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 say...in 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 www.sweetwaterbrew.com.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

On Rotation readies taproom, introduces "Inner Circle" membership

Image credit: On Rotation (click to enlarge)

Nestled alongside the White Rock location of Cane Rosso, owners Jacob and Lindsay Sloan are in the final stages of construction on their soon-to-be craft beer laboratory, a venture they've appropriately named On Rotation.

Operating out of an elongated 3,200 square foot space, featuring views of the brewhouse and a bar pouring both their beer and the beers of others from 40 taps, On Rotation's name alludes to the experimental nature that will define the brewery's approach. Small-batch beers crafted on a 3-barrel system will be inherently limited in terms of their availability and, as you might have guessed, perpetually on rotation. While this might suggest you'll need to take up permanent residence in order to partake in the brewery's every pour, the Sloans have come up with a seemingly much more attractive option.

The "Inner Circle, "a membership program in synergy with On Rotation's circular brand, will offer patrons a variety of benefits, not the least of which is the opportunity to try every beer the brewery produces. Privileges include:


  • 1 growler fill per month (excluding rare tappings)
  • 1 exclusive "Inner Circle" t-shirt
  • 15% off merchandise throughout membership
  • Complimentary 4-ounce tasters of each beer produced
  • Early access to buying or reserving tickets to special events
  • Voting privileges on which beers will be produced in a special "Inner Circle" series. 


Regarding the "Inner Circle" line of beers, the idea is to let members choose which styles will be brewed as part of the in-house series. A description and tasting notes will be provided for different options, and a majority vote will determine which beer goes up next on the tap wall.

Pre-sale memberships will be available starting later this week on the brewery's website (on-rotation.com/inner-circle), with discounts offered for early adopters. Buy-in will increase every few days until it reaches a final price of $275, which will be the regular amount going forward. Memberships will run 12 months beginning on February 1 and ending January 31, 2016, with current members getting first dibs on renewing in subsequent years if it is determined that a cap is needed to ensure production will be able to meet demand.

As for when the brewery will open, should final inspections go through a soft-opening could happen as soon as this weekend. On Rotation's house beers won't be in production as of yet, but they'll still have the aforementioned 40 brews on tap (roughly half local, half from out of state) for your drinking pleasure. An official grand opening will be scheduled once the Sloans are ready to debut their own beers, which as of now looks to happen sometime in late February.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Andrews to deliver Einstök's Icelandic brews


Image credit: Einstok Brewing Company



Andrews Distributing has announced a new partnership with the Einstök Brewing Company of Akureyri, Iceland.

Einstök was founded in 2010 by David Altshuler and Jack Sichterman, but despite being a relative newcomer to the industry it has quickly become the top craft brand and number one alcohol beverage export in Iceland. In regards to Texas, the brewery has had its eye on this particular market from the beginning, and Sichterman says that while Texans "appreciate their many amazing local breweries...they also have an appetite for adventure and seek more exotic, highly quality brands like Einstök."

Located just 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle, Einstök brews its beers with water that flows from rain and prehistoric glaciers down the Hildarfjall Mountain and through lava fields. They say this process creates the purest water on earth and the perfect foundation for their brews. As far their overall approach, Einstök comes from the Icelandic word for "unique," a trait they believe is inherent in each of their "deliciously refreshing" beers.

According to a press release, Einstök's Icelandic White Ale, Pale Ale and Toasted Porter will be available in both Corpus Christi and the North Texas area beginning on February 15, 2015. Future products will include brewery seasonals Icelandic Arctic Berry Ale and Icelandic Doppelbock.

In commenting on the partnership, Jim Campbell, vice president of import brands at Andrews points out that Einstök offers an intriguing mix of history, engaging branding and excellent brewing practices. He says, "Einstök comes from a very unique part of the world, and we look forward to sharing their story."

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Tupps Brewery finishing up construction in McKinney


Image credit: Tupps Brewery, Whisenhunt Design

Up to now in North Texas, only the larger cities of Dallas and Fort Worth have been able to boast of having more than one production brewery operating within their borders. That won't be the case for long, though, as Tupps Brewery is nearing completion in the northern suburb of McKinney.

