Sunday, December 3, 2023

Austin-based beers from Meanwhile making their way to the Metroplex

Photo © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

Recently, a new box of beer mail appeared at my door, this time courtesy of Meanwhile Brewing Co. of Austin. The premise was an introduction to the brand, with the catalyst being a collaboration beer the company made with Celestial Beerworks of Dallas.

If you were not already aware, Meanwhile's products have shown up here in the past, but fresh shipments are now making their way to the Metroplex. Cans began appearing on shelves of select retailers in mid-November, with draft selections following close behind.

Three of the beers contained in my sample pack have been among those delivered to area locales. Each represents a year-round offering from Meanwhile, with two having been awarded medals at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF).

  • Secret Beach - San Diego Style IPA (6.2% ABV): My favorite beer of the bunch, this West Coast-inspired IPA is kind of a throwback in being dank and slightly bitter with notes of tropical fruit and orange marmalade. Secret Beach brought home a silver medal in the American-Style Strong Pale Ale category at the 2022 GABF.
  • Tender Robot - Hazy IPA (6.2% ABV): A recipe featuring four types of malt and four hop varieties produces a pleasing hazy IPA with a mix of citrus and tropical fruit flavors and a mild finishing bitterness.
  • Meanwhile Pilsner - German-Style Pilsner (4.8% ABV): Light, easy to drink and refreshing while displaying a range of subtle complexities including elements of grain, bread dough and lemon zest set against a floral and grassy background. Meanwhile Pilsner won a gold medal for German-Style Pilsener at the 2021 GABF.
Now, just to be complete, beer number four was the aforementioned collaboration and an Austin exclusive. For that one, a partnership was formed to create Celestial Flirtation (10.5% ABV), a huge triple hazy IPA which debuted at Meanwhile's recent third anniversary celebration.

As for the distribution plan, reps at Meanwhile say new beers will drop locally roughly once a month. Locations receiving stock up to now are listed below, but consumers can also click here to view the most up-to-date listings by way of the Beer Locator on the brewery's website.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Beard Science set to release first pHunky beer in bottles

Beard Science's new beer is brewed to the proper pH for a
Flanders red (photo © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

The first fruits of a project begun within a few months of when Beard Science Sour House originally opened at Truck Yard The Colony are now ready to be enjoyed, as the brewery is set to release its first bottles filled with a beer that began resting in a foeder onsite during February 2021.

Introducing pHunky pHlemish (5.8% ABV), a wine-like Belgian-style beer brewed with the characteristics of a traditional Flanders red in mind. In other words, it's not an over-the-top modern take on the style, but rather a sour and fruity beer (red plums, black cherries, red currants) with appropriate subtlety and nuance.

"To me, it drinks like a pinot noir, with that kind of wine character," says Brew Boss Dennis Wehrmann. "And, it's not JUST a sour beer where it punches you in the face with acidity. It's just right, and I even think people who don't like sour beers would enjoy it."

Packaged in a 600-count limited run of 750mL flip-top bottles, pHunky pHlemish will debut at Beard Science on or before Friday, December 8, with a price point of $18 per bottle. Plus, a small amount of the beer will be placed on draft, allowing patrons to try before they buy.

Of course, this is just the beginning with regards to bottles at Beard Science - these extended aging efforts take time, after all. Next on the list, a dark sour beer aged in bourbon barrels from Ironroot Republic Distillery of Denison will make its way into bottles over the next few months.

And speaking of barrels, there's more to come on that topic as well. Six weeks ago, Wehrmann and the Truck Yard team travelled to Kentucky to take part in a special barrel select program.

"We chose three barrels from Weller, Stagg and Eagle Rare," says Wehrmann. "The bourbon inside will be available in our facilities, but I'm getting all three barrels to age beer in."

Plans are still being finalized, but the expectation is one or more barrels will house a sour beer at Beard Science, with another to be located at the company's sister site, Second Rodeo Brewing, in Fort Worth.

Indeed, these are busy times at both Beard Science and Second Rodeo - where, incidentally, a recent expansion added two new tanks to what is now a "maxed out" production area. Wehrmann himself says they have "lots going on," and while there may actually be more to talk about down the line, we'll save those stories for another day.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Wriggly Tin adds new wrinkle to the Dallas beer scene

All photos © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

On a Saturday in December 2019, a spot local beer lovers had come to know as Small Brewpub closed its doors in Oak Cliff. It was a unique little place (literally), with good food and an eclectic range of brews borne out of what, at the time, was one of the more creative approaches to beer-making in the local scene.

It was a loss, but there were rumblings another chapter would be written down the road. Time passed, with word eventually getting out that Small co-founder Aaron Garcia and partner Jacob Boger were working on a new habitat on S. Haskell St. in the shadow of Fair Park. Small Brewpub would not return, but Small Beer Works was now a thing as part of a new project called Wriggly Tin.

Small patrons once wondered if beers like Black Pepper Pils and Underdog IPA would see the light of day again. Four years later, these indeed appear along with other creations (Oro Moro Dark Lager, Hart German Helles) on the menu at Wriggly Tin, which officially opened earlier this month.

Wriggly sets up as an attractive destination for patio pours near Dallas Fair Park.

So, what exactly is a Wriggly Tin?

Well, if you're talking about what inspired the name of the place, it has to do with the corrugated sheets of iron covering the half-circle shaped structure the brewpub calls home. The U.K. military called these wavy or wrinkled sheets of metal wriggly tin.

If you're talking about Garcia and Boger's vision for the business, though, Wriggly Tin is a "cocktail, wine, and pizza joint that also sells Small Beer Works beer."

