Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rabbit Hole signs with Sons of John for D/FW distribution

Image credit: Rabbit Hole Brewing Co., Sons of John Distribution

Effective February 1, the Rabbit Hole Brewing Company of Justin, Texas, has joined forces with Sons of John for the distribution of their products in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

Sons of John is a Dallas-based company founded by Willie and Jason Lindsay, whose local portfolio includes the likes of Audacity Brew House of Denton and the Bishop Cider Company of Dallas. Adding Rabbit Hole to a list that also includes Adelbert's and Oasis Brewing out of Austin makes Sons of John a great source for craft beer brewed in the Lone Star State.

Rabbit Hole Chief Sales Sensei, Tait Lifto, polled accounts across North Texas to get a sense of which distributors provided the best level of quality and customer service, eventually coming away with the impression that Sons of John had a great reputation for being "passionate about craft beer and bringing it to people." In announcing the partnership, Lifto says the brewery is "super jazzed" about working with them to "get beer out to the passionate drinkers of D/FW."

As for why the brewery decided to make this move, Lifto sounds a chord similar to other craft brewers trying to manage growth: "Signing on with [Sons of John] enables us to ease up on worrying about the physical delivery of beer and focus on production," or as he puts it a little more directly, "brewing beer and getting it to your mouth."

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 Siebel Institute in order to find out.

As for how it tastes, after sampling a pre-release sample of 2015 Ice Bock, let me just 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