If you had the opportunity to pile in a car with some of your best friends and string together a multi-day beer-centric exploration, would you do it? (Is that the biggest no-brainer question ever?)
Every year Mike Hagan, Gary Stringer, Don Burke and Larry Easley make a beer pilgrimage across Texas to visit the Lone Star State’s seven unique Flying Saucer locations. Since 2010 these beer-obsessed, San Antonio-based Beerknurds have made their annual journey that makes us all incredibly proud and incredibly jealous. In each port of call they’re joined by a changing cast of merrymakers that includes family and friends they’ve made over the years. The band of would-be troublemakers pile into their own vehicles and hit the highways and byways on a mission to live life to the fullest while enjoying the camaraderie that beer brings. They plot a path that includes Saucers and breweries that’ve been recommended to them by friends and experts.
The group starts each day with beer on their mind a road of possibilities ahead of them. The end of the day finds them relaxing (read “recovering”) and recounting the day’s adventures. (They happily and openly endorse Embassy Suites as their preferred place to rest their beer-soaked heads. So, if any Beerknurds reading this work for that particular brand of primo hotels — let us know!)
We caught up with Hagan (retired but member of the Chili Appreciation Society International), Stringer (retired), Burke (retired) and Easley (Property Management Company President, Bexar County Master Gardener) to discuss the genesis of this brilliant idea, their thoughts on the Texas beer scene, what they’ve learned along the way and their favorite Saucer features.
How long have you been Beerknurds?
Mike: I became a Beerknurd in 2006.
Gary: I joined in 2006.
Don: I’ve been a customer since about 2004, but didn’t join the club until 2013. What a waste of nine years.
Larry: I became a Beerknurd in April 2013.
Do you have any plates? If so, where? How many?
Mike: I am working on round 10 in San Antonio. I also have plates in St. Louis and Addison. I am also working on my first plate in Austin.
Gary: I have 10 plates and will be completing number 11 in a few weeks, all in San Antonio.
Don: I’ve been around the Ring of Honor 11 times. All in San Antonio.
Larry: I finished my 5th plate here in San Antonio just a couple of weeks ago, but I am also a member of the UFO Club in Sugar Land, TX and am working on my first plate there.
How long have you been doing the Saucer tour? How often do you do it? How many have you taken?
Mike: We have been taking the tour annually since 2010. This was the seventh consecutive tour for Gary Stringer and myself.
Don: This was my first tour. I met Mike Hagan and Gary Stringer a couple of years ago at the Saucer. The trip sounded like a lot of fun so I decided to do it this year with them. I did the WHOLE tour. Let me tell you, it’s NOT for the weak or faint of heart.
Larry: I was fortunate enough to join the group for the first time last year, so this was my second year for making the trek around the Saucers. When I first heard about it a couple of years ago, in 2015, I asked to be included in 2016. Enjoyed it so much I was fortunate to do it again this year!
Where did the idea to tour all the Saucers come from?
Mike: Gary Stringer and I were at the San Antonio Flying Saucer along with another friend named Gerry Compas. Gary and Gerry, who no longer does the tour, used to go to Europe each year during Oktoberfest and they were planning another European vacation. When I was asked to join them, I declined saying something to the effect, “that is a long way to go to drink beer!” I then suggested taking a trip and going to all of the Flying Saucers in Texas and they liked the idea. As I recall that conversation took place in 2009. It didn’t take long for us to start looking at breweries we could also visit.
Gary: As I remember three of us were at the San Antonio Flying Saucer one Friday afternoon, and were just talking like we normally would when the idea came up, can not remember who came up with the idea but we all liked the idea and just ran with it. The original three were Mike Hagan, Gerry Compas, and myself.
What’s the preferred mode of transportation?
Mike: We drive. So far I have driven each year.
Gary: For those of us that make the entire trip we use a personal vehicle.
Don: I rode with Mike and Gary. Definitely the way to go. All I had to do each day was pour myself into Mike’s Truck.
