Thursday, November 12, 2015

Muenster Brewing launches crowdfunding campaign

Image credit: All images the property of Muenster Brewing Co.

It was August of 2014 when Independent Ale Works announced in was closing its doors in Denton County, with one of the two founding partners already eyeing a new beginning to the north. Now, after a little over a year in development, Stefen Windham has advanced to the funding stage of a brewery project to be set in the City of Muenster.

Muenster Brewing Co. will be located at 102 N. Main Street in downtown Muenster. The business will occupy a building originally constructed in 1940, with space available for a 1000 square foot taproom and a 4000 square foot production area. Once the site of an automobile dealership, the structure will be re-purposed to house the first known brewery to exist in Muenster and surrounding Cooke County.

The brewery's address is also just a short distance from Muenster Heritage Park, which is home to the city's annual Germanfest and Oktoberfest celebrations. These events are part of a local culture with German roots that date back to when the city was founded in 1889. It's appropriate, then, that Windham's vision for the brewery is to focus on crafting traditional German styles. That's a departure from the approach taken at Independent Ale Works, but Windham says he has always favored German brews. "There is so much variety with German beer," he explains, "and I've always said that if you can't find a German beer you like, then you must not like beer."

Referencing long-standing German traditions, Windham recognizes that to be able to execute German styles, and execute them well, the company's brewing process will have to be technically exacting. Using the 1000 year-old Weihenstephaner brewery as an example, he notes that "Germans have had a long time to perfect the art of beer." To develop the brewery's own best practices, Muenster Brewing is working with an equipment manufacturer to custom design a setup that Windham says, "will utilize a number of innovations allowing us to brew beer to exacting quality standards. It is highly efficient and will have the ability to outproduce a system three times its size." Upon completion, Windham indicates the brewery will be the only one in the world to utilize the system in a craft brewing environment.

To help with the purchase of the brewhouse, Muenster Brewing has created a GoFundMe campaign to supplement capital being sought from a combination of private, equity and debt financing. A prospectus detailing the brewery's overall plan and philosophical approach can be found at the following link:

The document, which outlines expected expenditures and includes a brief market analysis, may also be accessed directly from the GoFundMe page located at:

Active now, like other crowdfunding initiatives, rewards are offered for different contribution levels. Donation amounts ranging from $5-$6000 will get you anything from a free pint of beer on opening day, to taking part in a brew day while enjoying accommodations at local lodging destinations.

Once the campaign closes, if all else goes according to plan, Windham expects to open for business in late spring or early summer 2016. He intends on operating as a production brewery, as opposed to a brewpub, with a bottling line in the forecast to provide packaged products for distribution. That aspect, according to the prospectus, will be handled by Miller of Denton, with initial deliveries being limited to accounts within a 100 mile radius of the brewery.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Taps & Caps teams with Cobra for coconut collab

Image credits: Cobra Brewing Co., Lone Star Taps & Caps.

Amongst the myriad of new beers coming out for North Texas Beer Week is one you might miss without a trip to the northern side of the Metroplex. On tap now at Lone Star Taps & Caps (T &C), All Eyes on Me is a collaborative effort between the shop and the neighboring Cobra Brewing Co. of Lewisville. It's a Russian imperial stout brewed with toasted coconut, which T&C co-founder Rick Ali says is inspired by the work of a hip-hop legend.

Tupac Shakur released the album All Eyez on Me in 1996, at a time when, Ali proclaims, the artist "was the best at what he did and a game-changer in his profession." The beer, he explains, "is an ode to that and how we (at T&C) are proud to be a part of the Texas craft beer scene after having been at the forefront of the movement for the last 10 years." And, like Tupac, Ali continues, "we are always trying to push beyond the norm." To get a sense of what he means, simply swap the themes of thug life and crime in the album's title track to craft beer and dedication to the industry.

Ali has wanted to collaborate with a brewery for some time. The partnership with Cobra was a no brainer, in his mind, because he believes they tend to brew the types of beers he and many of his customers like to drink. "Dawn of the Dank, Kitchen Sink, Spring Cleaning and Barrel Aged Klurichan are beers that have all that I want," says Ali. "Each is well-balanced with great aroma and a high ABV that is hidden well."

All Eyes on Me (© Brian Brown/Beer In Big D).

Brewing a Russian imperial stout was another easy decision, since it's one of Ali's favorite styles and one he drinks year-round. As for the added ingredient, coconut is a favorite food of his as well, so to him it was a must-have addition. Ali even arose at an early hour to help out on brew day, something that was naturally set to the soundtrack of Tupac's inspirational song.

