Friday, December 20, 2013

2013 Year in review: North Texas continues its craft beer evolution

Image credit: All images/logos the property of their respective owners.

I'm not sure where it comes from, but there's a popular saying that goes something like this: "If you don't like the weather in Texas, wait five minutes and it's bound to change." Looking back on recent history it seems like a similar sentiment applies when it comes to craft beer. Hardly a week goes by that we don't see a debut of some sort here in the Metroplex. Whether it's a new brewery, a new beer, a new pub or a new festival, it feels like we've been celebrating something new to North Texas virtually non-stop over the past year.

Some of what's new (out-of-state brands, pub/restaurant/taproom openings, our growing festival culture) was discussed in last month's "North Texas Craft Beer State of the Union." Appropriately enough, though, even that article is already out-of-date. Still, I'll take care not to repeat myself as I recount what's gone on in the local craft beer scene over the past 12 months.

Who's new?

As of this weekend, there will be 16 production breweries operating in North Texas. A month ago there were 13. A year ago? 9. Who's new? The list of newcomers includes Community, Independent Ale Works, Martin House, 903 Brewers, Grapevine Craft Brewery, Rabbit Hole and Cobra. Oh, and let's not forget Armadillo Ale Works. While they may not have their own space (their products are brewed at the Deep Ellum Brewing Company), they still represent a new craft beer brand in the Metroplex.

As for the future, there are at least three more breweries on the horizon with Noble Rey, Shannon and Wahoo securing sites in recent months.

What about brewpubs? Well, Zio Carlo began brewing operations mid-year, eventually releasing their first beers in September. They may be the only fresh face for 2013, but the new year holds promise given the news surrounding developments like BrainDead Brewing in Deep Ellum, and the Small Brewpub planned for Jefferson Tower. And yes, there's that other project going on in Irving, but based on the imagery they regularly post to their Facebook page it's difficult to take them seriously.

The 10-mile measuring stick

While we're on the topic of active breweries, let's see how the Metroplex fares against the Brewers Association's 10-mile measuring stick. That is, do most North Texans live within 10 miles of a brewery?

Looking at map of our region in January of 2013, even if we treat Cedar Creek and Revolver as outliers there was a lot of open space in the northwestern part of town. You'll also notice that there's just enough distance between Franconia and FireWheel to create a small gap in East Plano. Remember the BA counts breweries and brewpubs as one in the same, which explains why Arlington (Humperdinks), Grapevine (Uncle Buck's) and West Plano (Gordon Biersch) have coverage.

Image credit: Google Maps (coverage tool can be found here)
Update this with openings throughout the year and the Metroplex starts to measure up, at least in the areas immediately surrounding Dallas and Fort Worth (here again we take 903 to be an outlier). There's still a small sliver near Keller, but Shannon Brewing should have that taken care of in early 2014. As for the expanse along U.S. 380, someday we expect Armadillo to make their move to Denton and there just so happens to be a brewery being developed in Frisco (shhhh!). And, that spot in East Plano? Rumor has it there's a group seeking investors in Allen.

Brewery bundles of joy

Opening a brewery and landing your first draft account is an achievement all to itself, but for many brewers the next big push is to get their beer into retail. Twelve months ago only beers from Rahr, Deep Ellum and Lakewood (just barely) were available in bottles or cans. Now, that list of names includes Armadillo (cans), Cedar Creek (cans), Revolver (bottles), Community (bottles), Martin House (cans) and Franconia (bottles).

Plans are in the works for Four Corners (cans) to join the party in 2014, and we'll even see new packaging from Rahr. The area's oldest craft brewery is looking to make a partial move to cans in the early part of the coming year, and will even produce a new American-style pale ale to be released exclusively in this form.

And the winner is...

It wouldn't be much of a celebration of the past year if we didn't mention 2013's award-winning brews. By now, you surely know that Cedar Creek (for their Dubbel) and Community (for their Public Ale) brought home gold medals from the Great American Beer Festival, continuing what we hope is a trend started by Peticolas following his win in 2012.

