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Cuisine Confidential: Kevin Floyd

Inside skinny on food, drink, and where the chefs, bartenders, and other industry bellwethers like to go in their time off
Written by Lori Moffatt. Photographs by Julie Soefer.

Kevin Floyd (Photo © Julie Soefer)

To kick off Texas Highways Senior Editor Lori Moffatt’s new Cuisine Confidential series, she sat down with with beer aficionado and longtime restaurateur Kevin Floyd, who—after opening more than 25 restaurants throughout the Midwest–came back to his hometown of Houston in 2009 to open a trendsetting beer-and-cocktail bar called Anvil Bar & Refuge with his new business partner Bobby Heugel.

Texas Highways magazine Cuisine ConfidentialA few years later, the team launched Hay Merchant, one of America’s best-regarded craft-beer bars. Any day’s a good day to learn more about beer with Kevin behind the bar.

Lori: Tell me, have you always been a beer guy?

Kevin: I’ve been into beer as long as I’ve been old enough to drink it. My dad never drank Budweiser or Miller or Coors. I grew up in a craft-beer house in Houston, before there was much talk about craft beer. My dad was a sailor, and he met my mom in San Francisco, so later when he’d travel, he’d always bring back Anchor Steam or Sierra Nevada.

So as soon as I turned 21 and could actually go into a bar, I always sought out something different. I started understanding what beer was. I worked in the operations side for years, opening restaurants like Logan’s Roadhouse. But opening Anvil was the first time I got to be in charge.

Lori: Tell me about some of the things that surprised you when you struck out on your own.

Kevin: I learned a lot at Anvil about storing and serving beer; handling it. A lot of people don’t think about the technical aspects of delivering beer from keg to glass. They see a handle and a faucet and think that beer magically flows out of the faucet into the glass. But the system is vitally important. It’s vitally important plumbing. The method you use to move the beer from keg to glass makes a huge difference in flavor. We’re using pressurized gas to move a liquid from one place to the other. And pressure and temperature have a huge influence over flavor. The draft system at Hay Merchant is the best system you’ll find anywhere. The beer that comes out of the spigot at Hay Merchant is going to taste better than that same beer anywhere else because the process is so tightly controlled, clean, and precise.

Lori: I’ve been curious about some of the new beer trends, such as sour beers, beer flights, and even pairing certain liquors with beers. Do you do any of that at Hay Merchant?

What is really happening, I think, is that American culture as a whole is moving toward diversity and seeking new experiences.

Kevin: Well, we don’t do spirit-and-beer pairings at Hay Merchant. A related trend, though, is that people want to try a few different beers and compare them, so at Hay Merchant we serve half-pints. I know when I go out, I want to drink four or five beers. I can’t do that if they’re poured in 16-ounce glasses. So we can do 8-ounce pours. It was at Anvil that I first started noticing trends in Houston’s drinking habits. People here are comfortable with diversity in food and drink. They’re willing to try something they haven’t tried before. They’re after an experience, not just chasing a buzz. So I thought that a big draft house that constantly rotates its menu could be viable. And then we dreamed up Hay Merchant.

Lori: Do you think that diners are becoming more open to trying different things? Are we seeking experiences rather than just a good meal?

Kevin: Yes, and what is really happening, I think, is that American culture as a whole is moving toward diversity and seeking new experiences. It’s a social and cultural movement that incorporates music, movies, literature, fashion, even automotive design. And then you combine that with a move to nostalgia, back to the time when America was making amazing accomplishments, trailblazing really. I want to recapture that. Think about it: Nostalgia plus diversity, plus industrial design, has led to the modern food movement.

Lori: On that rather philosophical note, let’s talk about some of local Texas beers you’re into right now.

Kevin: I’m a big fan of Lone Pint Brewery in Magnolia. They’re super-small. They’re still brewing just a few days a week, but they make phenomenal beers, mainly IPAs and ales. Their signature beer is called Yellow Rose, a super-hopped IPA. Yellow Rose came out in 2013, and it is still one of my favorite beers. You can only find it on draft, and right now only in the Houston and Austin market. I also really like St. Arnold. They’re a venerable old brewery these days, but they really fought the good fight to bring awareness to craft beers. They’re still one of the best.

Lori: What about bars in Houston? In your rare time off, where do you like to go?

Mentioned in this interview

Anvil Bar & Refuge is at 1424 Westheimer Rd. in Houston. Call 713/523-1622.

Hay Merchant is at 1100 Westheimer Rd. in Houston. Call 713/528-9805.

Big Brew Houston takes place October 20-26, 2014.

Lone Pint Brewery is at 507 Commerce St. in Magnolia. Tours on Saturday 12-4.

Saint Arnold Brewing Company is at 2000 Lyons Ave. in Houston. Tours Mon-Sat.

For information about Guadalupe Mountains National Park, call 915/828-3251.

Kevin: One of my favorite areas in Houston to explore right now is the corner of Congress and Main, downtown. There are several bars over there, and I like them all.

Lori: When your schedule allows you to take a vacation, where do you like to go in Texas?

Kevin: That’s easy. One of my very favorite things to do in Texas is to go to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. If you’re into backcountry backpacking, it’s got some of the best views in the entire state of Texas. The park’s Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in Texas, and you can see into Mexico and New Mexico. It’s not easy. For a guy like me from sea level, the elevation is a bit of a challenge. I like to camp at the base and start at sunrise. You can camp halfway up the mountain, but it can get cold. So be prepared. It’s worth it for the amazing view.”

 
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