Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Year in review: No slowdown in the North Texas beer scene

All logos and graphics are the property of their respective owners.

When I sat down to review the North Texas year in beer, it didn't take me long to come up with a phrase to use as an overall theme. A year ago, I leaned on a movie reference to the Fast and the Furious films, which I think is still very much relevant today. As the number of local breweries grows, however, I find that these days my thought process is more along the lines of...the higher and higher it goes, where it'll stop, nobody knows.

Indeed, as is shown below, we're talking record numbers in terms of how many brewing operations currently exist in the region. And there's not just more beer from here, there's more beer from everywhere, as more and more high quality national brands continue to filter into the state. Taken together, it's made for an environment unlike anything we've ever seen here locally. Not so long ago, the question used to be "do you know of any bars or restaurants that carry craft beer?," whereas now I sometimes wonder who in their right mind doesn't?

The most amazing thing, though, is the fact that all of this has happened over the course of just five years. I can only imagine what the scene will look like five more years down the road. For now, though, we'll focus on all the things that went on in 2015. As in years past, I've broken things down into subject areas, and included a few of my favorite beers from the year to close things out. I don't know that there's any way to cover all that's happened over these last 12 months, but hopefully I've hit on some key points.

Comings and Goings

Twelve months ago, 33 brewing operations called North Texas home, Now a year later, add 14 and subtract 3, and that number stands at 44. Take into account both the additions and subtractions and that translates to a net growth rate of just over 33% for 2015.

  • Breweries: On Rotation, Nine Band, Tupps, Bitter Sisters, Four Bullets, Ivanhoe Ale Works, 3 Nations, Noble Rey, Oak Highlands, Woodcreek, Division.
  • Brewpubs: Braindead, Barley & Board, Intrinsic Smokehouse & Brewery.
  • Breweries: FireWheel, Bearded Eel.
  • Brewpubs: Kirin Court (ceased brewing operations, but restaurant is still open).

Source: Individual research.

Things don't look to be slowing down either, with Hemisphere, Hop Fusion, Legal Draft, Thirsty Bro, Wild Acre and Whistle Post currently under construction, and well over a half-dozen more (including some you probably haven't heard of yet) actively being developed. On top of that, the Colorado-based Backcountry Brewery has assumed control of FireWheel's facility in Rowlett, with plans to re-open the brewery in February.

Growth and expansion

No fewer than three production breweries made the move to new digs in 2015, with Lakewood leading the way in April after the completion of a 14,000 square foot expansion project in Garland. Following that, Cedar Creek moved to a larger space just a few doors down from its original location in Seven Points, while Grapevine planted roots in its namesake city after operating for more than a year in Farmers Branch.

On deck for 2016, look for Malai Kitchen to open a second location in Southlake, Cobra to undertake an equipment overhaul in Lewisville, and for Armadillo Ale Works to get back to doing what they do in Denton. Images have also been circulating showing a proposed taproom expansion being planned at Rahr & Sons, but details related to that have yet to be made available.

Stocking store shelves

As of today, 21 of the area's 30 production breweries package their products for retail sale (counting crowlers). According to my calculations, 16 breweries sell beer in cans, 8 offer all or a portion of their portfolio in bottles (note that some breweries produce a mix of bottles and cans), and two are equipped for crowlers.

New for 2015:
  • Bottles: Bearded Eel (some of which you may still be able to find), Braindead (limited release at the brewpub), Cobra, and Collective (limited release at the brewery).
  • Cans as the brewery's first packaged product: 3 Nations, Audacity, Nine Band, Oak Highlands, Rabbit Hole, Texas Ale Project and Twin Peaks.
  • Cans after initially producing only bottles: 903 Brewers, Community, Lakewood and Shannon Brewing.
  • Crowlers: Noble Rey.

Up ahead in 2016, Backcountry intends to brew and can four of the company's beers locally, while Wild Acre has already received TABC approval for can label designs to appear on three of its debut products.

Legal wrangling

Industry attempts to gain ground on a number of legal fronts (hosting of homebrew competitions, on-premise sales, direct shipments) were snuffed out completely during the 2015 legislative session. This occurred in large part due to efforts of the distributor lobby to maintain the status quo. In defending the position to oppose further changes in the laws, a spokesman implied that craft brewers are never satisfied in always wanting more, and that they should be happy with how things are, based on how much the industry is growing.

One issue, that of on-premise sales, eventually became the focus of a federal lawsuit filed in September by Deep Ellum Brewing Co. (Grapevine signed on later as a co-plaintiff). In conjunction with this initiative, the brewery raised nearly $35,000 through a crowdfunding campaign dubbed Operation Craft Beer to Go, with the money to be used to help fund the effort. The goal, of course, being to secure the same rights enjoyed by wineries and distilleries, both of which are legally permitted to sell their products directly to the end consumer.

Elsewhere, crowlers became a point of contention after the TABC determined that the use of the canning machine constituted a form of manufacturing, which isn't something retailers are authorized to do. Shops were ordered to remove the machines, leaving brewpubs as the only business entity allowed to employ them. Austin's Cuvee Coffee Bar defied the law as a catalyst to forcing a ruling on the matter, leading the TABC to confiscate the machine from its premises in December. A lawsuit was then filed, meaning the matter is now in the hands of the courts.

Also pending is a 2014 lawsuit brought by Peticolas, Live Oak and Revolver that seeks to allow brewer's to accept compensation for distribution rights.

And the winner is...

In 2015, North Texas brewers continued a streak of gold medal wins dating back to 2012 at the Great American Beer Festival. In that time, adding the six medals awarded in 2015 to running totals from both GABF and the World Beer Cup combined, area brewers have been awarded a total of 19 medals (10 gold, 4 silver, 5 bronze) in just four years.

2015 Great American Beer Festival
  • Gold: Rahr & Sons Oktoberfest, Rahr & Sons The Regulator.
  • Silver: 903 Brewers 2014 Sasquatch, Panther Island Allergeez, Rabbit Hole Rapture.
  • Bronze: Twin Peaks Barrel-Aged Brown Ale.
Prizes were also awarded at the following competitions in 2015:

The year in beer

By my estimation (that is, according to my check-in history) I tried upwards of 150 different local beers in 2015. That number includes year-round and seasonal offerings, as well as one-offs, but the total still far exceeded my expectations. For those who say there isn't much variety in local beer, my first thought is these people aren't making enough of an effort to see what's out there.

Regarding out-of-state brands that are new to Texas, there was once again an influx of well-known names that began distributing here for the first time. A short list includes Alpine (by way of Green Flash), Bayou Tech, Cascade, Evil Twin, Funkwerks, New Holland, Ninkasi, Stillwater Artisan and Urban Family. No doubt more are on the way, as evidenced by the pending arrival of Alesmith in a few short weeks.

As for a few favorites, I'll go my usual route and share them by way of mock categories that apply to each beer presented. Yes, there's a bit of a local slant, but remember that this is a local blog that focuses primarily on promoting local beers. Anyway, the standard disclaimers apply...beers have to be new to Texas in 2015 (though, there is one necessary exception), or at least new to me...and most importantly, tastes differ, so it's understood that not everyone will share the same opinion with respect to my choices.

Fridge staple: Oak Highlands DFDub

Ask me to make a list of under-represented styles, not just locally but in general as well, and I'd probably put dunkelweizen near the top of the list. Thankfully, Oak Highlands has filled that gap with DFDub, a well-executed, stylistic dunkelweizen that's now available year-round in cans.

