Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 Year in review: What a difference a decade makes

The 10-year challenge as it applies to the North Texas beer scene (Brian Brown/Beer In Big D).

Another year in beer has come to a close, and with it comes the end of a decade. With that in mind, it makes sense to start off the 2019 year in review by taking a moment to reflect on some things we didn't have in the North Texas beer scene back in 2009.

To start, taprooms didn't exist. Legislation allowing them wouldn't come until 2013, which meant the only way to drink beer at a manufacturing brewery was to pay to take a tour. With the tour model, which still hangs on in a few places, you essentially pay a fee for glassware and "complimentary" beer samples. Plus, up until just a few months ago, we had to just say no to beer to-go.

Next on the list, growler stations. Growlers were available at brewpubs, but the growler station as we know it today was a non-entity. They weren't strictly outlawed, but you couldn't offer growlers in a bar without a specific type of license (beer/wine retailer's permit - i.e. no liquor). Once that became clear, Craft and Growler was born, established in 2012.

There were also no large-scale beer festivals. The Flying Saucer had its seasonal beer fests (now billed as BeerFeast), but there wasn't anything like Big Texas Beer Fest, started in 2012, or even the Best Little Brewfest in Texas - an event that donates 100% of proceeds to charity.

From a packaging point of view, bottles where dominant. Canned craft beers existed, but no local breweries were canning their beers in 2009 (a point that may apply to all of Texas at the time). Now, it's practically candemonium when you walk down a grocery store aisle.

And, speaking of which, you couldn't sip on a beer while shopping for groceries in 2009 either.

Looking at what we did have, nine brewing operations were active in North Texas at the end of 2009 - Rahr & Sons Brewing Co., Franconia Brewing Co., The Covey Restaurant & Brewery, Humperdinks Restaurant & Brewery (three locations) and Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant (two locations).

Nine...that's it, only two of which were manufacturing breweries.

Indeed, what a difference a decade makes. All of the things we didn't have above are now a part of our everyday beer lives. Of course, we've added some things, too. Like more breweries. A lot more (see the 10-year challenge graphic above).

Granted, that means a more crowded marketplace, which presents a different set of issues. Now, when we talk beer, we also discuss things like competition, expansion, consolidation, buyouts and more. Still, the industry is certainly in a better place than it was ten years ago, and here's hoping it never goes back to the way things were.

Now, let's talk about 2019...

The Big Story

Without question, the biggest development in 2019 was the advent of beer to-go in Texas. Debated during legislative sessions dating back to 2007, stakeholders finally came together earlier this year to hammer out details allowing manufacturing breweries to sell packaged products to consumers for off-premise consumption.

Over 25 area breweries were affected by the new law, which went into effect on September 1. And, while the long-term impact of the change remains to be seen, so far beer to-go has been a boon for local brewers. Among the benefits, brewers should see a boost to the bottom line thanks to the added revenue stream, and there's also the creation of new jobs, since many breweries have expanded their hours to accommodate increased taproom traffic.

Unfortunately, though, it seems every legal victory is met with a setback. In this case, Texas brewers lost an ongoing battle over the ability to charge a fee for distribution rights. The original suit to allow a fee was filed by Live Oak Brewing Co., Peticolas Brewing Co. and Revolver Brewing in 2014, after the Texas Legislature prohibited the practice during the 2013 session.

A District Court sided with brewers in August 2016, but the Texas Third Court of Appeals overturned the decision in December 2017. The matter was then appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, who declined to review the case in May 2019.

The Business of Beer

On the business side of things, the year more or less began with the bankruptcy proceedings and subsequent sale of the Noble Rey brand to the same party that purchased Woodcreek Brewing Co. late in 2018. An association with Nocona Beer & Brewery also exists within this group, as Noble Rey recipes are now produced at Nocona's facility in Montague County.

In a similar vein, the year closes with an announcement regarding the sale of TKO Libations to a local entrepreneur who intends to refresh the brand and approach of the Lewisville-based brewery. Naturally, there's more to come on this topic, the details of which should become clearer in the new year.

Elsewhere, 3 Nations Brewing Co. completed a move from Farmers Branch to Carrollton, unveiling an impressive new facility in the latter city's downtown district in October. Also debuting new digs, the Dallas-based Manhattan Project Beer Co. overcame a number of obstacles and opened its own brewery and taproom in December. Manhattan Project had been operating under various alternating proprietorship agreements for the past three years.

As for the state of the brewing industry in Texas as a whole, data from the Brewers Association for 2018 shows Texas ranking eighth in total production, with 1.1 million barrels of beer produced, and third in economic impact, contributing nearly $5.1 billion to the U.S. economy.

