Wednesday, December 29, 2021

2021 Year in review: North Texas nearly to 100 breweries

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At the end of 2020, much of the talk was about how local breweries had persevered through the pandemic. This sentiment even found its way into the title of the 2020 year-in-review article published 12 months ago in this space. Now, a year later, the pandemic itself continues to persevere. Thankfully, though, the industry has soldiered on, with the area brewery count somehow experiencing another year of double-digit growth.

On the subject of national news, one of the most important beer stories of the year surrounded rampant reports of racism, sexism, harassment and discrimination in the brewing industry. What started as a personal Instagram post quickly grew into an industry-wide callout for change. In response, industry groups joined together to create the BRU (Brewing Respect and Unity) Coalition in an effort "to drive industry-wide adoption of evidence-based best practices for preventing discrimination, harassment, and violence within the brewing industry."

As far as things happening here at home in 2021, discussion topics covered herein will go beyond the regular rundown of openings, closings and expansions, to include a few words on the long-overdue rise of female head brewers in North Texas, and notes on the coming wave of 10-year anniversaries taking place at a number of local breweries.

Oh, and there was that whole Yuengling thing, too. Not my cup of tea, but maybe it's yours. Either way, grab a glass, drink what you like and take a minute (or ten) to catch up on all that went down during the 2021 year in beer.

The Business of Beer

This year's break down of local business dealings begins with a few holdover items from last year's review, notably those brewing operations that remained in limbo for various reasons at the close of 2020. 
  • In July, Nine Band Brewing Co. of Allen was purchased by a pair of reality TV personalities who intend to rename it Armor Brewing Co. - a name matching a coffee shop run by the new owners nearby. Readers may remember Nine Band's demise was brought on by misdeeds committed by its former owner.
  • By the Horns Brewing of Mansfield will return in some capacity after being acquired by the Local Favorite Restaurants group. The establishment will be reimagined as del Toro Craft Q & Brew (out with the tacos, in with the Q), but a decision is pending on whether the "By the Horns" name will continue to identify the brewing side of the business.
  • Judging by minutes published by the Royse City Community Development Corporation, ownership has decided not to move forward with the relocation of Thirsty Bro Brewing. The company ceased production in December 2019, so its closure is considered retroactive to that date.
  • All remains quiet concerning Woodcreek Brewing Co., formerly of Rockwall. Said to be on the lookout for a new location, the company's license expired earlier this year and it is now presumed closed as of the final day of operations in June 2020. 
Moving on to expansion news for 2021, new and considerably larger facilities were unveiled by On Rotation Brewery & Kitchen of Dallas and Fort Brewery & Pizza of Fort Worth. More room to move around was also the motivation behind an impressive taproom upgrade undertaken at Turning Point Beer of Bedford.

Elsewhere, others made moves to expand their reach, as Bankhead Brewing Co. of Rowlett took over the former Deep Ellum Funkytown Fermatorium space in Fort Worth, Cedar Creek Brewery of Seven Points premiered its Cedar Creek Brewhouse & Eatery in Farmers Branch, and Cowtown Brewing Co. of Fort Worth debuted a satellite taproom in Southlake.

Regarding ongoing projects, Celestial Beerworks has purchased an additional brewhouse to outfit a satellite spot of its own roughly a half-mile from its original location in Dallas. Beyond that, work continues on Community Beer Co.'s new home in Dallas, while Texas Monthly top 100 barbecue joint Oak'd Handcrafted BBQ is building a second location with a brewery in Addison. Further out, construction set to begin in the coming weeks on new locales for 903 Brewers of Sherman and Tupps Brewery of McKinney.

On that note, it's interesting to consider how many expansions are incorporating daily food service, a feature becoming prevalent at local taprooms. It's a logical evolution for such businesses in a crowded market, since having a one-stop shop serving both food and beverage helps to keep patrons comfortably in their seats.

Of course, adding food service is just one way breweries are diversifying. Many have added cider, seltzer, kombucha and non-alcoholic drinks to their menus in an effort to appeal to a wider base. And now, distilleries seem to be following suit, as evidenced by the installation of brewing operations at Johnson County Distillery of Cleburne and Deep Ellum Distillery of Dallas.

Shifting gears, a handful of new ventures entered the market by way of a different approach. Among them, Food Service Corporation built a commercial kitchen in Aubrey offering beer-making classes with the benefit of being able to take your creations home, Off Main Brewing introduced a unique boutique brewery concept in Prosper, and Pizza Americana partnered with Nano Brewing, LLC. to design, build and operate the first add-on brewpub (if you will) in Richardson. Unfortunately, the latter enterprise only lasted a few months.

As for the overall economic picture of the brewing industry in Texas, data from the Brewers Association for 2020 shows the state ranking sixth in production nationally (up from eighth in 2019), with 1.08 million barrels of beer produced (down from 1.18 million in 2019). The number of breweries per capita ticked up slightly from 1.7 to 1.8, with Texas' rank of 47th remaining the same in this category.