Top of the Hops: Founders Redankulous

Regardless of whether you call Founders Redankulous an imperial red, an IPA or both like it says on the bottle label, this bright and bitter beer from one of my favorite out-of-state breweries could not have had a more appropriate name. As far as the judges at GABF are concerned, it's an imperial red, since the beer won gold in that category in 2015.

Also notable: Boulevard The Calling, Franconia Ice Bock DIPA, Community Oaked Mosaic IPA.

Roll out the barrels: Community Barrel Aged Legion (Batch 2)

Given the continued proliferation of barrel-aged beers, the best way for me to judge what I consider to be a favorite in this category comes down to finding a beer that I keep coming back to, even when presented with other arguably equivalent options. This year, that beer is Community Barrel Aged Legion Batch 2. The fifth incarnation of BA Legion is out now, but for me batch 2 had far and away the best overall balance between bourbon and beer.

Also notable: 903 Brewers Balcones Barrel Aged Sasquatch (whiskey), 2015 Southern Star Black Crack (whiskey), Prairie Okie (whiskey), Ballast Point Rum Barrel Aged Victory at Sea, Shannon Chocolate Rum Stout, Nebraska Melange a Trois (chardonnay), Karbach Trigave (tequila).

What's old is new again (a.k.a. a great beer from last year): 2014 Cobra Kitchen Sink

The idea for this category came about after seeing North Texas brewers win medals in the Aged Beer category at GABF for two years running. My choice? A beer from what might just be the most improved brewery in North Texas over the last couple of years. The 2014 edition of Kitchen Sink from Cobra was a revelation when I had it fresh last year, and while it wasn't as intense after aging another 12 months, it was still a damn good beer when poured at the brewery's third anniversary party a few weeks back. Unfortunately, I helped empty the last remaining keg...oops!

Great taste of Texas: Clown Shoes A Fistful of Unidragon

Smoked beers are something I'd like to see a lot more of, especially here in Texas given the state's love affair with BBQ. Clown Shoes A Fistful of Unidragon is just such a beer, made better by the fact that it incorporates mesquite-smoked malt grown in Texas. Oh, and it's aged in bourbon barrels too, in case you're into that sort of thing.

Also notable: Clown Shoes The Good, The Bad & The Unidragon (Fistful is the barrel-aged version of this beer), Clown Shoes Crasher in the Rye (Texas oak-smoked malt).

A little something wild (or sour): Destihl Saint Dekkera Sour Reserve - Zure Dubbele Stout

While Destihl's Zure Dubbele Stout probably could've qualified for a couple of the categories above, given its sour status I feel like it fits best as a favorite here. For whatever reason, I didn't take down any tasting notes, but I do remember it being dark, complex, funky and good.

Also notable: Braindead 10th Anniversary Brett IPA, Collective Blueberry Petite Golden Sour, Lakewood Wild Manimal.

North Texas beer of the year: Deep Ellum Barrel Aged Four Swords (Batch 1)

Deep Ellum's Barrel Aged Four Swords is another beer that's gone through a couple of iterations, but for my money the original batch released in January was hard to beat. Rich, layered caramel fronted a beer that drank more like a vintage port. In some ways it reminded me of Samael's Oak-aged Ale from Avery, though, this beer had bits of fruit complexity that gave it that little something extra.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Shiner Birthday Beer returns as Hoppy Pilsner

Image credit: The Gambrinus Company.

Just in time for the holidays, the latest little white box from the little brewery in Shiner arrived at my door on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Inside it, nestled neatly among strands of green and gold confetti, was Birthday Beer, a.k.a. Shiner 107, a Hoppy Pilsner brewed in celebration of the Spoetzl Brewery's 107th birthday.

Hoppy Pilsner follows last year's bearer of the Birthday Beer label, Chocolate Stout, and comes just two months after Shiner's introduction of another hop-driven brew in the form of Wicked Ram IPA. The new offering is brewed with German pilsner malt and a combination of Hallertau Tradition and Czech Saaz hops to create a beer that embodies the brewery's cultural roots.

As for whether or not the name fits the beer, let me start by saying that the pilsner part of the equation fits rather well. Hoppy Pilsner is light-bodied, dry and refreshing, with bits of crackery malt, a hint of honey-like sweetness and a mix of spicy and grassy hop flavors. Really, outside of a distinct lack of bitterness, the beer would seem to fall right in line with much of what the BJCP considers as standard for the German Pils style.

Whether or not it's hoppy, though, probably depends on how you define that particular term. Is it hoppy like an American IPA? Certainly not, but anyone skilled in the art knows that hoppy doesn't in any way equate to a beer being citrusy, piney or bitter. Words like that only describe the characteristics imparted by specific varieties of hops. Hoppy is more about hop presence, and to what degree the intensity of such is a dominant player in the beer.

In that respect, you could argue that Hoppy Pilsner is hoppy, since the spicy and grassy components attributable to the hops used are fairly prominent. Still, I wouldn't call the beer hop-forward, as the pilsner malt plays a significant role in shaping the overall character. To me, Hoppy Pilsner doesn't lean one way or the other when it comes to being hoppy or malty. Rather, it's balanced, which isn't at all a bad thing.

Maybe it's all just marketing, you know like that whole "session" IPA thing as it applies to an everyday pale ale. I mean, Hoppy Pilsner does sound a lot more interesting than just calling the beer a plain old pilsner. Say that, I suppose, and you start to associate yourself with beers made by the big three. At the end of the day, though, Hoppy Pilsner is just a good basic pilsner, and given the brewery's history and heritage, that's exactly what you'd expect it to be.

Hoppy Pilsner
Style: German Pils
Malt: 2-row German Pilsner
Hops: Hallertau Tradition, Czech Saaz
ABV: 5%
IBU: 30
Availability: Limited in 12-ounce bottles and cans, as well as on tap.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Franconia to embark on 2016 World Tour

World Tour regalia will appear on 4-pack carriers (Franconia Brewing Company).

Every once in a while, Franconia Brewing Co. owner Dennis Wehrmann decides it's time to do something different. It happened in 2013, when he and head brewer Cam Horn sidestepped the brewery's German roots in creating a set of beers in honor of Franconia's fifth anniversary, and it'll happen again in 2016 when the brewery launches a new series of brews called World Tour.

As the name implies, Franconia's World Tour line will be made up of beers inspired by parts of the world outside of Germany. Considering that, you may recall that a similar thing was done with some of the aforementioned anniversary brews and, in fact, one of those (Champagne Ale) will be returning as part of World Tour's first wave of offerings.

Label graphics for English Stout (top), Champagne Ale (bottom left) and Baltic Porter (bottom right).

Intended to be released quarterly, the World Tour Series will debut in February, with subsequent releases occurring every three months for the rest of 2016 and on into the future. Each beer will be brewed on a small-batch basis, and made available for a limited time on draft and in 4-packs of 12-ounce bottles.

Artwork for the series will feature the map and colors of each country's flag. An image of what will appear on 4-pack carriers is shown at the top of the page, with images of the bottle label for English Stout and mock-ups for Champagne Ale and Baltic Porter shown above.

