Monday, October 9, 2017

Pigs, pints, prizes and pulp: A look back at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival

(Photo © Brewers Association)

The 2017 edition of the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) concluded this past weekend in Denver, Colorado and once again a handful of North Texas breweries were recognized for their beers. It's clear, though, that the competition for medals is getting tougher, as breweries continue to open around the country and more beers are entered in the event. This year, 7,923 entries from 2,217 breweries were submitted for judging, which represents a roughly ten percent increase over the number of beers entered in 2016.

Up against that field, three local brewers brought home medals (depicted in the official event photos below), with that group being part of larger contingent of Texas breweries that landed a whopping 21 medals combined.

Armadillo Ale Works, Denton: Bronze for Honey Please in the
Honey Beer category (Photo © 2017 Jason E. Kaplan).

Rahr & Sons Brewing Co., Fort Worth: Silver for Oktoberfest in the
German-Style Maerzen category (Photo © 2017 Jason E. Kaplan).

Peticolas Brewing Co., Dallas: Silver for It's Always Something in the
Belgian-Style Strong Specialty Ale category (Photo © 2017 Jason E. Kaplan).

Surveying the 2017 competition results, there were no first-timers from North Texas (something which hasn't happened since 2011), meaning all of the local medalists were repeat winners. Armadillo Ale Works scored it's second GABF prize, while Peticolas and Rahr & Sons earned their third and fifth overall medals, respectively.

As for other items worth mentioning from the 2017 festival (and beyond), I've broken things down into the snippets below - within which you'll find thoughts on a few beers that debuted during the event, not to mention a couple of others that came out of left field. There are also segments on the jumble of juicy IPAs that were available, and a type of beer not named New England IPA (NEIPA) that I'd like to see produced by a North Texas brewery. After all of that, I'll finish up with comments from the latest stops on my seemingly never-ending tour of Colorado breweries.


On the lookout for a Lichtenhainer

Given the abundance of flavor on the festival floor, I generally like to go in with a plan of attack centered around a lesser-known style. One year it was roggenbiers...another time, smoked beers. For this year's tasting trip,  I opted to locate all the Lichtenhainers. Originating in Lichtenhain, Germany, Lichtenhainers are lightly tart, low gravity wheat beers made with smoked barley malt. In some ways, the style is a cross between a gose (minus the salt), a Grodsiske and a Berliner weisse, but it's the combination of smoke and sour that makes a Lichtenhainer unique. And, after trying versions made by Fair State Brewing Cooperative of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Pikes Peak Brewing Co. of Monument, Colorado, and Texas' own Live Oak Brewing Co. of Austin (the best of the bunch), I can't help but wish a few breweries in North Texas would take a stab at the style.

Press Pours (a.k.a. new brew debuts)

With the stage offered by GABF, it's only natural to see a few breweries trot out new tastes as a way to get the word out to the masses. Along those lines, pre-release press notes were delivered to my inbox regarding the debuts of Alaskan Husky IPA, Great Divide Chai Yeti, Ska BHC Double IPA and New Belgium 1969 Lager. Of those, the latter was a clean and well-made golden lager that is slated to become the signature beer at Red Robin restaurants around the country (presumably including Texas, since label approval has been obtained from the TABC). My favorite of the four mentioned, however, was the new Yeti incarnation, which seemed to do a good job of balancing the added spice (cinnamon, green cardamom, black pepper, ginger, nutmeg and vanilla) with the beast within.

A pandemonium of pulp

It seems appropriate that one of the first New England IPAs I tried at this year's GABF was called Wheez the Juice (by Drekker Brewing Co. of Fargo, North Dakota), since it didn't take much to sniff out samples of this popular type of beer. Whether it be on the festival floor or in a taproom around town, it seemed like NEIPAs were nothing if not omnipresent. That said, results varied, which makes me think that North Texas isn't the only region of the country still trying to get a handle on what these beers should taste like. In fact, I wonder if the lack of a discernible definition is what inspired the name of What the @$%& is Juice IPA from Pinthouse Pizza in Austin. In any case, the best I tried was probably Extra Extra Juicy Bits from Weldworks Brewing Co. of Greeley, Colorado.

The creativity of craft

As I tweeted almost immediately after taking a sip, the "what the ....? beer of the festival for me was Adam's Turkey Beer from 3 Freaks Brewery of Highlands Ranch, Colorado. This beer was straight up Stove Top Stuffing, which if the brewery's Twitter feed is to be believed, is exactly what was used in crafting the concoction. At the same time, I imagine more than a few people turned their noses up at Right Brain Brewery's Mangalitsa Pig Porter, seeing as how it was brewed with pig parts and all. But, like Wynkoop's Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout (the bull testicle beer) from a few years ago, if you didn't know ahead of time that the recipe for Pig Porter included whole smoked pig heads, I doubt you'd notice anything unusual while drinking it.

