Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Year in review: From revolution to evolution

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

As 2016 comes to a close, it's more appropriate than ever to look back at how the local craft beer industry is changing in light of certain events that have occurred over the past 12 months. It's been five years since Deep Ellum Brewing Co. of Dallas opened, essentially signaling the start of the current craft beer bubble, but today the craft beer revolution in North Texas is experiencing new elements in its evolution.

Up to now, yearly reviews published in this space have focused almost exclusively on legal wranglings and the continuing growth and expansion of the industry. And, while those topics are still very much a part of this year's summary, new wrinkles have crept their way in. More specifically, two local breweries entered into equity transactions with outside entities in 2016. One became the latest to fall under the spell of "big beer," while the other went the way of private investment. Both companies have pledged to stay the same despite the change in ownership, but time will tell what effect these deals have on each brewery and the local industry as a whole.

Regardless of that, 2016 was still a good one for North Texas beer. On top of Deep Ellum becoming the first of the new breed of brewers (i.e. those that have opened since 2011) to celebrate five years in business, events like Big Texas Beer Fest and Untapped Dallas reached significant mile markers as well. Both started their run in 2012, meaning the 2016 events represented the fifth annual installments for the popular beer fest franchises. And, let's not forget, there were even more breweries added to the North Texas roster, not to mention the revival of two local brands.

More on what went down this year in the North Texas beer scene can be found in the snippets below, with links to additional coverage provided should you wish to delve into additional details. That's followed, of course, by the obligatory "Year in Beer" section highlighting some preferred pints from the past year.

The Big Stories
  • MillerCoors makes a move on Revolver: Sooner or later "big beer" was going to make a move on a North Texas brewery. It was inevitable. The only question was which brewery would be the subject of acquisition. Turns out it was Granbury-based Revolver Brewing, who sold a majority interest to MillerCoors in August.
  • Storied Craft Breweries takes stake in Deep Ellum: December brought news of a second equity transaction involving a North Texas brewery as Storied Craft Breweries acquired a 56% stake in Dallas-based Deep Ellum Brewing Co. The deal netted the brewery $10 million in growth capital, but in contrast to the Revolver/Miller accord, the arrangement allows Deep Ellum to remain independent.
  • Grapevine ceases distribution of house brands: Citing financial considerations, Grapevine Craft Brewery announced it would discontinue the distribution of its products in August. House brands are now exclusively served in the brewery's taproom as it continues to provide contract services for other breweries in the area.

Comings and Goings

Last year around this time some were predicting doom and gloom for the North Texas craft beer scene. One person even went so far as to forecast that at least five breweries would close, and at least one of them would be a "big" one. Well, suffice it to say that didn't happen. Not even close. And, while one brewing operation did cease production, I'd venture a guess not many knew the place in question was brewing its own beer. So where do things stand today in terms of total breweries? Currently 53 brewing operations call North Texas home, with 49 unique brands of locally-brewed beer now available in our market.

  • Breweries: Backcountry Brewery, HopFusion Ale Works, Legal Draft Beer Co., Manhattan Project Beer Co., Whistle Post Brewing, Wild Acre Brewing Co.
  • Brewpubs: Bankhead Brewing Co., Harvest Seasonal Kitchen.
  • Brewpubs: Reds Roadhouse (only applies to brewing operations, business itself is still open).
  • Armadillo Ale Works: The company returned after an 18-month absence by signing on with North Texas Brewing Co. for the production of its beers. This just a temporary move while construction is underway on a permanent home in Denton.
  • Uncle Buck's Brewery & Steakhouse: Although the restaurant's license was kept up to date, the tanks in the brewhouse sat idle for nearly two years. Brewing operations resumed in July.

At the same time, I suppose you could claim that 2016 was a down year for brewery openings, considering there were only nine (Armadillo is included since it had to obtain a new license). And, as the following graphic illustrates, that number represents the first decline in area openings since the industry began picking up steam in late 2011.

Source: Individual research.

Still, it's hard to see the drop as a harbinger of doom and gloom, especially in light of the blue bar to the far right. That's not a least 17 brewing operations are expected to join the North Texas ranks in 2017. All 17 have secured locations, but not all of them have made their plans public as of yet. Those that have are denoted below, with the remaining three expected to reveal themselves at a later date.