In terms of tasting notes, my impressions are that the coconut is more of a subtle player in All Eyes on Me, though it does lend a little bit of lingering sweetness to the aftertaste. Otherwise the beer is rich and roasty, with a bitter finish reminiscent of a high-cacao chocolate bar. It's an all-too-easy drinker considering its strength, with a medium body and virtually no hint of the 9.92% ABV.

All Eyes on Me is a good beer, and one that furthers my belief that founders Neil MacCuish and Bill Shaw have found their groove at the brewery in Lewisville. In addition to the heftier beers Ali mentions above, lighter offerings like the hazelnut-infused Donut Dunker have proven to be solid efforts as well. Given that, if it's been a while since you've visited Cobra, it might be worth your time to give them a second look.

As for this batch of All Eyes on Me, enough was made to fill only five half-barrel kegs, so it will only be available for a limited time. Should the beer prove to be popular, Ali hopes he and MacCuish can continue to develop the recipe, perhaps offering different variants with other ingredients in the future.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Best of the fest: My 2015 Dallas Untapped tasting card

Image credits: Untapped Festival, Alaskan Brewing Co., Braindead Brewing,
Lakewood Brewing Co., Oak Highlands Brewery.

Due to other things taking up a lot of my time over the last year or so, this weekend's Untapped Festival at Fair Park in Dallas was a return of sorts for me, since the last Untapped event I attended was the Fort Worth get together in 2014.

While it was great to be back roaming the grounds, I have to say that Untapped has officially become unmanageable. I mean, come on, how am I supposed to drink all the beers when there are over 400 of them to choose from?! Granted, I didn't actually want to drink 400 beers (not really anyway), but there were at least a few dozen on my short list of things to try at the event this past Saturday. This is all in jest, of course, but considering the beer list, its quality of curation and...well...the strength of many of the samples I sipped, all it took was two tasting cards and I was about done. Any more than that and I would've probably been seen wandering around reciting the lyrics to Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home." 

So, what was good? Most everything I tried, really, except maybe a spice bomb or two, and another that was a little too minty fresh. Then again, there was also the beer with a purpose in life that wasn't exactly clear. It wasn't bad, but I don't know if it was an ice cream trying to be a beer, or a beer trying to be an ice cream...or maybe neither? If someone wants to check with Ben or Jerry and get back to me, that'd be great.

In any case, here are a few of my favorites from Saturday's Fair Park adventure. As always, these words are based on first impressions gleaned from a two-ounce sample, so any tasting notes are fairly basic, and it's understood that your thoughts may be completely different than mine. Cheers!

  • Alaskan Smoked Porter (2005, 2010, 2015): A great little in-festival vertical treat, after trying all three vintages I'd say the 2010 was the best. Not surprisingly, the smoked malt was most prevalent in the 2015 release, while being much less present in the bottle from 2005. The early version had some interesting sherry-like notes as well, but for me it was hard to beat the overall balance of the 2010 edition.
  • Braindead 10th Anniversary Brett IIPA: From what I understand, the anniversary reference has to do with when Braindead brew chief Drew Huerter started homebrewing (yes, no, maybe?). As for the beer, this well-balanced brew was a little hoppy, a little funky and a lotta good.
  • Lakewood Wild Manimal: Also using a bit of Brett, Wild Manimal is the brainchild of the "Manimal" himself, brewer Will Paden. It had just the right amount of fruit and funk, and while I'll need a full pour to see for myself, Lakewood founder Wim Bens said he thinks it's one of the brewery's best ever.
  • Oak Highlands Chump Change: While I'm not at liberty to discuss the details of how this beer is made, to me it's a reminder that you don't have to go beyond beer's four basic ingredients to make something interesting and unique. Billed as an imperial black saison, Chump Change seemed to bring together the funk and effervescence of a saison, with the color and dark fruit of a dubbel.

Others I enjoyed: 903 Balcones Barrel Aged Sasquatch, Deep Ellum Barrel Aged Oak Cliff Coffee Ale, Jester King Synthesis Analogous, Karbach Trigavé, Rabbit Hole Mystic Rapture.

Friday, November 6, 2015

On the eve of Untapped, a Q&A with organizer Corey Pond

Image credit: Untapped Festival.

It was the summer of 2012 when North Texas was first introduced to the concept of Untapped, a festival billed as a mash-up of the best in both music and beer. The music was one thing, but for beer lovers the event promised a selection of brews unlike anything that had ever been seen, not only locally, but across the entire state of Texas as well. And, it delivered in that respect many times over.

