Mutton Bustin’, Great Beer and Beautiful Flowers – A Trip to H-Town

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HOUSTON — We spent a few days of Spring Break in the Bayou City, where spring has fully arrived, with azaleas and wisteria in full bloom, and the weather was chamber-of-commerce perfect — a season that lasts about two weeks before summer arrives here for an extended visit. Our first stop was St. Arnold’s Brewery, the oldest craft brewery in Texas, located just north of downtown.

We arrived just in time for a tour of the brewery, which began operating 30 years ago and has expanded into an impressive operation. A young man took a small group of us through a tour of the brewery, closed on Sunday. It contains about a dozen giant vats for brewing the various beers produced, some year-round, some seasonally.

St. Arnold’s full-flavored beers are available throughout Texas and Louisiana, always delivered cold to stores, bars, restaurants, etc. My personal favorite is the Art Car beer, named after Houston’s eclectic parade and featuring vehicles transformed into mobile sculptures. Next to the huge beer garden are about a dozen art cars; my favorite is a Jimi Hendrix Mercedes, with the late guitarist bedazzled and sitting on the roof, surrounded by all manner of gaudy objects.

The beer garden can seat up to 300 people with hand-crafted table and bench seating, both under cover and under the sun. The food is excellent pub grub. My Beautiful Mystery Companion and I ordered a queso and hatch chili dip, festooned with pulled pork. We were soon joined on the other side of the picnic table by a married couple whose cousin was in town to visit. A pleasant conversation soon ensued. A beer garden is an easy place to talk to strangers.


The next morning, we left our downtown hotel and walked two blocks to the metro rail station, heading south to the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. The rail line is a blessing, saving us the money and hassle of driving to NRG Stadium, located next door to the vacant hulk of the Astrodome. The last time I attended this event was when the Eighth Wonder of the World was still in use, both by the Astros and the rodeo, back in the mid-1980s. I was a member of the San Augustine County Go-Texan committee and helped with the barbecue cookoff team, pitched horseshoes in that contest and drank ridiculous amounts of cheap beer. (I was barely in my 30s and could guzzle beer with the hardiest. No more.)

We only bought tickets to be admitted to the livestock show and patiently stood in line to enter the Petting Farm along with a bevy of ankle-biters. Sheep, docile calves, pigs, deer and even an alpaca stood around waiting for little kids to feed them cups of green pellets purchased for $5. We skipped buying the feed, which meant the animals quickly ignored us and moved on to somebody with groceries to give.

Other exhibits included a calf born about six hours earlier, greedily sucking from his momma’s teat, chicks busting out of their egg shells under glass and heat lamps, unsteadily making their way upright. It’s amazing to see how quickly the chicks become fluffy and confident, just as the calf went from being a slimy, unsteady creature to walking around, looking for mom.

Our favorite event was the Mutton Bustin’ event, where kids aged 5-6 and clad in helmets and padded vests, attempt to ride a wooly sheep from one end of the arena to the other. They come out of the chute just like grown rodeo cowboys. The sheep, used to the routine by now, gallop toward the other end, where their fellow sheep are gathered. A couple of outliers just stood there until being “encouraged” to gallop by a slap on the rump from an adult handler. The kids hung on for dear life, often on the side of the sheep. A pair of rodeo clowns immediately swept in to rescue the kids once they fell off and got them to safety. An occasional tear was shed, but most of the contestants were troopers, encouraged by a crowd of proud parents and enthusiastic onlookers, like us.


Before heading home, we toured the Bayou Bend Gardens, located on the grounds of Ima Hogg’s magnificent home, now owned by the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. The 14 acres in River Oaks are filled with blooming azalea and camellia bushes, fountains and classical statuary. The gardens are lovingly kept without use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides — proof that a world-class garden can be grown and preserved naturally. It was a beautiful way to end our mini-vacation in H-Town.

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