Saturday, September 30, 2023

Armor has craft beer covered in Allen

All photos © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

After breathing new life into a shuttered brewery, Mike and Jennifer Todryk are on the verge of officially opening Armor Brewing Co. in Allen - a sister business to their Armor Coffee Co. in the city. We'll say officially since preview events are currently ongoing at the space, which by now everyone knows was once home to Nine Band Brewing Co. at 9 Prestige Circle.

Any reminders of that company are now long gone, and we're not just talking about a fresh coat of paint on the grain silo. The Todryk's have literally reimagined the place, making changes to the form and overall function of the operation. This shouldn't come as a surprise, though, considering the couple's association with the show No Demo Reno  on HGTV.

What was once a simple taproom and adjoining brewhouse, now presents as more of an entertainment venue. A full kitchen has been added, taking over the old patio area along the rear elevation. Then out front, a new and greatly expanded outdoor space has been installed, complete with canopies for coverage and string lighting for evening ambiance.

The site and structures of the former tenant have been completely reimagined to create Armor Brewing Co. in Allen.

The interior revamp also includes redesigned dining and bar areas, a dedicated retail section (for merchandise and beer to go sales), and an alcove featuring an advanced pub gaming setup with Winmau dart boards and Dartsee interactive electronic scoring displays.

Regarding sustenance, Armor offers an ample assortment of food and drink selections as well. The lunch and dinner menu has starters, greens, Wagyu smash burgers and handhelds, these supplemented by a collection of sides and sweets. Plus, there are kids' meals for little ones, and specialty plates (steaks, chops, chicken and fish) for patrons seeking something a bit more elevated are served after 5 p.m.

Liquids range from non-alcoholic options (tea, soda, milk, root beer) to boozier boosts provided by wines, Armor-crafted and dessert cocktails, a curated whiskey and bourbon list, and of course, house beers.

Food and drink options at Armor include the Smoked Turkey Melt (center) and an
Italian Pilsner (left), along with Enigma Sticke Altbier and the brewpub's Smoked Porter.

On that note, the beer side is handled by head brewer Brian Martin, who arrived in Texas after plying his trade at various breweries in Virginia. He's got upwards of 24 taps to work with daily at Armor, with a portfolio so far consisting of a dozen recipes. Naturally, IPAs occupy several slots on the tapwall, but there are also German styles (gose, hefeweizen), an Italian pilsner, and a pair of imperial stouts (one made with Armor coffee).

Of those sampled, favorites were Enigma, a sticke altbier, and the sublime Smoked Porter. Both won awards for Armor in the months leading up to its opening, and judging by the execution of those and others, more medals may very well be in the brewpub's future.

As for the opening, Armor Brewing Co. is set to go live as early as next weekend. Keep an eye on the company's socials for the most up-to-date details, and if you go, be sure to raise a glass to the welcome renewal of brewing activities in Allen.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

The Sound to host inaugural Beer & Wine Feast, October 14

Image credit: Flying Saucer Draught Emporium.

The Sound at Cypress Waters in Dallas will host a new celebration of beer, wine, food and live music next month, the event to be presented by the Flying Saucer, Landon Winery and Billingsley Company.

Set for Saturday, October 14 from 2-6 p.m. The Sound Beer & Wine Feast will feature over 80 beers from around the world at the Flying Saucer, along with house wine selections at Landon Winery. Among the beers expected to be on tap: 

  • Tweak from Avery Brewing Co. of Colorado.
  • Bourbon Barrel Quad from Boulevard Brewing Co. of Missouri.
  • Delirium Black from Delirium Brewery of Belgium.
  • Black Butte XXXV from Deschutes Brewery of Oregon.
  • Gulden Draak Cuvee Prestige Laphroaig from Brouwerij Van Steenberge N.V. of Belgium.
  • Spon 3-Year Blend from Jester King Brewery of Austin.
  • Espresso Marty from Prairie Artisan Ales of Oklahoma.
  • Demogorgon from False Idol Brewing of North Richland Hills.

A general admission ticket ($45 per person) includes the choice of a beer or wine taster card (good for 12 sample pours) and a commemorative Beer & Wine Feast taster glass.

For those seeking an upgraded experience, a VIP package is available ($75 per person) allowing for early entrance at 1 p.m., along with a commemorative VIP taster glass and lanyard, t-shirt, complimentary refreshments, and a food token to be redeemed at Flying Saucer, Rodeo Goat, Flying Fish or Landon Winery.

Among other attractions, there will be free games, a costume contest with prizes, and live music on The Sound stage from Clint Sherman, Wyatt Martin, Dev Wulf,  and Jackleg. Food may be purchased from area restaurants as well, and additional tasting cards can be obtained for $10. 