Now entering its fourth year in Dallas, Untapped has grown from a gathering where 50 breweries doled out samples of around 100 beers, to an event where over 100 breweries will be serving more than 400 beers. Included in that number are 175 beers from 45 Texas breweries, 25 of which make their home in the Metroplex. On top of all that, attendance is expected to be in the vicinity of 10,000 people. Not bad for a festival that didn't even exist as recently as 2011.

As one of the organizers of Untapped, Corey Pond (the beer guy) has been front and center since it was just an idea being talked about over a beer with Spune Productions CEO Matthew Harber (the music guy). Not only that, Pond is also the owner of The Common Table, as well as being a member of the Board of Directors for North Texas Beer Week. So who better to ask about the evolution of Untapped, its legendary beer list (check out the 2015 edition here) and how it helps to foster the growth of craft beer industry in North Texas?

After discussing these very topics with him, which I've summarized below, should someone come up to me in the future and pose the above query, what I'll say is this...if you've got questions related to craft beer, Corey Pond's got answers. And, I'm not talking about the kind of rehearsed remarks some sports star spits out after he's gotten his keister kicked in a tough game. Indeed, what you're about to read isn't just a collection of clichés or an attempt to sugar coat what Pond believes is the truth. Instead, what you'll see are honest, passionate and prideful responses that speak to where North Texas is as a craft beer community, and thoughts on what the region is capable of becoming in the not-so-distant future.


On Untapped's all-important beer list...

Q: Back in 2012, the year Untapped got its start in Dallas, I said something along the lines of that beer list being one of the greatest collections of craft beer ever compiled in the state. By all accounts, the list has only gotten bigger and better since then. How have you managed to continue to one-up yourself in that regard?

CP: I still believe that first comment was true back then, but this year's list makes that one look pedestrian. Over time the reputation for Untapped's beer list has made getting an incredible lineup much easier. The breweries know everybody is going to throw down and they want to make sure the beers they bring stand up to their peers. I do push back every now and then on the breweries and ask for something more, but not very often. It just kind of takes care of itself. I've also gotten to be friends with a lot of these folks and they know I'll drive them crazy if they phone it in.

Q: Does the North Texas market present any unique challenges compared to others in the state when it comes to putting together the list? Is it easier or more difficult considering there are almost always a handful of new breweries that have opened since the last event?

CP: North Texas is actually the best place to put together the beer list, in my opinion. With all due respect to Austin, Houston and San Antonio, we have more breweries here than any other city in Texas and overall the quality of beer in North Texas is better. That's not just my opinion - user ratings on Ratebeer, as well as awards won at GABF and World Beer Cup have all pretty much made that an objective fact. I also know a lot of the owners/staff at the local breweries and talk to them regularly, so I spend 12 months a year encouraging them to make something special for the event. If you look at what Peticolas does at every Untapped festival, that pretty much summarizes it for me. The beer lists in all the markets are outstanding, but you just can't beat the one in Dallas. Plus, Dallas Untapped is the flagship, so the out of town folds typically make sure they bring the heat for this one.

Q: You visited Southern Tier in New York to help brew XNTX 2015, a beer created exclusively for North Texas Beer week that will be available at Untapped. What was that experience like?

CP: It was amazing - it's likely the most beautiful brewery I'll ever see and the people were amazing. But, they actually made us do the brewing work - I had to handle 20+ lb bags of malted barley (and damn near ruined a machine in the process), fill buckets with hops and set my phone to remind me to go back and add the 2nd and 3rd hop additions (at that point I was in the brewpub). I had the opportunity to brew at another large craft brewery several years back, but it was not nearly as hands on as this. I tasted the roasted pecans before they were put in the mash (15 lbs of them if I remember correctly). It was a blast and I learned a lot. I can't wait to taste the beer - it sounds delicious.

Q: Other than XNTX 2015, what other beers are you excited to try this Saturday?

CP: These are the beers I'm hoping to try:

  • 903 Brewers Balcones Barrel Aged Sasquatch and The Sour One.
  • 2005, 2010 and 2015 vintages of Alaskan Smoked Porter.
  • Alpine Nelson (cause it's the #truth).
  • Audacity Red Wine Barrel Aged Sour.
  • Braindead 10th Anniversary Ale.
  • Cobra Barrel Aged Klurichan.
  • Community Rum-Soaked Cinnamon Legion.
  • Dogfish Higher Math.
  • Epic Sour Brainless on Peaches.
  • Hops & Grain beers, since they currently don't distribute to D/FW.
  • Jester King Synthesis Analogous.
  • Lakewood Wild Manimal.
  • Lakewood/Rahr & Sons DFW.
  • Martin House Holidazed and Confused.
  • Ninkasi beers making their Untapped debut.
  • Oak Highlands Chump Change.
  • Panther Island Gourdeous Blonde.
  • Peticolas Black Curtains and Sledge Hammer.

