Monday, April 28, 2014

Lakewood turns up the heat on Temptress

Image credit:
Lakewood Brewing Company
Beginning today, the Lakewood Brewing Company will be rolling out the latest beer in their Seduction Series, a line of products featuring specialty treatments of one of the area's most popular brews. Mole Temptress, appropriately hitting taps just ahead of Cinco de Mayo, is the brewery's imperial milk stout infused with cinnamon and cacao nibs, along with a blend of ancho, chipotle, guajillo and pasilla chili peppers.

Balance and body are the words that initially came to mind when sampling this beer at a pre-launch event this past Friday. The reason being that these are qualities I've found to be lacking in many brews of this type since they first appeared on the market a couple of years ago. Far too often, efforts have either been peppered to the point of being undrinkable, or so light in body that the concoction ends up drinking more like spiced water than anything resembling a beer.

Mole Temptress, though, is something not lacking in either. While each of the aforementioned ingredients is clearly evident in flavor and aroma, they enhance rather than overpower the underlying brew. The cinnamon is most prevalent upfront, but gives way quickly to the earthy chocolate character imparted by the cacao nibs. As for the peppers, outside of their taste they contribute a slow, subtle burn in the finish. According to brewery founder Wim Bens, the controlled heat is the result of removing the seeds and stems of the peppers prior to adding them to the beer.

In terms of body and feel, the mole-inspired makeover seemingly doesn't sacrifice much, if anything, in comparison to the original Temptress. It also doesn't appear to suffer in terms of head retention, which can be adversely affected by oils in either the peppers or cacao nibs. All in all it makes for something that drinks exactly as a spiced or specialty brew should, giving the impression of being a "harmonious marriage of ingredients, processes and beer" (to borrow from the BJCP).

Mole Temptress is draft only and available for a limited time. Look for it at bars and restaurants that typically carry Lakewood's seasonal brews, a full list of which can be found on the brewery's Facebook page.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Taverna Rossa partners with Peticolas for first-ever beer dinner, May 15

Image credit: 33 Restaurant Group, Peticolas Brewing Company

Since opening in September of last year, Taverna Rossa in Plano has established itself as a destination for "Craft Pizza and Beer." Among their twenty-four taps, you can always expect to find a variety of local and national craft beer brands, as well as four regional rotators. Yet, up to know, the restaurant has yet to host a signature event geared specifically toward the craft beer crowd. That will change come May 15, as they've partnered with the Peticolas Brewing Company for their inaugural beer dinner, which will be presented in honor of American Craft Beer Week.

The price of the five-course dinner is set at $70 per person. This includes food, beverage, tax and gratuity, as well as a Peticolas branded glass and coaster to take home. Seating is limited, so call 469-209-5646 to make your reservations.

1st Course

Golden Opportunity
Beer Baked Chicken & Spinach Flautas

2nd Course

Royal Scandal - English Pale Ale
Beer Cheese Soup / Beer-battered Asparagus

3rd Course

Alfred Brown Ale
Texas Sausage / Smoked Gouda / Green Chili Cheese Enchiladas

4th Course

Velvet Hammer - Imperial Red Ale
Braised Beef Short Ribs / Beer Risotto

5th Course

The Duke - Barley Wine
Sticky Toffee Pudding / Homemade Ice Cream

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Texas Ale Project back on track in Dallas

Image credit: Texas Ale Project

There's been a flurry of new brewery announcements of late, but one name you may have forgotten about is that of the Texas Ale Project. Originally known as the Reunion Brewing Company, they first appeared on the scene in late 2011. There was talk of a lease being signed the following January, but an early address was abandoned due to neighboring businesses not being favorable to having a brewery in their neck of the woods. The principals regrouped, but it wasn't until October 2012 that they settled on a permanent location at 1001 N. Riverfront Boulevard in Dallas.