Taproom trips

Located in the Golden Triangle neighborhood of Denver, Lowdown Brewery + Kitchen offers just what the name implies, beer and food. I sampled and enjoyed both aspects of the place, which gets bonus points for having a few of it's own dedicated downtown parking spots. House beers are supplemented by guest taps, which during my visit included a swath of selections from Iowa's Toppling Goliath Brewing Co. Best beer: Otay, an oatmeal stout aged in rye whiskey barrels (Photos © 2017 Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

Pike's Peak literally peeks out over the top of a mountain range sitting directly between it and Pike's Peak Brewing Co. in Monument, Colorado. And, while the majesty of the mountain doesn't quite translate based on the locale, the brewery does offer a welcoming patio with views of other surrounding elevations. The beer and light bites are worthwhile as well, made all the better if enjoyed out in the open air. Best beer: Hot Shot Green Chile Ale (Photos © 2017 Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

Speaking of patios, it doesn't get much better than the one to be found at New Terrain Brewing Co. of Golden, Colorado (image above left). The brewery itself is set off in a quiet part of town, which makes it a great place to relax and get away from it all. Plus, if you're lucky, you might even run into the now-famous brewery cat, whose co-owner just happens to man the taps at New Terrain on occasion. Best beer: Floodland 2X IPA (Photo © 2017 Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

The last stop on my itinerary this year was the Bull & Bush Pub & Brewery in Glendale, Colorado (image above right). Around since 1971, this traditional English pub housed in a medieval-style building boasts a diverse selection of over 40 house beers on tap. I only stopped in long enough for lunch, but I hope to return someday to partake in a few more of the spot's easy-drinking English styles (Photo © 2017 Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

New brewpub bringing circus to G Town

Image credit: G Town Brewery.

If all goes as planned for a Greenville couple, circus acts may soon be added to the list of event options to consider when choosing what North Texas brewery to visit on weekends.

G Town Brewery is the dream of Laura Dunn and Visan España. Their journey began when Dunn, a London-born dancer, decided to come to the United States and run away with the circus in 2014. There, she met and became engaged to España, a fourth-generation circus performer who was born in Mexico and raised in Greenville.

After getting together, the two talked of opening their own bar and restaurant. Eventually, though, those thoughts turned to starting a brewery, thanks to a fateful stop between performances.

"We always visit breweries while on the road," says Dunn. "During a tour stop in Virginia during 2015, we went to a homebrew store and ended up brewing our first batch of beer in our RV. We called it Trailer Ale (as it was made on the road), and the clowns in our show designed the beer label for us. Everybody loved it so much that we continued to make more."

Beer has since become a passion, and it's something the pair hopes to combine with other interests in establishing their brewpub.

"Visan is in love with all aspects of beer," explains Dunn. "I'm in love with the craft, with the creation. We feel the same way about food, and are often disappointed when we eat out knowing we could make something better at home. We have been spoiled during our travels and have visited hundreds of breweries, restaurants and bars. The variety and trends we have experienced from around the world are things we have included in our concept, which is to make recipes from all over the world, but in our own backyard and using local ingredients."

Of course, as was alluded to above, it won't just be talents in the kitchen and brewhouse that are on display at G Town.

"Our lifestyle isn't ordinary, so our brewpub won't be either," says Dunn. "We intend to host cirque shows every weekend, with live music and entertainment. We want to hold lots of exciting events for the community and create a fun environment for children of all ages."

On that note, future patrons can expect G Town to serve a variety of beverage types. House brews will pour from 10 taps, with styles varying from the everyday (blonde, IPA, Irish red, stout, porter, etc.) to the experimental. Wine and spirits will also be offered, as will real cane sugar sodas for kids and others who prefer a non-alcoholic option.

As for when North Texans can expect the show to start, so to speak, Dunn and España have signed a lease on a downtown location at 2826 Lee Street in Greenville. They are currently working out of the country while the city reviews their plans, but once a building permit is secured, they'll return with the hope of getting G Town open within six months.

And from the sound of things, they are eager to get to work making their dream a reality.

"We began saving money while we continued working in the circus and touring," says Dunn. "Now, we are ready to come home and start a new adventure."

Stay up-to-date on G Town's progress by following the brewpub on Facebook.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Gordon Biersch closing Park Lane location in Dallas

Image credit: CraftWorks Restaurants & Breweries.

The Park Lane location of Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Dallas will close this coming Sunday, October 1.

Situated in the Shops at Park Lane development, the Dallas outpost opened in November 2009 and was the second Gordon Biersch franchise to be established in North Texas - following the Plano restaurant, which debuted in 2008.

A statement regarding the closure was issued by the brand's parent company, CraftWorks Restaurants & Breweries:

"Since Gordon Biersch in the Park Lane development in Dallas, Texas, opened nearly 8 years ago, the community has welcomed us with open arms, and continued to embrace us in the years that followed. Our last day of operation will be October 1, but we’ll always be grateful for the opportunity we had to serve our guests each day. We sincerely appreciate the overwhelming support we’ve received from the community throughout the years.  The Park Lane location will always hold a special place in our hearts and the area will continue to be one we monitor should viable locations come on the market. All of our employees will be provided with severance based on position and tenure with the restaurant or a transfer to any CraftWorks Restaurant & Breweries, Inc.-operated restaurants. In fact, we are pleased to announce that most of our employees have chosen to stay with us and transfer to various locations."