Commenting on his plans, Wehrmann says that the idea behind World Tour is to "show appreciation for other beers and brewing traditions from around the world." Not only that, it's also a way to "have fun and do something unexpected" while brewing beers many would consider outside of the brewery's comfort zone.

On top of World Tour, Wehrmann's 2016 outlook also includes the transition of Franconia Pils to a year-round beer. An early springtime release in the past, the recipe for Pils was altered this year to include the new Lemondrop hop variety. That change will remain in place going forward, with fresh bottles of the beer to begin appearing on shelves in January (expect a new spring seasonal to appear in 2017).

Tentative 2016 release schedule for Franconia's World Tour series:

February: English Stout.
May: Belgian Ale (Belgian-style pale ale brewed with Nuggetzilla hops).
August: Champagne Ale (originally brewed in 2013 as part of the brewery's fifth anniversary series).
November: Baltic Porter.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Colorado's Backcountry Brewery purchases FireWheel operation

Image credit: Backcountry Brewery.

Following the completion of a sale agreement on Saturday, Backcountry Brewery of Frisco, Colorado, has purchased the equipment formerly owned and operated by FireWheel Brewing Co., with the intention of re-opening the brewery in Rowlett.

A relative newcomer to the Texas market, Backcountry signed with Dallas-based FullClip Craft Distributors over the summer, with initial deliveries to the Lone Star State arriving in September. According to owner Charlie Eazor, the move to expand the brewery's market stretched it to full capacity, so it was understood that sooner or later the company might have to look into opening an additional location.

The purchase of FireWheel was really just a matter of timing, according to Eazor, as his company learned of the brewery's fate while attending the Dallas Untapped Festival in November. For Backcountry, he says, it created an opportunity to add production capacity in proximity to "a robust and exciting market where our beers have been well-received." Moreover, setting up shop in Rowlett makes sense when you consider that Eazor anticipates selling more beer in Texas than he does at home.

With the deal now closed, Eazor and members of his production team are in North Texas today to begin the work of transitioning the space, but wholesale changes aren't a part of the plan. Backcountry will run with the existing brewhouse for the foreseeable future, though the next month or so will be spent fine-tuning the brewery's recipes to account for differences in equipment and/or environmental conditions associated with the Rowlett location. Beyond that, Eazor indicated that Backcountry will look to put its own spin on the taproom and beer garden areas, with the goal of "creating a family-friendly atmosphere, where people can relax and feel comfortable while enjoying one of our beers."

As for which beers you'll be able to enjoy, Backcountry will brew four of its products locally, with the lineup to include the company's Amber, Pale Ale, Pilsner and Double IPA. Those brews will also be canned for the Texas market, representing a departure from the bottled beers now being shipped from Colorado. Some bottles will still make their way to Texas, but these will be limited to rotating or seasonal brews like Breakfast Stout and Imperial Saison, or small-batch offerings created as part of the brewery's Artisan Series.

In terms of a timeline, if there are no bumps in the road, Eazor believes Backcountry Texas will be capable of running production batches by mid-to-late January. From there, he hopes to be ready for a grand opening sometime in February, with cans of Backcountry beer (pending TABC label approval) appearing on retail shelves soon after.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Bearded Eel to close at year's end

Image credit: Bearded Eel Craft Brewery.

By way of an announcement on social media, Bearded Eel Craft Brewery of Fort Worth has let it be known that it will close on December 31.

Former educators B. J. and Becky Burnett left their jobs in 2013 to pursue their dream of opening a brewery in the community where they both grew up. Motivated by words they used to describe a good, strong brew, they created Bearded Eel's identity based on an anagram of the phrase "leaded beer."

The brewery's official grand opening took place in October 2014, with Bearded Eel remaining a draft-only operation until select products were offered in 22-ounce bombers in August of this year. Over time, the brewery released as many as a dozen different beers, including Texican (a serrano-infused pale ale), Purple Unicorn (a farmhouse wit IPA hybrid) and Bee Funky (a sour mash farmhouse ale).

Personal reasons were given as the catalyst for closing, but the husband-and-wife team said they intend to stay involved in the local brewing community with the development of a new website and YouTube channel. There, they plan to share not only their love of beer, but also all of the brewery's recipes.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Intrinsic now serving barbecue and beer in Garland

Image credit: Intrinsic Smokehouse & Brewery.

Following a grand opening event on Saturday, December 5, Intrinsic Smokehouse & Brewery is now operating in downtown Garland.

Originally known simply as Intrinsic Brewing, the business first appeared on the scene in October 2014. It was then that owners Cary and Molly Hodson launched a crowdfunding campaign with the goal of obtaining additional investment to help get the project off the ground. The initiative, which raised over $30,000 on CrowdBrewed, was boosted by the brewpub's offering of "free beer for life" as one of the rewards for contributing to the cause.

Six months later, the Hodson's joined forces with Taylor Morgan, a.k.a. Pitmaster Tex, who had been a staple at area brewery events providing on-site food service in the form of slow-smoked Texas BBQ, complimented by his own line of condiments branded as Junior's Texas Sauce. Together the group would introduce the re-imagined barbecue and beer concept as Intrinsic Smokehouse & Brewery.

This, of course, led up to the festivities held this past weekend, as the brewpub welcomed patrons with beer offerings upfront and an a-la-carte menu of barbecue options in the back. Five house brews were tapped on opening day, with the lineup consisting of G-Town Gratzer, IP80 IPA, Lunch Date Blonde, Picker Porter and Tamarind Habanero. A number of guest taps were also available, featuring products from other North Texas brewers.

If you happened to miss the party, Intrinsic will be open six days a week (Tuesday-Thursday) starting today, with both lunch and dinner service planned on the food side of things, and craft beer to-go being an option for those just wanting to stop in and pick up a growler fill. As for the beer, now that the brewpub up and running, house recipes will rotate somewhat, with a dry stout and a doppelbock being among the styles to be introduced over the course of the next few weeks.

Intrinsic Smokehouse & Brewery 
509 W. State Street

Friday, December 4, 2015

Deep Ellum sets up Play Date for wide release

Play Date (5.4% ABV, 8 IBU).
Image courtesy of Deep Ellum Brewing Co.

Originally a draft only product unveiled as part of the brewery's 4 Year Anniversary Extravaganza in November, Deep Ellum Brewing Co. today announced the pending wide-release of Play Date.

Described by the brewery as "juicy...with notes of sun-kissed fruit, lemon, citrus and melon," Play Date is an American sour ale brewed with Medjool dates. The fruit itself is highly regarded for its nutritional value, and in Middle Eastern culture the Medjool variety is known as the king of dates.

As for how the beer came together, brewer Barrett Tillman says, "We start with our iconic Dallas Blonde as the base and ferment it to dryness with Medjool dates; the earthy tea presence of the dates plays well with acidity to create an ale that is truly free-spirited and unique in character. Shy of puckering, the resulting tartness is our homage to an unforgettable first kiss."

According to a press release, Play Date will be available on draft and in 22-ounce bottles beginning December 8, with meet-and-greet launch events featuring Tillman scheduled to occur at the following locations:

Tuesday, December 8 at The Bottle Shop in Dallas, from 4-7 p.m.
Thursday, December 10 at The Bearded Monk in Denton, from 6-9 p.m.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Go behind the curtain at Carling

Aerial image of the completed Carling Brewery in Ft. Worth (May 1964).