It would be seven months before a building permit was acquired, and another month after that before demolition began on the site. Then in July 2013, changes in the partnership had founders Brent Thompson and Kat Stevens looking for someone to oversee brewing operations. At that point all went quiet on Reunion's Facebook page, and the next thing we heard was that the venture had been re-named the Texas Ale Project this past October.

Needless to say, it hasn't been clear sailing up to this point for a brewery that originally hoped to be open by the middle of last year. Things appear to be back on track, though, as evidenced by a pre-launch event held last night at Bridge Bistro, a restaurant located across the street from Texas Ale's soon-to-be home in the Design District. Industry locals were treated to samples of four pilot brews, including an amber, a porter, a wheat beer and an IPA.

The recipes are the work of newly-hired brewmaster Jan Matysiak, a German native who trained at the Brewing Institute of Weihenstephan. Matysiak should be familiar to Texas craft beer fans, if not for his work on beers like Resin at the Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn, then for his time at the Live Oak Brewing Company in Austin. As for how he'll approach things here in Dallas, if his wheat beer is any indication we should expect the unexpected. Brewed with caramel malt and Nelson Sauvin hops, notes of toffee and tropical fruit bring a welcome bit of complexity to the sometimes ordinary American Wheat Beer style.

Going forward, the brewery received its Brewer's Permit from the TABC at the end of March and a 30-barrel brewing system is scheduled for delivery in May. If all goes according to plan with ongoing construction, the Texas Ale Project looks to launch later this summer.

* Track brewery updates via Facebook.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bitter Sisters Brewery targets summer opening in Addison

Image credit: Bitter Sisters Brewing Company

Amid news of others projecting debuts for later this year comes news that the Bitter Sisters Brewing Company has quietly secured a site and is well into the construction phase in Addison. A 30-barrel brewing system is on order and expected to arrive in May, with the brewery's grand opening slated for late summer.

Historically, Bitter Sisters would be the second production brewery to exist in the city, following the short-lived Addison Brewing Company (ABC) which closed in 1989. In fact, their address at 15103 Surveyor Boulevard is located just over a mile from where ABC did business on Lindbergh Drive. It's also steps away from shops and restaurants along Belt Line Road, something owner/brewmaster Matt Ehinger hopes will lead to foot traffic and more visitors to the brewery's planned tasting room.

As head of the operation, Ehinger brings with him over twenty years of relevant experience. He started homebrewing in 1993, and eventually wound up working as a brewer at Coach's Brewpub in Norman, Oklahoma, during the late '90s. That stint lasted about four years, after which he left the industry to try his hand at other things. Since then, he says opening a brewery has always been in the back of his mind, having "never fully recovered from being bitten by the brewing bug back in 1993." He and his wife discussed the idea for at least ten years before they and others came together to form the family-owned enterprise. As Ehinger explains, "Bitter Sisters is jokingly but affectionately named after my wife and her two sisters, who are all part of the company along with their husbands, my brother-in-law and his wife."

Once up and running, Ehinger intends to produce a split lineup, with one half consisting of lagers and the other being a mix of English and American ales. Initial releases will include a German-style helles and a traditional märzen, along with an Irish red ale and an American IPA. Brews will be draft-only to start, with packaging in cans coming down the road.

In the meantime, stay up-to-date on brewery developments by way of Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

FireWheel announces expansion, new facility

Image credit: FireWheel Brewing Company
In yet another sign of the ever-changing landscape of craft beer in North Texas, the FireWheel Brewing Company has taken out a lease on a new facility less than a mile from their current address in Rowlett. Owner Brad Perkinson picked up the keys to the building at 3313 Enterprise Drive on Monday, the same day he placed an order for a new 15-barrel brewhouse and a set of 30-barrel fermentation tanks.

It's all part of a four-to-six month expansion plan, which will see the brewery transition from a 2500 square foot space to one over twice that size at around 6000 square feet. Perkinson will do much of the work on the new site himself, something made possible by the recent hire of Nate Breitzman, the brewery's first-ever employee. Breitzman, who like Perkinson is a self-taught homebrewer, joins FireWheel after having been a volunteer at the brewery for some time. Working as the assistant brewer, he'll keep the production line running at the soon-to-be former location at Lawing Lane, freeing up Perkinson to focus on construction and installation of the new equipment.

