Monday, November 25, 2013

Black Friday means Bourbon County

Image credit:  Anheuser Busch

There's almost no way to write an article about Goose Island without acknowledging the omnipresent elephant in the room.  In March of 2011, the Chicago-based brewing operation was bought out by Anheuser-Busch (AB).  Reasons behind the move had a lot to do with finding a way to keep up with demand for beers like Honker's Ale and Goose Island India Pale Ale. Naturally, fans of the brewery worry that something gets lost when those beers are brewed in an AB facility outside of Chicago, but as former head brewer John Hall stated in a Crain's Chicago Business article earlier this year (registration required to read full text), doing so allows them to brew "five times more Bourbon County beer."

That statement, conveniently enough, brings us to today.  For the first time in Texas, Black Friday means Bourbon County beer (details on that in a moment).  Not just one Bourbon County mind you, but five of them (well, he did say "five times more Bourbon County beer").  In addition to the original Bourbon County Brand Stout (BCBS) and Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout, this year there are three new varieties:

  • Bourbon County Brand Barleywine (aged in spent BCBS barrels).
  • Backyard Rye Bourbon County Stout (aged in Templeton Rye whiskey barrels with mulberries, marionberries and boysenberries).
  • Proprietor's Bourbon County Brand Stout (aged in Templeton Rye whiskey barrels with toasted coconut). This beer is a Chicago exclusive, and won't be distributed outside the city.

Advance samples of BCBS and the barleywine varietal arrived last week from Weber Shandwick (AB's public relations firm) ahead of their nationwide release.  If I were to sum up my impressions in a single thought it would probably go something like this:  BCBS may be the legend, but the barleywine is the beer I'd stand in line for.

To me, BCBS seems tamer than before. It's still bourbon forward with a boozy bite, but in years past a fresh bottle seemed more akin to a shot of straight whiskey.  In this sample, the barrel character wasn't as intense, allowing hints of charred oak and dark chocolate to sneak out in the flavor. Some reviewers are calling it more balanced, but I'd only be comfortable using that term if I were getting more malt depth.  I'd cellar this one in hopes of bringing out some additional complexity over time.

As for the barleywine, right now it's just a more interesting brew.  There's a little more vanilla and a little less barrel char compared to BCBS, with a rich caramel malt base, dark fruit and the ever-present bourbon. The huge malt backbone helps to lessen the alcohol note in the finish, but there's plenty of warmth to remind you of this beer's inner potency. Clearly, this is a beer that would also benefit from aging, but it's worth drinking now if you don't want to wait.

Launch parties are scheduled for Black Friday in Austin, Chicago, San Francisco and New York.  Dallas isn't on the list, but if you happen to find yourself in Austin on Friday, lines are expected to form as early as 5 a.m. in anticipation of a 7 a.m. opening at the Whole Foods Market located at 525 N. Lamar Boulevard.

As for the Metroplex, I'm assured we'll be getting the four Bourbon County beers, minus the Chicago exclusive. It's just a matter of where and when.  My advice is to keep your eyes and ears open and to keep the engine running. When these beers do appear at retail, it's doubtful they'll last long.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Grapevine Craft Brewery set for pre-turkey day debut

Image credit: Grapevine Craft Brewery
It's been nearly six months since a new craft brewery opened in North Texas which, believe it or not, is the longest drought since November of 2011. In that time, almost a dozen breweries have sprung up around the Metroplex, though we've yet to see one open in Grapevine. Founder and CEO Gary Humble intends to change that, though it will be a while before the Grapevine Craft Brewery calls its namesake city home.

If you've followed the brewery's updates, you know that their original plans have taken a detour. Construction delays on what will be their permanent home at 924 Jean Street in Grapevine have forced them to set up shop for the time being in Farmers Branch. As Humble explained when I met with him and Vice President of Sales and Marketing Jeff Jones, the move was necessitated by a desire to maintain a pledge he made after the close of Grapevine's record-setting Fundable campaign. Back then, he said his goal was to have beer in the hands of North Texans by the end of the year. Taking the extraordinary step of moving to a temporary space was what had to be done in order to make that happen.