North Texas on the National Stage
  • What's in a (beer) name?: One of the obstacles Manhattan Project encountered involved a controversy over the naming of Bikini Atoll, a beer the brewery has produced for years as an amateur and professional entity. Local, national and international media outlets covered the story, which centered on opposition of local Pacific Islanders still experiencing effects of nuclear testing done on the Marshall Islands site by the U.S. Government.
  • Pickle pandemonium: Pickle beers are not a new thing, but you wouldn't know it based on the response throughout Texas and beyond regarding Best Maid Sour Pickle Beer, a collaborative effort between Martin House Brewing Co. and fellow Fort Worth firm, Best Maid Products. A limited batch released in August sold out immediately, leading Martin House to change plans and adopt its Best Maid Sour Pickle Beer for perpetuity.

Comings and Goings

New breweries continue to open at a high rate in North Texas, but overall growth slowed a bit in 2019 due to an increased number of closures. The nine total closures represent the most ever in the craft beer era locally, though the number is skewed somewhat due to Humperdinks Restaurant & Brewery shuttering all three of its remaining Metroplex locations.

Still, barring a shift in fortunes, the region looks to continue its march towards the existence of potentially more than 100 area breweries with 78 operations currently active and well more than 30 in various stages of development.

  • Breweries: Bluffview Growler (Dallas, added brewing operations), Brutal Beerworks (North Richland Hills), Deep Ellum Funkytown Fermatorium (Fort Worth), Howling Mutt Brewing Co. (Denton), Krootz Brewing Co. (Gainesville), Odd Muse Brewing Co. (Farmers Branch), Soul Fire Brewing Co. (Roanoke), Westlake Brewing Co. (Dallas).
  • Brewpubs: By the Horns Brewing Co. (Mansfield), Funky Picnic Brewery & Café (Fort Worth), Walking Beam Brewing Co. (Bridgeport).
Brand Debuts:
  • Brewing under an alternating proprietorship: Toasty Bros., Trinity Forest Brewing Co.
  • Brewing under license: False Idol Brewing Co. (facility under construction in Farmers Branch).
  • Breweries: Good Neighbor Brews (Wylie), Old Town Brewhouse (Lewisville), Rabbit Hole Brewing (Justin), TKO Libations (Lewisville).
  • Brewpubs: Humperdinks Restaurant & Brewery (Arlington, Dallas - Greenville Ave, Dallas - NW Highway), Landon Winery (Greenville, ceased brewing operations), Small Brewpub (Dallas).
Source: Individual research.
The Year in Beer
  • Style trends: The biggest style trend in the brewing industry might not have anything to do with beer at all. In fact, it might be hard seltzer. Sought-after as a lower calorie, low-carb option, The Collective Brewing Project of Fort Worth was the first local brewery to offer a hard seltzer this past summer, but Deep Ellum Brewing Co. and Texas Ale Project of Dallas soon followed.

    If sticking to beer, however, brews fermented with kveik yeast are catching on in the local market. A yeast beast born of Norwegian origin, kveik strains offer significant practical advantages for brewers, while also having flavor profiles that fit well with many of today's popular beer styles.
  • North Texas award winnersClick here to review all of the award-winning beers from 2019. Coverage includes results from the Great American Beer Festival, European Beer Star Competition, United States Beer Tasting Championship, U.S. Open Beer Championship, NABA International Beer Awards, NorCal Brew Competition, Australian International Beer Awards, San Diego International Beer Competition, Los Angeles International Beer Competition, Aro Rojo International Beer Competition and Best of Craft Beer Awards.
  • The 2019 list of Beer in Big D's preferred pours (new-to-market, or newly-discovered beers some blogger found to be particularly enjoyable): Armadillo Bourbon Barrel Brunch Money, BlackMan/Cedar Creek Smoking Lit, BrainDead We Are Your Overlords, Celestial Groovitational Pull, Community Irish Coffee Legion, Firestone Walker XXIII Anniversary Ale, Saint Arnold 25th Anniversary Grand Cru, Turning Point Endgame and White Rock Two Imperial Stout.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Manhattan Project opens bomb new brewery in Dallas

Plutonium-239, a coconut porter, was one of 13 beers on tap for
Manhattan Project's debut (© Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

In the three years since it began production under an alternating proprietorship agreement with another local brewery, The Manhattan Project Beer Co. has been busy building a brand while also working to open a facility of its own. This week, the latter effort came to fruition, as the company welcomed patrons inside its new space at 2215 Sulphur St. in West Dallas.

And, let's just go ahead and say it, since it fits right in with what's behind the company's name...this place is the bomb!  The vision of Karl and Misty Sanford, along with Jeremy Brodt, what the three founders have created can best be described as an upscale urban oasis.

Functionally, the site takes up most of the block it occupies, with over 10,000 square feet of indoor space containing the production and public areas, and another 4,000 square feet comprising an outdoor beer garden. Plus, there's a dedicated parking lot with room for more than 30 vehicles. This, in a spot where virtually no parking existed before.

In terms of visuals, the brewery has a sleek and modern look, with Manhattan Project's black-and-white color scheme adorning the building inside and out. Moreover, just like how its packaging stands out on retail shelves, the simple, but striking pose set by the brewery's structure makes it immediately recognizable when viewed against the surrounding neighborhood.

