Monday, March 31, 2014

Your Companion Guide to the 2014 Big Texas Beer Fest

Image credit:  Big Texas Beer Fest
I don't know about you, but I remember a time when it felt like it would be 412 years before we had decent beer, much less a decent beer festival in this town. Now, it seems we're starting to live a charmed life, as beer lists like the one recently released for this weekend's Big Texas Beer Fest clearly show. On it, you'll find 412 items (there are some ciders and "crafty" selections among the beer) to choose from. Not sure where to start come Saturday? Below is my customary beer geek breakdown with highlights of what's on the menu.

Maybe I'm wrong (though I did benchmark against similar articles I've done in the past), but reading the list I see not only more beer, but a similar number of whales, more top rated beers, and more market debuts and rarities than I recall being available at a local event (yes, that includes recent installments of Untapped).

In other words, there's never been a better time to get out, sample a few beers and immerse yourself in the North Texas craft beer community. Festival founders Chad and Nellie Montgomery have done the legwork for you, now it's up to you to drink and enjoy.

Get your tickets here.

Whale watching: Brews from the Beer Advocate top 100

#5. Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout
#27. Firestone Walker Sucaba
#65. Ballast Point Sculpin IPA
#78. Ballast Point Victory at Sea
#93. Oscar Blues Ten Fidy (whiskey barrel version)

Perfect pours: Top rated beers (100/100) on Ratebeer

Ayinger: Celebrator Doppelbock
Dogfish Head: 90 Minute IPA
Firestone Walker: Double Jack IPA, Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA
Founders: Porter
Great Divide: Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti, Espresso Oak Aged Yeti (subject to availability), Hercules Double IPA
North Coast: Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, Old Stock Cellar Reserve Brandy Barrel (2011)
Uinta: Labyrinth Black Ale
Victory:  Old Horizontal

Best of the rest: Close enough to perfect (Ratebeer scores out of 100))

Alaskan:  Smoked Porter (99, subject to availability)
Boulevard:  Dark Truth Stout (98), Double Wide IPA (99), Sixth Glass Quadrupel (98)
Brooklyn:  Sorachi Ace (98)
Brouwerij Van Steenberge: Gulden Draak (99)
Deschutes:  Fresh Squeezed IPA (98), Hop Henge IPA (99)
Dogfish Head:  Burton Baton (99), Palo Santo Marron (99)
Firestone Walker:  Union Jack IPA (99)
Flying Dog: Raging Bitch (98)
Founders:  Centennial IPA (99), Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale (98), Red's Rye IPA (99), Curmudgeon Old Ale (98)
Goose Island:  Sofie (98)
Green Flash: Palate Wrecker (99)
Harpoon:  Leviathan IPA (98)
Jester King: Das Wunderkind (98(
Lagunitas:  A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' (99), Maximus (98)
Odell:  IPA (98), Lugene Chocolate Milk Stout (98), Myrcenary Double IPA (99)
Ommegang:  Three Philosophers (99)
Oskar Blues: Dale's Pale Ale (98), Gubna Imperial IPA (98),
Sierra Nevada:  Bigfoot (99), Torpedo (98)
Southern Star: Buried Hatchet Stout (98)
Southern Tier:  Crème Brulee Stout (98), 2XONE (98)
Squatters: Outer Darkness (99)
Stone: Old Guardian (99), Stochasticity Project Grapefruit Slam IPA (98)
Uinta: Cockeyed Cooper (98)
Unibroue:  Grande Reserve 17 (99), La Fin du Monde (99)
Victory:  HopDevil (99)

