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 Appropriately enough, though, even that article is already out-of-date.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."