And, that's just the sort of vibe you get upon visiting. With the brewhouse hidden beyond the dining room and kitchen indoors, house beer production is only one Small part of a larger scheme. Whether it be lager-leaning recipes designed for a more diverse range of beer drinker, the universal appeal of pizza offerings from Chef Desmon Coleman, or all the little touches coming together to shape the entirely handmade decor, the approach celebrates "what the common people of the world love."

Denizens of Dallas love a patio too, by the way, and Wriggly Tin has one checking all the boxes of an urban beer oasis.

Enjoy beer offerings like Hart, a German-style helles lager, inside the dining room or outside in the open air.

Also important is the welcoming nature about the place, starting with the attentiveness of the staff, which includes knowledgeable beer tenders willing to guide patrons through sample sips as they decide on an order. The presence of ownership actively circulating through the crowd, something seemingly more and more rare, was noticeable as well.

It all makes for the kind of place you want to settle in and stay awhile...not just for a quick beer and a bite, but more for an evening of dinner and drinks without distraction (no televisions were sighted). Perhaps this explains why Wriggly Tin is only open late afternoons and evenings (Wed-Sun, 4 p.m. - 12 a.m.) leading into the weekend.

Wriggly Tin may not be a full-on revival of Garcia's former business, but the new venture is driven by the same guiding principles behind what became a craft beer fan favorite. So essentially, it's a new space with an old soul, and that's no small thing. Then again, a "Small" thing is probably exactly what it's meant to be.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Brutal Beerworks closing in North Richland Hills

Image credit: Brutal Beerworks.

Brutal Beerworks has announced it will close its brewery in North Richland Hills.

Founded by Eric Johnson, Sallie McIntyre and Jason Perez, the company opened in July 2019 as the first brewery in the city. From there, Brutal Beerworks embraced a more modern approach in featuring an ever-changing lineup of hazy IPAs, stouts, and the brewery's popular Gusherz line of fruited sour beers.

As apropos as it is given the circumstances, the Brutal name was a reference to the difficulties in opening and maintaining a brewery in the face of market challenges and other everyday responsibilities. That message coming through loud and clear in a social media post sharing the news.

"We’ve fought tooth and nail to keep the brewery going, but due to our lease coming to an end and rent prices shooting through the roof, we are no longer able to keep moving forward. "

Operations will continue through the final day of business on Saturday, December 2.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Shannon Brewing Co. closes in Keller

Photo © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

Shannon Brewing Co. of Keller is now closed.

Founded by Shannon Carter, the self-named business debuted in September 2014. The brewery was unique in using a fire-brewing process to produce its beers, which were made with pure Texas spring water from a neighboring bottler.

In terms of marketing, Carter's own personal heritage influenced the firm's slogan, "Texas Brewed with Irish Roots," as well as the choice of its flagship offering, Shannon Irish Red. Other popular beers in Shannon's portfolio included the company's Chocolate Stout and Irish Coffee Cream Ale.

A private equity group, NTX Cask Mates, acquired Shannon Brewing Co. in early 2023. Carter remained active in day-to-day activities until July, at which point he moved on to pursue other endeavors. Operations continued on until just recently, but ultimately the decision was made to discontinue the brand.

Despite the news, Shannon Brewing Co. enjoyed a longer run than most in the North Texas market, its closure coming after a full nine years in business.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

False Idol medals at 2023 Festival of Wood & Barrel-Aged Beer

Image credit: False Idol Brewing.

Marking its territory as the site of arguably one of the area's better barrel programs, False Idol Brewing of North Richland Hills has been honored with an award at the 2023 Festival of Wood & Barrel-Aged Beer (FOBAB).

Started in 2003, FOBAB is put on by the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild. The event is the largest and most distinguished festival of its kind in North America. At this year's competition, over 300 entries were submitted, with brewers vying for awards across 12 distinct categories.

False Idol received a bronze medal for Two Faced Terror (14% ABV), an English-style barleywine aged for 17 months in bourbon barrels from Heaven Hill Distillery, and then for another 7 months in barrels from 1792. The beer was a limited batch released by the brewery in late October - cans of which sold out quickly.

For more on the 2023 FOBAB, click here to view a complete list of winners.

False Idol Brewing, North Richland Hills

  • Bronze for Two Faced Terror in the Barleywine/Wheatwine category.

Cheers and congrats to False Idol Brewing!

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Temptations on tap during Stout Month at Lakewood

Images courtesy of Lakewood Brewing Co.

Today is International Stout Day and it marks the beginning of Stout Month at Lakewood Brewing Co. of Garland.

The festivities will feature tappings of new exclusive brews all month long, as well as the availability of several Temptress variants including Sin Mint, French Quarter, Gingerbread, Double Stuffed, S'mores and Pumpkin Spice Latte Temptress.

Then, once December arrives, Stout Month will conclude with the return of the ever-popular Bourbon Barrel Temptress (BBT). As in year's past, the brewery will host two days of events celebrating the release, with BBT VIP Day happening on Friday, December 1, followed by BBT Day on Saturday, December 2. The weekend also will feature the introduction of Temptress Light. 

More details will be shared on Lakewood's social media channels in the coming weeks, but for now a schedule of November releases is provided below.