Rare breeds: Market debuts and limited editions

Alaskan: Jalapeno Imperial IPA (subject to availability)
Armadillo Ale Works: Brunch Money
Bridgeport: Hop Czar Citra Dry-Hopped IPA
Buffalo Bayou: Abrikoos
Cedar Creek: Dankosaurus IPA
Cobra: Golden Girl
Deep Ellum: Neato Bandito (subject to availability)
Firestone Walker: Easy Jack Summer Session IPA, Opal
Franconia: McKinney Champagne, Trippel Dunkel (both subject to availability)
Goose Island: Endless IPA
Grapevine: Sir William's English Brown Ale
Lakewood: Wine Barrel-Aged Brabo's Cut, Rock Ryder with lemon and ginger
Martin House: Rubberneck Red
New Belgium: Summer Helles
No-Li: Born & Raised IPA, Jet Star Imperial IPA, Spin Cycle ESB, Wrecking Ball Imperial Stout
No Label: Cherry Sour
Ommegang: Game of Thrones Fire & Blood Red Ale
Peticolas: Golden Opportunity (dry-hopped with Cascade), Sit Down or I'll Sit You Down (dry-hopped mystery cask), Velvet Hammer (dry-hopped with Cascasde)
Prairie Artisan Ales/Evil Twin: Bible Belt
Rabbit Hole: Rapture (randallized with rum-soaked coffee beans)
Rahr & Sons: Snowmacocoageddon
Real Ale/3 Floyds/Surly: Blakkr
Revolver: Barrel One (subject to availability)
Rogness Titanoboa
Saint Arnold: Boiler Room Berliner Weisse
Stone: Go To IPA
Texian: First Stand

Oldies but goodies: Vintage brews

Lakewood: Bourbon Barrel Temptress (2013), Lion's Share I (2013)
Saint Arnold Bishop's Barrel #2
Widmer Brothers: Reserve Barrel Aged Brrrbon (2013)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

903 Brewers: On Sasquatch and his new sanctuary

Image credit: 903 Brewers
Sherman's 903 Brewers won't mark their first year in business until June, but as we've seen with other breweries trying to supply a thirsty North Texas market, it's never too early to be thinking about expansion.

Along those lines, owners Jeremy and Natalie Roberts have embarked on a project that will impact all aspects of the brewery. On the production side, drain lines are being cut in preparation for the installation of a seven-barrel brewhouse designed by Stout Tanks and Kettles. The turnkey system, which Jeremy notes will bring welcome bit of automation to the brewery, will feed three fifteen-barrel dairy tanks obtained from Cedar Creek in Seven Points. While the equipment will up capacity, he says the motivation behind the investment is a desire to improve on the quality and consistency of 903's beers. At the end of the day, the ultimate goal is to deliver "quality beers that people enjoy."

Work is also planned for the taproom and outdoor space to enhance the experience for visitors to the brewery. Inside, a second bar with additional taps will be built in the area which houses the cold room, while on the outside an expansive beer garden is in the works. Adjacent to the building's east side, Roberts says they'll utilize all of the fenced-in space for cornhole setups and a stage for live music. Along the south elevation, picnic tables will fill an area extending roughly twelve feet out from the brewery's exterior wall.

Changes may also be coming to how the business operates, as Roberts mentioned they are considering a switch to a brewpub license. Short-term this would allow 903 to offer growler fills for off-premise consumption, but the prevailing question of whether to make the move has more to do with how soon they might be able to add bottling capability. Growlers are one thing, but having beer in packaged form for sale at the brewery would provide more overall benefit to the bottom line. A final decision on this is expected within a few weeks.

Regarding the beer, Roberts points out that while equipment upgrades will allow 903 to increase production of their year-round brews, he'll still be brewing small batches on his original system. Most likely, these beers will be brewery exclusives offered only in the taproom. For wide release, though, Roberts shared that they'll have two new beers coming out over the next few months. Due in May is Sugar on Top IPA, a beer infused with brown sugar that was available as a test batch at the brewery last summer. After that they'll produce a Peach Wheat Ale, which will be 903's first anniversary brew.

The other news is that sales of Sasquatch have led to its inclusion in 903's year-round lineup. Stylistically labeled as an Imperial chocolate milk stout, the beer was originally intended as a wintertime-only treat. Its favorable reception, however, means it'll be shedding that seasonal designation. Roberts calls Sasquatch "a beast" to brew, and truth be told it's still evolving. Initial batches had the taste of Hershey's Chocolate Syrup, whereas more recent results are a bit less sweet with more of an earthy cocoa nib character. Some have told me they think its 903's best beer to date, and I'm inclined to agree.

Going forward, Roberts' outlook is the same as it's always been. He wants to brew enjoyable beers that people keep coming back to. The fact that he's always looking for ways to improve will go a long way towards making that happen more and more.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Cedar Creek Dankosaurus ready to roam

Image credit:  Cedar Creek Brewery
Following-up news announced here last month, the Cedar Creek Brewery in Seven Points is preparing the release of their fourth year-round beer. Dankosaurus, as it will be called, is an East Texas homage to West Coast-style IPAs.