Now with beer in hand, Humble and Jones are hitting the bricks and lining up bars and restaurants to carry Grapevine's brews. They've decided to delay a grand opening celebration at the brewery until they are able to re-locate to Grapevine. In the meantime, they'll hold a series of regional launch events as a way to introduce locals to the area's newest brand of beer. Dallas will be up first, with multiple accounts tapping kegs on Wednesday, November 27. The official debut will occur that evening at Craft and Growler, during that establishment's regular mid-week Keep the Glass Night. Other places expected to start pouring beer that day can be found on Grapevine's website. Just choose "On Tap" from the menu along the right side of the page, then click "Beer Finder."

As for what they'll be serving, the first two beers off the line will be Lakefire Rye Pale Ale and a filtered American wheat called Monarch. Humble provided a sample of the first of these, and when I commented on the overall balance he pointed to that as the core of Grapevine's brewing philosophy. Recipes won't focus too much on any one ingredient, with sessionability being another key element. Lakefire has an ABV of only 5.2% and is actually the strongest of the first three beers the brewery will produce Sir William, an English-style brown ale (5.0% ABV), is to follow soon.

Offerings will be draught-only for now, and will be brewed on Grapevine's 30 bbl production setup. Some might have expected them to roll out using a pilot system given the short-term nature of their current location, but Humble says they were committed to moving forward with their full installation. This, despite having to move it at some point down the road.

Really, the only downside of establishing the brewery in Farmers Branch involves the subject of tours. The Dallas suburb is seemingly one of the few areas left that is still "dry". This doesn't mean you can't manufacture alcoholic beverages, only that you can't sell them within the city limits. Whether or not you can consume them is a sort of gray area, and is something Humble may or may not work with the city to resolve in the future.

Retail sales will also come later. Humble is on the fence as to whether to go with bottles or cans, but where they are in terms of location won't impact when packaging might start. It's more a function of building the brand and seeing how the market develops, something he and Jones will be concentrating on in the days ahead.

Track the latest developments at the brewery by following them on Facebook and Twitter, or by subscribing to their newsletter here.

*Originally published on Examiner.com

Meddlesome to undergo Mothamorphosis

Image credit:  Meddlesome Moth
Thanksgiving week, the tap wall at the Meddlesome Moth will undergo a transformation of sorts.  The Mothamorphosis, as it's being called, will involve an entirely new draught menu which will appear overnight on Monday, November 25 and be available for one week only through Sunday, November 30.

Selections represent personal favorites of Moth beer gurus Keith Schlabs and Matt Quenette, some of which include:

Green Flash:  Silva Stout and 11th Anniversary Double Dry-Hopped West Coast IPA
Stone Farking Wheat w00tstout
New Belgium La Terroir
Firestone Walker Sucaba
Founders Backwoods Bastard
Karbach F.U.N. 007 Maker's Mark Barrel Aged Hellfighter
Boulevard Saison Brett
2012 Brasserie des Franches Montagnes (BFM) Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien
Prairie Artisan Ales 'Merica

In addition, Monday marks the beginning of the annual Moth Cellar Release, an ongoing event that runs through New Year's.  Over 40 different rare bottles have been held back over the course of the past year just for the occasion. Among them are:

Firestone Walker:  Sucaba, Parabola, Double DBA and XVI - Sixteenth Anniversary Ale
(512) Bourbon Barrel Aged Double Pecan Porter
Boulevard:  Terra Incognita, Love Child #3 and Bourbon Barrel Quad
Avery:  Uncle Jacob's Stout and Odio Equum
Founders:  Kentucky Breakfast Stout and Devil Dancer
Saint Arnold Bishop's Barrel #1
North Coast Old Rasputin XV
2009 Brooklyn Black Ops
2011 Lagunitas Olde GnarlyWine

There, now you have an excuse to ditch the relatives, or better yet bring them along for a night of rare and vintage craft brews this holiday season.