CraftWorks also confirmed that the Plano location will continue to operate as usual.

Sipping on 777, Shiner's new oak-aged IPL

Image courtesy of Gambrinus Co.

Released as the 12th offering in the Brewer's Pride series, samples of Shiner 777 IPL showed up at my door this week, along with the declaration that it "just might be the boldest Shiner you've ever put to your lips." Not only that, the brewery's new India pale lager was said to be "tripled-down delicious" as well.

Now, the tripled-down part is primarily in reference to the triple-7s in the beer's name. The origin of which comes from the fact that 777 is brewed with 7 varieties of hops, has 70 IBUs and it finishes out with an ABV of 7.0%. Of course, I'm sure those at the Spoetzl Brewery think the beer is delicious, too, so I suppose it's a bonus that the word "delicious" helps add a bit of alliterative flair to the adspeak.

On the topic of whether 777 is Shiner's boldest beer ever, that's more of a subjective statement. What can be said is that 777 is the strongest beer the brewery has produced - topping Wicked Ram's 6.0% ABV by a full percentage point. That, and 777 is a beer with some complexity, thanks to the mix of hops and time spent slumbering on southern oak staves.

The hops, in this case, cause 777 to exude more of an English influence, based on the beer's floral, earthy and herbal elements. So, don't read IPL and start thinking in terms of an American IPA.  There might be a faint pint note in the aroma, but I don't get a sense of citrus in 777. Really, if there's any fruit at all, it's more along the lines of an elderberry essence.

As for how it drinks, 777 is hop-forward, though a hint of caramel malt remains ever-present. It's a clean, medium-bodied beer that gets more herbal and woody as it warms, with the oak adding a tannic touch that serves to dry out the palate on the finish. There's some bitterness on the back end as well, but not enough that you'll be scrunching up your face like that old codger in the Keystone commercials.

Really, my only quibble with 777 has to do with a statement on the sell sheet suggesting the beer has a flavor "as big and fresh as a Texas pine" tree. If you ask me, 777 is more oaky than anything. But, either way, it makes for an enjoyable experience. Is it Shiner's boldest beer yet? I don't know if I'd say that, but 777 is certainly another good example of a continuing effort by the brewery to go beyond the ubiquity of its bock. And, boldest or not, it's one of Shiner's more interesting efforts to date.

Shiner 777 IPL will only be available for a limited time. Look for it on tap, in 24-ounce bombers, and in 12-ounce bottles as part of the brewery's Family Reunion six pack.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Unlawful Assembly unveils its initial offerings

Image courtesy of Unlawful Assembly Brewing Co.

Set to open in October as part of Legacy Hall in Plano, Unlawful Assembly Brewing Co. (UABC) has announced its opening day lineup of craft beers.

From a press release:
  • Idol Time: Passion Fruit Pineapple Wheat – In this unfiltered wheat ale, fermented with tart tropical fruits, we celebrate the times we can’t remember and the friends we won’t forget.
  • Peacemonger: Pilsner – You can defuse any tense situation with a little diplomacy and the right beer, especially one as agreeable as this European-style pilsner. It’s a crisp and slightly malty beer with a spicy, noble hop finish.
  • Rebel Faction: Farmhouse Ale – Rise up! This saison’s floral aroma, fruity and earthy flavors and subtle tartness will be the antidote for conformity.
  • Public Dissent: Pale Ale – This refreshingly crisp grapefruit and piney hop-flavored pale ale with caramel undertones stands up against the mainstream.
  • The Antagonist: Amber Lager – With a medium body, balanced caramel-like flavor and a dry finish, this beer is one that everyone will enjoy.
  • Blind Justice: IPA – West Coast meets Texas. A blend of six different hops makes this beer an amber slice of heaven. The mouthwatering IPA gets its flavor from a heavy helping of Mosaic, Citra, Cascade, Centennial, Amarillo and Magnum hops, balanced by a perfect level of malt body.

Unlawful Assembly will make the aforementioned six beers available year-round, supplementing that slate with a constantly rotating selection of seasonal and specialty brews.

“Whether you’re a craft connoisseur or you’re just fine with a light brew, UABC has got you covered,” says Tim Timbs, senior vice president of brewery stuff. “A lot of blood, sweat and … well, not really tears – but you get the point – have gone into creating these first six beers and we couldn’t be more proud of the result. Unlawful Assembly is about to turn heads in North Texas, and we can’t wait to start sharing these creative, collaborative and bold flavors with everyone – in just a matter of weeks.”

The company's beers are designed to pair with the diverse flavors to be showcased in Legacy Hall. And, like the chefs expected to occupy stalls in the artisanal food mecca, the brewers at Unlawful Assembly intend to infuse their creations with ingredients from around the globe.

“We’re bringing a rebellious spirit to this venture, so we won’t hesitate to use non-traditional ingredients in our beers, and we’ll be constantly pushing the envelope to explore unique flavor combinations,” says Tom Janik, brewmaster for UABC. “And because we’ll be rotating our taps on a regular basis, there will always be something new for our guests to discover.”