Larry: As Mike said, we drive, and I’ve driven my own car the last two years because sometimes I never know what or when I might have to attend to my company business. Thankfully, that hasn’t been a problem, but hey, have you ever been in a car with 3 or four other guys making a beer tour?
What’s your favorite Saucer?
Mike: San Antonio. Having said that, I like all that I have visited. If I had to name something I didn’t like it would be trying to park in downtown Houston. But the Saucer team there always takes great care of us.
Gary: San Antonio, our home Saucer, but all the other Saucers are a close second.
Don: San Antonio is my favorite Saucer, but that’s the one I am most familiar with. Having said that, ALL the Saucer’s have something neat and unique about them. ALL the Saucer’s have great staff.
Larry: San Antonio, of course, but I would also include The Lake, Fort Worth and Sugar Land among my favorites.
What beers and breweries really stand out as your favorites?
Mike: The list would be too long if I named all of them. I am partial to the Texas breweries that are still independently owned. Nationally distributed breweries would include New Belgium, Sierra Nevada and Lagunitas.
Gary: This is such a hard question to answer as each brewery has its own unique personality. On this latest trip I think Southern Star in Conroe and Twisted X in Dripping Springs would be my picks. I like IPAs and really enjoyed the Half Nelson by Southern Star.
Don: All the breweries we visited were a lot of fun. I think my favorite brewery was our first stop, Twisted X in Dripping Springs. What we like to do is get a flight at the breweries. This way we get to sample several of their beers.
Larry: I’ve become a fan of so many different beers it is hard to list them all. I’ve also been to a good number of breweries in my travels around the country, and all of them present their own uniqueness and are favorites for various reasons. In Texas, I would have to count Twisted X in Dripping Springs and Southern Star in Conroe among my favorites, but I enjoyed all of the ones we visited! That’s the really enjoyable part of our journey – visiting the breweries and then heading to the Flying Saucer to put our Beerknurd heads together to talk about the brews we’ve tasted while tasting different ones at the Saucer!
What’s been your favorite all time beer while on the tour?
Mike: Understand that one of the purposes of the tour is to taste new beers and beers we cannot get in San Antonio. One that comes to mind as being a great and unique beer is 8th Wonder’s Rocket Fuel. Community’s Mosaic IPA, Peticolas’ Velvet Hammer and Martin House’s Imperial Texas are also stand outs for me.
Gary: I am not sure. The Velvet Hammer by Peticolas comes to mind, but there are so many great beers to choose from.
Don: I just plain like most beers. But the Martin House Bockslider I liked quite a bit.
Larry: I agree with Mike – the Rocket Fuel at 8th Wonder is delicious! But so were so many others it is difficult to further define favorites. I did however discover that I’m not a big fan of sours or barleywines, but do enjoy good stouts, great IPA’s and a simply refreshing lager or pale ale.
Any favorite memories from the trips you’re at liberty to share?
Mike: I believe this was our best tour ever due to the number of participants and how well the personalities blended. The camaraderie achieved was memorable. And then there was, “I’m done!” You will have to ask Larry about that.
Gary: There are so many to choose from. The reception and help that we get from all of the Saucers is fantastic, but the highlight of our trip is that Captain Keith takes the time to visit with us. I would be remiss if I did not include last year’s tour when we visited Brash brewery. We walked in and saw this young man with this great dog called Kenneth. We found out that he was looking after the dog until he was adopted — and that’s all it took. The next day one of our party who had met us in Houston, rented a car, adopted Kenny for his daughter and took him back to San Antonio to his new home. Kenneth is now enjoying a great life.
Don: Oh God! Plenty of memories. Mike’s plate party at Addison and getting to meet Captain Keith. Every stop, whether brewery or a Saucer seemed to have something that happened that was fun as hell.
Larry: I agree with Mike. It was a great trip and everyone seemed to enjoy the times we shared around a table or at a brewery. I especially liked it when friends who were not part of the entire trip could join us at a particular stop or two and share the good times and good brews with us! As to what Mike was alluding to (“I’m done.”)…well, to be honest, we had a few long evenings around the table and lots of beer to taste, so I would simply let the rest of the group know that I was done – and they would insure that I wasn’t done, and my glass would magically be added to. I was done, but I hung in there with my friends! But “I’m done!” somehow became a catchphrase for the tour and for some reason continues.
