Friday, October 17, 2014

Franconia's Tripel Dunkel returns in Bordeaux and bottle

Image credit: Franconia Brewing Company (click to enlarge).
In May of this year, the Franconia Brewing Company released the final beer in a series of brews created to celebrate its fifth anniversary in 2013. The beer was dubbed the Tripel Dunkel, and it took the brewery's standard Dunkel and turned it on its ear. Not only was it fermented with a Belgian yeast strain, to provide added dark fruit complexity, the grain bill was bumped up to add more fermentable sugars allowing the alcohol percentage to reach 10.4%.

Like Franconia's Double IPA, another of the anniversary brews, Tripel Dunkel was originally intended to be a one time only release. However, the beer will return this November in more ways than one. Around Thanksgiving, fans of the brewery will be able to pick up the Amazing Tripel Dunkel (as per the attached product label) in six-packs of 12-ounce bottles for the first time. Prior to that, though, will come a version specially created for NTX Beer Week.

Bordeaux Aged Tripel Dunkel gets its name from taking the base beer and aging it on French Oak. The treatment adds distinctive wood tones and a light vanilla flourish to the finish of the beer, complementing not only the chocolate and roasted malt overtones, but the underlying fruit from the yeast as well.

Notice the alternate spelling of Tripple Dunkle above, which is based on regional
variations (credits: Taverna Rossa, Franconia Brewing Company, click to enlarge).
Your first chance to try the Bordeaux edition comes on Saturday, November 1, at Taverna Rossa in Plano. The craft beer and pizza parlor will tap it during their 1-Year Anniversary Shin-Dig, which will feature an expanded patio area converted into a Franconia Brewing Company Beer Garden. As an added incentive to attend this event, all proceeds from sales in the beer garden will benefit Minnie's Food Pantry, a charity which helps feed the hungry in Plano.

Should you miss out on the debut, a second chance happens during Franconia's 2014 Open Haus on Wednesday, November 5 from 6-9 p.m. Put on in association with NTX Beer Week, the festivities will include tappings of both the regular and Bordeaux Aged Tripel Dunkel, the brewery's seasonal Fallin' Bock (also available in bottles for the first time this week) and another holdover from the anniversary series, Champagne Ale. Plus, I'll be in attendance along with co-author Paul Hightower to sign and promote our new book North Texas Beer: A Full-Bodied History of Brewing in Dallas, Fort Worth and Beyond. Tickets will be $10 cash, at the door.

Cheers and see you there!

Monday, October 6, 2014

More than medals on display at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival

Image credit: Brewers Association

Most, quite naturally, associate the annual Great American Beer Festival (GABF) with the competition, and the awarding of gold, silver and bronze medals coveted by craft brewers throughout the country. It's also a time, though, for the industry to come together and take stock of where it stands in terms of growth and to recognize and identify factors that may be changing which will affect the market in years to come.

Take the demographics of craft beer lovers, for instance. In 2001, the median craft beer lover was a highly-educated white male, aged 39 with a relatively high income. For sheer lack of available choices, he was geographically concentrated, likely living in states typically associated with having a high density of craft breweries like California, Oregon and Colorado.

Now, over twelve years later, diversity measures tell us young women between the ages of 21 and 34 make up 15% of the total craft beer volume. High socioeconomic status still prevails, but the bottom 60% of households (by income) now consume 40% of craft beer being produced.

There is more geographic diversity as well. In addition to high concentrations of breweries in the aforementioned states, increasing numbers are being seen in localities across America. The Brewers Association now estimates that 75% of legal drinking age adults live within 10 miles a brewery. Here in North Texas, with the recent opening of Shannon Brewing in Keller, the pending debut of Bearded Eel in northwest Fort Worth (this weekend), and other breweries under construction in Dallas (Small Brewpub, Braindead Brewing), Allen (Nine Band) and Denton (Audacity Brew House), more and more local residents will soon be able to say the same. (Note that over a half-dozen other breweries are also being built, but those additions completely overlap with areas already covered.)

