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!

1 comment:

  1. I too really enjoyed Saint Arnold 25th Anniversary Grand Cru