Consisting of a 16,000 square foot warehouse and a separate building for office space, Tupps is just two and a half miles from the seven-year-old Franconia Brewing Company. The brewery's physical address of 721 Anderson Street puts it on the grounds of McKinney's historic Cotton Mill, an ongoing development whose standing structures date back to the year 1910. Owners of the Mill site have a long-term plan to bring in future tenants who will join Tupps and an existing Event Hall in creating a multi-use work and leisure destination on the eastern edge of the city.

Founders Keith Lewis and Tupper Patnode left high-tech careers to pursue the brewery venture, and from the sound of it they couldn't be happier with their decision. Lewis says he knows the project will come with unexpected twists and turns, but he believes the end result will make it all worthwhile. He envisions a setting where people can come, kick back and enjoy a locally-crafted beer in a casual, family-friendly environment.

Along those lines, Tupps will have ample room to entertain. In addition to an outdoor beer garden, at least 6,000 square feet of warehouse space will be devoted to indoor seating and a stage to be built off in one corner. Small-scale musical acts will be able to perform outside as well, set up on a makeshift bandstand created from an elevator platform once used inside the Mill.

Such re-use will be a common theme throughout the brewery, something Lewis says is part of a concerted effort to embrace the history of their surroundings. Reclaimed wood from the Mill is being used to build furniture, while hoods of old cars form door awnings and discarded piping is welded into handmade art installations (see some examples in Tupps' online image gallery). One installation in particular will offer visitors a chance to add a very personal touch. A bottle tree is being designed which Lewis hopes will be populated with bottles decorated to honor friends or family members whose lives have been affected by cancer.

As for the production area, a 30-barrel brewhouse and a mix of 30 and 60-barrel fermenters will anchor the remaining space, with extra room set aside for future expansions to as much as triple the brewery's opening day capacity. Packaging capability in the form of a canning line is something they see being added later as well, though Lewis says that's probably a year away based on his current way of thinking.

Portfolio wise, Tupps currently has five beers in development including a lightly-hopped and easy-drinking Black Ale, which gets an infusion of lactose sugar, and Northbound 75, a specialty pale ale brewed with fire-roasted peppers. They'll also have beers named Cotton Mill Gold, Texas Centennial Pale Ale and Texas Shade Orange Wheat, descriptions of which can be found on the brewery's website.

For now, construction is still very much ongoing, but Lewis hopes to have major work completed along with cleanup done for a formal ribbon cutting in late January. After that, he estimates it will be at least 6 weeks before Tupps is ready to host a grand opening. In a perfect world, that could happen as early as the end of February, but he needs the last of his equipment to be delivered, installed and in full production mode for that to happen. Once it does, the brewery will host regular tours and be open for taproom hours during the week.

Stay up with what's happening at Tupps by following the brewery on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Grapevine Craft Brewery touts revolutionary new canning process


Grapevine founder Gary Humble stands with B&F founder Paul Fountotos.

Installed just days ago, the Grapevine Craft Brewery is now running what it says is a canning line that will revolutionize the craft brewing industry.

The first of its kind from B&F Machinery out of Montreal, Canada, the canning line is a rotary filler on a mono-block design with a 4' by 6' footprint. Made of 95% stainless steel, it is intended to supplant in-line fillers which have been traditionally more cost effective and therefore more likely to be implemented in a craft beer environment. As Grapevine owner Gary Humble explains, "There are problems with in-line filling and if money were no object, brewers would certainly opt for a rotary filler."


Sir William's emerges from the
new canning line on January 7, 2015.

One issue with in-line fillers is that they have lower throughput compared to rotary fillers. Grapevine's new canning line is currently processing over 60 CPM (cans-per-minute), but with a few tweaks both Humble and the B&F team (led by owner Paul Fountotos and partner Luc Bellemare) believe they'll be able to run 80 CPM within a few months.