Thursday, November 2
  • Balcones Bourbon Barrel-Aged French Coast Temptress with Boysenberries.
  • Dry Stout.
  • Live Vol. 3 - Norwegian Imperial Stout with Juniper Berries and Honey.
Thursday, November 9
  • Balcones Barrel Temptress aged in a Tequila-Finished Rye Whiskey Barrel.
Thursday, November 16
  • Balcones Barrel Temptress aged in Single-Malt Whiskey Barrel #14140.
Friday, November 24
  • Balcones Barrel Temptress aged in Bourbon Barrel #18313.
Friday, December 1 - Saturday, December 2
  • 2023 Bourbon Barrel Temptress.
  • Temptress Light.
  • Various vintages of Bourbon Barrel Temptress.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Ash & Ember closing brewery in Cedar Hill

Image credit: Ash & Ember Brewing.

Ash & Ember Brewing of Cedar Hill has announced it will permanently close on November 18.

Brian Krajcirovic and Timothy Martin launched Ash & Ember in June 2020, making it the first known brewing operation to exist in the city. The partners, who had been homebrewing together since 2013, opened Ash & Ember hoping to establish a small, family-friendly pub with a Cheers-like atmosphere. A sign reading "Cheers Cedar Hill" was even hung in the taproom.

Doors opened at Ash & Ember at the height of the pandemic, and the aftereffects of that event were cited as a contributing factor in the closure, according to a social media post.

"We started with a vision of bringing our passion for traditional and delicious craft beer to our community, and we achieved that goal. However, the pandemic wreaked havoc on small businesses and breweries everywhere, and we were no exception. Despite our best efforts to pivot and adapt, we faced ongoing challenges that hindered our operations and growth. Now, due to significant cost increases, we have no choice but to close."

Happy Hippie opens far out fermentation firm in Richardson

All photos © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

Completing the journey to opening a brick-and-mortar location, Happy Hippie Brewing Co. has pulled back the curtain on its new permanent home at 500 Lockwood Dr. in Richardson.

For anyone unfamiliar, Happy Hippie got its start after entering into an alternating proprietorship agreement with Hop & Sting Brewing Co. of Grapevine in 2019. From there, first beers hit the market in early 2020, with more than 10 different recipes eventually making their way into the firm's portfolio over the course of the last three years.

Now, those behind Happy Hippie - a group comprising Michael and Kellie Frederick, Scott and Happy Schwieterman, and Dave and Jess Steckel - can entertain family, friends and fans of the brand in the comfort of their own groovy little hippie pad in the Lockwood neighborhood of the city's Core District.

Happy Hippie operates inside an 11,000 square foot structure. Roughly half is dedicated to the
taproom, which features a spacious seating area flanked by the service bar and an indoor stage setup.

So, what's the new place like? Well, in terms of vibe, clearly a chill and laid back atmosphere is the order of the day. Honestly, it couldn't have been more appropriate that a Grateful Dead ditty came over the sound system literally the second I sat down. Bandleader Jerry Garcia is the patron saint of Happy Hippie, and what might be the brewery's most popular beer, Captain Tripels (Belgian tripel), is a nod to Captain Trips himself.

Given that, along with the playing of other tunes by early 70s artists, and the prominent stage setup anchoring one end of the taproom, it should be clear music is central to the concept. If not, maybe also consider past beer names featuring the song titles "Friend of the Devil" (the Dead) and "Smoke on the Water" (Deep Purple).

Those weren't on tap at opening, but a list of beers that were included Captain Tripels, Honey Magnolia Witbier, Marmalade Sky Blonde Ale, Rich Ale and Wa-Hotter Melon IPA. And while Captain Tripels might be the strongest beer of the bunch in terms of ABV, the punchiest flavor profile emerged from the watermelon and habanero-infused Wa-Hotter Melon IPA. In fact, the latter had a bitter edge on the order of an old-school West Coast IPA.

Beer workings, by the way, are brought to you by director of brewing operations, Nick Thomason. A homebrewing veteran with more than 15 years of experience under his belt, Thomason is formulating the fermentations at Happy Hippie using hardware supplied by ABE Equipment of Nebraska.

Once production is in full swing, beers will pour from as many as 12 tap handles at Happy Hippie.
Flights and full pours are available, with to-go selections presumably set to occupy a fridge adjacent to the bar.

As for other site amenities, widescreen televisions encircle the interior allowing for the viewing of sports and other events at Happy Hippie, with board games provided as an additional diversion. There's also a patio area for those who prefer open-air imbibing.

With regard to grub, food trucks will be the primary purveyor. Bites on grand opening weekend were served by Guitars & Growlers, a fitting partner since the pub's Richardson spot has acted as Happy Hippie's adopted taproom since its inception. Their menu offers a variety of appetizers (fries, onion rings, sweet potato nuggets), entrees (bratwurst, smash burgers, street tacos, wings), kids meals (chicken nuggets, hot dogs), and a Cream Cheese Filled Churro for dessert.

Indeed, taken together, what Happy Hippie has created is a songful space designed to inspire patrons to commune with other like-minded craft beer drinkers. To that end, you're invited to "Find Your Tribe" at the brewery during operating hours from Wednesday through Sunday.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Rollertown breaking out The Cypher for upcoming B-Boy Battle

Image courtesy of Rollertown Beeworks.

Rollertown Beerworks of Celina has teamed with Battle Grounds, a community-based group rooted in hip hop culture, for the Second Annual Rollertown B-Boy Battle, an incredibly unique, high-energy event taking place at the brewery on Friday, October 20 at 6 p.m.

According to a press release, organizers are looking to elevate the experience by building off the success of the inaugural event last year while celebrating breaking’s inclusion in the 2024 Olympics. Attendees can expect incredible dance-offs, world-class technique, and one-of-a-kind performances by talented breakers from across the state. The event will take place outside under a large tent to increase visibility for spectators, and there will be a 3 vs. 3 competition with a larger grand prize of $1,500.

