Monday, January 26, 2015

Franconia Ice Bock is back, February 7


Image credit:
Franconia Brewing Company


Should you be planning to visit the Franconia Brewing Company during the first Saturday in February, you need not worry if you forget your jacket at home. Sure, there's a chance it might be cold out, but one sip of the brewery's 2015 Ice Bock might be all you need to keep you warm for hours to come.

It was one year ago when owner Dennis Wehrmann decided to take advantage some particularly cold temperatures here in the Metroplex to try his hand at creating an eisbock. For those that don't know, making an eisbock (or ice bock) involves exposing a beer to freezing temperatures long enough for the water inside it to crystallize. Once it does, you remove the ice and are left with a beer that's more concentrated in terms of both flavor and alcohol.

The 2014 edition of Ice Bock was based on Winter Wheat (a weizenbock), but this year Wehrmann and head brewer Cam Horn chose to start with their Tripple Dunkle instead (meaning this vintage is not actually a "bock"). Noting that Tripple Dunkle has a higher ABV to begin with (over 10% vs. 7% for Winter Wheat), the question then becomes whether or not the finished product has a chance to be the strongest beer ever produced in Texas. The jury is still out on that point, but samples have been sent to the TABC in order to find out.

As for how it tastes, after sampling a pre-release sample of 2015 Ice Bock, let me just say...in a word...lordy! Is there such a thing as beer Everclear? If not, maybe now there should be. Grain alcohol fills the aroma of this beer, as does a more intense impression of the chocolate and roasted malt flavors that make up Tripple Dunkle. The beer is rich, raw, a little bit gritty and warm...really warm. That may sound daunting, but I assure you your senses will adjust. The alcohol maintains a strong presence throughout the experience, but the beer becomes more drinkable with each and every sip. And, did I mention it was warm?

Ice Bock will be released Saturday, February 7 at 11 a.m., during Franconia's regular tour. Just over twenty gallons will be available, tapped from one of the brewery's 200 year old kegs. Also on the bill for that day is the new Lemondrop Pilsner. Brewed with German pilsner malt and Lemondrop hops (a variety bred partially from Cascade), it's a refreshing single malt, single hop beer with notes of melon, tea, lemongrass and a hint of finishing citrus.

It'll be a day of something light and something dark, but note that while you'll be able to get full pours of Lemondrop Pilsner, sample sizes of Ice Bock will be much smaller due to that beer's strength. An ounce or two of Ice Bock should be more than enough, though, since I'm here to tell you...a little goes a long way.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Tasting Deep Ellum's barrel-aged, bronze medal brew

Image credit: Deep Ellum Brewing Company
It was just over a year ago that the Deep Ellum Brewing Company released Four Swords for the first time. A Belgian quadrupel brewed in the monastic tradition, its classical styling represented a subtle departure for a brewery that once burst out of the gates bent on "total beer domination."

That said, Four Swords wasn't for the faint of heart. It was still a big beer, with bold flavors and an ABV of 9.5%, but it wasn't brash, and maybe for the first time we talked about a beer from Deep Ellum and called it conventional. For me, at least, it was one of the brewery's best efforts to date, a sentiment seemingly confirmed when the beer won a bronze medal at the 2014 World Beer Cup.

Of course, Four Swords returned this year, it having already been released to retail, but a portion of last year's batch was held back. Those remnants have been resting along the back wall of the brewery in Cabernet red wine barrels from the French-inspired Calais Winery (currently relocating to Hye, Texas). The result is Barrel Aged Four Swords, and while it may have the bones of the base beer, what's emerged from the barrels is something else altogether.

What was once a beer I would classify as characteristically quad, Four Swords has now "changed drastically" according to had brewer Jeremy Hunt. Back when I reviewed the original in December 2013, I took note of the beer's dark fruit intensity, along with flavors of caramel, cocoa and burnt brown sugar. While those elements still exist after time spent in the barrels, they do so in noticeably different proportions.

Rich, layered caramel now fronts the beer, which drinks much like that of a vintage port. Barrels add faint wood tones, while the cocoa comes across as being more of a lightly sweet chocolate. As for the ester profile attributable to the yeast, it isn't quite as evident as it once was, but grapes and ripe cherry provide a sort of fruit filling. This, as it turns out, works together with the carbonation and a burst of vanilla to give it a refreshing quality not typically found in a quad. The beer is still a sipper, mind you, given its lingering warmth and full-bodied nature, but that little flourish of fruit gives this barrel-aged brew...for lack of a better phrase...a certain "je ne sais quoi". It's something you'll crave into the beer's finish, as mild tannins dry out the palate and leave you eager for the next sip.