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

Future breweries:
  • Good Neighbor Brews (Wylie), Denton County Brewing Co. (Denton), Dirty Job Brewing (Mansfield), Hemisphere Brewing Co. (Rockwall), Hop & Sting Brew Co. (Denton), New Main Brewing Co. (Pantego), Oak Cliff Brewing Co. (Dallas), Pegasus City Brewery (Dallas), Thirsty Bro Brewing Co. (Royse City), Westlake Brewing Co. (Dallas).
Future brewpubs:
  • Cowtown Brewing Co. (Ft. Worth), Flix Brewhouse (Little Elm), Legacy Hall (Plano), The Union Bear (Plano).


Nowadays it seems as though expansion has become a daily topic of discussion with regards to breweries around the Metroplex. For some, it's simply a matter of needing room to grow, something many brewers have been able to obtain by snapping up real estate adjacent to their startup locations. That was the approach taken by Braindead earlier this year when it acquired a neighboring space, but it wasn't an option for Four Corners, a business that's now in the process of shifting operations from Trinity Groves to The Cedars.

For others, though, expansion is taking on other forms, as breweries are looking to broaden their industry presence beyond their original brewery borders. Along those lines, five area breweries either opened or announced plans to establish satellite locations. Those already up and running include Malai Kitchen's new spot in Southlake and Noble Rey's dedicated taproom in the Dallas Farmers Market. As for the future, additional outposts are in the works for Audacity (at Travelstead), Revolver (at Texas Live between Globe Life Park and AT&T Stadium) and 903 Brewers (at what will be a multi-use facility in Downtown Sherman).

On a related note, it's also worth pointing out how a few of the area's favorite places to drink beer are expanding as well. Lone Star Taps & Caps added to its growing growler-fill empire this year after unveiling sites in Denton and Ft. Worth, while The Common Table revealed plans for a second location to be built at The Star in Frisco.

Courtroom Confrontations

The craft beer industry continued the fight to overcome outdated and oftentimes arbitrary laws related to the sale and distribution of its products. Initial decisions were handed down in two key matters in 2016, with another still waiting on a response from the judge.

The first of these occurred in August, when a judge sided with brewers in a suit brought against the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) on the question of distribution rights. Plaintiffs in the case include Peticolas Brewing of Dallas, Revolver Brewing and Live Oak Brewing of Austin. The three companies asked the court to reverse a law passed in 2013 that prohibited them from seeking compensation for the right to distribute their products. The court's ruling would do just that, provided it isn't overturned based on an appeal filed by the TABC in November.

In another matter, the courts also ruled in favor of Austin-based Cuvee Coffee Bar in its dispute with the TABC over crowlers. Like the case involving distribution rights, though, the fight is far from over as the TABC has filed exceptions to the judge's ruling.

Still pending is a decision related to a brewery's right to sell packaged beer to go. Initiated by Deep Ellum Brewing of Dallas and Grapevine Craft Brewery, a ruling on that topic is expected soon.

We should also mention...
  • Click here to see a rundown of award-winning beers from 2016. Summaries include results from the Great American Beer Festival, U.S. Open Beer Championship, World Beer Cup, Los Angeles International Beer Competition, United States Beer Tasting Championship and Best of Craft Beer Awards.
  • Click here if you'd like to see how things got weird with some North Texas Beerds. You'll get a jump on 2017, while also supporting a great cause. It's all thanks to Dirtbag Charities and a handful of local bare-chested beerdos.

The Year in Beer

Here once again is my annual summary of notable beers I encountered over the course of the year, all of which are presented in mock categories to try and give the whole thing a little more life than the standard top 10 list. As always, standard disclaimers apply...local blog/local slant...beers have to have debuted in the local market during's impossible to try ever beer that gets released...and my tastes may differ significantly from yours.

Notables not noted in categories below: 3 Nations Bull's English Brown with Cinnamon and Coffee, Cobra Ho-Lee-Chit, Epic Big Bad Baptista, Noble Rey Boss Bitch, On Rotation Darkwheat Duck, Peticolas Pick Hammer, Shannon Chocolate Hazelnut Stout, Tupps Full Grown Man.

The 'this doesn't taste like a' beer: Armadillo Ale Works Dapper Apple

I'm not sure if I'd actually drink any beer for breakfast, but considering Dapper Apple drinks like a bowl of apple cinnamon cheerios, if any beer were to change my mind, it would be this one.

