Friday, December 29, 2017

2017 Year in review: More beer, more regulation as the NTX craft beer beat goes on

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Another year and a lot more beer...that may be the best way to describe all that occurred in the North Texas craft beer scene during 2017. Of course, based on recent history, that's a sentiment that could have applied to any beer-centric year in review piece published since about 2011. Still, it feels like there is a lot more to digest this time around.

Among the items of interest for 2017, positive developments include the establishment of more new breweries and more new places to fill your growler. This year, though, there's an added bit of positivity to be found in some notable national recognition for local brewers. As for negatives, perhaps not surprisingly, most boil down to the seemingly never-ending tale of craft brewers coming out on the wrong end of legal wranglings.

Details on those topics and more are covered in what follows below, with a final segment at the end focusing on tastes and trends encountered during the year in beer.

North Texas on the National Stage
  • Zymurgy readers anoint Peticolas Brewing Co. as top Texas brewery for 2017: In the past, accolades such as this were reserved for a certain brewery in Austin, so it's nice to see someone finally realize that there are other breweries worth going to in Texas. Incidentally, Peticolas also nabbed its third medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2017, winning silver for It's Always Something. The win completes a sort of style trifecta for the brewery, since it has now won medals for English, Scottish and Belgian-style brews.
  • Internet gose crazy over Cup O' Beer: The Collective Brewing Project first brewed its ramen noodle gose, then called Wabi Sabi, in 2016. But it wasn't until this year, when the brewery bottled and branded it as Cup O' Beer, that the national press took notice. Including Food & Wine Magazine, articles declaring Cup O' Beer to be the envy of incoming college freshman everywhere were published by Beer Street Journal, Circa,, Men's JournalSimplemost, Tasting TableThrillistWide Open Eats and others.
  • Dallas drinks the Tears of its enemy: Noble Rey Brewing Co. got some east coast attention after crafting a gose called Eagle Tears in response to a Philadelphia brewery's beer-based declaration that Dallas Sucks. And, while the Dallas Cowboys haven't done much to prove Weyerbacher Brewing Co. wrong based on the teams play this year (especially against the Philadelphia Eagles), at least Noble Rey showed that DFW's smack talk game is strong.

Comings and Goings

If you read this section at the end of 2016, it had to leave you wondering what the future was going to look like in terms of the number of breweries operating in North Texas. Growth numbers had fallen for the first time in the six years that make up the current boom, which for some signaled the start of the long-predicted bursting of the craft beer bubble.

Yet, while there were three closures, a total of 12 new brewing companies opened in 2017. Granted, that number came up short of the 17 or more openings that were anticipated at the start of the year, but it's still an indication of a continuing upward trend. Either way, as things stand right now, North Texas is home to 62 total brewing operations (44 breweries, 18 brewpubs), with 58 unique brands of locally-brewed beer available in our market.

  • Breweries: Denton County Brewing Co. (Denton), Dirty Job Brewing (Mansfield), Good Neighbor Brews (Wylie), Hemisphere Brewing Co. (Rockwall), Hop & Sting Brewing Co. (Farmers Branch), Pegasus City Brewery (Dallas), Thirsty Bro Brewing Co. (Royse City), TKO Libations (Lewisville), Unlawful Assembly Brewing Co. (Plano).
  • Brewpubs: Landon Winery (Greenville), Malai Kitchen Fort Worth (third location), White Rock Ale House & Brewery (Dallas - kitchen only, brewing ops to come in 2018).

  • Breweries: Audacity Brew House (Denton), Backcountry Brewery (Rowlett).
  • Brewpubs: Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant (Dallas). 
Source: Individual research.
As for what's on the horizon for 2018, at least 16 new brewing entities have obtained locations around the Metroplex. Of those, around a dozen are currently in various stages of construction, though all 16 are hoping to host opening day parties in the coming year.

Future breweries:
  • Celestial Beerworks (Dallas), Deep Ellum Brewing Co. (Fort Worth), Navarro County Brewing Co. (Corsicana), New Main Brewing Co. (Pantego), Oak Cliff Brewing Co. (Dallas), Railport Brewing Co. (Waxahachie), Turning Point Beer (Bedford), Westlake Brewing Co. (Dallas).
Future brewpubs:
  • Cellarman's American Pub & Restaurant (Sherman), Cowtown Brewing Co. (Fort Worth), Flix Brewhouse (Little Elm), G Town Brewery (Greenville), Parker County Brewing Co. (Willow Park), Pathfinder Brewery (Hudson Oaks), Steam Theory Brewing Co. (Dallas), Union Bear Brewing Co. (Plano).