If you've got some free time and are looking to turn back the clock while taking in a bit of North Texas brewing history, the Special Collections division of the University of Texas at Arlington Library has made available an online database of images depicting the former Carling Brewing Company of Ft. Worth.

Carling, as you may know, predated Miller Brewing Company on the site where MillerCoors now operates on I-35W, just south of I-20 in Ft. Worth (the physical address is 7001 South Freeway). The Canadian brewery began construction on the property in January 1963, but what was to be "The World's Most Modern Brewery" never managed to get fully up and running due to production issues. This led to the eventual buyout by Miller in 1966, with various expansions and upgrades over the years leading to the facility we see today.

Images of Carling (dating from 1963-1965) are archived at UTA as part of the W.D. Smith Photography Negatives Collection, with over 140 entries providing a glimpse of both the interior and exterior of the plant at various stages of its construction and development. In addition to numerous aerial shots of the outside of the building, images of the inside capture views of employee common areas, as well as virtually all aspects of the manufacturing process.

Above and below, I've put together a preview of what can be found in the collection, which is accessible at the following website: Once there, click "Search" at the upper right and enter "Carling" as your search term.


Click thumbnails to link directly to the gallery at UTA where you can view full size images (clicking will open a new tab/window):

Early and late-stage construction (left: March 1963, right: October 1963)

Left: Brewing system control board (1964).
Right: Liquid adjunct tank with a capacity of 400 barrels (1964).

Left: Fermentation tanks with a capacity of 1000 barrels (1964).
Right: Storage room lined with 1000-barrel tanks (1964).

Above: Packaging line, including a bottle washer (upper right) capable of processing 14,840 bottles at a time, and a label machine (just out of view to the left) capable of labeling 270 bottles per minute (1964).

Note: All images are the property of University of Texas at Arlington and are used here in accordance with the terms of the non-commercial license found here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

On the spectacle that was BrainDead's Festicle

Image credit: Brewvolution, LLC.

Anyone who regularly follows craft beer in North Texas knows that over the past few years the local scene has witnessed a long line of firsts. Among them have been a number of first-time festivals, many of which have gone on to become can't-miss yearly gatherings featuring the best in both local and national beer.

Within that category, however, one thing the area hasn't had up to now is a festival designed around a limited bottle release. As an example of such an occurrence, perhaps the most well-known of these has gone on annually for twelve years at Three Floyds Brewing Co. in Munster, Indiana. Known as Dark Lord Day, it's been called the "most iconic single-day release event in the craft beer industry."

This is relevant because the topic of Dark Lord Day arose during conversations on more than one occasion during North Texas' first foray into a similar type event on Saturday. Billed as BrainDead Brewing's first-ever Festicle, the affair was a joint effort between the brewpub and Chad and Nellie Montgomery, otherwise known as the husband-and-wife team behind Big Texas Beer Fest.

The catalyst for the festivities was, of course, the inaugural release of two BrainDead beers in a bottle. Head brewer Andrew Huerter unveiled Hammer of the Gods, an imperial wheat porter aged in whiskey barrels, and Bent de Garde, a bière de garde aged in red wine barrels. These were sold in 750 mL vessels at a cost of $20 per bottle, with allotments based on whether you purchased a VIP or general admission ticket.

As for the celebration itself, Festicle was held in the parking lot adjacent to BrainDead's location in Deep Ellum. Live music filtered through the crowd from a stage set up at the far end of the space, while food was prepared on the opposite side in a contraption of cookery called Jolly. Chef David Pena used the device to smoke a steer leading up to the event, with the eventual offerings consisting of a choice between a beef cheek or brisket plate served with a variety of sauces.

The bulk of the setup, though, was devoted to the main attraction, that being the beer. Attendees sampled brews from a carefully curated list of over 70 beers from more than 40 different breweries. And, at least from my perspective, I'm not sure there was a bad beer in the bunch. In fact, the selection was such that even if you only chose products scoring 99 or better on Ratebeer, you still would have found more than enough to drink in order to fill out the twelve-sample tasting card. In my case, although I bypassed favorites by the name of Bible Belt, The Beast and Backwoods Bastard, I didn't feel like I missed out on anything since every beer I tried rated well above average. Among the highlights were Hops & Grain's Ye Old Street St. Ale (the style of which is embedded in the name) and a light-bodied sour cherry stout from Blue Owl called Professor Black.

But, getting back to something I said up above, one might wonder if North Texas has a big-time beer release day in the making. "We're not there yet, but someday we hope to be," was the sentiment echoed by BrainDead's other two key players, Sam Wynne and Jeff Fryman, but considering it was even discussed means it's something to aspire to. While it's obviously too early in the brewpub's history to be drawing comparisons to Dark Lord Day and the beer it celebrates, just having an event like this in North Texas checks off a box, so to speak, on the list of things the region has never experienced before. In that way, it adds yet another welcome layer to our still-developing scene.

On the question of whether it will become a can't-miss event, one thing to consider is how it compares to other local festivals. While large-scale soirees like Untapped and Big Texas Beer Fest cater to casual craft beer drinkers as well as connoisseurs, Festicle comes across like Brewer's Ball in being more of a beer geek's beer festival. If that and the smaller setting are things that appeal to you, then I'd say the answer to the question is yes. At least for me, the price of food and drink alone was worth the price of admission, and based on that I foresee many more Festicles in my future.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

FireWheel Brewing closes in Rowlett

Image credit: FireWheel Brewning Co.

After more than three years in business, FireWheel Brewing Co. has closed its doors in Rowlett.

The work of owner and brewer, Brad Perkinson, FireWheel opened in the summer of 2012 in a business park located on Lawing Lane. Perkinson ran the brewery as a proverbial one-man band during the company's first two years, not hiring his first employee until April 2014. Not long after that, he took on an equity partner with the intent to transition to a larger facility on Enterprise Drive. The new space, which featured a 30-barrel brewhouse, added cold-storage capacity and a taproom for visitors, debuted the following December.

Entering 2015, Perkinson's long-term plan was to begin packaging FireWheel's products in cans, but financial issues got in the way and eventually forced him to announce the brewery's closure. After a final farewell party, FireWheel ceased operations on November 15, 2015.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Muenster Brewing launches crowdfunding campaign

Image credit: All images the property of Muenster Brewing Co.

It was August of 2014 when Independent Ale Works announced in was closing its doors in Denton County, with one of the two founding partners already eyeing a new beginning to the north. Now, after a little over a year in development, Stefen Windham has advanced to the funding stage of a brewery project to be set in the City of Muenster.

Muenster Brewing Co. will be located at 102 N. Main Street in downtown Muenster. The business will occupy a building originally constructed in 1940, with space available for a 1000 square foot taproom and a 4000 square foot production area. Once the site of an automobile dealership, the structure will be re-purposed to house the first known brewery to exist in Muenster and surrounding Cooke County.

The brewery's address is also just a short distance from Muenster Heritage Park, which is home to the city's annual Germanfest and Oktoberfest celebrations. These events are part of a local culture with German roots that date back to when the city was founded in 1889. It's appropriate, then, that Windham's vision for the brewery is to focus on crafting traditional German styles. That's a departure from the approach taken at Independent Ale Works, but Windham says he has always favored German brews. "There is so much variety with German beer," he explains, "and I've always said that if you can't find a German beer you like, then you must not like beer."

