Wednesday, December 30, 2020

2020 Year in review: Area breweries persevere through the pandemic

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Ah 2020, it's been a helluva year hasn't it? And not in such a way that you could describe it as a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly. While positive things happened in the beer industry this past year, no discussion of 2020 should ever start with the word "good." In my mind, 2020 has been more a mix of the bad, the ugly and the fugly.

Naturally, the pandemic is primarily to blame. This unseen enemy rose up to invade our lives, and for many it has resulted in lost wages, lost fortunes or worse. The only real ray of light is the dire predictions of mass closures put out by the Brewers Association and others have thus far not come to pass.

Now, there have certainly been challenges. Brewers fought through various mandates and shutdowns in 2020, forcing them to pivot and modify daily operations just to stay afloat. Can you imagine what the state of the industry would be like if beer to-go was still a no-go? Had it not been legalized in 2019, this year in review piece would have surely taken a darker tone.

Leveraging beer to-go, online orders and curbside pickup became a part of everyday life, with some breweries packaging their products for the first time to make it happen. With bars and restaurants closed, this created a bridge for breweries to maintain a revenue stream until draft accounts were allowed to re-open.

Restaurants were first to resume service at limited capacity, but bars and taprooms were held back unless they sold a certain percentage of food. Because, of course, the presence of a pub pretzel at your table is going to keep you from catching the plague.

Applications for food and beverage certificates soon followed, converting breweries into "restaurants" in the eyes of the auditors. Except there was still the matter of making sure you were selling more food, merchandise, or literally anything else besides beer.

Somehow, though, breweries persevered while weathering the pandemic amid the tangle of regulations and red tape. In fact, there turned out to be quite a bit more news to cover here than I expected, with talk of expansions, changes at the top of one of the area's oldest breweries, and serious legal issues at one spot adding to the regular roundup of openings and closings, brand debuts, buzzy beers and more.

So, without further ado, let's say sayonara to 2020 with the annual summary of local industry activity, followed by the customary highlights from the North Texas year in beer.

The Business of Beer

Surveying notable business moves in 2020, three brewing companies expanded operations by opening satellite locations. Revolver Brewing of Granbury added an Arlington outpost in the form of BLD5 at Texas Live in Arlington, while Wild Acre Brewing Co. and Pegasus City Brewery kept to their home cities with the establishment of Wild Acre Camp Bowie in Fort Worth and Pegasus City Downtown Dallas, respectively.

Looking to expand in the future, four area breweries put plans in motion for the construction of new facilities. These include Tupps Brewery of McKinney, Fort Brewery & Pizza of Fort Worth, On Rotation of Dallas and Community Beer Co. of Dallas. Of these, all but the latter project have been formally announced.

Another, Woodcreek Brewing Co., closed its Rockwall facility in June, citing plans to transition to a new location. However, as of now, there is nothing new to report on that particular front.

Elsewhere, an ownership change occurred quietly at Franconia Brewing Co. of McKinney, after founder Dennis Wehrmann divested his interest in the firm during 2020. Now heading operations is Arvind Sharma, who represents the company as President and CEO.

Also in McKinney, Harvest Seasonal Kitchen made the decision to cease brewing operations once the pandemic hit earlier this year. The restaurant remains open, but there are no plans to resume brewing in the future.

The pandemic impacted Bluffview Growler in Dallas as well, as the shop discontinued in-house brewing to make room for an onsite kitchen allowing them to re-open as a "restaurant."

Finally, questions surround the status of Nine Band Brewing Co. of Allen, after the company's owner was charged with a series of crimes. Nine Band's online presence has gone dark, and a partnership with Osage Casinos in Oklahoma is set to be dissolved.

As for an overall economic picture of the brewing industry in Texas, data from the Brewers Association for 2019 shows the state ranking eighth in production, with 1.18 million barrels of beer produced, and third in economic impact, contributing nearly $5.4 billion to the U.S. economy. These amounts are slightly higher compared to the 2018 survey, with the relative rankings staying the same.

Image: Brewers Association.

Comings and Goings

The pandemic didn't appear to limit growth in 2020, at least in terms of the total amount of brewing operations, but the local landscape has surely grown more complicated.

A half-dozen locales currently fall into the category of temporary closures. Two of these are due to new facilities being built by On Rotation of Dallas and Thirsty Bro Brewing of Royse City. As alluded to up above, however, uncertainty surrounds others in this group, meaning the brewery count for the close of 2020 is subject to change.

That said, summing up what we know, the number of brewing operations in North Texas presently stands at 86. Add in side projects, while lowering the number to account for breweries with multiple locations, and you find there are 83 different brands of local beer to choose from in the market. 

  • Ash & Ember Brewing, Cedar Hill.
  • Beard Science Sour House, The Colony.
  • Big Spray Brewing, Princeton.
  • Cork & Brew, Commerce.
  • Craft and Growler, Dallas (added brewing operations).
  • Maple Branch Craft Brewery, Fort Worth.
  • Pathfinder Brewing, Hudson Oaks.
  • Pegasus City Downtown, Dallas (second location).
  • Revolver BLDG 5, Arlington (second location).
  • Rollertown Beerworks, Celina.
  • Vector Brewing, Dallas.
  • Wild Acre Camp Bowie, Fort Worth (second location).