Left: United States brewery population density (Brewers Association).
Right: Brewery population density in North Texas. Red circles represent pending openings
that will expand coverage (Google Maps,
Click to enlarge.

It's also interesting to note that breweries aren't just concentrated in Dallas and Fort Worth. Instead, they are spreading out across the area. It's somewhat reminiscent of Colorado, where virtually every small town you visit is home to a brewery. While we still have large municipalities in the Metroplex that are without a brewery, small towns in Colorado like Louisville (population 19,588) and Lafayette (population 26,784) have two each. It's been said before, but it's worth saying again...there is still much work to be done locally.

Left: High gravity beers are on tap at Gravity Brewing in Louisville, Colorado.
Right: Craft beer meets comfort food at Post Brewing in Lafayette, Colorado.

Of course, more people drinking craft beer means there must be more people brewing it.  However, it's not something happening strictly on the professional level. Statistics from the American Homebrewers Association, which has a membership of 43,000 people, say there are 1.2 million homebrewers in the United States. And, for the most part, these are the people opening new craft breweries. Evidence of such was in full view this weekend during the GABF awards ceremony, when a houseful of hands raised in response to the question of how many got their start in homebrewing.

A packed house at the 2015 GABF awards ceremony.
As for the professionals, there are now more than 3100 active brewing operations in the U. S., numbers which haven't been seen since before Prohibition. Of those, 1309 submitted 5507 entries into this year's competition. A total of 222 judges from 10 countries evaluated these brews, awarding medals in 90 categories (not including the Pro-Am competition). Among new brewers, 52 first-time entering breweries won medals, while 16 Texas breweries (both new and established) also counted themselves among the winners. India Pale Ale was once again the most-entered category (279 entries), followed by Herb and Spice Beer (150 entries), American-Style Pale Ale (145 entries) and American-Style Amber/Red Ale (140 entries).

The growth of the competition has been so much over the past few years that the Brewers Association announced plans to add 90,000 square feet of exhibitor space for GABF 2015. This is on top of the 300,000 square feet already being utilized at the Colorado Convention Center. The move will allow more breweries to serve beer in the festival hall (only 710 participated this year) and presumably more tickets to be sold to hopeful attendees.

Regarding North Texas, after this weekend there will be 30 active brewing operations in the area (19 physical production breweries, 10 brewpubs counting multiple locations, 1 licensed brand). This year, members of this group brought home 4 gold and 2 bronze medals from GABF. A three-year running count has North Texas brewers winning 7 gold, 1 silver and 2 bronze medals. Repeat winners include the Peticolas Brewing Company (gold in 2012 and 2014), Community Beer Company (gold in 2013, gold and bronze in 2014, including back-to-back wins for Public Ale) and Rahr & Sons (silver in 2012, bronze in 2014).

There has truly never been a better time to drink craft beer locally, and while growth numbers are one thing, results like those above tell me it's high time to start taking North Texas beer seriously.

This year's North Texas winners:

Armadillo Ale Works: Gold medal in the Imperial Stout category for Quakertown Stout.
Community Beer Company: Gold medal in the Extra Special Bitter category for Public Ale.
                                                    Bronze in the Coffee Beer category for Ascension Coffee Porter.
Grapevine Craft Brewery: Gold medal in the English-Style Brown Ale for Sir William's English Brown Ale.
Peticolas Brewing Company: Gold medal in the Aged Beer category for 2012 Great Scot!
Rahr & Sons: Bronze medal in the German-Style Doppelbock or Eisbock category for The Regulator.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Beer travels: A look at the Albuquerque beer scene

Image credit: La Cumbre Brewing, Turtle Mountain Brewing, ABQ Brew Pub
Bosque Brewing, Tractor Brewing, Rock & Brews
I'll admit that on a recent trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico, a certain phrase from the old Bugs Bunny cartoons kept sounding off in my head. Not knowing what to expect of the craft beer offerings in the city, I couldn't help but wonder if I too would be thinking I should have had taken a left turn at Albuquerque.