Referencing long-standing German traditions, Windham recognizes that to be able to execute German styles, and execute them well, the company's brewing process will have to be technically exacting. Using the 1000 year-old Weihenstephaner brewery as an example, he notes that "Germans have had a long time to perfect the art of beer." To develop the brewery's own best practices, Muenster Brewing is working with an equipment manufacturer to custom design a setup that Windham says, "will utilize a number of innovations allowing us to brew beer to exacting quality standards. It is highly efficient and will have the ability to outproduce a system three times its size." Upon completion, Windham indicates the brewery will be the only one in the world to utilize the system in a craft brewing environment.

To help with the purchase of the brewhouse, Muenster Brewing has created a GoFundMe campaign to supplement capital being sought from a combination of private, equity and debt financing. A prospectus detailing the brewery's overall plan and philosophical approach can be found at the following link:

The document, which outlines expected expenditures and includes a brief market analysis, may also be accessed directly from the GoFundMe page located at:

Active now, like other crowdfunding initiatives, rewards are offered for different contribution levels. Donation amounts ranging from $5-$6000 will get you anything from a free pint of beer on opening day, to taking part in a brew day while enjoying accommodations at local lodging destinations.

Once the campaign closes, if all else goes according to plan, Windham expects to open for business in late spring or early summer 2016. He intends on operating as a production brewery, as opposed to a brewpub, with a bottling line in the forecast to provide packaged products for distribution. That aspect, according to the prospectus, will be handled by Miller of Denton, with initial deliveries being limited to accounts within a 100 mile radius of the brewery.

* Update: Muenster Brewing has ceased development.*

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Taps & Caps teams with Cobra for coconut collab

Image credits: Cobra Brewing Co., Lone Star Taps & Caps.

Amongst the myriad of new beers coming out for North Texas Beer Week is one you might miss without a trip to the northern side of the Metroplex. On tap now at Lone Star Taps & Caps (T &C), All Eyez on Me is a collaborative effort between the shop and the neighboring Cobra Brewing Co. of Lewisville. It's a Russian imperial stout brewed with toasted coconut, which T&C co-founder Rick Ali says is inspired by the work of a hip-hop legend.

Tupac Shakur released the album All Eyez on Me in 1996, at a time when, Ali proclaims, the artist "was the best at what he did and a game-changer in his profession." The beer, he explains, "is an ode to that and how we (at T&C) are proud to be a part of the Texas craft beer scene after having been at the forefront of the movement for the last 10 years." And, like Tupac, Ali continues, "we are always trying to push beyond the norm." To get a sense of what he means, simply swap the themes of thug life and crime in the album's title track to craft beer and dedication to the industry.

Ali has wanted to collaborate with a brewery for some time. The partnership with Cobra was a no brainer, in his mind, because he believes they tend to brew the types of beers he and many of his customers like to drink. "Dawn of the Dank, Kitchen Sink, Spring Cleaning and Barrel Aged Klurichan are beers that have all that I want," says Ali. "Each is well-balanced with great aroma and a high ABV that is hidden well."

All Eyez on Me (© Brian Brown/Beer In Big D).

Brewing a Russian imperial stout was another easy decision, since it's one of Ali's favorite styles and one he drinks year-round. As for the added ingredient, coconut is a favorite food of his as well, so to him it was a must-have addition. Ali even arose at an early hour to help out on brew day, something that was naturally set to the soundtrack of Tupac's inspirational song.

In terms of tasting notes, my impressions are that the coconut is more of a subtle player in All Eyez on Me, though it does lend a little bit of lingering sweetness to the aftertaste. Otherwise the beer is rich and roasty, with a bitter finish reminiscent of a high-cacao chocolate bar. It's an all-too-easy drinker considering its strength, with a medium body and virtually no hint of the 9.92% ABV.

All Eyez on Me is a good beer, and one that furthers my belief that founders Neil MacCuish and Bill Shaw have found their groove at the brewery in Lewisville. In addition to the heftier beers Ali mentions above, lighter offerings like the hazelnut-infused Donut Dunker have proven to be solid efforts as well. Given that, if it's been a while since you've visited Cobra, it might be worth your time to give them a second look.

As for this batch of All Eyez on Me, enough was made to fill only five half-barrel kegs, so it will only be available for a limited time. Should the beer prove to be popular, Ali hopes he and MacCuish can continue to develop the recipe, perhaps offering different variants with other ingredients in the future.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Best of the fest: My 2015 Dallas Untapped tasting card

Image credits: Untapped Festival, Alaskan Brewing Co., Braindead Brewing,
Lakewood Brewing Co., Oak Highlands Brewery.

Due to other things taking up a lot of my time over the last year or so, this weekend's Untapped Festival at Fair Park in Dallas was a return of sorts for me, since the last Untapped event I attended was the Fort Worth get together in 2014.

While it was great to be back roaming the grounds, I have to say that Untapped has officially become unmanageable. I mean, come on, how am I supposed to drink all the beers when there are over 400 of them to choose from?! Granted, I didn't actually want to drink 400 beers (not really anyway), but there were at least a few dozen on my short list of things to try at the event this past Saturday. This is all in jest, of course, but considering the beer list, its quality of curation and...well...the strength of many of the samples I sipped, all it took was two tasting cards and I was about done. Any more than that and I would've probably been seen wandering around reciting the lyrics to Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home." 

So, what was good? Most everything I tried, really, except maybe a spice bomb or two, and another that was a little too minty fresh. Then again, there was also the beer with a purpose in life that wasn't exactly clear. It wasn't bad, but I don't know if it was an ice cream trying to be a beer, or a beer trying to be an ice cream...or maybe neither? If someone wants to check with Ben or Jerry and get back to me, that'd be great.

In any case, here are a few of my favorites from Saturday's Fair Park adventure. As always, these words are based on first impressions gleaned from a two-ounce sample, so any tasting notes are fairly basic, and it's understood that your thoughts may be completely different than mine. Cheers!

  • Alaskan Smoked Porter (2005, 2010, 2015): A great little in-festival vertical treat, after trying all three vintages I'd say the 2010 was the best. Not surprisingly, the smoked malt was most prevalent in the 2015 release, while being much less present in the bottle from 2005. The early version had some interesting sherry-like notes as well, but for me it was hard to beat the overall balance of the 2010 edition.
  • Braindead 10th Anniversary Brett IIPA: From what I understand, the anniversary reference has to do with when Braindead brew chief Drew Huerter started homebrewing (yes, no, maybe?). As for the beer, this well-balanced brew was a little hoppy, a little funky and a lotta good.
  • Lakewood Wild Manimal: Also using a bit of Brett, Wild Manimal is the brainchild of the "Manimal" himself, brewer Will Paden. It had just the right amount of fruit and funk, and while I'll need a full pour to see for myself, Lakewood founder Wim Bens said he thinks it's one of the brewery's best ever.
  • Oak Highlands Chump Change: While I'm not at liberty to discuss the details of how this beer is made, to me it's a reminder that you don't have to go beyond beer's four basic ingredients to make something interesting and unique. Billed as an imperial black saison, Chump Change seemed to bring together the funk and effervescence of a saison, with the color and dark fruit of a dubbel.

Others I enjoyed: 903 Balcones Barrel Aged Sasquatch, Deep Ellum Barrel Aged Oak Cliff Coffee Ale, Jester King Synthesis Analogous, Karbach Trigavé, Rabbit Hole Mystic Rapture.