According to the press release, Dankosaurus builds on a "velvety malt backbone" consisting of German Munich and U.S. 2-Row barley. The beer is dry-hopped with a fifteen pound blend of Apollo, Bravo and experimental #05256 hop varieties "to impart a fruity, dank aroma."

Dankosaurus will appear at draft accounts in Dallas during the week of March 24, with other markets to follow. Four packs of 16-ounce cans will be available in early April 2014.

Four Corners pops the top on new cans

Image credit:  Four Corners Brewing Company

Four Corners today announced the pending release of three of their All Day Ales™ in cans, which will be available beginning Friday, March 21. It's a first for the brewery, in that they'll now have their beer at retail accounts, while the choice of packaging represents a first for Texans.

According to the press release, "Four Corners 'uncanny' beer cans will be the first in Texas to feature the Crown Holding, Inc. 360 End™ lid, a removable lid that turns the can into a drinking vessel. The fully open top gives the drinker a similar experience to drinking out of a glass. In fact, the lid eliminates the need for glassware, making the can even more appealing for outdoor activities. To top it off, the cans are manufactured in a Texas production facility, keeping virtually all of Four Corners' can production local."

Commenting on the news, co-founder and director of business development George Esquivel said, "As a Texas brewery, packaging our beer in can format simply makes sense. We (Texans) spend our leisure time by the lake, river or pool (and barbecue pits, of course) and our brews are intended to be part of that enjoyment.  The quality of our beer is well-protected, and with the removable lid, drinkers will enjoy the aroma and full flavor of our brews. Great beer brings people together, and we're thrilled to have the opportunity to share out beer with the world."

Look for Local Buzz, El Chingón IPA and Block Party Porter at the following retailers: North Oak Cliff Beer & Wine, Bolsa Mercado, Lonestar Beverages, Parkit Market, Central Market, Whole Foods, Kroger, Spec's, Total Wine, H-E-B and Walgreens.

Suggested retail price of six-packs will be $8.99-$9.99 (pricing varies by retailer).

Shock Top's new bourbon(less) beer

Image credit: Anheuser Busch
It's not every day you get beer samples packaged in a miniaturized bourbon barrel, but that's how Anheuser Busch (AB) and Weber Shandwick chose to deliver their latest Shock Top offering. The product's launch will be flanked by the brand's first-ever national advertising campaign, which is set to debut this week. You can expect to see as many as four different spots during coverage of NCAA March Madness.

Shock Top Honey Bourbon Cask Wheat is the newest in AB's line of unfiltered Belgian-style witbiers. This time they've added honey as well as caramel malt, and aged the beer on bourbon cask staves. The resulting beer has strong notes of honey and vanilla, along with faint wood tones and a hint of cereal grain.
Image credit: Brian Brown

From a critical point of view, many are going to wonder what happened to the bourbon (whose aroma, as it turns out, was missing from the barrel as well). The intensity of the honey and vanilla not only relegates the brew's witbier character to the background, it appears to mask out any hint of bourbon that might be hiding underneath. There's also a lingering sweetness that may sustain a little too long for some, as it seemingly never gets swept away despite bright carbonation. Interestingly, looking back on previous notes, the sweetness aspect is something I've noticed in every other Shock Top version I've tried.

Long story short, I see this beer the same way I have previous incarnations of the brand. There's some light complexity that may appeal to BMC drinkers or casual craft beer consumers, but there's not enough here to sway any hard-core beer geeks. It might work as a gateway beer, though, especially for those with a nagging sweet tooth.

Shock Top Honey Bourbon Cask Wheat will be available year-round in six and twelve-packs of 12-ounce bottles, as well as on draft. Look for it wherever Shock Top is sold.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Franconia's Tripel not your everyday Dunkel

Image credit: Franconia Brewing Company
If I had to sum up 2013 for the Franconia Brewing Company, the phrase I would use is "what a difference a year makes." Consider that the brewery's fifth year in business consisted of producing a number of new beers, installing equipment to generate their own power and purchasing a bottling line to package their products for retail sale.

You might say things have been a little busy up in McKinney, and there doesn't appear to be a slowdown in store for 2014. Pending bottle releases include Franconia Amber on a year-round basis, followed by limited runs of the Double IPA and seasonal Maibock. The Double IPA returns after being a part of 2013's "Five Beers for Five Years" initiative, a series of anniversary brews that also included an Oatmeal Stout, the Champagne Ale and a Smoked Wheat.