Click here for more information or to secure tickets. Also note, a portion of the proceeds will benefit Pints for Prostates, a grassroots organization working to raise awareness about prostate cancer and the importance of early detection in fighting the disease.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Bishop Cider opening Arlington Cidercade on September 29

Image courtesy of Bishop Cider.

Bishop Cider of Dallas is set to open the newest location of their family-friendly entertainment venue, Cidercade, in Arlington this Friday, September 29 at 10 a.m.. The new spot will be the company's fifth Cidercade, joining a roster that includes sites in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and Houston.

According to a press release, the Arlington footprint will span over 25,0000 square feet, making it the largest Cidercade yet. Inside will be over 300 retro and modern arcade games, pool tables, ping pong tables, shuffleboard courts (a Cidercade first), and more. The venue also has multiple party rooms and event spaces that are ideal for groups of all sizes.

Located at 500 E. Division St. (the former home of Legal Draft Beer Co.), the Arlington Cidercade will sit just blocks from AT&T Stadium, with proximity to other area attractions.

 “Arlington is already known as an entertainment destination, so I knew we had to build something awesome, says Joel Malone, CEO and co-founder of Bishop Cider. "Cidercade Arlington is not only our largest location yet, but it includes a much larger variety of games and experiences.”

Beyond the games, multiple bars inside allow patrons to choose from a variety of adult beverages on tap, all made by Bishop Cider. Guests wanting a non-alcoholic option can order soft drinks from soda machines that include unlimited refills, and if they work up an appetite, guests are welcome to bring their own food to Cidercade or have it delivered from one of the many nearby restaurants.

Like other locales, patrons of Cidercade Arlington will pay an admission fee of $12 and get unlimited play on all the games and activities once inside. Cidercade also offers a $20 monthly membership that includes unlimited admissions as well as discounts on drinks and merchandise. Cidercade is 100% family-friendly during the day,  but strictly 21+ starting at 8 p.m. every evening.

As for the future, Bishop previously announced a new Cidercade location in Dallas, relocating and dramatically expanding the existing Cidercade Dallas. The current location will remain open until construction has been completed at the new site near Love Field. At 79,000 square feet, the new location will be nearly 10 times larger, and it will feature concepts, games, and activities not offered anywhere else in Texas. Look for it to debut sometime in 2024.

On the 2023 GABF and a trip 20 years past

Photo © Brewers Association.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the first time I attended the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), the brewing industry's premier event put on by the Brewers Association. I walked the hall strictly as a consumer then, and it would be seven years before I returned to cover the event as a media attendee.

Looking back, things were certainly different in 2003.The event hadn't grown to the level it would get to a few years ago, but it still felt big to a first-time attendee. Naturally, the brewery roster wasn't nearly the same, and who knows how many firms from those days have come and gone. Beyond that, there were more brewers, owners and beer celebrities in attendance, volunteers were happy to spill a bit more beer into your sample glass, and you couldn't help but walk out with a bag full of brewery swag.

Of course, GABF attendance and participation numbers would eventually peak right before Covid struck. But now, the festival has scaled back, thanks in part to economics and the after-effects of the pandemic. Breweries are still entering the competition, but fewer are choosing to make the trip to pour their products for festgoers.

For some, pouring at GABF simply doesn't move the meter in terms of attracting more everyday customers. If you distribute out-of-state (especially to Colorado), there's potential to expand your reach, but for hyper-local breweries, an appearance at GABF probably isn't a priority.

As for breweries from North Texas, only six were accounted for on the festival floor - 903 Brewers of Sherman, Bankhead Brewing Co. of Rowlett, False Idol Brewing of North Richland Hills, Martin House Brewing Co. of Fort Worth, Siren Rock Brewing Co. of Rockwall and Twin Peaks Brewing Co. of Irving. And yes, a couple of those - 903 and False Idol - do sell their products in Colorado.

Something else you wouldn't have encountered in 2003 was a beer like the one I began the festival with in 2023 - Cream Cheese Rangoon Gose (a gose with cream cheese, wonton wrappers and sweet & sour sauce) from Weldwerks Brewing of Colorado. In terms of non-standard ingredients, the most you could have hoped for in 2003 was maybe a simple fruit or nut addition, though a jalapeño lager was among the medal winners.

There were plenty of IPAs in 2003, as always, but a wider spectrum of style choices was available for sampling at the time. More recently, there's been a scarcity of Baltic porters, barleywines, classic Belgians (dubbel, tripel, quad, witbier, Flanders), and certain German styles (hefeweizen, schwarzbier, Vienna lager), just to list some things I typically seek out.