Friday, November 6, 2015

On the eve of Untapped, a Q&A with organizer Corey Pond

Image credit: Untapped Festival.

It was the summer of 2012 when North Texas was first introduced to the concept of Untapped, a festival billed as a mash-up of the best in both music and beer. The music was one thing, but for beer lovers the event promised a selection of brews unlike anything that had ever been seen, not only locally, but across the entire state of Texas as well. And, it delivered in that respect many times over.

Now entering its fourth year in Dallas, Untapped has grown from a gathering where 50 breweries doled out samples of around 100 beers, to an event where over 100 breweries will be serving more than 400 beers. Included in that number are 175 beers from 45 Texas breweries, 25 of which make their home in the Metroplex. On top of all that, attendance is expected to be in the vicinity of 10,000 people. Not bad for a festival that didn't even exist as recently as 2011.

As one of the organizers of Untapped, Corey Pond (the beer guy) has been front and center since it was just an idea being talked about over a beer with Spune Productions CEO Matthew Harber (the music guy). Not only that, Pond is also the owner of The Common Table, as well as being a member of the Board of Directors for North Texas Beer Week. So who better to ask about the evolution of Untapped, its legendary beer list (check out the 2015 edition here) and how it helps to foster the growth of craft beer industry in North Texas?

After discussing these very topics with him, which I've summarized below, should someone come up to me in the future and pose the above query, what I'll say is this...if you've got questions related to craft beer, Corey Pond's got answers. And, I'm not talking about the kind of rehearsed remarks some sports star spits out after he's gotten his keister kicked in a tough game. Indeed, what you're about to read isn't just a collection of clichés or an attempt to sugar coat what Pond believes is the truth. Instead, what you'll see are honest, passionate and prideful responses that speak to where North Texas is as a craft beer community, and thoughts on what the region is capable of becoming in the not-so-distant future.


On Untapped's all-important beer list...

Q: Back in 2012, the year Untapped got its start in Dallas, I said something along the lines of that beer list being one of the greatest collections of craft beer ever compiled in the state. By all accounts, the list has only gotten bigger and better since then. How have you managed to continue to one-up yourself in that regard?

CP: I still believe that first comment was true back then, but this year's list makes that one look pedestrian. Over time the reputation for Untapped's beer list has made getting an incredible lineup much easier. The breweries know everybody is going to throw down and they want to make sure the beers they bring stand up to their peers. I do push back every now and then on the breweries and ask for something more, but not very often. It just kind of takes care of itself. I've also gotten to be friends with a lot of these folks and they know I'll drive them crazy if they phone it in.

Q: Does the North Texas market present any unique challenges compared to others in the state when it comes to putting together the list? Is it easier or more difficult considering there are almost always a handful of new breweries that have opened since the last event?

CP: North Texas is actually the best place to put together the beer list, in my opinion. With all due respect to Austin, Houston and San Antonio, we have more breweries here than any other city in Texas and overall the quality of beer in North Texas is better. That's not just my opinion - user ratings on Ratebeer, as well as awards won at GABF and World Beer Cup have all pretty much made that an objective fact. I also know a lot of the owners/staff at the local breweries and talk to them regularly, so I spend 12 months a year encouraging them to make something special for the event. If you look at what Peticolas does at every Untapped festival, that pretty much summarizes it for me. The beer lists in all the markets are outstanding, but you just can't beat the one in Dallas. Plus, Dallas Untapped is the flagship, so the out of town folds typically make sure they bring the heat for this one.

Q: You visited Southern Tier in New York to help brew XNTX 2015, a beer created exclusively for North Texas Beer week that will be available at Untapped. What was that experience like?

CP: It was amazing - it's likely the most beautiful brewery I'll ever see and the people were amazing. But, they actually made us do the brewing work - I had to handle 20+ lb bags of malted barley (and damn near ruined a machine in the process), fill buckets with hops and set my phone to remind me to go back and add the 2nd and 3rd hop additions (at that point I was in the brewpub). I had the opportunity to brew at another large craft brewery several years back, but it was not nearly as hands on as this. I tasted the roasted pecans before they were put in the mash (15 lbs of them if I remember correctly). It was a blast and I learned a lot. I can't wait to taste the beer - it sounds delicious.

Q: Other than XNTX 2015, what other beers are you excited to try this Saturday?

CP: These are the beers I'm hoping to try:

  • 903 Brewers Balcones Barrel Aged Sasquatch and The Sour One.
  • 2005, 2010 and 2015 vintages of Alaskan Smoked Porter.
  • Alpine Nelson (cause it's the #truth).
  • Audacity Red Wine Barrel Aged Sour.
  • Braindead 10th Anniversary Ale.
  • Cobra Barrel Aged Klurichan.
  • Community Rum-Soaked Cinnamon Legion.
  • Dogfish Higher Math.
  • Epic Sour Brainless on Peaches.
  • Hops & Grain beers, since they currently don't distribute to D/FW.
  • Jester King Synthesis Analogous.
  • Lakewood Wild Manimal.
  • Lakewood/Rahr & Sons DFW.
  • Martin House Holidazed and Confused.
  • Ninkasi beers making their Untapped debut.
  • Oak Highlands Chump Change.
  • Panther Island Gourdeous Blonde.
  • Peticolas Black Curtains and Sledge Hammer.

On the move to Fair Park for the 2015 event...

Q: With this year's event comes a change in venue. Gilley's seemed to be a popular choice, but this time around you've moved things to Fair Park. Is that just a function of overall growth and needing more space? 

CP: Gilley's was great but it presented some unique TABC challenges due to property lines and other stuff I'm still not sure I understand. Fair Park is an amazing setting and those guys are PROS at handling events. The growth of the event forced the move as much as anything else, but I doubt we'll ever move it again. 

On coupling with CrowdSource and growing craft beer's audience...

Q: A little over a year ago, CrowdSource purchased a majority interest in Untapped. The catalyst for the move from Untapped's point of view seemed to primarily be to add resources to allow growth the even both in Texas and beyond. As you alluded to in mentioning Austin, Houston and San Antonio, we've seen new events added in other major Texas cities, but how else has the partnership changed things as far as putting on the event?

CP: It gives us the ability to do things we otherwise couldn't. The reputation and influence of The Dallas Morning News (CrowdSource's parent company) opens a lot of doors that otherwise wouldn't be opened. For instance, we're now the first major event to follow the State Fair at Fair Park. If we had gone to them (Fair Park) two years ago, I doubt they'd have jumped through all the hoops to make it happen. There's also some exciting stuff we're working on that'll show up in future years that otherwise wouldn't be possible. The marketing reach doesn't hurt either, and we love being a part of such an influential organization. I'm proud of the partnership every single day.

Q: Picking up on something you just said, CrowdSource and The Dallas Morning News obviously have a wide reach with a variety of consumer types. Would you say it's helped to attract a new audience to the craft beer scene that might not have found its way otherwise?

CP: I do believe they've helped attract some new folks. The coverage they provide in print and online reaches a TON of folks and their voice is obviously very well respected. I would've never thought we'd take on a partner for Untapped, but if you'd have told me the potential partner was The Dallas Morning News, I would've always wanted to be a part of that.

Q: Staying with the idea of the audience Untapped serves (both literally and figuratively), music is obviously a major component of the event. In fact, Untapped is presented as the best of both music and beer, rather than say a music festival that just happens to have great beer (or vice versa). Even so, do think either side benefits more from being brought together? 