“This event embodies why we wanted to start Rollertown in the first place,” says Jeff "Skin" Wade, co-founder of Rollertown. “We have a long history of fusing together things we’re passionate about. And providing our guests with the essence of true Hip-Hop culture fills us with so much pride and excitement.”

To commemorate the event, Rollertown will release a new beer called The Cypher (10% ABV) as part of its Back to the Lab Experimental IPA Series. This imperial hazy IPA is made with copious amounts of wheat and oats, a clean American pilsner base malt and a mix of Bru-1, Citra and HBC-586 hops. The result is said to present with a velvety body and powerful hints of pineapple, mango and lychee.

Appropriately, the beer is named as a tribute to a "cypher," an open-circle warmup prior to the battle where the group communes while people take turns executing freestyle moves. The cypher (or cipher) has deep cultural roots in hip hop culture and beyond.

Leo J, a prominent figure in the breaking community who will perform at the event, also expressed his enthusiasm for the upcoming festivities.

"After the huge success of last year's event, I am happy to partner with Rollertown for a second year in a row," adds Leo J. "With breaking making its debut in the 2024 Olympics, it makes events like these even more important for the breaking community as fans of the culture can get an up close and personal view of the artform."

The B-Boy Battle is free for attendees. Apart from breaking and music from DJ Leo J, there will be food from Cane Rosso and Cheddr Wheel, and pop-ups from Josey Records, DFW Vintage Swap Meet and more. Rollertown encourages early arrival to ensure a good viewing spot, as the event is expected to draw a very large crowd again this year.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Black Fox now stalking just off the square in Denton

All photos © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

Black Fox Brewing Co. of Texas has opened in the location previously occupied by Howling Mutt Brewing just off the square in Downtown Denton.

Michael Velasco, a veteran and homebrewer of more than 20 years, took over the space at 205 N. Cedar St. in May. All it took was a new permit, a little paint and some polish to get the site re-branded and up and running again.

Along those lines, visitors of the former tenant will be met with a familiar scene at Black Fox. The barroom centers the place, flanked by the production alcove on one side, and a lounge-like spot (still being decorated) on the other. These smaller indoor areas (1200 square feet total) are then supplemented by an enclosed, open-air patio out back.

Black Fox's opening day lineup features a variety of light-to-moderate ales.

Naturally, house beers are the brewery's primary attraction, but select wines and non-alcoholic beverages are also available. A half-dozen brews make up Black Fox's initial lineup, with styles focused on light-to-moderate offerings. Menu options include easy-drinking blonde, pale and red ales, along with an IPA and a stout. And on the topic of favorites, while patrons overheard at other tables seemed taken with the Dirty Cursed Blonde, my tastes leaned more towards Black Fox Stout.

Speaking of which, Velasco's first foray into commercial brewing came when he participated in the Homebrewers League program at Barley & Board in Denton during 2018. The recipe Velasco brewed was Black Fox Stout, a beer he described as a straight-forward American-style stout purposely designed as a back-to-basics kind of thing, which nowadays represents a rarity in a market filled with adjunct-heavy alternatives.

As for when to visit and experience one of the region's newest brewing operations for yourself, Black Fox plans to provide service five days a week, with operating hours Wednesday through Sunday.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Big Spray closing brewpub in Princeton

Image credit: Big Spray Brewing.

After a nearly three-year run, Big Spray Brewing is preparing to close its doors in Princeton.

Owned by Doug and Evelyn Abbott, Big Spray began serving the locals in late 2020. The idea was to create a neighborhood haunt offering good food and good beer in a laid-back atmosphere.

The overriding theme at Big Spray was derived from Doug's background as a competitive water skier. In fact, the presence of a residential water skiing community in Princeton was what inspired the Abbott's to move to Texas in the first place.

Along those lines, elements of the sport were evident in the brewpub's ski-shaped tap handles and flight boards, as well as in everyday beer offerings like Deep Water Porter, Driver Buoy Blonde, and 15 Off Red (representing the length of a ski rope).

According to a social media post, the last day of food service at Big Spray will occur on Friday, October 20. Representatives will pour house beers for the final time at Princeton Fall Fest on Saturday, October 21.

Friday, October 6, 2023

Rollertown partners with Rangers.Nation for playoff pilsner

Image courtesy of Rollertown Beerworks.

Rollertown Beerworks of Celina, the brewery owned by Ben Rogers and Jeff “Skin” Wade of The Ben & Skin Show on 97.1 The Freak, announces a collaboration with the grassroots fan group led by superfan Jake DuPre known as “Rangers.Nation” on Instagram. The result of this partnership is a beer that "celebrates the passion and dedication of this pioneering group of local baseball fanatics."

Following Jake’s lead, Rangers.Nation concentrates the team’s most energetic and vocal fans in Section 133 of Globe Life Field. Creating an infectiously-raucous environment, this group has had a tremendous impact on the in-game environment and has brought a playoff-like atmosphere to regular season home games in Arlington. 

To celebrate this group’s passion and impact on the local baseball culture, Rollertown is releasing a commemorative beer called “The 133 – A Celebration of The Nation.” A crisp, clean, crushable premium pilsner, this beer was brewed in Celina and is designed to go perfectly with a ballgame.

