Friday, August 28, 2015

Should Taste Test be taken to task?

Logos the property of D Magazine and Lakewood Brewing Company, respectively.

Over the last few days, one of the hot topics on social media has been the latest installment of something called "Taste Test Thursday", a weekly review-like column put out by D Magazine. It focuses on various foods and beverages found locally and, naturally, every so often they round up a number of beers and give them the once over. In the past, subjects covered have included Dallas IPAs, holiday beers, pumpkin beers and what some might consider to be off-the-wall offerings.

This week the topic was session IPAs, and low and behold Lakewood Brewing Company took them to task for something that was said. Certain there must have been some sort of misunderstanding, I decided to peruse some past articles to try and understand their process. And, I'll tell you, for the life of me I can't understand why everyone is so upset. To begin with, they go out of their way to publish the opinions of fair and impartial jurors.

"I don't like IPAs..." and "...I don't drink IPAs." (from "TTT: Dallas Beer - IPA Edition")

"I don't customarily drink your so-called session beers..." (from "TTT: Dallas Session IPAs")

"First, before I begin, let me say that I hate spiced beer and fruit-flavored
beer and gourd-infused beer." (from "TTT: Pumpkin Beer")

Not only that, they obviously take great care to ensure that they sample the products in the proper order while pausing to cleanse their palates after each beer.

"Taste buds are a little shot from the last one." (from "TTT: Weird Beers")

"I don't taste any pumpkin in this one. Perhaps that's because
my palate is already fried." (from "TTT: Pumpkin Beer")

Oh, and they always use appropriate glassware.

"Not much of a nose, or maybe it's overpowered by this cup's paper smell." (from "TTT: Weird Beers")

Furthermore, those selected for the panels are all highly-qualified experts, each well-versed in the finer points of the styles they've been chosen to judge.

"I expect my IPAs to be a little bit cloudy." (from "TTT: Dallas Session IPAs")

"This one has a very aggressive citrus taste, one that's not usually
associated with IPAs." (from "TTT: Dallas Session IPAs")

Comments such as these being a clear indication that the BJCP needs to do a comprehensive update of the American IPA style guidelines. I mean, the excerpts that follow must surely be incorrect.

Appearance: "Should be clear, although unfiltered dry-hopped versions may be a bit hazy."

Flavor: "Hop flavor is medium to very high, and should reflect an American or New World
hop character, such as citrus, floral, pine, resinous, spicy, tropical fruit, stone fruit, berry, melon, etc."

As for brewers, I can't imagine that they don't appreciate the criticism offered, since it's constructive and written in complete, coherent sentences.

"This does nothing for more." (from "TTT: Weird Beers")

"Yeasty overpowers pump sweetness." (from "TTT: Pumpkin Beer")

Plus, they can gain valuable insight into the impact of any specialty ingredients used in the creation of a recipe from tasting notes that are often powerfully evocative.

"...its malty backbone is tapping on my wine cellars." (from "TTT: Holiday Beer")

"Smells like...the age of a mildew whisper." (from "TTT: Holiday Beer")

"Nut skin nose." (from "TTT: Weird Beers")

Indeed, given all of that, it's quite apparent that the opinions of D Magazine staffers are ones to be valued when it comes to the objective, informed and unbiased evaluation of craft beer. I, for one, plan to tune in each and every week to further my own beer-drinking education. Ten years of BJCP certification be damned! In the meantime, though, one pearl of wisdom from above has inspired me to go out and scour the shelves in search of a bottle of Undead Party Crasher from Clown Shoes. Why, you ask? Because nothing says nom nom nom like a nut skin nose.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Deep Ellum debuts Local Legend - Jameson Edition

Image credit: Deep Ellum Brewing Company.

In June, it was revealed that Deep Ellum Brewing Company was among five American breweries chosen to participate in Drinking Buddies, a craft beer collaboration effort spearheaded by Jameson Irish Whiskey. As part of the program, each brewery was invited to visit the distillery in Ireland, after which they were provided with fresh Jameson barrels to use in the creation of an inspired barrel-aged beer. For Deep Ellum, the result of this partnership is Local Legend - Jameson Edition, which was introduced to the public for the first time at a private event held at the brewery on Tuesday evening.

The project represented a unique opportunity for all those involved, according to Patrick Caulfield, senior brand manager for Jameson's parent company Pernod Ricard USA. That, he says, is due to the fact that "aging any kind of beer in Jameson whiskey barrels is something that's never been done before in the United States." One of the reasons, he explains, is because "it's really hard to get whiskey barrels from Ireland due to a whiskey shortage" and there's simply not enough supply to meet demand.