Cheers!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Addison Flying Saucer to tap Reserve Series for Deschutes Beer Dinner, December 19

Image credit:  Flying Saucer Draught Emporium
Long about this time each year, questions start to arise as to when we can expect to see The Abyss from Deschutes arrive in Texas.  If the upcoming Deschutes Beer Dinner at the Flying Saucer in Addison is any indication, the answer looks to be around the middle of December.

On December 19, the Addison Saucer will host its final beer dinner of the year.  Guests will enjoy a glass of Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale, followed by a four-course meal paired with beers from the brewery's Reserve Series.  The menu for the evening is as follows:


1st Course:

Black Butte XXIV, a porter brewed with artisanal cocoa nibs, Deglet dates and Mission figs.
  • Paired with a fig, honey and blue cheese tartlet.

2nd Course:

Black Butte XXV, a porter brewed with Theo cocoa nibs, Mission figs and Medjool dates.
  • Paired with cold-smoked bay scallops, candied bacon, bourbon sauce and Southern grits.

3rd Course:

The Abyss, an Imperial stout that is consistently ranked among the best beers in the world.
  • Paired with boeuf bourguignon a l'abime, caramelized onion and mushroom.

4th Course:

The Dissident Sour Brown Ale, an Oud Bruin aged for 18 months in pinot and cabernet barrels.
  • Paired with Greek yogurt cheesecake and pomegranate-cherry compote.


Tickets are $65pp (or $60 for UFO members) which includes tax and gratuity.  Call 972-991-7903 to reserve.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Shiner White Wing lands at retail

Image credit:  Spoetzl Brewery
Although it's just starting to appear at retail, Shiner White Wing has been in the flight pattern for about a month. Some were able to get taste of it at last month's Great American Beer Festival in Denver, while those local to the Metroplex had their chance to sample it this past weekend at Texas Brewvolution. Billed as a "delightfully odd bird", a few bottles appeared on my own doorstep this week courtesy of Shiner and the folks at McGarrah Jesse.

Packaged, appropriately enough, in protective straw-like nesting material, the bottles arrived sporting black, white and gold labeling with a neck ring notation referencing Shiner's 104 years in the brewing business. Only twice in that span of time has the "little brewery" endeavored to produce a Belgian-style beer, historically staying somewhat close to the vest with brews of predominantly German influence. The first of these was FM 966 Farmhouse Ale, which debuted late in 2012. Now comes White Wing, a witbier taking the place of Shiner Hefeweizen in the brewery's year-round lineup.

As are many witbiers these days, Shiner adds coriander and orange peel to an ingredient list that includes wheat and barley malt, Saaz hops and "authentic Belgian yeast." Each is noticeable in the finished product, with the spice and hop additions contributing background notes to a brew with a fairly prominent wheat grain character. In truth, the beer tastes just like it sounds and it's hard to dispute the label's claim of being a "true-to-style Belgian wheat ale."

Of course, those whose tastes tend to the extremes will likely say it isn't bold enough. While it may not have the zesty fruitiness called for by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), it is undeniably refreshing, with a light creaminess and a dry, slightly tart finish. In other words, minus a few small points it's a more than fair representation of the style guidelines.

Would I recommend it? Let's put it like this: if Shiner beers regularly occupy space in your refrigerator, you'll likely find White Wing to be a pleasant and enjoyable option in their portfolio. If not, I'm sure the next ultra-limited, imperial barrel-aged witbier is just around the corner.

White Wing is available in six-packs of 12 oz bottles. Find it wherever Shiner beers are sold.

Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Talkin' 'bout a Brewvolution

Image credit: Brewvolution

Sitting down to collect my thoughts on Texas Brewvolution, I started thinking to myself how it seems like every time I turn around I'm putting together a recap of some festival. Depending on how you classify certain events, a count of how many have occurred this year might reach into the teens, with large scale events numbering right around ten. Each has had a slightly different feel and focus, with Brewvolution being no different.