Commenting on the release, Roger says, “I’ve been a diehard fan my entire life. From Jeff Burroughs to Oddibe McDowell to Juan Gonzalez to Michael Young to Adolis Garcia. And now, to be a part of a magical baseball beer that embodies the glorious energy of a full-stadium “NA-PO-LI” chant on a brisk October night in Arlington is truly an honor.”

DuPre adds, “This beer is the perfect symbolization of the rowdy, enthusiastic, and exciting culture of Section 133. What better way to celebrate a victory than with a cold can of The 133? I know how I’ll be celebrating my 21st birthday while watching the Rangers this October!”

"The 133" will be available on tap an in cans starting October 6 at Rollertown's taproom in Celina. Four-packs of cans will be also available exclusively at the Frisco H-E-B, allowing fans to sip on this beer as they rally behind their favorite team.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Walking Beam closing brewery in Bridgeport

Image credit: Walking Beam Brewing Co.

Walking Beam Brewing Co. of Bridgeport has announced it will close at the end of business on Thursday, October 5.

Founded by John Townsend, Walking Beam became the first brewery to exist in Bridgeport when it opened in February 2019. It was a small-batch operation, as indicated by the slogan "brewing a barrel at a time in Bridgeport."

At least initially, Walking Beam identified a true brewpub with a full-service kitchen on site. Food service ceased in June of this year, the kitchen's closing a pre-curser to a change in approach which promised a new and improved experience for local patrons.

As for the brewery's name, Walking Beam referenced the pivoting arm of a pumpjack in calling attention to the Texas oil industry. The oil patch influence extended to the branding of brewhouse offerings like Pumpjack Pale Ale, Roughneck Red, Well Kill Milk Stout and Wildcatter Wheat.

Monday, October 2, 2023

Three Empires plants its flag in Frisco

All photos © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

A brewery has finally come to fruition in Frisco, as Three Empires Brewing Co. is now pouring its brand of beer in the city’s downtown district at 6990 Main St.

Residents of Frisco have long been thirsting for a brewery, and while a handful of projects have targeted the city over the past ten years, not a single one evolved past the planning stage. The drought is now over, though, thanks to the efforts of husband and wife, David and Mandalyn Wible.

So, what was the response like on their debut weekend? Let's just say locals are welcoming Three Empires with open arms. Standing room only crowds filled the brewery on opening day, which led yours truly to postpone a visit until Sunday. Even then, early arrivals were assembled outside before the doors even opened. This, a prelude to another packed house.

Once inside, five beers were on the menu. According to the Wibles, Frisco Blonde and Betty White Ale (witbier) were the most popular among patrons, but my favorite was probably one based on the first recipe the couple ever brewed, a bready amber ale called Amber's First Time.

It's all about the beer at Three Empires Brewing Co. in Frisco, with Spike Brewing
equipment lining one wall and hop-themed light fixtures hanging from the ceiling.

Overall, counting two others on my flight board, Steps Day (American pale ale) and Dirty South Stout, I'd describe the offerings at Three Empires as every day kind of beers. Each was easy-drinking and enjoyable with good balance, relatively low strength, and just the right of complexity to keep things interesting.

At the same time, for those looking to stir things up a bit, syrup infusions are available allowing customers to add raspberry to Betty White to create "Blanche," strawberry lemonade to Frisco Blonde to make her "Blush," or toasted marshmallow to Dirty South Stout to say "Gimme Gimme S'more."

As for what lies ahead at Three Empires, a mango margarita seltzer and two IPAs are currently in the works (Tangerine Speedo American IPA and Juicy Booty NEIPA). Other styles, including lagers, are likely to rotate in later, but for now the aforementioned eight brews will fill out the starting lineup.

Also, once production completes on the IPAs, an official grand opening will be planned, and opening times may expand to include evening hours on Thursday and Friday. Keep an eye on the brewery's social media channels for details on those items to be shared in the coming weeks.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Armor has craft beer covered in Allen

All photos © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

After breathing new life into a shuttered brewery, Mike and Jennifer Todryk are on the verge of officially opening Armor Brewing Co. in Allen - a sister business to their Armor Coffee Co. in the city. We'll say officially since preview events are currently ongoing at the space, which by now everyone knows was once home to Nine Band Brewing Co. at 9 Prestige Circle.

Any reminders of that company are now long gone, and we're not just talking about a fresh coat of paint on the grain silo. The Todryks have literally reimagined the place, making changes to the form and overall function of the operation. This shouldn't come as a surprise, though, considering the couple's association with the show No Demo Reno  on HGTV.

What was once a simple taproom and adjoining brewhouse, now presents as more of an entertainment venue. A full kitchen has been added, taking over the old patio area along the rear elevation. Then out front, a new and greatly expanded outdoor space has been installed, complete with canopies for coverage and string lighting for evening ambiance.

The site and structures of the former tenant have been completely reimagined to create Armor Brewing Co. in Allen.

The interior revamp also includes redesigned dining and bar areas, a dedicated retail section (for merchandise and beer to go sales), and an alcove featuring an advanced pub gaming setup with Winmau dart boards and Dartsee interactive electronic scoring displays.

Regarding sustenance, Armor offers an ample assortment of food and drink selections as well. The lunch and dinner menu has starters, greens, Wagyu smash burgers and handhelds, these supplemented by a collection of sides and sweets. Plus, there are kids' meals for little ones, and specialty plates (steaks, chops, chicken and fish) for patrons seeking something a bit more elevated are served after 5 p.m.

Liquids range from non-alcoholic options (tea, soda, milk, root beer) to boozier boosts provided by wines, Armor-crafted and dessert cocktails, a curated whiskey and bourbon list, and of course, house beers.