If you could take your favorite or some unique features from each Texas Saucer and construct a Mega Saucer, what would you pick?
Mike: A view of a lake like at the Lake Ray Hubbard Saucer with no smoking on the patio.
Gary: I love the view at Lake Ray Hubbard. Combine it with the interior layout of San Antonio and the patio of Fort Worth, and that would be my idea of a Mega Saucer.
Don: I would add the servers. The servers have a really good knowledge of beer, what’s available, and the cost. That’s one of the many reasons I like the San Antonio Saucer the best. The servers really have their stuff together.
Larry: I would also include the same view as at The Lake, the same outdoor patio as Fort Worth, the size of Austin’s Saucer, the ease of access as at Sugar Land, the stage at Addison, San Antonio’s ambience and way of presenting plate awards.
Have you considered touring ALL of the Flying Saucers across the country?
Mike: Yes. However the distances involved makes it a more difficult undertaking.
Gary: We have considered taking a trip to include all of the Saucers, but have not gotten past the talking stage yet due to the time and distances involved.
Don: Yes!!! I threw that out on Mike and Gary after we consumed copious amount of beer. It sounded like a great idea at the time and would be a lot of fun. But, as we talked about it more, it would have to be about a one month trip. It’d be great to organize a party bus with a duty driver.
Larry: It would have to be broken up over a period of almost a month because there are so many in so many places. The cost for making the trip would be perhaps prohibitive, but what a great “ambassadorship” it would be for the Flying Saucer.
What travel tips have you learned while taking these trips?
Mike: Make sure to plan a couple of days where you can get a late start. It is a beer drinking marathon.
Gary: As we try to visit a brewery and a Flying Saucer each day, planning is needed to avoid heavy traffic and the operating hours of the brewery, for example we will always visit Fort Worth on a weekend.
Don: Be flexible. Expect “bumps in the road”. Just remember you’re lucky enough to do it.
Larry: Don’t overindulge at any one place because there’s always the next day and the next stop. But having said that, it’s also nice to sit around a table at the hotel at the end of the day and share a few brews while recapping the events of the day and planning for the next. Doing one Flying Saucer a day is perfect because it still allows enough time to squeeze in a visit to a local brewery that perhaps we can talk to the Saucer staff about. And you especially have to like the folks you’re traveling with, and as Mike said earlier, this year’s group was GREAT!
What does Flying Saucer mean to you?
Mike: All of my immediate family are Beerknurds. It has become part of our lifestyle. When we are together we go to a Flying Saucer if possible. My wife, Candy, is working on round four in San Antonio. My oldest son, Dusty, is working on round seven in Addison and my youngest son, Travis, is almost done with round five in Austin.
Gary: A place to meet good friends and taste a variety of great beers. It’s more like our club.
Don: My background is working in, with, or for the Military. All my beer drinking friends were connected with the Military, so most of what we talked about was what we’re familiar with — the MILITARY. Since I retired and now I’m hanging out with civilians, I’ve met so many people from different backgrounds and jobs. Doctors, lawyers, plumbers, carpenters, students, car salesmen…you name it. Another thing that I love about the Flying Saucer is that the clientele and staff are so friendly. Even if you don’t know anybody or you’re by yourself, you can go into the Saucer and with little effort strike up a conservation with people at the next table. BAM, yet another new friend.
Larry: Since becoming a UFO member in 2013, I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many great folks around a Flying Saucer table or bench! From the servers who are knowledgeable about the beers they serve, to the folks who share a table, to new friends, it has been a great experience. Especially, as it pertains to becoming a more knowledgeable drinker of brews. It’s a place to regularly meet up with friends and just simply enjoy time together.
We can’t thank each of you gentlemen enough for your support throughout the years. Your dedication to Saucer, to beer and your friendships is truly outstanding. Cheers to you and here’s to many more Saucer tours — hopefully one that includes all 16 across the country!