To that end, Jameson earmarked only thirty barrels to the Drinking Buddies initiative, with six going to each of the five brewery partners. Considering how precious the barrels were, it's no surprise to hear Caulfield say that "choosing the right partners was a big thing." It was a process that started out by focusing on breweries in Jameson's best performing markets. Beyond that, it was about identifying breweries that shared certain characteristics with the distillery and its surrounding community. Naturally, the breweries had to have a passion for their craft and be committed to doing things the right way, but equally important was a connection to their hometown neighborhood and the support of local bartenders serving their product on a daily basis. Judging with those criteria, Jameson determined that Deep Ellum was the right fit for Dallas.

Event photos courtesy of Ketchum (click to enlarge).

As for the making of Local Legend, it's a barrel-aged version of Deep Ellum's Legendairy milk stout, something which includes a touch of local flavor in the form of roasted Texas pecans. The base beer spent a little more than three months in the Jameson casks, after which it was blended with a fresh batch of Legendairy and tweaked a bit to give it additional chocolate flavor. That element comes across somewhat prominently when drinking the beer, as do the pecans, with the barrel components contributing light tannins and a fair amount of warmth to the finish.

Asked for his thoughts on the finished product, Deep Ellum founder John Reardon said, "We believe we have come up with a pretty fantastic beer. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the Jameson barrels. That's really what's important. They added an element...a certain something...that we just couldn't create on our own."

Caulfield agrees in saying that "the end product is really good," a seemingly fitting end to what he calls a rewarding journey for himself personally and for the brand. "To get here and to actually have a product to be able to drink, taste, smell, experience and to see the characteristics of the whiskey come through has been really exciting."

Regarding availability, based on the number of barrels used in this batch, it should be noted that quantities of Local Legend - Jameson Edition are extremely limited. For comparison, only two barrels were used in making Barrel-Aged Four Swords, which debuted in Deep Ellum's taproom prior to its release in bottles. Local Legend - Jameson Edition will not be packaged, but it will be offered in the taproom as well as at select draft accounts soon.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Texas Ale Project partners with FullClip Craft Distributors

Image credits: FullClip Craft Distributors, Texas Ale Project.

Bringing together two relative newcomers to the North Texas beer scene, the Texas Ale Project (T.A.P.) has entered into an agreement with FullClip Craft Distributors to deliver its products to the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Despite having yet to celebrate its first anniversary, Texas Ale Project has quickly built its reputation around a stable of year-round offerings which includes Fire Ant Funeral, 50 FT Jackrabbit IPA, Naked Truth and Somethin' Shady Porter. As for FullClip, the company began operations in September of last year, when they started selling and distributing for Community Beer Company. Since then, they've gone on to add Guns & Oil Brewing of Austin, Texas and Backcountry Brewery of Frisco, Colorado to their developing craft portfolio.

Commenting on the news, T.A.P. President and CEO Kat Thompson said, “We’re excited to partner with FullClip. I believe we share the same mission and goals, and both of our teams are excited to help each other grow in North Texas. FullClip has already been working closely with us to prepare for this next phase in our growth, and they are passionate about great beer. This is going to be a great partnership for both of us.”

FullClip General Manager Joey Marzuola concurred, adding "There's a new demand for a passionate, knowledgeable sales and distribution team like ours in the North Texas market - one that's dedicated exclusively to the needs of craft breweries like Texas Ale Project and others we are partnering with."

According to a press release, while FullClip will work to expand the availability of T.A.P. beers throughout Collin, Tarrant and Denton County, the brewery will continue to self-distribute in Dallas County for the foreseeable future.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Five years ago today: One beer writer's retrospective

Five years ago today, I started writing about craft beer. I'm not entirely sure what drove me to do it, other than a growing fascination with better beer and the idea that I might have something to say about it. That's not to suggest I had any clue how to say it, given that I don't have any formal training as a writer, but (for better or worse) Examiner was the kind of place that didn't worry much about details like that, so all it took was a short application to get me started on my way.

Looking back, the timing of my decision wasn't ideal, especially when you consider how little there was to write about in the summer of 2010. There were only a handful of brewing operations, and to suggest that craft beer-related events were virtually non-existent would be an understatement to say the least. Combine that with my considerable lack of experience, and it's not hard to understand why my expectations for having any sort of success in this endeavor were minuscule at best. Truth be told, I figured this little experiment would last no more than six months.

