Despite a vague 1896 reference to one being within its borders, there's nothing to suggest that the City of Denison has ever been home to a brewery. In the late 19th century, local beer depots were commonly referred to as breweries, even though most did little more than serve as a warehouse and distribution point for out-of-town beer companies. Denison had two such entities in the late 1890s, one owned by the Texas Brewing Company of Fort Worth and another owned by Anheuser Busch.
Taking the above in the proper context, it seems safe to say that Denison's first production brewery now exists in the form of Ivanhoe Ale Works, which opened in late May and is situated in the city's downtown. Almost literally carved out of a 6000+ square foot building dating back to the late 1800s, the brewery's location at 220 W. Main Street was formerly a movie house known as the Star (1913) and later the State Theater (1948). It's got a new roof and a new floor, but the exposed brick, beams and more are a reminder that this is a place with some history.
Gabe Parker and Johnny Wells are partners in the venture, which shares space with a tasting room for customers of Parker's Homestead Winery next door. Taken together and billed as a brewinery, it's the first business of its kind in the State of Texas. As for the brewery's name, Ivanhoe refers to Parker's Texas hometown. It's there that he lives on his 100 year-old family farm, where he also operates the main production facility for his Homestead wines.
|The marquee, fermenters and a view from the hospitality area at|
Ivanhoe Ale Works in Denison (Brian Brown, click to enlarge).
Wells serves as Ivanhoe's brewmaster, utilizing tools of the trade manufactured by The Criveller Group. His startup system consists of a ten-barrel brewhouse, backed by a set of three twenty-barrel fermenters. He's also running a twenty-gallon pilot system off to the side, which he uses to do a fair amount of experimentation. Test batches typically get split equally into four five-gallon carboys, where Wells tries out different yeasts and souring cultures. Once fermentation is complete, he'll sample each finished beer on its own, then mix them all together to see if the sum ends up being better the parts.
Thus far, though, Ivanhoe has stuck to serving up relatively classic styles. During my visit, the featured beers were Dizzy Blonde, Red River Ale, Knight's Latte Stout and Ivanhoppa IPA. The red was probably the best of the bunch, being malty and full-flavored with a bright, bitter hop finish. As for the IPA, Wells says he's still tinkering with the recipe, and he may rotate the hop varieties on a regular basis. And the stout? It's a beer with a flavor profile perhaps best described as "hop chocolate," and one that might eventually spend time in sherry barrels the brewery has stacked behind the bar.
Regarding distribution, for now you can only get Ivanhoe's ales at the brewery. That said, Wells indicated they do intend to deliver kegs to the northern reaches of the Metroplex at some point in time. Retail outlets they're likely to service include Choice Beverage in McKinney, Lone Star Taps & Caps in Lewisville, and S&K Beverage in Plano. Others, as well as draft accounts, are still to be determined once they brew enough stock to share. Until then, you'll have to make the trip to Denison, where Ivanhoe is open every Saturday from 1-4 p.m.