It turns out I need not have worried, since if you include satellite taprooms and multiple brewery restaurant locations (Il Vicino, Chama River), there are just over a dozen places to enjoy local brews from the source. Not only that, but another five or so breweries exist in adjacent cities that are no more than a thirty minute drive away.

I ended up choosing to visit breweries and taprooms both inside and outside the city. Among those I didn't make it to were the Marble and Broken Bottle breweries, the Red Door Brewing Company (which held its grand opening while I was there) and the Stumbling Steer Brewery & Gastropub (which I just happened to pass while driving, as it doesn't show up on Google Maps when you search for breweries near Albuquerque).

As for where I did end up, here's a taste of what the local scene has to offer:

ABQ Brewpub (restaurant, growlers to go): Set up in Uptown Albuquerque, this is a joint venture between an adjacent sports bar and the Sierra Blanca & Rio Grande Brewing Company in Moriarty, New Mexico. Props here go to their Nut Brown Ale, an earthy brew of English influence with hints of chocolate and roast that won medals at the 2012 and 2013 Great American Beer Festival (GABF).

Bosque Brewing Company (cafe menu, growlers to go): This brewery is nestled away in a strip mall development in the northern part of the city. It's a smallish kind of place, but they do offer a light food menu which reminded me a lot of the sort of fare you might get at the Flying Saucer. Selections were split evenly between seasonal and year-round brews, and there was a nice variety of styles among the dozen or so beers on tap. I started with an enjoyable sour called Fade to Blackberry, then moved on to the tasty Bosque's Burnin' Red Rye, the chewy Scotia Scotch Ale and the bright and refreshing Acequia Fresh Hop IPA.

Turtle Mountain Brewing Company (restaurant, growlers to go): Located outside of Albuquerque in the city of Rio Rancho, a roughly thirty minute drive to this spot takes you past Intel's sizable New Mexico site. The house beers are for the most part solid and stylistic (such as Pork 'n Brew Brown and Hopshell IPA), but if you ask me it's the wood-fired pizza that is the star of the show. I had the Adam Bomb, minus the pine nuts, which brought together pepperoni, Italian sausage, fresh spinach, green chile and some of the creamiest mozzarella I've had in recent memory.

Tractor Brewing Company (bottle and growlers to go)The actual brewery is located on the west side of town, but the taproom in the Historic Nob Hill district was a little closer to where I was staying. This place had an interesting mix of brews, ranging from a mild seasonal Berliner Weisse to what I considered to be the best beer on the board, Mustachio Milk Stout. Plus, there was the added bonus of a rather inebriated fellow seated nearby who insisted on convincing me America was doomed.

La Cumbre Brewing Company (bottle and growlers to go): When you first turn down the road to La Cumbre, you might wonder if you've made a wrong turn somewhere (and yes, I did turn "left" down this particular road). Once you get your bearings, though, you quickly learn that the IPA is king here...literally. Hopheads will surely enjoy Elevated IPA (the 2011 GABF gold medal winner), Project Dank (the 2014 National IPA Champion) and the Full Nelson (a DIPA with a final gravity that is actually lower than the others).

Rock  & Brews: No, this isn't a brewery, nor is it a brewpub, but I grew up listening to the band KISS (the money men behind this operation) and the restaurant just so happened to have its grand opening while I was in town. And, honestly, it was a more than pleasant surprise. Great food, quality tap list and wide-screen TVs devoted to classic rock videos. Not only that, they had a taste of home in cans of Cedar Creek Dankosaurus. My only complaint? Merchandise. How can you have a theme restaurant like this and not offer some kind of logo glassware?

For more on craft beer in Albuquerque, check out the websites of the New Mexico Brewers Guild and Albuquerque Beer Scene.