Yet, here we are five years later. The local scene has grown by leaps and bounds, and at least for now it's showing no signs of letting up. There's no way to cover everything that's changed, but just for fun here's a glimpse into the differences in a few key areas.


Five years ago today, Franconia and Rahr & Sons were the only two production breweries in North Texas. Franconia had only been open two years, while Rahr & Sons had just re-started production after Snowmageddon, otherwise known as the infamous February 2010 roof collapse. There were some brewpubs as well, namely Humperdinks, Uncle Buck's and both Gordon Biersch franchises, not to mention The Covey which would close just two months later.

Today, North Texas has 32 breweries and a dozen brewpubs, with operations located in 22 different cities. Take into account another ten or so said to be in development, and it stands to reason we'll see an increase in each of those numbers over the course of the next 12-18 months.


Five years ago today, we'd never heard of Untapped, there was no Big Texas Beer Fest, and we'd yet to experience our first North Texas Beer Week. In fact, a look at my first ever events post from August 3, 2010 shows that entertainment options were few and far between. Not counting the two brewery tours, I listed a grand total of seven events for that week, two of which arguably had nothing to do with craft beer.

August 3, 2010 event listing, originally posted on

Today, a dozen events happen on any given day, and not a month goes by between April and November when we don't have at least one large-scale beer festival. One of these, the Best Little Brewfest in Texas, donates all of its proceeds to charity and has raised nearly $200,000 for organizations in the community. As for North Texas Beer Week, that's gone from humble beginnings (and once being called Dallas Beer Week) to an event that boasts hundreds of events over a ten day period which occur all across the Metroplex.


As the above image will attest, there weren't a lot of places to enjoy a craft beer outside of the comfort of your own home in 2010. Among them, the Ginger Man in Dallas and area Flying Saucer locations had been the most likely destinations for years. Sure, there were other places to enjoy a cold one, but prior to the craft beer boom, members of the old guard like Trinity Hall, The Old Monk and The Londoner catered to a more European sensibility.

In terms of names we're all familiar with, five years ago today the Holy Grail Pub in Plano had been around for less than a year, while the Meddlesome Moth had been open for three months, and The Common Table for only two. Restaurants, as a rule, didn't carry much in the way of craft beer and you certainly weren't going to be drinking anything other than "big beer" at the ballgame.

Today, a typical weekly event listing contains over 50 different venues that cater to the craft beer crowd. Restaurants boast about "craft beer programs," with the one we know as LUCK going so far as to stock nothing but locally-brewed beer. Beyond that, you can pound pints while picking up groceries, grab growlers to take home, and drink Roughrider Red, a craft beer you'll only find at a local minor league ballgame. And, breweries? Many have a taproom, and there are enough of them now that you can stop for a beer at the source on any night of the week.


Five years ago today, no North Texas brewery had ever won a medal at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), while Rahr & Sons was the only one to ever place at the World Beer Cup (WBC). Brewpubs enjoyed some success at both going back to the 1990s, but even that was tempered by the pending closure of The Covey after winning five medals combined since 2008.

That all changed in 2012 when Peticolas and Rahr & Sons ended the drought with gold and silver medals, respectively, at the GABF. After that, Armadillo Ale Works (2014, GABF), Cedar Creek (2013, GABF), Deep Ellum (2014, WBC) and Grapevine (2014, GABF) all joined the party, while the spirit of The Covey lived on after founder Jamie Fulton joined up with Community and went right back to his winning ways (2013-14, GABF and 2014, WBC).

Suffice it to say, the North Texas beer scene looks a whole lot better today than it did in August 2010. As for how things will look in another five years, only time will tell. For now, all we can do is enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts. And, on that note, let me say that covering the craft beer scene for the last five years has been a ride all its own. Some of my favorite memories include meeting would-be brewers in parking lots, homebrew shops and the like for a taste of test batches that have gone on to become iconic North Texas brews, not to mention getting the opportunity to see many local breweries be built from the ground up. Of course, there's also that one time I decided to mess with Dennis Wehrmann and wear a Shiner t-shirt to Franconia's Saturday tour.

In any case, the fact that I'm still around is a testament to the welcoming nature of the local brewing community and to those that visit this page to take time to read an article or to check in on a weekly events. For that I offer my thanks to both brewers and readers alike.