Comparing the barrel treatment to the starter beer feels a little like pitting apples against oranges in light of how different the two are, but there's one thing you can surely say about both. Four Swords was a good beer in the beginning, and it's a good beer out of the barrel. Moreover, it's got balance, it's got strength, and it's a little bit sweet, but what I like best is that it's a welcome change from the growing ubiquity of bourbon beers.

Barrel Aged Four Swords will be sold at retail starting today, January 23, in wax-dipped 12-ounce bottles. A total of 2100 were produced, meaning it will be available for a limited time only. Look for it wherever you typically find Deep Ellum's seasonal and/or specialty brews.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

SweetWater headed to Houston and San Antonio, but not yet North Texas

Image credit: SweetWater Brewing Company

After much anticipation, the SweetWater Brewing Company of Atlanta, Georgia, is finally headed to Texas.

The news, which has been rumored for at least a year, comes to fruition after SweetWater engaged in "plenty of local sampling and months of diligent planning" prior to selecting Silver Eagle Distributors to handle the brewery's products in the Houston and San Antonio markets. As for Dallas/Fort Worth, a spokesperson confirmed that SweetWater has yet to make a decision on who to partner with in North Texas. While eager to expand more fully, the brewery wants to make sure it finds the right fit regarding who will represent it in other parts of the state. In terms of when that might happen, no set timetable exists, but SweetWater is working through the process and hopes to add other cities sooner rather than later.

In a press release, SweetWater says that recent upgrades to the brewery's production capacity, as well as the utilization of a packaged beer conditioning process and storage in a climate-controlled warehouse, make it "well positioned to expand its geographic reach while ensuring incredibly fresh beer in the market."

Commenting on the announcement, SweetWater founder Freddy Bensch notes that "Just a few years back we were doing everything we could to keep the beer flowing in our backyard, but now we are more than ready to bring our brews downstream." He goes on to say that he "can't wait to raise a few coldies with some fine folks in Texas."

Fans can keep track of updates by visiting the brewery's Texas Facebook page, which will post a full list of launch activities, as well as details on how to enter SweetWater's "Catch a Trout Trap" contest rewarding the first locals to spot the brewery's iconic rainbow tap handles with free SweetWater schwag.

To learn more about the brewery and its beers, visit www.sweetwaterbrew.com.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

On Rotation readies taproom, introduces "Inner Circle" membership

Image credit: On Rotation (click to enlarge)

Nestled alongside the White Rock location of Cane Rosso, owners Jacob and Lindsay Sloan are in the final stages of construction on their soon-to-be craft beer laboratory, a venture they've appropriately named On Rotation.

Operating out of an elongated 3,200 square foot space, featuring views of the brewhouse and a bar pouring both their beer and the beers of others from 40 taps, On Rotation's name alludes to the experimental nature that will define the brewery's approach. Small-batch beers crafted on a 3-barrel system will be inherently limited in terms of their availability and, as you might have guessed, perpetually on rotation. While this might suggest you'll need to take up permanent residence in order to partake in the brewery's every pour, the Sloans have come up with a seemingly much more attractive option.

The "Inner Circle, "a membership program in synergy with On Rotation's circular brand, will offer patrons a variety of benefits, not the least of which is the opportunity to try every beer the brewery produces. Privileges include:


  • 1 growler fill per month (excluding rare tappings)
  • 1 exclusive "Inner Circle" t-shirt
  • 15% off merchandise throughout membership
  • Complimentary 4-ounce tasters of each beer produced
  • Early access to buying or reserving tickets to special events
  • Voting privileges on which beers will be produced in a special "Inner Circle" series. 


Regarding the "Inner Circle" line of beers, the idea is to let members choose which styles will be brewed as part of the in-house series. A description and tasting notes will be provided for different options, and a majority vote will determine which beer goes up next on the tap wall.

Pre-sale memberships will be available starting later this week on the brewery's website (on-rotation.com/inner-circle), with discounts offered for early adopters. Buy-in will increase every few days until it reaches a final price of $275, which will be the regular amount going forward. Memberships will run 12 months beginning on February 1 and ending January 31, 2016, with current members getting first dibs on renewing in subsequent years if it is determined that a cap is needed to ensure production will be able to meet demand.

As for when the brewery will open, should final inspections go through a soft-opening could happen as soon as this weekend. On Rotation's house beers won't be in production as of yet, but they'll still have the aforementioned 40 brews on tap (roughly half local, half from out of state) for your drinking pleasure. An official grand opening will be scheduled once the Sloans are ready to debut their own beers, which as of now looks to happen sometime in late February.