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.


  1. Great article! Love seeing how far Dallas has come in such a short amount of time.

  2. Thanks Colin! Indeed, it's a great time for craft beer in Dallas and beyond.