Houston Flying Saucer’s GM Asa Hanrahan is one of the truly awesome dudes in craft beer. He has a personality as big as Texas, works his ass off to spread the gospel of craft beer, goes out of his way to take care of customers and employees and will stop at nothing to make sure that only the best beer flows through his store. Plus, he just loves to have a good time. Because of that, we think you should get to know…
Asa Hanrahan, Houston Flying Saucer GM
How long have you been with Flying Saucer? How did you get here?
Almost a decade – more than a quarter of my life. I had grown up in the bar business (my father ran a bar) and I have had every job, dishwasher to bartender, in the restaurant business. I was 23 years old when I became a manager of a bar called Cricket’s in Waco, TX. A guy who I admire and still consider one of my mentors, Frank Barnard, offered me a job as a manager when I was pretending to be college student. I was there for over four years. We had over 100 beers on tap. My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) wanted me to move to Houston because she had gotten into law school there and talked me into moving. She sent me a Craig’s List post about the Flying Saucer in Houston needing a manager. Turns out that the GM there at the time worked in Waco at Cricket’s as well. I got the job and moved to Houston. Best decision ever it turns out.
What was your craft beer “ah-ha” moment? (That moment that your eyes were opened to the beauty of carefully and thoughtfully brewed beer.)
I had a co-working manager at Cricket’s that made me try a bottle of Orval and made me try Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I was blown away. The flavor profile was like nothing I had ever had. I was obviously too broke to be drinking Belgians in my early 20s but I started crushing Sierra Nevada Pale Ales. Those beers are as close to perfection as beer can get in my opinion.
What’s your favorite thing about craft beer?
The people I have been around and watched succeed in their careers in craft beer. I love to taste a new brewery’s beer and be blown away by how good they are, and then to see them pumped about having their beer on the wall at the Flying Saucer. B-52 Brewing out of Conroe came to us when they first went into the market. We tried their beer and I thought it was top notch. When we picked it up and put it on sale the team from B-52 came out and were thrilled to have their beer on at the Flying Saucer. That is a cool feeling: to see people put their soul into making a beer then, be ecstatic about having it on at the place I work.
I also love supporting breweries that have fantastic beer and people working for them. I have had the pleasure of serving, buying and drinking Saint Arnold and Real Ale for the last 13+ years as a craft beer bar manager. Watching them still be innovative and hungry to be the best makes them easy to support.
What’s the most frustrating/misunderstood thing about craft beer?
That just because a beer is local means that it is good. To pass up a Sierra Nevada or a Duvel so that you can drink a beer that has not been put through any type of quality control makes no sense to me. I get it, you love your home town or you want to try a beer in another city that you can’t get in your own town. What you drink is who you support, though, so don’t support breweries that don’t put effort into the beer just because of where it is made.
What’s your favorite thing about Flying Saucer?
You have 10 hours to listen to me?? Seriously, the best job for a million reasons. If I had to put it into one answer I would say that Shannon Wynne, Captain Keith Schlabs, and Larry Richardson are the best bosses.
I feel like I am going to the best school in the world when it comes to running a successful restaurant and I have the best professors. They work very, very hard. That inspires me to work very, very hard. They take care of people that work for them. That inspires me to take care of people that work for me. There is a lot of tenure around our company for a reason. I think that keeping people working for you is something that every bar or restaurant says they want to do but Shannon, Keith, and Larry actually do it. I think that they actually care for their staff and it shows.
I bleed Flying Saucer Green and want to do my best every day to make sure I am representing the Flying Saucer to my staff and the community the way that Larry, Keith, and Shannon think it should be.
What’s your favorite Flying Saucer memory?
We did a collaboration with another beer bar in the city called “Stoned for 6 Days” where we tapped a different beer from Stone Brewing every day at one of our locations. My GM at the time and the owner of a bar called Petrol Station came up with this plan. It was so cool to see the Houston craft beer community come together every single day like that. I was really proud to be a part of it. It was around nine years ago, and I don’t know if an event between two beer bars is something that can ever bring the community together again like that event did. Mostly because of how big craft beer has gotten since then. That was great time to be a part of the beer community in the city of Houston.
Who are your craft beer heroes?
Keith Schlabs. Numero uno. Yeah, yeah…he’s my boss and I know I probably sound like a kiss ass, but he is the reason for all of our passion about craft beer. I think that he does such an outstanding job of keeping his hand on the pulse of craft beer throughout the country. That is very difficult in this day and age with all of the breweries opening. I think it is his ability to listen to managers that have passion about the beer they want to put on the wall. He loves to talk beer and is probably one of the most excited people about new beers he gets to try. He also encourages supporting the breweries who do it right and opened up my eyes about how to show the love. We are all lucky that at our company the biggest Beerknurd is our boss.