Another problem is that an in-line filler is an open-air system, and as any home or professional brewer knows, oxidation is an enemy of beer. Humble says that "you should always fill a can with beer using a CO2 pre-evac system and get the lid on the can as quick as you can" so as to reduce the amount of oxygen that comes into contact with the beer. With an in-line filler, this process "takes quite a bit of time," something that gets reduced significantly when using a rotary system.

Coming in with "a price tag of...around $200,000," Humble believes "there is nothing on the market today that can rinse, fill, seam and run 80 CPM on a mono-block platform...at that price." After putting the product through its paces during an inaugural production run last week he says, "this thing runs like a dream" and "we could not be happier." 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Martin House bringing back Kafkaesque


Images the property of Martin House Brewing Company

After first appearing as an apparent one-off at last year's Untapped Festival in Fort Worth, Martin House has announced it is bringing back Kafkaesque as a new, "micro-seasonal" offering.

Available during the month of January, Kafkaesque finds inspiration in the surrealism of author Frank Kafka, and is described as the "most ambitious and confounding beer Martin House has ever produced." The style description alone may have you "cackling at the moon like a madman," given the beer is billed as an Imperial Smoked Black Rye Oaked Raspberry IPA (try saying that ten times fast).

According to the brewery, the goal in creating Kafkaesque was to make something "menacingly complex and surreally distorted." The list of ingredients is certainly suggestive of the first part of that phrase, while limited-edition glassware accompanying the release is an embodiment of the second. Anyone want to try their hand at drinking a leaning tower of craft beer?



For those that are up to the challenge, Kafkaesque will be unveiled one week from today on Thursday, January 15, at the Pour House in Fort Worth. The event starts at 5:30 p.m. and those arriving early will receive the aforementioned glassware with purchase. After that, the beer will be released on draft only, so look for it at accounts that typically carry Martin House's seasonal brews.


Kafkaesque
Style: Imperial Smoked Black Rye Oaked Raspberry IPA
ABV: 10.3%
IBU: 95

Monday, January 5, 2015

Community's Barrel Aged Legion better in the bottle

Image credit: Community Beer Company
Appearing in early December, Barrel-Aged Legion is not the first foray into barrel aging for the now two year-old Community Beer Company. In the past, the brewery has released limited barrel-aged versions of their spiced winter brew, Regalement, and their award-winning coffee porter, Ascension. This is in addition to Bourbon Barrel Aged Glenstemmons, a somewhat more widely available treatment of a Scotch ale.

The Legion release, however, represents the first time Community has put out a barrel-aged beer in bottles. It won't be the last either, as additional batches of the Russian imperial stout - aged in various barrels - are expected to be unveiled in the coming months as part of an ongoing Barrel Aged Series to be sold in four-packs.

As for this installment of Barrel-Aged Legion, it reportedly spent around four months in barrels obtained from the Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky. When brought together with the beer, these barrels impart the expected elements of oak, vanilla and a hint of charred wood, all of which are somewhat subtle on the nose but certainly more forward in the taste.

In terms of flavor, the underlying malt complexity comes across as a bit subdued at first, but it's something that opens up considerably as the beer warms. A quick swirl helps as well, revealing notes of licorice, roasted malt, chocolate and dark fruit that seem to intensify with each passing sip. Even so, none of these ingredients take on a position of dominance, leading one to appreciate the overall balance of this slightly full-bodied brew. If anything, chocolate overtones fill the finish, which is otherwise warm and smooth with only faint tannins adding a touch of closing bitterness.

Now, as the title above suggests, had this been a review of a tap sample of Barrel Aged Legion, these comments would have been decidedly different. On draft in Community's taproom, the beer was intensely woody with vanilla and oak tannins more or less defining the brew. In the bottle, however, it's an entirely different experience. Blended and balanced are the two words that come to mind first, which falls right in line with what I look for when drinking a barrel-aged beer. Truth be told, I might like the malt to stand up a bit more, but I can also see how others might wish for a bolder boozy tone. Either way, for me the beer is good as it stands now, but it's definitely one worth cellaring to see how it develops over time.


*Originally published on Tenemu.com.