Murals by Alli K Design appear on interior and exterior walls at Manhattan Project. Additional design elements include
high back seating and a marble bar top inside, along with Adirondack chairs out on the patio (© Brian Brown/Beer in Big D)

Of course, there's more to the place than just the atmosphere and amenities, and there are things to be said about what there is to eat and drink as well. Liquid consumables include espresso and beer, while food will eventually be prepared onsite by Thai Bird Asian Fried Chicken.

Currently on the menu, seven offerings are emerging from the espresso bar, and over a dozen house beers are flowing from the taps (click the image at the top of the page for details). Among the beers, most if not all represent familiar favorites that have appeared at one time or another over both the company's amateur and professional existence.

On that note, one beer being served has a recipe dating back to the very beginnings of the Project. Aptly named Inception, it's a Belgian brown ale the group brewed in honor of the Sanford's wedding in 2010. My first taste of this beer occurred in 2013 at Deep Ellum Brewing Co.'s annual Labor of Love event. Back then it was called Edgar Sengier's Belgican Brown (after a Belgian who supplied the U.S. with uranium during World War II), but it was a beer that left an impression, and as they say, the rest is history.

As for the present and the future, look for upwards of 17 different beers to be available on a daily basis at Manhattan Project, with the occasional nitro pour being offered for beers like the brewery's coffee stout, Black Matter. Stop by for a pint, a flight or an espresso seven days a week, as Manhattan Project is now open with daily operating hours as follows: Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Saturday-Sunday, 9 a.m. to midnight.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Lakewood releasing Star Wars-inspired Droid Rage

Image courtesy of Lakewood Brewing Co.

Lakewood Brewing Co. of Garland has announced the coming of a beer created in honor of the Star Wars film franchise.

Droid Rage is an imperial red ale with an ABV of 9.327%, and it represents the final installment of the brewery's 2019 Small Batch Series. Said to have a beautiful red hue, Droid Rage is described as a beer with rich caramel malt flavors balanced by some "out-of-this world hops."

“As a big nerd, I’m super excited to release a beer inspired by the movies we grew up with!” says Wim Bens, founder of Lakewood. “We have a tank at the brewery we affectionately call R2BEER2, and we prominently placed our brewery droid on the label.”

Look for Droid Rage to appear on shelves the week of December 16, with its debut set to coincide with the premier of the latest movie in the Star Wars saga, The Rise of Skywalker. The beer will be available on draft and in collectible 12-ounce cans.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Odd Muse open for business in Farmers Branch

 (All photos: © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

The latest brewing operation to join the ranks of North Texas, Odd Muse Brewing Co. welcomed patrons for the first time last night at its new facility in Farmers Branch. The event was the first of four previews the company will host as it prepares for grand opening festivities set to take place on Saturday, December 14.

Odd Muse is a project that's been in the works for a number of years, according to co-founder Bobby Diaz. It became a reality this past spring, once Diaz and partner Charles Roffino secured funding and a location for the brewery now up and running at 4488 Spring Valley Rd.

Regarding the space itself, Odd Muse is situated on the far eastern edge of Farmers Branch with easy access to the Dallas North Tollway. Inside, the build-out encompasses 5900 square feet, yet the design and layout gives the impression of something bigger. A roomy feel permeates the place, whether you choose to bide your time in the clean and comfortable taproom upfront, or in the production area out back.

Taproom attractions at Odd Muse include wide-screen televisions, board games and various artistic adornments.
Among art placements, wall murals and a rotating selection of framed pieces look to bring attention to local artists.

As for the beer, the taproom at Odd Muse is equipped with 14 taps. Five of those were pouring beer on opening night, with options including a blonde ale, a hefeweizen, two IPAs and a stout. One IPA, Muse Juice, was of the hazy variety, while another more piney-esque offering, Never the Lesser, was a bit more old school. In fact, old school is how I'd describe my favorite beer on the board, a dry and roasty Russian imperial stout called Opulence.

Speaking of which, it's worth mentioning that Diaz is a self-professed "stout guy," with Old Rasputin from North Coast Brewing Co. of California listed among his favorites. Given that, visitors can expect an array of stouts to appear on the Odd Muse menu going forward. In particular, Diaz hopes to develop a series of stouts infused with various types of coffee.

Of course, explorations with other styles are planned as well. Some will be standards, like a Munich-style helles lagering at present, but Odd Muse also intends to delve into recipes featuring popular ingredients of the day (fruit, lactose, etc.). Some of those, like the occasional kettle sour, may occur sooner, while barrel-aged brews are something foreseen further down the road (an initial acquisition of spent barrels is on the agenda for later this month).

For now, though, consumers can check out what's currently on tap during remaining previews running from 4-10 p.m. on the following days: Friday, December 6 and Thursday-Friday, December 12-13. Beyond that, grand opening details are still to come, so be sure to follow Odd Muse's social media channels (Facebook, Instagram) for the most up-to-date details.