A great beer for Ballin': Green Flash Lustrous Frumento

Far and Away the best beer I had at this year's North Texas Beer Week Brewer's Ball, Lustrous Frumento was a "micro-release" put out by Green Flash as part of its Cellar 3 Brewmaster's Reserve Series. Limited to only 600 bottles, the Ball was one of the few places this beer was available here in the Metroplex. Either way, it was big and a little boozy, with notes of bittersweet chocolate, dark fruit and a rich, earthy coffee character.

Best Beer Week beer: On Rotation Lingonberry Sahti

Speaking of Beer Week, On Rotation rolled out what ended up being my favorite beer released during that 10-day celebration. Kinda tart and kinda twiggy (thanks to actual branches being involved in the brewing process), this bright, fresh and lightly-bodied beer was a fantastic take on an ancient Finnish style.

One beer set to debut next year: Oak Cliff Grapefruit Gose

With so many events focusing on homebrewers and/or breweries of the future, it seems appropriate to single out a beer that could one day become a North Texas staple. I'd put Oak Cliff's Grapefruit Gose in that category after sampling it at LUCK's third anniversary party. Brewed with sea salt, ground coriander, Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit and a few complimentary West Coast hop varieties, it's a beer that sets up to be a great warm weather refresher.

Favorite not barrel-aged, not imperial, not sour, not brewed with unicorn tears beer: Franconia English Stout

The first beer in its 2016 World Tour Series, Franconia's English Stout was roasty with a light body and smooth finish. The flavor profile was tempered compared the American approach to stouts, which is spot on with what's expected in an English interpretation of the style.

Also notable: Rabbit Hole Ryeteous Knight, Community Texas Helles, Legal Draft Accused Amber Lager.

A beer you can't buy here: Olde Hickory The Event Horizon

Should you ever find yourself in Hickory, NC, look up Olde Hickory Brewery. The company won two medals at the 2016 Great American Beer Festival (which is where I tried this beer), including a silver for this imperial stout in the Wood and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout category.

Roll out the barrels: Martin House Acheron

One of those 100% barrel-aged beers everyone seems to be clamoring for these days, I don't know that I can improve upon the commercial description, which characterizes Acheron as being bold, burly, boozy and barbarous.

Also notable: Avery Xolotl, Bitter Sisters Whiskey Barrel-Aged Knock Out Irish Red, The Bruery Mash & Vanilla, Deep Ellum Cabernet Barrel-Aged Four Swords, Lakewood Thread Spinner, Four Corners/Grapevine Vin Dicel, Oak Highlands Bourbon Barrel-Aged Chump Change.

Quite the satisfying sour: Collective Brewing Project Wood Folk

Inoculated with a blend of more than 10 different strains of yeast and bacteria, Wood Folk is the very definition of a mixed culture beer. That translates to a tart and funky brew with a fair amount of fruit complexity, for those following along at home.

Also notable: Martin House Sea Witch, On Rotation Bit by Bit Batch 7: Dallas Lambic.

North Texas beer of the year: Braindead Galactic Federation of Might

It seems cliché to pick an IPA as my 2016 North Texas Beer of the Year, but guess what....the runner up was an IPA too (see below). Great name...great beer...make more...'nuff said.

Runner up: Grapevine Brewers' Reserve Double India Pale Ale

Cheers and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Rahr & Sons launching Iron Thistle, Iron Joe in cans

Images courtesy of Rahr & Sons Brewing Co.

Representing the latest in a series of moves aimed at offering a majority of its beers in cans, Rahr & Sons Brewing Co. will package and release Iron Thistle and Iron Joe in that format early next year.

Iron Thistle, the brewery's strong Scotch ale, will be the first to emerge in January, meaning it will be on stores shelves earlier than in past years. It will be followed in February by Iron Joe, a take on Iron Thistle brewed with Noir cold-brewed coffee from Fort Worth-based Avoca Coffee Roasters.

Craig Mycoskie, vice president of operations for Rahr & Sons, has seen the popularity of cans grow over the course of his career. It all started back in Colorado for Mycoskie, where he once worked with Marty Jones, a co-founder of Oskar Blues who helped spearhead the canned craft beer movement.

"Canned craft beer has evolved so much in the last 10 years, becoming the future of the industry," said Mycoskie. "I am proud to be part of a team that is committed to making the switch to cans and educating consumers along the way about why cans are superior to bottles."