Food and drink options at Armor include the Smoked Turkey Melt (center) and an
Italian Pilsner (left), along with Enigma Sticke Altbier and the brewpub's Smoked Porter.

On that note, the beer side is handled by head brewer Brian Martin, who arrived in Texas after plying his trade at various breweries in Virginia. He's got upwards of 24 taps to work with daily at Armor, with a portfolio so far consisting of a dozen recipes. Naturally, IPAs occupy several slots on the tapwall, but there are also German styles (gose, hefeweizen), an Italian pilsner, and a pair of imperial stouts (one made with Armor coffee).

Of those sampled, favorites were Enigma, a sticke altbier, and the sublime Smoked Porter. Both won awards for Armor in the months leading up to its opening, and judging by the execution of those and others, more medals may very well be in the brewpub's future.

As for the opening, Armor Brewing Co. is set to go live as early as next weekend. Keep an eye on the company's socials for the most up-to-date details, and if you go, be sure to raise a glass to the welcome renewal of brewing activities in Allen.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Bishop Cider opening Arlington Cidercade on September 29

Image courtesy of Bishop Cider.

Bishop Cider of Dallas is set to open the newest location of their family-friendly entertainment venue, Cidercade, in Arlington this Friday, September 29 at 10 a.m.. The new spot will be the company's fifth Cidercade, joining a roster that includes sites in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and Houston.

According to a press release, the Arlington footprint will span over 25,0000 square feet, making it the largest Cidercade yet. Inside will be over 300 retro and modern arcade games, pool tables, ping pong tables, shuffleboard courts (a Cidercade first), and more. The venue also has multiple party rooms and event spaces that are ideal for groups of all sizes.

Located at 500 E. Division St. (the former home of Legal Draft Beer Co.), the Arlington Cidercade will sit just blocks from AT&T Stadium, with proximity to other area attractions.

 “Arlington is already known as an entertainment destination, so I knew we had to build something awesome, says Joel Malone, CEO and co-founder of Bishop Cider. "Cidercade Arlington is not only our largest location yet, but it includes a much larger variety of games and experiences.”

Beyond the games, multiple bars inside allow patrons to choose from a variety of adult beverages on tap, all made by Bishop Cider. Guests wanting a non-alcoholic option can order soft drinks from soda machines that include unlimited refills, and if they work up an appetite, guests are welcome to bring their own food to Cidercade or have it delivered from one of the many nearby restaurants.

Like other locales, patrons of Cidercade Arlington will pay an admission fee of $12 and get unlimited play on all the games and activities once inside. Cidercade also offers a $20 monthly membership that includes unlimited admissions as well as discounts on drinks and merchandise. Cidercade is 100% family-friendly during the day,  but strictly 21+ starting at 8 p.m. every evening.

As for the future, Bishop previously announced a new Cidercade location in Dallas, relocating and dramatically expanding the existing Cidercade Dallas. The current location will remain open until construction has been completed at the new site near Love Field. At 79,000 square feet, the new location will be nearly 10 times larger, and it will feature concepts, games, and activities not offered anywhere else in Texas. Look for it to debut sometime in 2024.

On the 2023 GABF and a trip 20 years past

Photo © Brewers Association.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the first time I attended the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), the brewing industry's premier event put on by the Brewers Association. I walked the hall strictly as a consumer then, and it would be seven years before I returned to cover the event as a media attendee.

Looking back, things were certainly different in 2003.The event hadn't grown to the level it would get to a few years ago, but it still felt big to a first-time attendee. Naturally, the brewery roster wasn't nearly the same, and who knows how many firms from those days have come and gone. Beyond that, there were more brewers, owners and beer celebrities in attendance, volunteers were happy to spill a bit more beer into your sample glass, and you couldn't help but walk out with a bag full of brewery swag.

Of course, GABF attendance and participation numbers would eventually peak right before Covid struck. But now, the festival has scaled back, thanks in part to economics and the after-effects of the pandemic. Breweries are still entering the competition, but fewer are choosing to make the trip to pour their products for festgoers.

For some, pouring at GABF simply doesn't move the meter in terms of attracting more everyday customers. If you distribute out-of-state (especially to Colorado), there's potential to expand your reach, but for hyper-local breweries, an appearance at GABF probably isn't a priority.

As for breweries from North Texas, only six were accounted for on the festival floor - 903 Brewers of Sherman, Bankhead Brewing Co. of Rowlett, False Idol Brewing of North Richland Hills, Martin House Brewing Co. of Fort Worth, Siren Rock Brewing Co. of Rockwall and Twin Peaks Brewing Co. of Irving. And yes, a couple of those - 903 and False Idol - do sell their products in Colorado.

Something else you wouldn't have encountered in 2003 was a beer like the one I began the festival with in 2023 - Cream Cheese Rangoon Gose (a gose with cream cheese, wonton wrappers and sweet & sour sauce) from Weldwerks Brewing of Colorado. In terms of non-standard ingredients, the most you could have hoped for in 2003 was maybe a simple fruit or nut addition, though a jalapeño lager was among the medal winners.

There were plenty of IPAs in 2003, as always, but a wider spectrum of style choices was available for sampling at the time. More recently, there's been a scarcity of Baltic porters, barleywines, classic Belgians (dubbel, tripel, quad, witbier, Flanders), and certain German styles (hefeweizen, schwarzbier, Vienna lager), just to list some things I typically seek out.