Organized by the folks behind Paste Untapped and the Big Texas Beer Fest, if you walked in expecting the atmosphere of either of those you were in for a surprise. That, of course, brings about the obvious question. What is a good surprise, or a bad surprise?

Brewvolution wasn't the behemoth of Big Texas and it wasn't the beer geek bonanza that was Untapped. Then again, it wasn't supposed to be. Seeing as how it was the first day of North Texas Beer Week, it was understood that beer lovers would be spread out among a dozen other events that included anniversary parties at Deep Ellum and Rahr. A similar thing can be said for the beer itself, with brewers charged with supplying beer to multiple venues over the coming days, there were only so many specialty and one-offs to go around.

What we did get, though, was a more relaxed setting in a smaller space that, for lack of a better word, was downright cozy. Words like comfortable, friendly and pleasant make up the definition of that term, and are the same words I would use to describe Brewvolution. Lines were short, there was plenty of room to move around and you almost had to purposefully avoid getting caught up in one of the many craft beer conversations.

As for the beer, the spotlight was on Texas and brews crafted close to home. Franconia brought out their Smoked Wheat, which contrary to one Untappd user's commentary didn't taste anything like a burnt wiener, and their Oak Aged Fall'n Bock. The latter was a first chance to taste the most recent vintage of a beer I felt was one of the brewery's best last year. Owner Dennis Wehrmann tells me he's planning to let this one age a bit longer before wide release, to allow more barrel character to work its way into the beer.

Other barrel treatments included Lakewood's impossibly good Red Wine Till & Toil, which just keeps getting better with age, and Saint Arnold Bishop's Barrel #5, a beer which seemed a little barrel dominant and could probably use a little more time.

I also sought out FireWheel's coffee-rich Cool Beans Espresso Porter, along with a moderately-spiced winter seasonal from Rogness called Holiday. My favorite beer of the day, though, was probably Mullet Cutter from Revolver. Dry-hopped with Citra, this English-style Double IPA was all at once bright, fruity, earthy and herbal with a pronounced finishing bitterness. That said, both randallized brews from Armadillo were high on my list as well. They had Greenbelt Farmhouse Saison infused with pineapple and mango, as well as Quakertown Stout running through hazelnuts and cocoa nibs.

Of the national brands on hand, notables were Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine, Brooklyn Cuvée La Boite and a personal favorite in Labyrinth from Uinta. For the most part, though, I played along with the theme and stuck to local flavors.

Surveying the experience as a whole, the sentiment I got more than any other was that there was plenty of good beer and people seemed to welcome the low-key environment. Hearing that, I'd say the answer to the question I posed earlier is this: good surprise.

Friday, November 8, 2013

A North Texas craft beer state of the union


Image credit:  North Texas Beer Week, along with other images/logos
which are the property of their respective brewing companies.
 
On the eve of North Texas Beer Week (NTXBW), it seems an appropriate time to take stock of where we are in our craft beer evolution.  There are signs of strength and stability in many areas of the local industry, and the growth of NTXBW is a prime example.  In just three years, the number of events associated with this week-long celebration has increased roughly 200%. More impressive, though, might be the number of venues that have signed on in support of it this year alone. There are over 50! Personally, I remember a time when enjoying a craft beer out on the town meant going to the Flying Saucer or the Ginger Man, and that was it. Now, in addition to a growing number of craft beer-friendly pubs, you'll find craft beer in restaurants, grocery stores, the airport and at the ballgame.

Still, despite more choices, a high percentage of the million or so residents around here continue to drink stuff that could just as easily pass as sparkling water.  Things may be looking up, but there's much work to be done.  What follows is a look at how things are going.  It's long, state of the unions always are, and it's filled with links and endless name-dropping.  That's kind of the point, though, if you consider that had I written maybe two paragraphs on this theme back in early 2011, I'd already be done.

Ready?  Here we go.

More breweries and more beer.  In a nutshell, that's what Texans have been clamoring for as long as I can remember. We wanted to feel included every time the Brewers Association talked about how most Americans live within 10 miles of a brewery, and we wanted big names from out of state to be available at our neighborhood bottle shop.  Things are clearly improving on both counts.