Look for Rahr & Sons to release additional beers in cans during 2017.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Shiner Cold-Brew Coffee Ale amounts to more than a hill of beans

Cold-Brew Coffee Ale is good to the last drop (© Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

For this, the latest edition of what the little brewery sent me in a little white box, Shiner packed up a bottle of its latest Birthday Beer (number 108 for those keeping track) and a bottle of Chameleon Cold-Brew Organic Black Coffee. Wrapped in a burlap sack, the two brews arrived nestled in a pile of Chameleon coffee beans, the key ingredient in the brewery's new Cold-Brew Coffee Ale.

The beer, of course, is a collaborative effort born out of the idea that coffee and beer have known to play well together. It's a product that couples the Spoetzl Brewery with Chameleon Cold-Brew, an Austin-based company credited with being the country's original bottler of cold-brew coffee.

In this case, the coffee consists of 100% organic, Fair Trade beans. And, it is said, that coffee crafted with the cold-brew process is especially suited for making a coffee ale. That's because the method produces deep coffee flavors without the bitter and astringent qualities sometimes found in a hot cup of joe. A perfect fit, it seems, for a beer coming from a brewery known for its rather mild, more drinkable dossier.

So, how did it turn out?

Well, the brewery describes Cold-Brew Coffee Ale as "malty, with a slightly sweet coffee aroma and a silky, smooth taste." That's pretty close to my impression of the beer as well, though I'd probably expound a bit on the roasty element. The roast isn't intense, mind you, but it has some depth and it meshes well with the grain bill, which results in a consistent, balanced mix of coffee and roasted malt that sustains from start to finish.

As for how it drinks, give credit where credit is due, since Cold-Brew Coffee Ale is nothing if not smooth, with no perceptible bitterness or astringency in the aftertaste.

The real question, though, is whether or not the beer does that one coffee company say it...good to the last drop? Based that whole start to finish thing I said before, I'd have to say yes. Cold-Brew Coffee Ale is a flavorful, easy-drinking beer that's defined by its primary ingredient. As long you don't mind that the beer wasn't sourced from a barrel and the beans weren't shot out from a civet (i.e. it's just a good, basic coffee ale), then I think it's certainly worth trying.

Look for Cold-Brew Coffee Ale on tap, in 24-ounce bombers and in 12-ounce bottles and cans.

Cold-Brew Coffee Ale
Style: Coffee Ale
Malt: Roasted specialty malt
Hops: Mt. Hood
Other: Arabica coffee, cold-brew coffee.
ABV: 5.0%

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Tupps bringing back For Ella, releasing re-formulated Full Grown Man

Image courtesy of Tupps Brewery.

Two familiar names to fans of Tupps Brewery are returning to the McKinney brewery's lineup, with the pending release of its double IPA, For Ella, and imperial stout, Full Grown Man.

For Ella (8.9% ABV, 85 IBU) first appeared on the scene this past spring, quickly becoming the fastest-selling beer Tupps has produced to date. Consistent access to hops kept For Ella on the sidelines for a while, but with a new hop contract in the works, the brewery hopes to keep the beer in the mix more regularly.

"Our double IPA is one of those special beers that we are really proud of," says Chase Lewis, director of sales at Tupps. "We found a hop profile we all loved and ran with it. So much so, we questioned whether we had dry-hopped the beer too much. There is so much juicy stone fruit flavor and aroma in For Ella, but it drinks remarkably smooth considering how big it is."

As for Full Grown Man (11.2% ABV), an edition appearing over the summer was brewed with molasses and English ale yeast prior to being aged on cocoa nibs. The focus at the time was to create a medium-bodied brew featuring an array of fruity esters and a dry, chocolate finish. According to head brewer Chris Lewis, though, the new version is an attempt to mix things up and go bigger, with the result promising to be ever darker and more complex than the original.

Naturally, Full Grown Man is also the antithesis of Ella, as Chase points out when comparing the two beers.

"Ella is all about the hops and Full Grown Man is all about the grain," he says. "Full Grown Man is a beefy, full-flavored stout that will really excite those big stout drinkers. It throws off notes of dark cherry, rich caramel and hints of toasted bread. It's also a beer that will age well, as the dark roasted malt flavors will really develop over time."

Both beers will debut at the brewery's taproom on December 9 (click here for details). After that, look for them to be available on tap at select locations around Dallas-Fort Worth beginning the week of December 12. Further out, cans of Full Grown Man will begin arriving at retail the week of December 19, with plans for a packaged version of For Ella to follow later in 2017.