If there was a trend to identify in 2023, it might be the proliferation of light lagers. In fact, as you'll see later, "Light Lager" was a popular entry among style categories this year. And to be clear, there's nothing wrong with a well-made craft light lager...but for me, I generally prefer beers with a little more strength, as evidenced by this list of favored festival pours:

  • 2012 Angel's Share (barrel-aged strong ale) from The Lost Abbey of California.
  • Arcane Rituals (barrel-aged English barleywine) and Fundamental Observation (imperial vanilla stout) from Bottle Logic Brewing of California.
  • Nevermore Black Barleywine (barrel-aged with cocoa beans and smoked figs) from Ex Novo Brewing Co. of New Mexico.
  • Comshaw Roggenbock from Deep Draft Brewing of Washington.
  • Dusk 'Til Dawn (imperial coffee porter) from Pizza Port Brewing Co. of California.
  • In the Darkness Below (oyster stout with purple dulse kelp, squid ink and black Hawaiian sea salt) from Dogfish Head Craft Brewery of Delaware.
  • Let it Loose (wheated bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout) from Firestone Walker Brewing Co. of California and Side Project Brewing of Missouri.

So, are things better or worse than they were in 2003? I'd say it depends on your preferences. There are more breweries, but lately it seems there are fewer style options available to drink on a daily basis. Who knows, maybe the industry is just going through a (haze) phase, and we'll eventually circle back around to more style diversity. Let's just hope it doesn't take 20 years!

With that, a summary of this year's competition is provided below, along with my annual recap of area taproom excursions.


Competition results

Statistics for this year's competition show 9,298 beers were judged based on entries sent in by 2033 breweries from all 50 U.S. states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. From these submissions, judges awarded a total of 303 medals across 101 style categories.

As has become the norm, IPAs represented the two most-entered categories, with "Juicy or Hazy India Pale Ale" leading the way, followed by "West Coast-Style India Pale Ale," a newly named category for 2023. In third position, though, was "Light Lager," which overtook "German-Style Pilsener," last year's number three ranked style.

Three medals went to North Texas breweries this time around, with two going to Bankhead Brewing Co. of Rowlett and one to Windmills Brewery of The Colony.

Both Bankhead and Windmills have placed at GABF in the past, making them two of only eight active breweries to medal multiple times since 2012. Plus, Windmills has now won medals in back-to-back years, an impressive result considering the brewpub has only been open since early 2021.

Gold: Bankhead Brewing Co. for Hootenany - Bock.
Silver: Windmills for Black Market Liver - Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout.
Bronze: Bankhead Brewing Co. for Hoofer's Hef - South German-Style Hefeweizen.

Representatives of Bankhead Brewing Co. of Rowlett take the stage to accept
one of two medals won by the brewpub at this year's event (Photo © Brewers Association).

Source: Individual research.

Source: Individual research.

Taproom trips

  • Having visited most breweries in and around Downtown Denver over the years, I've recently made a point to explore a bit more out in the area's suburbs. This year, I stopped off in Castle Rock, based on the promise of a cluster of breweries in the city's downtown district. Had my stay been longer, I probably would have spent more time at Iron Mule Brewery, if for no other reason than to enjoy additional pours of the brewery's Mule Skinner Baltic Porter and Little Hoppy Mule Black IPA.

    The beertender at Iron Mule even convinced me to abandon the downtown cluster for 105 West Brewing Co. in another part of town. There I was met with a taplist of over 25 house beers that included standouts Wee Fella, a barrel-aged Scottish wee heavy, and Deez Nuts, a hazelnut and peanut butter ale.
Craft beer destinations in Castle Rock, Colorado, include Iron Mule Brewery and 105 West Brewing Co. (Photos © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D). 

  • Further out, the continuing quest for brews with a view led me to a pair of mountain ski towns. Outdoor ambiance was achieved at Vicious Cycle Brewing in Fraser, but you also can't go wrong with a stop at Hideaway Park Brewery in Winter Park. During my visit to Hideaway Park, I paired their super crushable More Smiles Per Mile Dry-Hopped Cream Ale with a Wild Boar Bratwurst from Fraser Valley Hot Dog in the same building.
Right: Training Wheels Apricot Wheat and Oktoberfest center a flight at Hideaway Park Brewery in Winer Park, Colorado.
Left: Mountain views enhance the experience at Vicious Cycle Brewing in Fraser, Colorado (Photos © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

  • Speaking of beer and food, we'll close out this year's GABF trip coverage with a little BBQ aside. Purveyors of Texas BBQ are hit or miss in Colorado, but there's a promising new(ish) brewery/BBQ spot on the east side of Denver called A Bit Twisted Brewpub. I also enjoyed a burnt end bite at Post Oak Barbecue in Denver's Berkeley neighborhood this trip, and it's worth mentioning that Smok at The Source in the RiNo District consistently delivers on its smoked offerings as well.
Options for Texas BBQ in Denver include Brisket Tacos at A Bit Twisted Brewpub and
the Brisket Burnt Ends Sandwich at Post Oak Barbecue (Photos © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

Monday, September 18, 2023

Stalwart beer bar Strangeways to close in Dallas

Image credit: Strangeways.

The local craft beer scene will soon lose a little bit more of its character, as Strangeways has announced it will close its long-time location on N. Fitzhugh Ave. in Dallas.

Founded by the brother and sister team of Eric Sanchez and Rocio Ildemaro, Strangeways made its debut just over 12 years ago in August 2011. The pub quickly established itself as a go-to locale for rare and obscure craft beer offerings, so much so that it was recognized in 2013 as one of America's 100 best beer bars by Draft Magazine. This accolade repeated each year through 2016.