In terms of total economic impact, Texas placed third nationally while contributing $4.2 billion to the economy (down from $5.4 billion in 2019). The state's brewing industry provided jobs to over 24,000 full-time equivalent workers in 2019, paying more than $1.2 billion in wages and benefits, with an average annual salary of $51,121.

Image: Brewers Association.

Comings and Goings

Pandemic or not, the North Texas industry roster continued to grow at a rapid pace in 2021. For the fourth year in a row, 14 new breweries opened in the region (that is, firms with a license to brew in North Texas). More surprising, however, was the lack of closures, with only two occurring this past year.

Looking at the list of new breweries, you may notice how craft beer's influence is reaching further and further south within the borders of North Texas. New entities are always appearing in Dallas-Fort Worth proper, but now we're seeing local beer being brewed in cities like Cleburne, Corsicana, Dublin and Maypearl.

Summing it all up, the number of brewing operations in North Texas presently stands at 95. Add in side projects and special cases, while lowering the number to account for temporary closures and breweries with multiple locations, and there are 91 different brands of local beer to choose from in the market.

  • Brick Streets Brewery, Corsicana.
  • Bankhead Brewing (second location), Fort Worth.
  • Cedar Creek Brewhouse & Eatery (second location), Farmers Branch.
  • Chambers Creek Brewing Co., Maypearl.
  • Food Experience Corp., Aubrey.
  • Johnson County Distillery, Cleburne.
  • Lead Belly Beer Co. at Deep Ellum Distillery, Dallas.
  • Lucky Brewing Co., Dublin.
  • Neutral Ground Brewing Co., Fort Worth.
  • Pizza Americana, Richardson.
  • Say When Brewing Co., Denison.
  • Second Rodeo Brewing, Fort Worth.
  • Siren Rock Brewing Co., Rockwall
  • Windmills, The Colony.

Brand Debuts (not counted as new openings, see comments):
  • Break Room Brewing Co., Cleburne (contract brewed at Red Caboose Winery in Clifton, Texas).
  • Off Main Brewing, Prosper (locally-based, but licensed in Hunt, Texas).

New Locations (not counted as new openings):
  • Fort Brewery & Pizza, Fort Worth.
  • On Rotation Brewery & Kitchen, Dallas.

Permanent Closures:
  • BrainDead Brewing, Dallas.
  • Pizza Americana, Richardson.

Temporary Closures (not counted as new closures):
  • By the Horns Brewing, Mansfield - closed since onset of pandemic.

Source: Individual research.

The Year in Beer
  • Why not more women?

    It was 1869 when Francisca Yetzer, a recent widow and single mother of two, opened and operated a brewery in Dallas. Now, more than 150 years later, we can finally recognize a number of women playing a significant role in the production process at modern breweries in North Texas.

    - Sandra DiPretore Murphy, head brewer at Fort Brewery & Pizza of Fort Worth.
    - Betsi Good, head kombucha brewer at Four Corners Brewing Co. of Dallas.
    - Megan Mares, commercial operations manager at Revolver Brewing of Granbury/Arlington.
    - Noel Tousignant, lab manager/brewer at Armadillo Ale Works of Denton.

    One wonders why it took so long...

  • Back down the Rabbit Hole

    Rabbit Hole Brewing of Justin closed its doors in late 2019, but fans of the brewery got a chance to raise a glass of a Rabbit Hole original back in April. The team at Soul Fire Brewing Co. of Roanoke got together with Rabbit Hole co-founder Matt Morriss to revive the recipe for Off With Your Red. It was a limited, draft-only release, but you never know if a similar offering might emerge in the future once Morriss' new project, Three Wide Brewing, gets rolling near Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

  • Ten-year anniversaries on tap

    In November, Deep Ellum Brewing Co. of Dallas became the first modern craft era brewery in North Texas (those to open in 2011 or later) to reach its tenth anniversary. It's a rare feat, given less than 8% of all breweries to have ever opened in North Texas (since 1855) have made it to the milestone.

    Barring anything unforeseen, six more will reach this point in the coming year: Peticolas Brewing Co. of Dallas, Lakewood Brewing Co. of Garland, Cedar Creek Brewery of Seven Points, Revolver Brewing of Granbury, Four Corners Brewing Co. of Dallas, and Fort Brewery & Pizza of Fort Worth (based on when brewing operations actually began at Zio Carlo Magnolia Brew Pub).

    Thinking about the first name on the list of pending celebrants, it's hard to believe 10 years have passed since Velvet Hammer first hit.

  • Yuengling's highly-heralded arrival in Texas

    After what's seemed like years of yearning from local fans, the beers of American's oldest brewery finally landed on shelves in Texas. Recipes originating from the Pennsylvania-based Yuengling Brewery are brewed at Molson Coors in Fort Worth. These include Yuengling Lager, Light Lager, Golden Pilsner and FLIGHT.

  • Sad farewells in the service sector: As 2021 comes to a close, raise a glass in memory of the Fort Worth and Lewisville locations of Lone Star Taps & Caps.

  • North Texas award winnersClick here to review award-winning beers from 2021, with competition results from the Great American Beer Festival, San Diego International Beer Competition, United States Beer Tasting Championship, U.S. Open Beer Championship and U.S. Open Hard Seltzer Championship.