We used to say "we don't get that here" anytime someone brought up the topic of high-profile national brands like Firestone WalkerFounders and Southern Tier being available in Texas. Now when someone asks, more and more we say "yeah, we get that here."  In fact, out of the top 50 craft breweries ranked by the Brewers Association, 32 of them currently distribute to Texas. That's over 60%.  Big names on the list that aren't here include Bell's and Odell, but even they are rumored to be expanding to the state sometime in the near future.

As for our local brewing roster, it used to consist of only two names.  Rahr, celebrating its 9th anniversary this weekend, and Franconia, putting the wraps on a yearlong salute to 5 years in business, got the keg rolling by building their markets from the ground up and sparking interest in better beer.

Today, we have 13 breweries producing 14 hometown brands.  As many as 9 of them have Saturday tours, while 4 others offer extended taproom hours on weekends and during the week (903, Cedar Creek, Community and Four Corners).  These numbers are expected to grow as well, with taprooms being considered at Deep Ellum and Lakewood, along with upwards of 9 new breweries hoping to open over the course of the next 12 to 18 months.  That might be a conservative estimate considering unconfirmed rumblings of ventures (beyond those in the provided link) possibly going up in Irving, Addison, Allen and McKinney.

Each of these prospective breweries will enter what is an increasingly competitive market.  Our burgeoning scene has enabled existing breweries to recruit talent from some of the country's largest and most well-known brewing companies. Brewers from Dogfish Head, Boulevard, Stone and Oskar Blues man the tanks at Deep Ellum (Jeremy Hunt), the soon-to-be Grapevine Craft Brewery (Caton Orrell), and Lakewood (Shawn Vail and Jason Van Gilder).  Not only that, but "award winning" is becoming a more commonly used term when describing North Texas beer.  Cedar Creek and Community won gold medals at this year's Great American Beer Festival (GABF), joining Peticolas and Rahr who brought home gold and silver medals, respectively, in 2012.  We have our share of past winners as well, a list which includes Lakewood's Van Gilder (GABF gold at Grimm Brothers), Community head brewer Jamie Fulton (World Beer Cup, GABF wins at The Covey), and John Sims at Four Corners (GABF wins at Copper Tank).

Brewpubs, however, are one aspect of our industry that has thus far seen minimal growth. Humperdinks is the granddaddy of all Metroplex brewing operations (and a multi-GABF-award winner in its own right), having been around since 1995, but other than Zio Carlo in Fort Worth there isn't much else to be said. Gordon Biersch is a national chain that allows their brewers some freedom for location specific recipes, and then there's Uncle Buck's which in many ways is a complete unknown.  Union Bear fired up a brewing system in August of 2012, but difficulties with their setup led them to abandon it after only a few months. There's also the Twin Peaks expansion going on in Irving, the mere mention of which brings forth a healthy dose of skepticism given their core concept.  Some hope does exist on the horizon, though, with the Small Brewpub being planned for the Jefferson Tower development and another entity who's currently keeping their plans tightly under wraps.

OK, so we've got more breweries and more beer.  Where do we go to drink it?

Craft beer-focused pubs continue to pop up all across the area (Craft and Growler, Dallas Beer Kitchen, The Bearded Lady and Ron's Corner Tavern to name a few) with many established businesses garnering national recognition. DRAFT Magazine declared Strangeways to be one of the 100 best beer bars in America for 2013, while Stephen Beaumont and Tim Webb singled out The Meddlesome Moth as the city's place to go for beer enjoyment in their recently published Pocket Beer Guide.  Not one to rest on their laurels, the Moth is looking to expand its influence even further with a similar concept they're developing in Fort Worth called Bird Café.

