog. My overall thoughts on the festival were that it was a very fun atmosphere with underwhelming beer. There were not any heavy hitters amongst the breweries present, and they only brought standard beers from their lineup and nothing on the limited or rare side of things. A craft beer novice would have certainly enjoyed the variety of breweries and beers, but there wasn’t much to be excited about on the beer front for someone with 6,000+ Untappd uniques. What made the festival worthwhile was the phenomenal people watching and interactions with other patrons and beer reps at the tents. The 90’s / 00’s cover band playing at the fest led to some some great dancing and one very intoxicated fellow making his way onto stage and offering the band some personalized encouragement. My girlfriend and I had some great random convos with other attendees, and I talked to several of the brewery reps about the beer they were offering and their distribution plans for Houston’s upcoming future. The small size of the festival gave it a more personable and open feel, and I enjoyed that. I also lamely tried to spread the word of Brittski Beers with my sweet business cards.

CBO at your duty

Having made our way around to all of the tents, we of course had to give it a go of the wooden roller coaster, Boardwalk Bullet. I was fully prepared for the typical bone jarring, concussion inducing, jerky woodie ride, but the Bullet was surprisingly smooth. I cancelled the chiropractor appointment I had made before boarding.

Look at how much fun we had!!!

Before traveling to Galveston Bay, we had made sure to get some recommendations on what else to do down there. We received universal praise for Gilhooley’s Restaurant in Dickinson, and that’s where we set our sights upon leaving Kemah. We arrived to an oyster paved parking lot, and that would prove a wonderful precursor to what came next.

Showing my noobie colors, I attempted to order at the outside bar instead of just grabbing an open table. Once I had figured out the lay of the land, I once again became overwhelmed by the various choices of oysters. There were several different styles of grilled oysters with assorted flavorings to go along with your standard raw oysters. We asked the very helpful waitress for her recommendations, and she promised that she would do us right with her selections. A short wait later and we were presented with an insane collection of absolutely mammoth oysters: 1 dozen raw, ½ dozen grilled with a garlic seasoning topped with shrimp, and a further ½ dozen grilled with cheese and more shrimp on top. I have easily made my way through a couple dozen oysters before as an appetizer, but these were seriously 3-4 times the size of your average oyster. They were easily the size of my fist, and most of them had to be cut into halves just to fit into our mouths. The photo below doesn’t do them justice, but hopefully it gives you a sense of their massiveness.

These oysters did not f around

We made our way through ~¾ of the oysters and then had to wave the white flag. I have never before made an entire meal of oysters, but 2 dozen of these bad boys was more than us two could handle. As you may have noticed in the photographical evidence above, we chose to wash down the mollusks with some classic Lone Star.

Shockingly full on oysters, we were determined to make it to one more spot. I did not even know that Bacliff, TX existed, but apparently it does and is home to a magnificent British pub by the name of Bayview Duck. We grabbed two seats at the bar, and we were soon waited on by Alec, the owner of the fine establishment. Over the course of our drinks we were treated to the history of Alec and his founding of the Bayview Duck. He had been a fisherman in England and upon making his way to Texas had started this restaurant over 20 years ago. The interior is decorated with all manner of kitschy and charming paraphernalia. It’s certainly hectic, but it helps add to the overall ambiance. It should be noted that smoking is allowed inside the restaurant, and for some that can be a dealbreaker. While I did not enjoy the smoke, the banter with Alec made our visit worthwhile. I opted for the Heavy Black & Tan consisting of Guinness Draught and Fuller’s ESB. Neither are my favorite beer, but the combo is better than the sum of its parts.

Black and Tan and other crazy mixtures

My girlfriend went with an IPA mixture that proved to be worse than the sum of its parts. Owing to the smoky atmosphere, we only stayed for one beer. The Bayview Duck was certainly a unique experience, and I’m glad we visited. If I’m ever down in that area again, I’ll make sure to stop by and sit at the bar to chat with Alec.

We had made a full day of visiting Galveston Bay, and we came away with some memorable experiences. While I don’t see myself returning to the Kemah Boardwalk except for maybe a special event, Gilhooley’s and Bayview Duck are both on my must visit lists if you find yourself down in that area.

Britt Antley

Britt is a native Texan, lived in Houston for 12 years, and loves his current life in the Mile High City (although his liver is having second thoughts). His liver is also not nearly as proud of his 14,000+ Untappd uniques as he is. Stupid liver. He loves flavorful complex beers from Hazy IPAs to Wild Ales to barrel aged Stouts, but ultimately he has vowed to some day be buried with a 4-pack of Bierstadt Slow Pour Pils.