While Perkinson acknowledges the coming upgrades will allow him ramp up production of StrIPA and Midnight Ninja, FireWheel's best-selling brews, he's quick to point out that the overriding "goal of the project is to make a greater variety of high quality, artisan beer." The first step in making that happen, he says, was to take on a private equity investor. The additional cash flow filled the need to acquire more tanks and more space, both of which he hopes will pave the way for the brewery to gain more presence in the marketplace.

Once the move to Enterprise is complete, FireWheel will continue to operate as a production brewery. Switching to a brewpub license isn't a consideration, due to city ordinances requiring a certain percentage of food sales for that type of establishment. He does, however, plan to phase out Saturday tours in favor of the taproom/cash bar model now permissible after changes in legislation allowing for on-premise sales. On that note, future visitors to the taproom will have plenty of room to set down their beer, as Perkinson has included a 55 foot service bar in plans for the new layout.

As for what you can expect both short and long-term out of the brewery, Perkinson revealed that at least five new beers are in the works for 2014. Up first will be a brew called Liquid Assets, a single-hop golden ale he describes as easy-drinking, but not lacking in body. Currently awaiting label approval, that beer should appear at draft accounts in about a month.

Further out, consumers can look forward to the return of the brewery's Smoked Pivo (a beer Perkinson says "tastes a lot like sausage"), as well as an Imperial Cascadian Dark Rye Ale (~10% ABV, brewed with 15% rye malt) and a pair of beers to be released under the name Rowlett Red. A ".22" version of this last beer will be lighter and maltier with an ABV somewhere in the 4-5% range, while a "50-Cal" rendition will be "imperialized" with an amped-up hop profile and an ABV well over 9%.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Frisco City Grainworks coming soon to North Texas

Image credit: Frisco City Grainworks (click to enlarge).

After entering into an agreement to be a part of a development north of Toyota Stadium, Frisco City Grainworks (FCG) has declared its intent to open a production brewery in the community that inspired its name.

Construction is set to begin this summer on what would be the first brewing operation of any kind in Frisco. The brewery is expected to occupy a 10-15000 square foot space near the corner of Frisco Street and Research Road, with a target move-in date of December. Allowing time for licensing, as well as equipment delivery and installation, FCG hopes to open by the end of the first quarter next year.

Founder David Clark, who's lived and worked in and around Frisco for over 15 years, says the choice of that particular North Texas community was based on his belief that it represents a "new center for economic growth along the Dallas North Tollway." The city has been excited about the project from day one, and Clark hopes that by producing a quality product FCG will attract a groundswell of local support making Frisco a "sustainable home for a long time to come."

Joining him in the venture is Jonny Daylett, who will take on the role of head brewer. Daylett completed the Intensive Brewing Science and Engineering Program offered by the American Brewers Guild in early 2013, which included an apprenticeship at Four Corners with long-time brewer John Sims. He's also worked to gain experience by interning at the Lakewood Brewing Company and points to invaluable lessons he learned while volunteering with Michael Peticolas at the Peticolas Brewing Company in Dallas.

The two met at an Open the Taps event in 2012 during a time when Clark and his wife Anna were working to develop a brewery under a different name. After exchanging ideas and finding common ground, they began brewing together in the spring of 2013. In an interesting bit of history, you could have gotten your first taste of one of the beers they're working on in November 2012. It was during the inaugural Dallas Beer Week, no less, and it happened as part of a special tour at FireWheel in association with that event. At the time the beer was called The Pear Necessities (a prickly pear wheat), and it was one of a number of guest brews on tap that evening produced by Jonny and wife Amorae.