But, that isn't the only competition local brewers entered this year. I won't post an exhaustive list but it's worth noting individual awards received by North Texas breweries at the United States Beer Tasting Championship (Community, Peticolas, Rahr, Revolver), the United States Open Beer Championship (Community, Peticolas, Rahr) and the San Diego International Beer Competition (Lakewood).

Milestone moments

While a number of breweries reached their first anniversary this year, I'm going to focus on the old guard for this segment. Why? Because in the micro/craft brewing era (post-1976), only five North Texas production breweries have stayed in business for at least five years. The first of these was the Reinheitsgebot (Plano, 1982-1990), followed by the Dallas/Texas Brewing Company (Dallas, 1989-1996) and Great Grains (Dallas/Fort Worth, 1997-2004). The other two are Rahr and Franconia (who attained the five-year mark in February). They are also the only members of the group still in existence.

Staying in business for five years is clearly no small feat. The five breweries mentioned above made it, but another five breweries you've probably never heard of didn't (Addison Brewing, St. Andrews, Main Street, Texas Beer Company, Healthy Brew). Ten Years? That's something else entirely. Rahr, who recently celebrated their ninth anniversary, is on track to be the first local micro/craft brewery to ever make it to ten years.

The year in beer

Here's where we review some of the best beers new to Texas. New meaning it was either brewed or sold in the state for the first time in 2013. Now, I've never been one to do a year-end top ten list, and this time it's not going to be any different. For one thing, just look at some of the national brands that began distributing their beer to the Lone Star State.

Aecht Schlenkerla: Eiche, Märzen, Urbock
Founders: Breakfast Stout, Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Backwoods Bastard, Devil Dancer
Firestone Walker: Parabola, Sucaba, Double DBA, Velvet Merkin
Goose Island: Bourbon County Brand Stout
Southern Tier: Choklat, Pumking
Uinta: Labyrinth

How do you make a top ten list out of that? That doesn't even include new products I enjoyed from out-of-state brewers with established distribution.

Oskar Blues: Ten Fidy aged in Breckenridge bourbon barrels
Prairie Artisan Ales: Bomb!
Stone: Espresso Imperial Russian Stout, Oak Smoked Old Guardian, Dayman Coffee IPA
Victory: Red Thunder

That's a list of 21 beers, with locals still left to consider. Top ten list? No thanks. What I will do, though, is select a few categories and pick the new beers I think best represents them. It's basically what I've always done before, except this time (in light of the above list) choices will only come from Texas.

Fridge staple: Community Mosaic IPA

Although the name might suggest otherwise, Community's Mosaic IPA is not a single hop beer. Rather, it's a blend of several "delicious American hop varieties" with notes of tropical fruit, citrus, blueberry and a touch of herbs. When it first came out, it essentially took over one of my growlers. Now that it's available in the convenience of a 6-pack, it's even easier to keep on hand at home.

Also notable: Armadillo Quakertown Stout

Spot on to style: Peticolas Alfred Brown

Poor Alfred Brown, he never stood a chance up against his heavy hitting brethren when Peticolas took a poll for what should be the brewery's next year-round beer. I had high hopes, mostly because this beer takes me back to when I was first getting into craft beer. It reminds me of Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale, a classic I counted among my favorites early on.

Also notable: Lone Pint Gentleman's Relish, Martin House River House Saison

A more flavorful lager: Lakewood Goatman

Goatman lands here for the same reason Chatoe Rogue Dirtoir did last year; there's so much flavor you almost forget it's a lager. This dank and resinous schwarzbier-ian brew was just one of the great beers to come out of Lakewood's Legendary Series this year.

Top of the hops: Franconia Double IPA

I could have singled-out any number of beers for this category, but it's hard to ignore when people and your own taste buds keep telling you Franconia DIPA is the best beer on the floor at the Big Texas Beer Fest. In a year when the brewery went off the grid and off the map, this beer was one of their best.

