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.

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