That beer, along with offerings like their Texas-style lager, Chiltepin Porter and Double Black Wheat will be representative of a brewing philosophy Clark says is centered on feeding the "inner homebrewer spirit while staying true to those aspects that made us passionate about craft beer in the first place. For us those aspects include creative experimentation, collaboration and meticulous attention to quality." They intend to explore both new and classic styles, with some of their more forward-thinking ideas to be released in the form of a limited edition bomber series called BrewLab™.

On that note, plans call for FCG beers to be produced in kegs at first, with four-packs, six-packs and bombers to follow within the first few months of operation. The primary market for their brews will be Frisco and the immediately surrounding area, with accounts at craft beer-focused bars and restaurants around the Metroplex being a priority as well.

"Handcrafted, Passion Driven, Texas Brewed." Those are the kind of beers Clark and Daylett hope to deliver to North Texans in the near future, with a further goal of showing others "that Texas has a lot to offer in the world of craft beer."

Follow the progress of Frisco City Grainworks on Twitter and Facebook, or visit their website at

*UPDATE: As of October 2014, Frisco City Grainworks has ceased development.*

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Armadillo shows us the 'Money'

Image credit: Armadillo Ale Works
If you've had a chance to try Brunch Money, the latest release from Armadillo Ale Works being billed as an imperial golden stout, you might be asking a question that's on the minds of many. How can a stout be gold?

The "art and science of brewing" has a lot to do with it, according to co-founders Bobby Mullins and Yianni Arestis. At least, that's how they responded to a follower who posed that very question after plans for the beer were revealed in early March. Still, any artist has to have a palette, and in this case it took the form of a "crazy recipe" consisting of no fewer than thirteen ingredients.

To get the taste of a stout, golden or otherwise, you have to consider that these types of beers typically employ dark specialty malts to achieve flavor profiles rich in roasted grain and dark chocolate. Naturally, similar flavors can also be obtained in beer by using varying amounts of coffee and cacao nibs, but like the aforementioned malt varieties, these items don't exactly fall into the lighter side of the color spectrum. Here's where that art and science thing kicks in. Getting the desired flavors minus the color involves a cold-brew process where cracked coffee beans and cacao nibs are steeped in the beer for a set period of time. How long you choose to "dry-hop" the beer in this manner becomes a trade-off between how much flavor you wish to impart versus how much color gets infused in the beer.

Of course, brewing a stout isn't just about flavor. Beers in this style category are also generally full-bodied and of greater strength. A closer look at Brunch Money's recipe reveals how Mullins, Armadillo's Chief Brewing Officer, went about obtaining these remaining characteristics of the style.

Like Quakertown Stout, one of Armadillo's two year-round offerings, Brunch Money contains maple syrup. Its presence contributes additional fermentable sugars to the wort, which provides extra food for the yeast. After conversion, this translates to a higher alcohol concentration in the beer. As for body and mouthfeel, getting the beer to drink like a stout involves the addition of flaked barley and oats in the grain bill. Flaked barley leaves behind proteins which provide some of a stout's trademark heft, while also helping to sustain head retention. Oats, on the other hand, are used in a variety of dark beers to lend creaminess or a silky texture.

So, does it work? Has Armadillo legitimately created a golden "stout"? While Brunch Money isn't exactly golden (it's more of a ruddy amber), it's certainly paler than an ordinary stout, and it hits on fundamental flavors in being coffee-forward with a noticeable dark chocolate element. Beyond that, further additives give off notes of caramel, vanilla, Coffee-mate, honey and maple syrup. In terms of mouthfeel, the beer has a medium-full body, and finishes smooth with what you might call a teasing bitterness.

Were I to drink it blind, I'd probably classify Brunch Money as a flavored coffee stout. It's a good, well-executed beer that Arestis described best when he said it "sounds overwhelming and intense, but is surprisingly balanced and nuanced." It's in that statement where I think this beer stands out. Think about how some breweries struggle to make a good beer with even one specialty ingredient (that is, anything other than water, malt, hops and yeast). Counting coffee beans, cacao nibs, lactose sugar, maple syrup and vanilla...Brunch Money is a good beer with five.