On the move to Fair Park for the 2015 event...

Q: With this year's event comes a change in venue. Gilley's seemed to be a popular choice, but this time around you've moved things to Fair Park. Is that just a function of overall growth and needing more space? 

CP: Gilley's was great but it presented some unique TABC challenges due to property lines and other stuff I'm still not sure I understand. Fair Park is an amazing setting and those guys are PROS at handling events. The growth of the event forced the move as much as anything else, but I doubt we'll ever move it again. 

On coupling with CrowdSource and growing craft beer's audience...

Q: A little over a year ago, CrowdSource purchased a majority interest in Untapped. The catalyst for the move from Untapped's point of view seemed to primarily be to add resources to allow growth the even both in Texas and beyond. As you alluded to in mentioning Austin, Houston and San Antonio, we've seen new events added in other major Texas cities, but how else has the partnership changed things as far as putting on the event?

CP: It gives us the ability to do things we otherwise couldn't. The reputation and influence of The Dallas Morning News (CrowdSource's parent company) opens a lot of doors that otherwise wouldn't be opened. For instance, we're now the first major event to follow the State Fair at Fair Park. If we had gone to them (Fair Park) two years ago, I doubt they'd have jumped through all the hoops to make it happen. There's also some exciting stuff we're working on that'll show up in future years that otherwise wouldn't be possible. The marketing reach doesn't hurt either, and we love being a part of such an influential organization. I'm proud of the partnership every single day.

Q: Picking up on something you just said, CrowdSource and The Dallas Morning News obviously have a wide reach with a variety of consumer types. Would you say it's helped to attract a new audience to the craft beer scene that might not have found its way otherwise?

CP: I do believe they've helped attract some new folks. The coverage they provide in print and online reaches a TON of folks and their voice is obviously very well respected. I would've never thought we'd take on a partner for Untapped, but if you'd have told me the potential partner was The Dallas Morning News, I would've always wanted to be a part of that.

Q: Staying with the idea of the audience Untapped serves (both literally and figuratively), music is obviously a major component of the event. In fact, Untapped is presented as the best of both music and beer, rather than say a music festival that just happens to have great beer (or vice versa). Even so, do think either side benefits more from being brought together? 

CP: This is what makes Untapped special to me and hopefully to fest-goers. We absolutely, positively introduce new people to craft beer. They (the fans that come strictly for the music) actually don't have a choice at Untapped - they have to drink craft beer or not drink anything at all. I've seen so many people post on social media about how Untapped introduced them to the beer scene, and every time I see one it makes me smile. I also love great music and enjoy the idea of introducing beer lovers to great music they hadn't known about previously. It's the combination of the two that makes me (and everybody involved) so passionate about Untapped.

On the state of the local craft beer union...

Q: In your mind, how does Untapped impact the beer scene here in North Texas?

CP: To me, the entire beer scene is symbiotic. Having great breweries makes it easier to have a great festival. Having Big Texas Beer Fest here makes it easier to have Untapped here. Having North Texas Beer Week occur and kick so much ass helps Untapped, helps the breweries, and so on. Untapped brings people to craft beer (just like BTBF, North Texas Beer Week and the local breweries do) which in turn helps BTBF, North Texas Beer Week, the breweries, etc. I don't really know exactly what Untapped does, but I'd like to think it makes a big impact. Ten thousand folds all drinking and talking about beer in one place surely makes some kind of difference.

Q: Finally, if  you were to give a one-paragraph "state of the union" on where North Texas is as far as being considered a craft beer destination, what would you say?

CP: I think we're already a destination. For Untapped, over 10% of our total ticket sales come from more than 45 miles away (so even outside of Fort Worth). This year, we've sold tickets to people from over 30 states. North Texas Beer Week is also making an impact. There are more breweries in North Texas than almost any city in the south (as in south and east of here) aside from places in North Carolina. We have two of the biggest and best beer festivals in the nation, and our beer week is undoubtedly among top in the nation and it's not even three years old. It's been amazing to watch. I believe North Texas can become one of the top beer destinations in the next three-to-four years. The momentum that exists today gives me no reason to believe we won't continue to catch up with, and eventually pass, quite a few of the big beer cities.

Untapped Dallas happens Saturday, November 7 at Fair Park. Get your tickets here.