Also notable: Lone Pint Yellow Rose, Karbach Hop Delusion, Revolver Mullet Cutter

Bourbon barrels be good: Southern Star Black Crack

Bourbon barrels be gone: Lakewood Red Wine Till & Toil

Barrel-aging isn't just about bourbon, and there are times I think I may enjoy the nuances red wine barrels bring to beer as much or more. Whichever you prefer, the beers mentioned here are outstanding examples of either approach.

Also notable:(512) Cabernet Barrel Aged Tripel, Deep Ellum Bourbon Barrel IPA

North Texas beer of the year: Deep Ellum Numb Comfort

My first chance to try this beer came during Fort Worth's Untapped Festival in April. I wasn't a fan. It was a little too sweet and a little too bitter for my taste. So much for first impressions. I kept coming back to it, though, thanks in no small part to Craft and Growler keeping it on tap in perpetuity. Every month I'd try it again, only filling small growlers with it at first and then stepping up to larger ones. It just kept getting better and better and better. After countless pints, it gets my vote as North Texas' best for 2013.

A close second: Lakewood Lion's Share I

Cheers and Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Deep Ellum unsheathes Four Swords

Image credit: Deep Ellum Brewing Company (click to enlarge).

Conventional is not a word we're accustomed to using when describing the Deep Ellum Brewing Company (DEBC). Up to now, their two year history has been defined by their drive to defy convention and to not be bound by even a loose interpretation of the so-called style guidelines. So, what are we to think when they dare to do something traditional? As assistant brewer and Hop Czar David Hauptman explains, it's simply a matter of showing the brewery is capable of more than just the unbridled approach to beer we've come to expect.

Introducing Four Swords, a classically-styled Belgian quadrupel brewed with dark candi sugar and fermented with an Abbey Ale yeast. Its name is derived from an allusion to King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table, something symbolized in the label artwork with four swords drawn in a circular arrangement. The round table represents the brewhouse and each sword a knight, or in this case one of DEBC's four brewers: Jeremy Hunt, David Hauptman, Matt Young and Kyle Wilborn.

The recipe is attributed to Hauptman and is one he's been working on since his days at the Climax Brewing Company in New Jersey. In fact, he brought along a sample of it to share when he originally interviewed for the job. Not only did it help him land the position, it clearly made enough of an impression to warrant eventual inclusion in DEBC's regular seasonal rotation.

Once you try it, the first thing you'll notice is the beer's dark fruit intensity and how it lingers throughout both flavor and aroma. The use of Special B malt (raisin-like character) may enhance the effect, but according to head brewer Jeremy Hunt's description, this is primarily the result of fermenting at warmer temperatures to promote higher ester formation. For this same reason, you may pick up hints of banana and bubble gum in this beer.

Beyond that, Four Swords offers layers of caramel, molasses, cocoa, burnt brown sugar, toasted bread and grain. Phenols are subtle, but their interplay gives this brew what seems like a note of holiday spices. It finishes slightly sweet, but not cloying, with a faint bitterness and little or no trace of alcohol. Despite the latter there's ample strength (9.5% ABV), which becomes apparent the more of it you drink.

Hauptman looked to classic Belgian quads like Rochefort 10 and St. Bernardus Abt 12 for inspiration, though his aim was to hit on a flavor profile falling somewhere between the two. Naturally, you'd have to drink these brews side-by-side to get a sense of how well he's met his goal, but on its own Four Swords comes across as a very good beer. It may also be one of the brewery's best efforts to date.

Four Swords makes its debut on Tuesday, December 17, as part of a Deep Ellum Tap Takeover event at Goodfriend. Tapped alongside it will be 2011 and 2012 vintages of Darkest Hour, along with 2013 editions of Dreamcrusher and Cherry Chocolate Double Brown Stout.

This beer will also be the first from the brewery to be packaged in 750mL bottles, with retail deliveries to follow once labels are approved.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Cobra Brewing opens first brewery in Lewisville, December 21

Image credit: Cobra Brewing Company
Just five months after securing their lease in downtown Lewisville, the Cobra Brewing Company will open its
doors to the public for the first time on Saturday, December 21.