Now, if you've been keeping count, you may notice that the anniversary list only adds up to four. Turns out time spent getting the bottling line up and running got in the way of brewing the fifth beer. That brew is finally in the works as well, something owner Dennis Wehrmann calls the Tripel Dunkel.

As the name implies, Franconia's newest creation is a hybrid beer fermented with a Belgian ale yeast. The grain bill for the brewery's standard Dunkel was bumped up to provide for more fermentable sugars, which is expected to bring the finished beer in line with an ABV typical of a Belgian tripel (> 7.5%). Early samples reveal a grainy character in the aroma, with plums and a hint of darker fruits lingering in the background. The beer has a light sweetness in the initial taste, but it dries out considerably before finishing with a distinctly dark malt-based bitterness.

Without a doubt, the Tripel Dunkel is one of the more complex beers to come out of the brewery to date. Fans of the regular Dunkel shouldn't expect a simple variation on a theme, as the Tripel Dunkel's fuller body, chewy palate and warming alcohol are quite a contrast compared to the original we've all grown accustomed to.

Tripel Dunkel will be draught only and available in the coming weeks at bars and restaurants that typically carry Franconia's seasonal brews.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Best of the fest: My Untapped tasting card

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

It's always a bit of a struggle deciding how to bring attention to beers sampled at a festival. I believe you can't give a proper review based on a two-ounce pour, and Saturday's Untapped event presented even more of a challenge given the colder temperatures. That said, you'll notice a theme in many of my tasting notes, as frozen fingers weren't conducive to hand warming which might normally help to reveal additional character.

On the flip side, there's something to be said for first impressions, and more than one brewer has told me that hearing the words "I'd drink that beer again" are as welcome a compliment as any other. So, with that, here are the beers I'd drink again...provided I could do so in climate controlled surroundings.


Four Corners Notorious O.A.T: A beer that, for whatever reason, I had yet to track down in the market. I suppose it was better late than never, since they tell me supplies are just about gone. Simply put, a couple of sips of this one gave the impression of yet another quietly solid brew from the Trinity Groves brewer.

903 Sasquatch: Chocolate, chocolate...oh, and chocolate. I wasn't able to pick up on the milk sugar addition, but give me a pint of this in an environment where it can warm up another five or so degrees and let's see what develops.


Deep Ellum Tongue Punch: The brewery's IPA was dry-hopped with four different varieties, but due to an apparent brain freeze I forgot to write down the details. In any event, it was a beer that was true to its name.

Lagunitas Couch Trippin' Fusion: This beer is billed as a "brown-ish" ale dry-hopped with Nelson Sauvin and Mosaic hops. It's hop-forward (what Lagunitas brew isn't) and I'm not entirely sure what flavor profile they are going for from a malt perspective, but my two favorite hop varieties from one of my favorite breweries (and I'm not even a hophead).  Easy sell.


Lakewood Antigoon's Revenge:  The "Goon thing" (which is how I chose to refer to this beer since I couldn't remember the name) is a Belgian golden ale brewed with cherry wood smoked malt. It's a big, warming brew with hints of fruit and spice to go along with a noticeably subtle smoke infusion.

Martin House Kafkaesque: So, let me see if I've got this straight. This beer is an Imperial smoked black rye oaked raspberry IPA. If that sounds bizarre or illogical, it's suppose to given the reference to Frank Kafka (Google it). My taste buds cropped the ingredient list down to a hoppy rye oaked raspberry IPA, and a tasty one at that. Basically, contributions from the smoke and dark grains eluded me, but again it's tough to pick up on certain flavors when you're drinking beer in the Arctic.


Jester King Cerveza de Tempranillo: A very wine-like, even-tempered wild ale brewed with Tempranillo grapes that would probably appeal to those not typically into sours. It's strong, with an ABV of 9.4%, but I would never have guessed that based on flavor and aroma.

One for the road

Oskar Blues Maker's Mark Barrel Aged Dale's Pale Ale: Maker's Mark bourbon is among the best to my taste when used for barrel aging. It has an appropriate amount of sweetness without being harsh, making it a perfect complement to many types of beer. In this case, the name of the brew is nine words long...just call it "good."