Number two: Brock Wagner. I am such a fan boy of Saint Arnold. I love their beers. I love the brewery. They are kicking so much ass right now with their core beers, their barrel aging program and the work they do in the community. I love talking to Brock about beer and the beer business every chance I get. A true pioneer of beer in our city and state, and I love putting pints of Saint Arnold in people’s hands every chance I get.
Number 3: Josh Justice, aka The Beer Cowboy. Josh has put up with me as his GM for the last 4 year (maybe more?). He is passionate, has his ear to the ground, and challenges me every day to learn more and more about beer. I love talking to him about beer and about the beer business. I feel like we have a secret weapon in the beer world because of him. I am very grateful for all of his hard work and dedication to his craft over the time we have worked together. Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear plaid shirts and hipster glasses. His obsession with cats is a little bit weird and probably makes him more of a ‘craft beer super villain’ than hero, though.
If you could buy anyone in the history of ever a beer, who would it be and why?
Mick Jagger. Some of my favorite songs are from Rolling Stones but mostly because this dude just had a kid at the age of 70 years old. That is crazy and I have questions…
What’s the best beer (or best beer moment) you’ve ever had?
I got to drink a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale at the Sierra Nevada Brewery with Ken Grossman. He was telling awesome stories and I was about five beers deep so it was as close to Bieber Fever for a brewer that I have ever had.
Which beer are you choosing…
TO DRINK EVERY DAY FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I can put that beer away and I have never had a can/bottle/pint that wasn’t perfectly made.
FOR THE LAST BEER YOU’LL EVER HAVE: OK. This is tough. I think the last beer I am ever going to have has to be a punch you in the face hop bomb. I think that Brash Pussalia might be the one to chug right before you go to the electric chair while Pantera’s 101 Proof Live is playing in the background. (For the record, I don’t think that is how I am gonna go but that scenario makes the most sense…hahaha.)
What’s the most challenging thing about running Flying Saucer or a beer bar in general?
We wear a lot of hats: Draft Maintenance, Plumber, Server, Bartender, Bus Boy, Accountant, Cook, Politician (the most difficult hat), etc. I think that every bar manager can tell you that your day can go sideways from what you think you are going to accomplish really quickly. It is one of the things I love about my job but also one of the things that is the most challenging.
What’s your opinion of the current state of craft beer?
I think the selection in Texas (and I am sure most states) has gotten better and better each year for the beer buyers out there, but I don’t always see the best selection at grocery stores or bars. I think that the person buying the beers for every grocery store, beer bar, etc., across the country needs to make sure they are filling their shelves and taps with the best beers possible. That is our duty to the customer. I think that the consumer should be supporting beers that are of the highest quality. But without stores and bars making that quality product available due to stocking local for local sake, because a product’s cheap, or because it’s being aggressively sold in their particular market, then how will the consumer get that chance? Buyers should do their homework and support the best possible beers available. I hope to see that more in the upcoming years.
What’s something that craft beer can teach the world OR something you’d like to teach the world about craft beer?
I recently read that because of beer, the science of refrigeration (and thus AIR CONDITIONING) was invented and spread to use at home. If that’s true, as a Houstonian, I can tell you that we owe a lot to beer for that reason alone.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Professional advice? Probably from Jake Rainey, my old GM. He used to say, “Everyone has a big test tomorrow.” The gist is that just because you think something is important or unimportant doesn’t mean that the person that works for you or with you feels the same way. I remind myself of that often when talking with my team.
Personal advice? From my beautiful, intelligent, awesome, wife Heather. “Quit breathing through your nose like a monster.”
What do you do when you’re not at the Saucer? What else are you passionate about? Any secret talents (that you’re willing to share)?
I have a son named August and a beautiful 10-month-old daughter name Hadley who I am happily spending a great deal of my time with lately, but whenever I get the chance I love to travel. I just recently went to Ireland with my father over the holidays. I have been to some amazing places with my wife and I look forward to jet setting every chance I get. The world is big and I want to see it all with her before that electric chair ride.
I am a huge sports fan. Dallas Cowboys are Super Bowl bound. And I am borderline obsessed with the Texas Rangers.
Also, I have mad juggling skills, yo-yo skills and do awesome impersonations.
Cheers to you, Asa! Thanks for everything you do. Definitely visit Houston Flying Saucer when you have the chance. Ask Asa for recommendation and then for an impersonation.