Wednesday, November 25, 2015

On the spectacle that was BrainDead's Festicle

Image credit: Brewvolution, LLC.

Anyone who regularly follows craft beer in North Texas knows that over the past few years the local scene has witnessed a long line of firsts. Among them have been a number of first-time festivals, many of which have gone on to become can't-miss yearly gatherings featuring the best in both local and national beer.

Within that category, however, one thing the area hasn't had up to now is a festival designed around a limited bottle release. As an example of such an occurrence, perhaps the most well-known of these has gone on annually for twelve years at Three Floyds Brewing Co. in Munster, Indiana. Known as Dark Lord Day, it's been called the "most iconic single-day release event in the craft beer industry."

This is relevant because the topic of Dark Lord Day arose during conversations on more than one occasion during North Texas' first foray into a similar type event on Saturday. Billed as BrainDead Brewing's first-ever Festicle, the affair was a joint effort between the brewpub and Chad and Nellie Montgomery, otherwise known as the husband-and-wife team behind Big Texas Beer Fest.

The catalyst for the festivities was, of course, the inaugural release of two BrainDead beers in a bottle. Head brewer Andrew Huerter unveiled Hammer of the Gods, an imperial wheat porter aged in whiskey barrels, and Bent de Garde, a bière de garde aged in red wine barrels. These were sold in 750 mL vessels at a cost of $20 per bottle, with allotments based on whether you purchased a VIP or general admission ticket.

As for the celebration itself, Festicle was held in the parking lot adjacent to BrainDead's location in Deep Ellum. Live music filtered through the crowd from a stage set up at the far end of the space, while food was prepared on the opposite side in a contraption of cookery called Jolly. Chef David Pena used the device to smoke a steer leading up to the event, with the eventual offerings consisting of a choice between a beef cheek or brisket plate served with a variety of sauces.

The bulk of the setup, though, was devoted to the main attraction, that being the beer. Attendees sampled brews from a carefully curated list of over 70 beers from more than 40 different breweries. And, at least from my perspective, I'm not sure there was a bad beer in the bunch. In fact, the selection was such that even if you only chose products scoring 99 or better on Ratebeer, you still would have found more than enough to drink in order to fill out the twelve-sample tasting card. In my case, although I bypassed favorites by the name of Bible Belt, The Beast and Backwoods Bastard, I didn't feel like I missed out on anything since every beer I tried rated well above average. Among the highlights were Hops & Grain's Ye Old Street St. Ale (the style of which is embedded in the name) and a light-bodied sour cherry stout from Blue Owl called Professor Black.

But, getting back to something I said up above, one might wonder if North Texas has a big-time beer release day in the making. "We're not there yet, but someday we hope to be," was the sentiment echoed by BrainDead's other two key players, Sam Wynne and Jeff Fryman, but considering it was even discussed means it's something to aspire to. While it's obviously too early in the brewpub's history to be drawing comparisons to Dark Lord Day and the beer it celebrates, just having an event like this in North Texas checks off a box, so to speak, on the list of things the region has never experienced before. In that way, it adds yet another welcome layer to our still-developing scene.

On the question of whether it will become a can't-miss event, one thing to consider is how it compares to other local festivals. While large-scale soirees like Untapped and Big Texas Beer Fest cater to casual craft beer drinkers as well as connoisseurs, Festicle comes across like Brewer's Ball in being more of a beer geek's beer festival. If that and the smaller setting are things that appeal to you, then I'd say the answer to the question is yes. At least for me, the price of food and drink alone was worth the price of admission, and based on that I foresee many more Festicles in my future.

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.