  • The 2021 list of Beer in Big D's preferred pours (new-to-market, or newly-discovered beers some blogger particularly enjoyed): 3 Nations Switchyard BBA Imperial Golden Stout, Beard Science Black Currant Sour Beer, Brutal Beerworks Into the Void, Celestial On Maple & Inwood, Denton County Rumbustion, False Idol The Wire, Lakewood Double Stuffed Temptress, Oak Cliff Bourbon Barrel Sombre, Odd Muse Perseverance, Peticolas What's New - Dubbel, Rollertown Barrel-Aged Brewser, Tupps/Smittox Black is Beautiful, Vector Moonsmoke, Wild Acre Barrel-Aged Belgian Dark Strong.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 13, 2021

The legend of Lead Belly lives on in new brand of beer

A pint of In the Pines IPA, a beer named after a song most associated with Lead Belly and later performed by Nirvana (© Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

John Reardon is back in the beer business. Fifteen months after separating from CANarchy, and by extension the Deep Ellum Brewing Co. (DEBC) he founded over a decade ago, Reardon's new Lead Belly Beer Co. debuted its inaugural brews this past weekend in Dallas.

Brewed at Deep Ellum Distillery, Lead Belly Beer is a follow-on to products in the distillery's Lead Belly Whiskey line. The brand pays tribute to Huddie William Ledbetter, otherwise known as the blues legend Lead Belly. He and fellow musician, Blind Lemon Jefferson, were renowned for their performances in and around Deep Ellum after joining forces in Dallas around 1912.

Regarding goals of the project, Reardon says he's no longer looking to achieve "total beer domination," as was the case with his prior venture. This time around, the focus is on making a quality product with good people and good ingredients, and then drinking it while telling the stories of Dallas, Deep Ellum, Lead Belly and beyond.

To aid in this endeavor, Reardon enlisted Kyle Willborn, himself a graduate of the DEBC school of beer-making. Willborn presided over production at DEBC for over six years before joining the distillery, where he now works with the brewery's original 30-barrel system. This setup resides in the former Deep Ellum Barrel House space, from which some of DEBC's more experimental recipes emerged over the years.

As for what's to come under the Lead Belly Beer umbrella, Reardon says he's not limited by any sort of non-compete clause as it pertains to what he may choose to brew. The first two beers, Lead Belly Blonde and In the Pines IPA, are just the beginning. Naturally, there will be barrel-aged offerings at some point, but near-term work will center on dialing in the initial recipes. For example, Reardon intends to lighten the color and hop presence of Lead Belly Blonde in future batches.

And, just in case the choice of a blonde and an IPA to start haven't triggered certain memories, they surely recall styles DEBC released in the days and months after its introduction just blocks away in late 2011. In fact, the 12/12/2021 launch date for Lead Belly Beer is a rather pointed reference to exactly that time, as Reardon looks to embrace this evolution and one-up his previous employer. You see, Deep Ellum Brewing Co. sold its first keg on 11/11/2011.

Lead Belly beers are draft-only offerings at the distillery for now, but cans are promised for the future. In the meantime, try one or both during tasting room hours Thursday-Sunday at Deep Ellum Distillery.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Johnson County Distillery taps house beers in Cleburne

Johnson County Distillery is located at 1655 S. Main St. in Cleburne (All images © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

Johnson County Distillery is now home to a more diverse set of offerings, as the Cleburne-based business has begun brewing and serving its own beer and cider on site.

Owned by Todd Kauffman, the distillery opened in October 2017 just on the outskirts of Historic Downtown Cleburne. Since then, the firm's flagship has been Jacob Weldon, a blended bourbon whiskey named after Kauffman's grandfather.

Now, though, patrons can enjoy a pint of house-brewed beer or cider if they're looking something different beyond the distillery's selection of spirts and custom cocktails. Created on a four-barrel system by the team of Megan Trainham and Joseph Soule, upwards of six beer and cider options are available daily, those pouring from newly-installed taps set up along the distillery's back bar.

Dirty Leg (left) is one of five selections (three beers, two ciders) currently pouring from the taps at Johnson County Distillery.

Surveying the lineup, Mixed Berry and Passion Fruit Peach ciders are on tap, along with beers by the name of Carmel Toe, Dirty Leg and C.M.P. to start. The first two, Carmel Toe and Dirty Leg, feature a pilsner malt base with additions of caramel and chocolate malt, respectively, while C.M.P. is a caramel maple porter.

Going forward, these and other recipes will come and go based on visitor feedback. Short-term, the distillery intends to add a gingerbread stout, as well as a lighter beer reminiscent of Rolling Rock - though, indications are it'll be an extra pale ale as opposed to a lager. Then long term, as you might expect given the nature of the business, bourbon barrel beers will be part of the mix as well.

As for other amenities, house-made pizzas will be on the menu beginning as soon as next week, making Johnson County Distillery a sort of one-stop shop for anyone looking to get their food and beverage fix while visiting Cleburne, whether they be in the mood for noshes paired with beer, bourbon, cider or something else.