Located at 146 Whatley Avenue, the brewery is less than a five minute walk from Main Street and the Old Town district, an area targeted by the city for long-term economic development. Like similar endeavors in other cities, many of the projects being considered are built around the idea of creating a community destination for the citizens of Lewisville. Talking to Neil MacCuish and his father-in-law Bill Shaw, partners in the brewery with their wives Danielle and Sharon, you get the feeling they have similar goals in mind for their family partnership.

MacCuish hopes to create an atmosphere at the brewery where there's more to do than stand around and drink beer. To that end, he and his partners have set up pool tables inside (they'll also have darts and cornhole come tour time), and are contemplating how best use an expansive outdoor space that may be larger than the brewery itself. It's fenced in, with ample room for table setups and food truck parking, along with a spot wired for bands to lay out and plug in their gear. For cold days, Shaw mentioned that a heated outdoor canopy is something they are planning to have on hand as well.

For the launch, Cobra will have a total of six beers on tap. MacCuish indicated that's also the number they'll have in their portfolio at any given time on into the future. They'll be split between two year-round offerings, two seasonals and two brewery exclusives. On opening day the lineup will read as follows, but expect a Strawberry Ale to get rotated in around Valentine's Day:

Year-round: Anti-Venom Amber Ale, Hoppy Dazed IPA
Seasonal: Jack Froth Winter Ale, Drunkin Pumkin - Pumpkin Ale, Nitemare Before Xmas - Pumpkin Stout
Brewery Exclusives: Blonde Bomber Hop Series I and 2 (homegrown single hop ales brewed with Cascade and Tettnanger hops, respectively).

As the above implies, we can expect a good bit of style variety in the brewery's offerings. Samples I tried included Hoppy Dazed and the Blonde Bomber with Cascade. Both brews were hop-forward, but balanced and quite easy to drink. Right now, only the year-round brews have label approval, meaning they'll be the first to roll out to accounts around the Metroplex.

Moving forward, MacCuish says he hopes to upgrade from his 5 bbl system built around re-purposed equipment to at least a 20 bbl setup before considering packaging. When the time comes, he's leaning towards canning as his preferred option. Another thing else he's considered is the fact that current laws don't allow you to purchase beer at the brewery for off-site consumption, something he sees as an important incentive for visitors. To get around this, Cobra is working with the Square One Cafe in Old Town to make growlers available (pending the restaurant's license approval) of every beer on tap at the brewery.

Tickets for the grand opening are on sale now at Eventbrite. Your admission price of $10 gets you a Cobra pint glass and three samples. Food will be available from the aforementioned Square One Cafe, with live music provided by The Enablers.

*Originally published on

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Tasting notes: 2013 Lakewood Bourbon Barrel Temptress

Image credit:  Lakewood Brewing Company

It may be a hockey term, but when drinking Temptress at the Lakewood Brewing Company, I'm not sure there could be a more fitting name for the taproom than "Sin Bin".  I mean, it says right there on the label that it's a beer that "pairs well with sin", so it seems quite appropriate.

I bring this up because I happened by the brewery today for a taste of 2013 Bourbon Barrel Temptress (BBT), and let's just say visions of sugar plums were not what was dancing in my head.

Image credit:  Brian Brown
As for how it tastes, founder Wim Bens thinks it's a better beer than what they put out a year ago.  Like the last go around, Temptress spent about six months in Bulleit Bourbon barrels, but Bens was of the opinion that initial tappings of the 2012 vintage were a little hot.  This time, he feels like there's a better balance right out of the barrel.  He says a fresh 2013 BBT is like drinking last year's version after it had been aging an additional few months.

Sampling BBT on nitro, you don't get as much bourbon flavor as you do with standard carbonation, but it's still got plenty of wood character to go with all of the chocolate and vanilla elements we've come to expect in a glass of what is probably the brewery's most popular beer.