Expanding the Reach

It took five years for it to finally happen, but Peticolas Brewing Co. kicked off the year's brewery expansions by adding a taproom to its Dallas facility in January. From there, we witnessed the arrival of Malai Kitchen's third location in Fort Worth, not to mention the impressive upgrade undertaken by Four Corners Brewing Co., as it made a move to The Cedars in South Dallas.

On the restaurant and retail side of things, growler fill stations continue to sprout up in various locales. Two such spots, Guitars & Growlers in Richardson and 3 Flights Up in Little Elm, became the first to offer house-prepared food options with their fills. As for others, Local Pint and State Draft House both set up shop in Flower Mound, while Cork & Growler got operations underway in Frisco. Beyond that, 2017 also saw the opening of The Common Table's second location in Frisco, and the unveiling of  The Holy Grail Pub 2.0 (with more space) in Plano.

Looking ahead to 2018, Deep Ellum Brewing Co. has announced its intention to establish a satellite location in Fort Worth. Plans are also in the works for a permanent facility to house The Manhattan Project Beer Co. in West Dallas.

Legal Wranglings

By all accounts, the craft beer industry took a beating on the legislative front in 2017. Crowlers may be legal again (were they ever really illegal in the first place?), but attempts to secure off-premise sales for breweries were brushed aside by lawmakers once again (HB 2555/SB 1217), as were efforts to allow the direct shipping of beer to consumers (HB 2291) and a bid to legitimize homebrew competitions at licensed facilities (HB 3315).

Indeed, it's rather disheartening to realize that Texas is now the ONLY state in the Union that doesn't allow off-premise sales at a brewery. You may recall that Deep Ellum and Grapevine Craft Brewery joined forces to mount a legal challenge to this law back in late 2015. According to a report, however, a ruling has been pending since November of last year.

Getting back to the 2017 legislative session, craft brewers absorbed an additional gut punch in the form of HB 3287, a bill the Texas Craft Brewers Guild believes puts a "ceiling on success." Provisions in the measure stipulate that only breweries making less than 225,000 barrels per year may operate a taproom. Should a brewery go over that limit, taproom sales would then effectively be taxed by way of a direct payment to a distributor (in exchange for zero work done).

Oh, and that's not all. Just this month, the Texas Third Court of Appeals overturned a 2016 decision that gave brewery's control over the sale of their distribution rights. The suit, which brings the constitutionality of withholding such rights into question, was originally brought by Peticolas Brewing Co, Revolver Brewing and Live Oak Brewing Co. in 2014. As for the next step in the proceedings, the matter is now headed to the Texas Supreme Court.

The Year in Beer
  • Celis returns: It may not be a North Texas brand, but one of the more celebrated happenings of 2017 was the opening of the new Celis Brewery in Austin. Pierre Celis founded the original company in 1992, but Austin's first craft brewery would eventually close at the end of 2000. Now, more than 16 years later, a name revered by many of the state's early craft brewers is back in business.
  • Style trends: While sour beers and barrel-aged offerings continue to be popular, perhaps the most sought after style in today's market is the New England IPA. A few local breweries have taken a stab at the style (Malai Kitchen, Intrinsic Smokehouse & Brewery, Small Brewpub, Braindead,  Chimera Brewing Co., Manhattan Project and others), with additional offerings beginning to come in from outside the state (Roughtail, Great Raft). Future breweries in North Texas intend to get on the action as well, with hazy IPAs playing a major role in the planned portfolios of Celestial Beerworks and Turning Point Beer.
  • North Texas award winnersClick here to review all of the award-winning beers from 2017. Coverage includes results from the Great American Beer Festival, U.S. Open Beer Championship, North American Beer Awards, San Diego International Beer Competition Los Angeles International Beer Competition, United States Beer Tasting Championship and Best of Craft Beer Awards.
  • The 2017 list of Beer In Big D's preferred pours (i.e. new-to-market beers some blogger found to be particularly enjoyable): 3 Nations Sticky Nuts Imperial Milk Stout, 903 Barrel-Aged Birthday Sasquatch, Bell's Black Note Stout, Braindead Memory Hole, Collective Brewing Project Peach Folk, 2016 Deschutes The Abyss Brandy, Great Raft Grace & Grit, Lagunitas High West-ified Imperial Coffee Stout, Lakewood Cuvée de Vélo, Prairie Artisan Ales Bourbon Paradise, Rabbit Hole Midnight Snark, Saint Arnold Bishop's Barrel No. 18, Small Brewpub Underdog IPA v2.0.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

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