Brand Debuts:
  • Happy Hippie Brewing Co. - alternating proprietorship with Hop & Sting Brewing Co. of Grapevine.
  • Motorboat Brewing Co. - alternating proprietorship with Hop & Sting Brewing Co. of Grapevine.
  • Symbol Brewing Co. - side project of 3 Nations Brewing Co. of Carrollton (not counted as a new opening).

New Locations (not counted as new openings):
  • Edgewise Eight Brewing Co., Weatherford.
  • False Idol Brewing, North Richland Hills.

Permanent Closures:
  • The Collective Brewing Project, Fort Worth.
  • Deep Ellum Funkytown Fermatorium, Fort Worth.
  • New Main Brewing Co., Pantego.
  • Uncle Buck's Brewery & Steakhouse, Grapevine.

Ceased Brewing Operations:
  • Bluffview Growler, Dallas - growler shop remains open.
  • Harvest Seasonal Kitchen, McKinney - restaurant remains open.

Temporary Closures (not counted as new closures):
  • By the Horns Brewing, Mansfield - closed since onset of pandemic.
  • Nine Band Brewing Co., Allen - status unknown due to ongoing legal issues.
  • On Rotation, Dallas - closed original location to build new facility.
  • Thirsty Bro Brewing, Royse City - closed original location to build new facility.
  • Woodcreek Brewing Co., Rockwall - closed original facility to search for a new location.
Source: Individual research.

The Year in Beer
  • Community collaborations:

    Etzel memorial series: The North Texas craft beer community came together in 2020 to honor the memory of Fort Worth homebrewer, Greg Etzel. Known by many through his work with Texas Brewing Inc. and the shop's Come & Brew It podcast, Etzel passed away in November 2019 after a brave fight against cancer. Up to now, seven Tarrant County breweries have created memorial beers using Etzel's own recipes, with proceeds from sales benefiting charities chosen by his family.

    All Together: Organized by Other Half Brewing Co. of Brooklyn, New York, the All Together collaboration was designed to support members of the hospitality industry struggling due to the pandemic. Four breweries in North Texas contributed to the cause by brewing a version of Other Half's base recipe for All Together IPA. Proceeds from sales went to relief organizations and hospitality professionals in Dallas-Fort Worth.

    Black is Beautiful: Breweries worldwide joined Weathered Souls Brewing Co. of San Antonio in an effort to "raise awareness for injustices people of color face daily." In North Texas, nearly 20 area breweries participated in the Black is Beautiful initiative, each putting their spin on an imperial stout recipe provided by Weathered Souls. Proceeds from sales were targeted towards local community organizations focused on supporting police brutality reform and legal defense funds for the wrongfully-accused.

  • Crazed concoctions: Martin House Brewing Co. followed up the Best Maid pickle beer pandemonium of 2019 with new infusions featuring ingredients like buffalo wing sauce, Dunkaroos and Flamin' Hot Cheetos. These beers and others were a hit with consumers, while news outlets near and far mused at the mindset behind the Fort Worth brewery.

    Among other brews creating a buzz in 2020, Panther Island Brewing Co. of Fort Worth conjured up a reminder of popular convenience store pit-stops with Road Trip Snacks, a beer brewed with Buc-ee's Beaver Nuggets.

    And in Garland, snacks of a different nature were sourced by Lakewood Brewing Co. and Intrinsic Smokehouse & Brewery. The two breweries teamed up to create Twinkie beers inspired by the movie Zombieland.

  • Style trends: Hazy IPAs continued to cast a spell over the collective consciousness of the local craft beer community in 2020, with local "juice' producers like Celestial Beerworks of Dallas, Turning Point Beer of Bedford and Tupps Brewery of McKinney rolling out new varieties on the regular.

    Beyond the haze craze, hard seltzers remained in in high demand during 2020, with fruit-flavored product lines being introduced by the likes of Armadillo Ale Works of Denton, Tupps Brewery and more. Wild Acre Brewing Co. of Fort Worth even introduced a pickle hard seltzer called Magic Brine earlier this month.

    A bounty of fruit flavors can also be found in slushy-style beers built upon a Berliner weisse base. These are becoming a signature style at 903 Brewers of Sherman, a.k.a. the "Slushy Factory" according to signage the brewery has posted outside its door.

  • Sad farewells in the service sector: No recap of the past year would be complete without paying final respects to three beloved draft beer venues who closed their doors. As 2020 comes to a close, be sure to raise a glass in memory of The Common Table Uptown, LUCK at Trinity Groves and Flying Saucer Addison.

  • North Texas award winnersClick here to review award-winning beers from 2020. Coverage includes results from the Great American Beer Festival, U.S. Open Beer Championship, United States Beer Tasting Championship, and Best of Craft Beer Awards.

  • The 2020 list of Beer in Big D's preferred pours (new-to-market, or newly-discovered beers some blogger particularly enjoyed): 903 Fragile Like a Bomb, Division Macaroon Morning, False Idol La Vida Mocha, Funky Picnic Banjo Banjo Banjooo!!!!, HopFusion Etzel, Odd Muse Woodpecker Lips, On Rotation Some Kind of Oak Monster, Peticolas Not With That Attitude, Saint Arnold Commitment, Tupps Dive Bar Brunch, Turning Point/3 Nations Bedford County Barrel-Aged Stout, Vector/BrainDead Slightly Darker Black.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

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