Look for Brunch Money on tap for a limited time only. A bottle release is being considered, but a decision on that has yet to be finalized.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

My 2014 Big Texas tasting card

Image credit: North Coast Brewing Company, Brewvolution, Prairie Artisan Ales,
Franconia Brewing Company, Texian Brewing Company, Oskar Blues Brewing

If there's one thing to be said about the Big Texas Beer Fest, it's that it brings all manner of beer drinker together. While there are an ample number of rare and limited releases to quench the thirst of the craft beer connoisseur, there are also products for those who still are still looking to take that first step towards better beer. Over 400 selections in all were available at this past weekend's third annual event, from the highly sought after stylings of Jester King down to the "crafty" creations of Shock Top.

There were no "best" beers, there never are, just the ones you enjoyed the most. As per usual, my list of beers that fall into that category follows. Remember that I tend to seek out beers I've never tried, which is why you won't see notes on beers like Firestone Walker Sucaba, or Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout. Those beers are well-known to many, and since craft beer is all about exploration, I prefer to put the spotlight on products that might be new or unfamiliar.


Sour Patches

Seeing as how the Jester King line was a little longer than I was willing to endure, I sought my sour beers elsewhere. My destinations, as it turned out, were three breweries based in and around Houston. No Label produced a nice effort called Sour Batch 1: The Cherry Sour, while Saint Arnold unearthed a few bottles of Bishop's Barrel #2. My attention, though, was centered on a battle of the Berliners. Saint Arnold brought along Boiler Room, which presented as more of a classic Berliner Weisse compared to Texian's Charlie Foxtrot, which was an "imperialized" take on the style. Of the two, I would probably lean towards the latter. It's understood that an extreme effervescence comes with the territory in beers of this type, but I found the gentler carbonation of the Texian brew to be preferable. It was even better with a shot of of Torani Raspberry Syrup.

Devout to the stout

What do you get when you take the inspiration behind Bomb! from Prairie Artisan Ales and mix it with that of Evil Twin's Even More Jesus? A collaborative brew called Bible Belt. Given the similar ingredients, this imperial stout aged on coffee, cacao nibs, vanilla beans and chili peppers will draw inevitable comparisons to its Prairie predecessor. Both are great beers, but Bomb! is sweeter with a little more heat on the back end, whereas Bible Belt ratchets up the coffee component and has a darker overall chocolate character. In other words, they are the same but different. So, go ahead...start calling one beer the evil twin of the other.

What's old is new again

While it's not new per se, you may be wondering how Franconia's McKinney Champagne made the list of noteworthy brews. It may have originally debuted last August, but remaining kegs are drinking like a totally different beer. Upon initial release, the beer displayed more of the underlying wheat grain to go along with the wine-like qualities imparted by the yeast. Try it today, though, and the wheat fades into the background while giving way to more robust fruit flavors, as well as a tartness that wasn't as evident before. The verdict? Add this one to the list of beers that get better with age.

A barrel of this and a barrel of that


I'm always a little leery when a brewery starts changing the source of their spent casks in popular bourbon-barrel brews, but Oskar Blues has yet to disappoint when it comes to its treatments of Ten Fidy. In recent memory, they've rolled out versions aged on bourbon barrels obtained from the Breckenridge Distillery, Four Roses and now Spring 44. Not surprisingly, each spirit has brought different things to the table, and while the Spring 44 version might have been a bit more subtle than the others listed, it was still a tasty addition to an already top-of-the-line brew.


According to North Coast's website, the 2011 Cellar Reserve edition of their Old Stock Ale has been around since November of last year. After trying it, and deciding that it was the beer I enjoyed the most at this year's fest, I'm kicking myself for not loading up on it sooner. Aged in brandy barrels, this beer had layers of depth I couldn't even begin to unravel after a single two-ounce sample. Superficially I noted caramel malt, prominent barrel influence, dark fruit and warming alcohol, but this is a beer to be sipped and savored, and I would need a full pour to give it a proper review.