Monday, March 3, 2014

A companion guide to the 2014 Paste Untapped Festival in Fort Worth

Image credit:  Paste Untapped
Happening on Saturday, Paste Untapped returns this week to the Panther Island Pavilion in Fort Worth. If you haven't seen the complete list of all the beers that will be available, by all means check it out on the festival website.

As for a quick analysis, we can talk about obligatory stats like the over 250 beers from 62 breweries, or we can simply ask the one question that brings it all home: When is the last time you had a ticket to a festival in North Texas where you could sample over fifty beers rated 98 or above by your peers?

To help quell the certain madness of choosing which beers to drink, I've pared the list down a bit into what I call a beer geek breakdown. If you want the best of the best, or just a taste of something new, this is where to start. Really, you don't need recommendations with all the list has to offer. You'd do just as well if you drew random names out of a hat, or instituted a game of craft beer blind man's bluff.

Come to think of it, maybe "list" isn't even the right word anymore.  Really, it's more like a blinding neon beacon of beer light.

Buy a ticket, bask in its glow.

White whale watching: Brews from the Beer Advocate top 100

#19. Founders Breakfast Stout (VIP only)
#25. Firestone Walker Sucaba
#60. Ballast Point Sculpin IPA
#88. Founders Imperial Stout

Perfect pours: Top rated beers (100/100) on Ratebeer

Avery:  The Maharaja Imperial IPA, Tweak
Dogfish Head:  90 Minute IPA
Firestone Walker:  Double Jack, XVII Anniversary Ale
Founders:  Backwoods Bastard (VIP only), Porter
Great Divide:  Oak Aged Yeti
North Coast:  Old Rasputin
Uinta:  Labyrinth Black Ale
Unibroue:  Trois Pistoles
Victory:  Old Horizontal

Best of the rest: Close enough to perfect (Ratebeer scores out of 100))

Alaskan:  Barley Wine Ale (99), Smoked Porter (99)
Ballast Point:  Dorado Double IPA (99), Tongue Buckler (98)
Boulevard:  Double Wide IPA (99), Rye on Rye (99)
Brooklyn:  Sorachi Ace (98)
Deschutes:  Fresh Squeezed IPA (98), Hop Henge IPA (99)
Dogfish Head:  Burton Baton (99), Olde School Barleywine (98)
Duvel Moortgat:  Duvel (99)
Firestone Walker:  Union Jack IPA (99), Velvet Merlin (98)
Founders:  Centennial IPA (99)
Goose Island:  Lolita (99), Sofie (98)
Green Flash:  Hop Head Red (98), Palate Wrecker (99), Serrano Stout (98)
Harpoon:  Leviathan IPA (98)
Lagunitas:  A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' (99)
Odell:  IPA (98), Myrcenary Double IPA (99, VIP only)
Ommegang:  Three Philosophers (99)
Oskar Blues:  Deviant Dale's (99)
Sierra Nevada:  Bigfoot (99, VIP only), Narwhal (99, VIP only), Northern Hemisphere Harvest (99), Torpedo (98)
Southern Tier:  Crème Brulee Stout (98), Iniquity (98), Unearthly (99)
Uinta:  Dubhe (99)
Unibroue:  La Fin du Monde (99)
Victory:  HopDevil (99)

Rare breeds: Market debuts and limited editions

903:  I So Pale
Brooklyn:  Hammarby Syndrome
Deep Ellum:  Tongue Punch Cask
Grapevine Craft Brewery:  Raspberry Brown Ale, 10 Gauge Belgian IPA
Hops & Grain:  Funk Del Roble
Jester King:  Cerveza de Tempranillo, La Vie en Rose
Lagunitas:  Fusion XIX
Lakewood:  Antigoon, Bourbon Barrel Temptress
Martin House:  Kafkaesque
New Belgium:  Gruit
Rahr & Sons:  Midnight Cab, Snowmacocoageddon, Hatch Chile Blonde, Dry Hopped Stormcloud
Real Ale:  Double IPA Cask (VIP only), Codex Triplex (VIP only)
Saint Arnold:  Bishop's Barrel #6
Widmer:  Upheaval IPA

Oldies but goodies: Vintage brews

2012 Alaskan Smoked Porter (VIP only)
2011 North Coast Barrel Aged Old Stock
Saint Arnold Divine Reserve 10