Then there's The Common Table (TCT), which has done as much as anyone in advancing the cause of craft beer locally. Their impact can be felt not only on a daily basis at their location in Uptown, but in our growing festival culture. The Untapped Festival, now put on by TCT in partnership with Spune and Paste Magazine, added a Fort Worth gathering following their Dallas debut last year and revealed plans to expand into other markets nationally.  These are just two of nearly a dozen major festivals to occur in and around Dallas during the last year. We've even gotten to the point where an event focused primarily on beers brewed in Texas has become viable.  Texas Brewvolution, organized by TCT and those behind the highly successful Big Texas Beer Fest, happens for the first time on Saturday.

All of this, and we haven't even talked about things like the Bluebonnet Brew-off (the largest single-site homebrewing competition in the country), the Dallas Brew Bus, the reach of websites like Dallas Brew Scene, the support of independent bottle shops, and the proliferation of growler fills (Craft and Growler, Dallas Beer Kitchen, Whole Foods, Central Market Fort Worth, and the newly-announced Lakewood Growler).  And, what about craft beer's increased presence on the culinary front, where hardly a week goes by without numerous beer and food pairing events showing up on the calendar.  Restaurants touting their "craft beer program" are becoming commonplace, and just last week LUCK (Local Urban Craft Kitchen) began serving dishes in Trinity Groves featuring craft beer as one of the primary ingredients. They too will offer growler sales, once the appropriate licensing goes through.

Yes, I'd say North Texas is coming along just fine.  A little over three years ago we had a pair of breweries, a couple of moderately attended festivals, and hadn't yet experienced our first beer week. That and you could count the number of weekly craft beer-centric events on two hands (today an average week's listing consists of dozens).

My, how times have changed.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Drink local, eat at LUCK


Image credit: Local Urban Craft Kitchen

When Trinity Groves was initially proposed, its objective was to rebuild and rejuvenate a dormant Dallas neighborhood. Today, as construction continues and new businesses open, this development stands as a symbol of the revitalization going on in different parts of the city.

If you think about it, those of us engaged in the craft beer culture have similar intentions. Brewers, consumers and business owners are working to revive an industry that experienced a boom around the time of the mid-1990s, but which never found its footing and eventually failed. So, it's somehow appropriate that one of Trinity Groves' newest residents would be one which strongly embraces craft beer, and in many ways represents how far we've come in achieving our goals. You might even say LUCK (Local Urban Craft Kitchen), which opened last week in the shadow of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge and within walking distance to the Four Corners Brewing Company, is a symbol of the revitalization going on in our local craft beer community.

It all starts with the food, though nothing about it suggests they simply tore a page out of a gastropub standard operations manual. Had they done so, you would expect to find things like the obligatory beer battered fish and chips, or entrees infused with a particularly ubiquitous Irish beer. Instead phrases like "beer cheese fondue", "white cheddar cheese beer sauce", "brown butter ale sauce" and "beer battered apple fritter funnel cake" speak to a more enlightened inspiration. And, if there's any doubt about whether these freshly made items actually contain beer, keep an eye out for the kitchen personnel constantly heading for the bar. They should be easy to spot, as they come armed with a measuring cup which they'll fill with locally made beer.

For its only local flavor you'll find here. One of the reasons they don't serve Guinness Stew, or Guinness anything else for that matter, is because that beer isn't on the menu. You won't find any other imports either, nor will you find a single beer brewed in another state. As a matter of fact, there's nothing on tap that isn't brewed within 75 miles of the restaurant.

Therein lies the moral to our story. There are 40 taps, pouring exclusively North Texas beer. A few years ago, such a thing would not have seemed possible. When we had only two breweries, it was a struggle to find even a single tap of local beer at many area pubs, much less at a dining establishment. Now, we have 13 breweries producing 14 brands in and around Dallas, and not one of them has been left out at LUCK. Can you say progress? I think this craft beer thing may finally be catching on.

Beer list aside, though, I have to say that the experience of the housemade pastrami sandwich alone would be enough to get me back in the door. The only word I could come up with to describe it was "ridiculous" (that should probably be typed in all caps). Honestly, I'm not sure I'll ever look at lunch meat the same way again.


LUCK at Trinity Groves
3011 Gulden Lane, Suite #112
Dallas
*Originally published on Examiner.com