Ice storm or not BBT makes its debut this Saturday, December 7 at 12 p.m., during Lakewood's regular tour. A single keg of BBT Nitro will also be offered, one of only four that exist for this beer which will also be a brewery exclusive.  From there regular BBT is expected to start hitting draft accounts early next week, with around 300 cases of 22-ounce bottles soon to follow.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Dallas Winter Warmer returns December 14

Image credit:  Rhizome Productions
Organizer Matt Leff calls 2013 a "recovery year" when talking about the return of his Dallas Winter Warmer festival, happening December 14 at Main Street Garden Park.  It's not that the 2012 engagement wasn't successful, it's just that his main focus coming into this year's event is to right a few wrongs and to "show people a much better time."

More specifically, the issues he's referring to had mostly to do with where the 2012 event took place.  The previous venue required use of their ill-prepared on-site food vendor, with ticketing fees directly attributable to that location as well.  A move to Main Street Garden for this year's affair will feature at least three food trucks, and ticketing fees will be fraction of what they were before (just over $3 compared to over $10 a year ago).

Other than that, the vibe will remain much the same as it was last time.  The event will take place outdoors, rain (snow) or shine, and will maintain a focus on darker and/or stronger brews which are more in tune with the season.  Attendance will be capped at 2000, with 150 of those being set aside for VIPs.  Leff explained that he prefers to limit sales to keep things "super comfortable" and to hopefully encourage more interaction between patrons and brewery representatives.

In that vein, Leff says that his main goal when putting together these events is to create something that is "mutually beneficial for everybody who's there.  We want the brewers to have a great time.  We want our guests to have a great time.  We want the distributors helping us with logistics to enjoy themselves."  As he puts it, "mutual benefit is key" and that's where the charity element comes in as well, with this year's beneficiary being the SPCA of Texas.

Regarding the beer and brewers, Main Street Garden's usable space will allow for the setup of right around 40 breweries.  Expect between two to four beers per brewery, meaning there will be upwards of 120 offerings for festival goers to enjoy. Among them will be the Texas festival debut of the Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout (VIP only), as well as rare brews like Founders Backwoods Bastard and Real Ale Mysterium Verum Benedictum.

Tickets are on sale now by way of Eventbrite at a cost of $40 for general admission, $75 for VIP privileges (includes appetizers and access to select beers), or $20 for designated drivers (service charges apply to each level).  Admission gets you a 5-ounce glass snifter, along with a tasting card good for 12 two-ounce samples. Additional tasting cards may be purchased for $2.  Attendees can also take in live music performances by Somebody's Darling and Jace Everett.

Main Street Garden is accessible by Dart Rail, being little more than a 5 minute walk from St. Paul Station. Garage parking will also be available at a cost of $5.

See you there!

Peticolas to celebrate 2 years with 10 beers

Image credit: Peticolas Brewing Company
Last year, the Peticolas Brewing Company celebrated their first anniversary by throwing a wedding the likes of which no one had ever seen before. This year, it's going to be all about the beer. Ten beers to be exact, including every beer the brewery has produced during its first two years in existence. It all happens on December 28, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the brewery.

From a press release:

"Peticolas released nine beers over the past two years and releases their 10th at the brewery’s two year anniversary. Details on the anniversary beer are forthcoming, but it will be available at the brewery only. In addition to pouring every beer they’ve ever brewed, Peticolas will also offer attendees beer from no less than four casks, as well as two aged beers. Special glassware commemorating the '2 Years 10 Beers' anniversary will be provided. Commemorative T-shirts will be available for purchase."

Limited tickets for the anniversary event go on sale via Eventbrite on December 9. Jumpbilly Trio will provide music for the celebration.

Since brewing its first beer in 2011, Peticolas has already won several major awards including a Gold Medal at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival and being named Dallas’ Best Brewery by both D Magazine and the Dallas Observer. Reflecting on the last two years, Michael Peticolas, owner and founder of Peticolas Brewing Company, said 'It’s all about superior beer for us so it makes sense to build our anniversary around the beers we’ve brewed in our first two years.' Looking to the future, the brewery plans on doubling its production in 2014."

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

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.


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
*Originally published on