CP: This is what makes Untapped special to me and hopefully to fest-goers. We absolutely, positively introduce new people to craft beer. They (the fans that come strictly for the music) actually don't have a choice at Untapped - they have to drink craft beer or not drink anything at all. I've seen so many people post on social media about how Untapped introduced them to the beer scene, and every time I see one it makes me smile. I also love great music and enjoy the idea of introducing beer lovers to great music they hadn't known about previously. It's the combination of the two that makes me (and everybody involved) so passionate about Untapped.

On the state of the local craft beer union...

Q: In your mind, how does Untapped impact the beer scene here in North Texas?

CP: To me, the entire beer scene is symbiotic. Having great breweries makes it easier to have a great festival. Having Big Texas Beer Fest here makes it easier to have Untapped here. Having North Texas Beer Week occur and kick so much ass helps Untapped, helps the breweries, and so on. Untapped brings people to craft beer (just like BTBF, North Texas Beer Week and the local breweries do) which in turn helps BTBF, North Texas Beer Week, the breweries, etc. I don't really know exactly what Untapped does, but I'd like to think it makes a big impact. Ten thousand folds all drinking and talking about beer in one place surely makes some kind of difference.

Q: Finally, if  you were to give a one-paragraph "state of the union" on where North Texas is as far as being considered a craft beer destination, what would you say?

CP: I think we're already a destination. For Untapped, over 10% of our total ticket sales come from more than 45 miles away (so even outside of Fort Worth). This year, we've sold tickets to people from over 30 states. North Texas Beer Week is also making an impact. There are more breweries in North Texas than almost any city in the south (as in south and east of here) aside from places in North Carolina. We have two of the biggest and best beer festivals in the nation, and our beer week is undoubtedly among top in the nation and it's not even three years old. It's been amazing to watch. I believe North Texas can become one of the top beer destinations in the next three-to-four years. The momentum that exists today gives me no reason to believe we won't continue to catch up with, and eventually pass, quite a few of the big beer cities.

Untapped Dallas happens Saturday, November 7 at Fair Park. Get your tickets here.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Rahr & Sons readies 2015 Bourbon Barrel Aged Winter Warmer

To be on shelves in time to enjoy with your Thanksgiving dinner, Rahr & Sons is set to deliver the 2015 edition of Bourbon Barrel Aged Winter Warmer.

This year, Rahr & Sons has taken its seasonal Winter Warmer and aged it for 12 weeks in bourbon barrels with freshly toasted American oak. The goal being "to create a balanced, yet bold blend of oak, English hops, dark fruit flavor and a touch of vanilla."

Image credit: Rahr & Sons Brewing Co. (click to enlarge)

As it's done every year since Bourbon Barrel Aged Winter Warmer first debuted, Rahr & Sons has again refined its brewing and wood-aging techniques to build upon past successes. According to a press release, changes made for 2015 have led to a more flavorful beer with higher alcohol content (10.37 % ABV) compared to prior years.

Rahr & Sons brewing operations manager, Craig Mycoskie, commented on the release by saying, "Bourbon Barrel Aged Winter Warmer helped put Rahr & Sons on the map. We strive to make each year's version increasingly better and are very excited for our fellow craft beer lovers to experience our 2015 brew."

Bourbon Barrel Aged Winter Warmer will be available on tap and in 22-ounce bottles. Packaged products will feature a new metallic holograph design on the bottle surface, continuing the brewery's tradition of updating the label design each year to make it a unique collector's item.

903 Brewers unleashes Balcones Barrel Aged Sasquatch

Image credit: 903 Brewers
(click to enlarge).
Still riding a high after a 2014 vintage of Sasquatch won a silver medal at this year's Great American Beer Festival, 903 Brewers in Sherman is ready to release a special version of its most popular, and now award-winning beer.

Originally introduced in 2014, Sasquatch is the brewery's imperial chocolate milk stout, and it's a beer that's getting the barrel treatment just in time for North Texas Beer Week. According to co-founder Jeremy Roberts, a recent batch of Sasquatch spent two months in barrels supplied by Balcones Distilling of Waco. It's a significant pairing, says Roberts, because "the distillery's barrels are really hard to get. They are small like us, so we were only able to get a limited amount of barrels for this first run."

As for how the two Texas companies came together, Roberts says it all happened quite naturally. "We are huge fans of Balcones, and we met the distillers one Saturday at the brewery. They loved our Sasquatch, and the conversation quickly turned to how good we all thought it would be in their barrels. The rest, as they say, is history."

Roberts seems happy with the result based on how he describes the finished beer, "On the nose you get whiskey aromas out of the gate, with the first sip adding a lot of vanilla notes from the barrels, backed by a hint of whiskey in the taste. After that, Sasquatch takes over giving you the chocolate and roasted malt flavors we all love from the original beer."

At total of only 22 kegs of were made, meaning Balcones Barrel Aged Sasquatch will be available on a very limited basis. Additional batches are planned, though, with Roberts indicating that he hopes to get the beer into bombers for retail sale sometime in January.

For now, though, 903 fans will have to try and tame the brewery's newest beast during North Texas Beer Week events occurring over the next ten days (though, if you miss it don't despair, Craft & Growler will tap it post-beer week on Wednesday, December 2).

Saturday, November 7
  • Tour & Tasting at 903 Brewers in Sherman, 12 p.m.
  • Untapped Festival at Fair Park in Dallas, 2:30 p.m. (click here to purchase tickets).
Monday, November 9
  • Release Party at Noble Rey Brewing Co. in Dallas, 6 p.m.
  • Special tapping at The Bearded Lady in Fort Worth, 6 p.m.
Tuesday, November 10
  • Pint Night/Meet the Owner at East Side Denton, 7 p.m.
Wednesday, November 11
  • Sasquatch Side by Side (a keg of Sasquatch aged in barrels from Iron Root Republic will also be available) at Jack Mac's Swill & Grill in Dallas, 7 p.m.
Thursday, November 12
  • Trivia night at 903 Brewers in Sherman, 5 p.m.
Saturday, November 14
  • Tour & Tasting at 903 Brewers in Sherman, 12 p.m.
Sunday, November 15
  • Special tapping at The Bearded Monk in Denton, 4 p.m.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Two years of local beer at LUCK

Image credits: LUCK, HopFusion Ale Works,
The Manhattan Project Beer Co., Mossberg Brewing (click to enlarge).

In the two years since it opened in Trinity Groves, the Local Urban Craft Kitchen known as LUCK has made a name for itself in both the culinary and craft beer community. The work of partners Jeff Dietzman, Ned Steel and Daniel Pittman has been praised by media outlets like The Dallas Morning News and D Magazine (food, beer), and just last year LUCK appeared on an episode of Frankenfood on Spike TV.

Yet, speaking as someone who follows the beer scene in North Texas, what stands out to me is the enduring support of the local brewing industry. And, just to be clear, this is something that goes well beyond having a locals-only beer menu that plays no favorites among a crop of over 40 different area brewing operations. Though, that alone qualified the place to earn the honor of having the "Best Local Beer Selection" in 2014, as cited by the Dallas Observer.