If there was a trend to identify in 2023, it might be the proliferation of light lagers. In fact, as you'll see later, "Light Lager" was a popular entry among style categories this year. And to be clear, there's nothing wrong with a well-made craft light lager...but for me, I generally prefer beers with a little more strength, as evidenced by this list of favored festival pours:

  • 2012 Angel's Share (barrel-aged strong ale) from The Lost Abbey of California.
  • Arcane Rituals (barrel-aged English barleywine) and Fundamental Observation (imperial vanilla stout) from Bottle Logic Brewing of California.
  • Nevermore Black Barleywine (barrel-aged with cocoa beans and smoked figs) from Ex Novo Brewing Co. of New Mexico.
  • Comshaw Roggenbock from Deep Draft Brewing of Washington.
  • Dusk 'Til Dawn (imperial coffee porter) from Pizza Port Brewing Co. of California.
  • In the Darkness Below (oyster stout with purple dulse kelp, squid ink and black Hawaiian sea salt) from Dogfish Head Craft Brewery of Delaware.
  • Let it Loose (wheated bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout) from Firestone Walker Brewing Co. of California and Side Project Brewing of Missouri.

So, are things better or worse than they were in 2003? I'd say it depends on your preferences. There are more breweries, but lately it seems there are fewer style options available to drink on a daily basis. Who knows, maybe the industry is just going through a (haze) phase, and we'll eventually circle back around to more style diversity. Let's just hope it doesn't take 20 years!

With that, a summary of this year's competition is provided below, along with my annual recap of area taproom excursions.


Competition results

Statistics for this year's competition show 9,298 beers were judged based on entries sent in by 2033 breweries from all 50 U.S. states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. From these submissions, judges awarded a total of 303 medals across 101 style categories.

As has become the norm, IPAs represented the two most-entered categories, with "Juicy or Hazy India Pale Ale" leading the way, followed by "West Coast-Style India Pale Ale," a newly named category for 2023. In third position, though, was "Light Lager," which overtook "German-Style Pilsener," last year's number three ranked style.

Three medals went to North Texas breweries this time around, with two going to Bankhead Brewing Co. of Rowlett and one to Windmills Brewery of The Colony.

Both Bankhead and Windmills have placed at GABF in the past, making them two of only eight active breweries to medal multiple times since 2012. Plus, Windmills has now won medals in back-to-back years, an impressive result considering the brewpub has only been open since early 2021.

Gold: Bankhead Brewing Co. for Hootenany - Bock.
Silver: Windmills for Black Market Liver - Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout.
Bronze: Bankhead Brewing Co. for Hoofer's Hef - South German-Style Hefeweizen.

Representatives of Bankhead Brewing Co. of Rowlett take the stage to accept
one of two medals won by the brewpub at this year's event (Photo © Brewers Association).

Source: Individual research.

Source: Individual research.

Taproom trips

  • Having visited most breweries in and around Downtown Denver over the years, I've recently made a point to explore a bit more out in the area's suburbs. This year, I stopped off in Castle Rock, based on the promise of a cluster of breweries in the city's downtown district. Had my stay been longer, I probably would have spent more time at Iron Mule Brewery, if for no other reason than to enjoy additional pours of the brewery's Mule Skinner Baltic Porter and Little Hoppy Mule Black IPA.

    The beertender at Iron Mule even convinced me to abandon the downtown cluster for 105 West Brewing Co. in another part of town. There I was met with a taplist of over 25 house beers that included standouts Wee Fella, a barrel-aged Scottish wee heavy, and Deez Nuts, a hazelnut and peanut butter ale.
Craft beer destinations in Castle Rock, Colorado, include Iron Mule Brewery and 105 West Brewing Co. (Photos © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D). 

  • Further out, the continuing quest for brews with a view led me to a pair of mountain ski towns. Outdoor ambiance was achieved at Vicious Cycle Brewing in Fraser, but you also can't go wrong with a stop at Hideaway Park Brewery in Winter Park. During my visit to Hideaway Park, I paired their super crushable More Smiles Per Mile Dry-Hopped Cream Ale with a Wild Boar Bratwurst from Fraser Valley Hot Dog in the same building.
Right: Training Wheels Apricot Wheat and Oktoberfest center a flight at Hideaway Park Brewery in Winer Park, Colorado.
Left: Mountain views enhance the experience at Vicious Cycle Brewing in Fraser, Colorado (Photos © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

  • Speaking of beer and food, we'll close out this year's GABF trip coverage with a little BBQ aside. Purveyors of Texas BBQ are hit or miss in Colorado, but there's a promising new(ish) brewery/BBQ spot on the east side of Denver called A Bit Twisted Brewpub. I also enjoyed a burnt end bite at Post Oak Barbecue in Denver's Berkeley neighborhood this trip, and it's worth mentioning that Smok at The Source in the RiNo District consistently delivers on its smoked offerings as well.
Options for Texas BBQ in Denver include Brisket Tacos at A Bit Twisted Brewpub and
the Brisket Burnt Ends Sandwich at Post Oak Barbecue (Photos © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).