Looking past that, LUCK shows its support of the industry in a number of other ways, both inside and outside of the actual restaurant. Some things are more visible, like weekly pint nights spotlighting the latest local releases, and events like LUCKapalooza and last week's anniversary party that bring attention to brewers just getting started in the business (more on that below). Then, there are the things that fly under the radar, like if there's a beer festival happening around town, or if a local brewery is having an anniversary or grand opening, it's a virtual certainty that one or more of the founders will be there. I know, because I can't think of a single event I attended this year where I didn't see one or more of them in attendance.

On that note, Steel says the idea of being present in the local scene is something that's ingrained in the mindset of the three partners. "Honestly, our support at the local festivals, new brewery openings, tours, etc. has been an unspoken commitment. We ALL came to the conclusion separately that it was something that was important to us, that is, to show our support whenever possible. We weren't looking to be recognized for it, but we're appreciative when it gets noticed. More than a few of the local brewery owners/brewers have made a point to tell us, individually, how much it means to them to see us out and about, and for us that's just icing on the cake because we enjoy supporting the local beer scene." That support is something that goes both ways, as a number of those owners/brewers Steel is talking about were on hand as LUCK celebrated its second year.

It's hard to argue, though, that the tap wall is where the support of local breweries is most evident on an everyday basis. The topic even finds its way into Steel's reflections on the past two years. "The old adage of 'time flies when you're having fun' holds true with us," he explains, "because while LUCK has been a lot of work, we're having a blast! The craft beer community welcomed us with open arms and we'd like to think we've reciprocated the gesture with each new brewery that has opened their doors over the past two years. We said from the beginning that if your craft brewery operates in North Texas and you want a tap on our wall, you've got it."

Considering their approach up to now, it seems most appropriate that "local" was chosen as the leading term in LUCK's full name. As for the future, Steel makes it clear that we should expect more of the same in terms of how the restaurant will be run. "Going forward LUCK will continue to support the local beer scene by promoting the 'little guys (and girls)' making quality beer, while at the same time presenting a food menu that is approachable to everyone."

Reading that, I'm reminded that the partners listed "sharing our passion for local food and beer at its best" as a goal on LUCK's website. Maybe it's just me, but I'd say they've done a pretty good job of that so far. As for my own reflections on the first two years at LUCK, I'll just say this in reference to something I wrote right after it first opened...I don't even remember what store-bought pastrami looks like.


More on breweries in development that appeared at the second anniversary celebration:

HopFusion Ale Works

Of the breweries on hand Sunday, HopFusion Ale Works is the only one currently under construction. As of now, founders Matt Hill and Macy Moore are targeting an April opening date for their location at 200 E. Broadway Ave. in Fort Worth. At the event they served what will be both year-round and seasonal selections, including the honey-forward Feisty Blonde and a maple pumpkin creation called Ichabod Canuck. The highlight for me, though, was Zombie Crack, a very well-balanced bourbon oak milk stout brewed with roasted pecans.

Mossberg Brewing

After many years as hobbyists, Mossberg's husband-and-wife team of Jim and Erin Brewer may be ready to take the next step. They are exploring options in Fort Worth, and if things fall into place they plan to be brewing professionally sometime next year with a focus on traditional farmhouse ales and mixed fermentations. While they would have a portfolio of standards, one-off brews and barrel-aged selections would be a part of the mix as well. Favorites of mine they've served at past homebrew events include the beers Balle de Foin (a French saison brewed with spelt) and Purple Drank (a sour brown ale aged on raspberries), with this weekend's pour of Blacker the Berry (blackberry sour) being among their best.

The Manhattan Project Beer Company

Another husband-and-wife team forms part of the group behind The Manhattan Project, with Karl and Misty Sanford being joined by Jeremy Brodt on the venture. To be based in Dallas, beers follow the lead of the company's name in having a nuclear theme. Along those lines, offerings include Bikini Atoll (a cherry gose), Half-Life (a dry-hopped wheat) and Inception (a Belgo-American brown ale). Another brew called Hoppenheimer, a play on then name of nuclear physicist and "father of the atomic bomb" J. Robert Oppenheimer, is said to utilize a strain of Conan yeast, which is well-known for being used to ferment The Alchemist's Heady Topper.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Nuggetzilla and a new eisbier in the Haus, Nov. 12 at Franconia

Image credit: Franconia Brewing Company (click to enlarge).

Considering it was named Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket's official beer of North Texas Beer Week in 2014, it's no surprise to learn that Franconia Brewing Co. of McKinney is bringing back Bordeaux Tripel Dunkel in time for this year's round of festivities. What may be a surprise, however, are plans the brewery has for two additional beers it's brewing especially for the occasion.

The first is Pineapple Kölsch, a beer which takes the recipe for Franconia's year-round kölsch and adds an experimental hop known as Nuggetzilla. According to founder Dennis Wehrmann, the brewery whipped up a test batch a few weeks back and tapped it by surprise during a Saturday tour. "We only had enough to fill a single keg," says Wehrmann, "but everyone loved it and it didn't last the day." Judging by a separate test batch I sampled based on Franconia Amber, Nuggetzilla should add a distinctive pineapple tone to the beer, along with a strong resiny element and some bitterness. These latter characteristics are the result of the hop's high oil and alpha acid content (15-17%).

Nuggets of Nuggetzilla (Brian Brown / Beer in Big D).

Regarding the other new beer, an eisbier to be called IPA Ice Bock is in the works as well. Wehrmann says he and head brewer Cam Horn haven't made this particular beer before, but it will be done in a similar manner to previous versions created using Winter Wheat and Tripel Dunkel. Like those beers, after Franconia Double IPA spends time in the deep freeze, the ice crystals will be removed leaving a beer more concentrated in both flavor and aroma. Less water means the finished beer will have more alcohol as well, likely at or above 10% based on the value of the brewery's standard DIPA.

Both beers will be tapped, along with Bordeaux Tripel Dunkel, during the annual Open Haus Franconia hosts as a part of North Texas Beer Week. Happening Thursday, November 12 from 6-9 p.m., the event will feature food trucks, a live bottling line run and an appearance by Donnie Nelson, the general manager and president of basketball operations for the Dallas Mavericks.

Bordeaux Tripel Dunkel will also be available throughout North Texas Beer Week during events going on at the following locations:

Saturday, November 7:
  • Dallas Untapped Festival at Dallas Fair Park, 2:30 p.m. (click here for tickets).
  • Kelly's at the Village in Allen, 6 p.m.
Tuesday November 10:
  • Cold Beer Company in Dallas, 6 p.m.
  • Ginger Man Lakewood/Plano/Southlake, 6 p.m.
Wednesday, November 11:
  • Fillmore Pub in Plano, 6 p.m.
  • Ginger Man Dallas/Fort Worth, 6 p.m.
Friday, November 13.
  • Brewer's Ball in the Dallas Renaissance Hotel, 7 p.m. (click here for tickets).

Click to enlarge menu.
Other items of note:
  • Franconia is the second-to-last stop of the 2015 Brew HaHa Comedy Series. The event occurs on Friday, November 6 at 7 p.m. (click here for tickets).
  • The brewery has partnered with Kent Rathbun for a beer dinner at Hickory in Plano on Wednesday, November 11 at 6:30 p.m. See the image to the right for a rundown of the menu and call 972-712-0777 to make reservations. Note that beer pairings (not listed) will feature Franconia's regular lineup: Amber, Dunkel, Kölsch, Lager and Fallin' Bock.