Popular attractions at Strangeways included annual installments of Barrel Week and Sour Week (both instituted in 2015), occasions during which all 40 of its taps were dedicated to the best barrel-aged or wild and sour beers available in Dallas-Fort Worth and beyond.

A social media post simply stating "it was not meant to be" likely alluded to a failed attempt by the owners to purchase the building Strangeways has called home from their landlord - as reported in an article published by the Dallas Observer.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

3 Nations celebrates opening in Anna

Cops to Hops Blonde Ale, the inaugural Anna exclusive from 3 Nations Brewing Co. (Photo © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

The doors are open at 3 Nation's Brewing Co. in Anna, as the Carrolton-based business has completed an expansion project initially announced late last year. An official grand opening took place on Saturday, the event drawing a capacity crowd from the outset.

Previously a bank and then a police station, the building at 101 S. Powell Pkwy in Anna now houses 3 Nations' new satellite taproom, a supplementary space to complement its flagship location in Downtown Carrollton. A five-barrel brewing system is still to be added, according to founder Gavin Secchi, once it and an accompanying array of six fermenters arrives in the coming weeks.

Of course, that means all beer being served at the new spot is coming from Carrollton at this point, but small-batch Anna exclusives will rotate in after the expected production hardware is installed and dialed-in on site.

Taproom seating inside is supplemented by and expansive patio area outside at 3 Nations Brewing Co. - Anna (Photo © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

One of these, Cops to Hops, was produced in Carrollton ahead of time, so at least one Anna standard would be ready for opening day. A reference to the evolution of the structure's history, Cops to Hops is a light and easy-drinking blonde ale with an ABV of just 4.7%. It and other house brands pour from a tapwall with upwards of 28 slots available daily, or visitors can grab beer to go in cans or growlers.

Among other Anna amenities, an interior feature called The Vault is a private event room recalling the former bank, while an expansive patio has been added along one elevation to provide for a bit of outdoor ambiance. And for visuals, a number of wide-screen televisions have been installed both inside and out.

On the subject of eats, options include deliveries from next door neighbor, Mamma Mia's Pizzeria, or patrons can bring in bites from other outside restaurants as well. Then besides beer, beverage alternatives for pairing range from several wine selections to non-alcoholic liquids like bottled water and sodas.

As for when to go, 3 Nations Brewing Co. in Anna will have operating hours Tuesday-Sunday, with nightly attractions (bingo, karaoke, trivia, live music) set to engage patrons as they pass the time over a pint.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Four Bullets reshuffles ownership group in Richardson

Image credit: Four Bullets Brewery.

Four Bullets Brewery of Richardson is undergoing a reshuffling of sorts in relation to recent movement in the company's ownership structure.

Andrew Smeeton, who co-founded the brewery with Jeff Douglas in 2015, has moved on after selling his stake to a group of supporters, some of whom have worked behind the scenes at Four Bullets for a number of years. One of those co-owners is Doug Steele, who ascends from assistant to head brewer after originally joining the firm in 2017.

According to Douglas, now acting as majority owner, the partnership promises to deliver on changes "to make us bigger and better." That said, the brewery will stick with its staples, which means easy-drinking English ales will still play a key role in the Four Bullets portfolio.

At the same time, Steele will be looking to add some new styles to the mix. A hefeweizen recipe that debuted as a pilot batch is set to return and, yes...the brewery will bite the bullet and brew a hazy IPA for the first time in its eight-year history.

There's more to come, says Douglas, but for now other adjustments include a new weekly event - Music Bingo with HeadTilt Entertainment begins a stint at Four Bullets beginning Wednesday, September 20, and new expanded hours as the brewery is now open Sunday-Monday from 1-6 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday from 1-8 p.m., and Friday-Saturday from 1-10 p.m.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Union Bear shares first details of Denton expansion

Logo: 33 Restaurant Group.
Photo © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

A former Denton brewery is getting a new lease on life, as the building that once housed Armadillo Ale Works is now the property of 33 Restaurant Group. The Frisco-based company, and parent of Union Bear Brewing Co. in Plano, purchased the facility late last year.

This acquisition fits into an overall expansion strategy for the Union Bear brand, which includes already-revealed plans to open a restaurant-only outlet in McKinney. In Denton, though, locals will be able to enjoy everything Union Bear is about, according to Coty Bell, who hired-on as director of brewing operations in 2022. That means a full kitchen and dining experience will be paired with Union Bear beers brewed in house.

Located at 221 S. Bell Ave., the site has been TABC-approved since last November, but construction on the 17,000+ square foot space has just recently gotten underway in earnest. And, at least in terms of the public areas, crews essentially wiped the previous slate clean.

A completely new bar is being installed alongside what will be the main dining room, where booths and high-top tables will be positioned for the comfort of Union Bear patrons. Then, adjacent to this section, a raised lounge area will set the stage for entertainment options consisting of a pool table, dart boards, arcade games and more.

On the beer production side, operations will be led by Nick Stolz, who arrived at Union Bear after working as head brewer at Cowtown Brewing Co. of Fort Worth since its inception in 2018. Stolz will be producing Union Bear recipes on a 30-barrel system, an upgrade compared to what Armadillo Ale Works originally used on site.

The brewhouse also exceeds the 10-barrel capacity setup at Union Bear in Plano. Small-batch runs will continue there, with high-volume movers like the brewpub's amber and blonde ales shifting to the queue in Denton. Some distribution will come with the expansion as well, a primary point of delivery being other members of the 33 Restaurant family.

As for timelines, Bell says they hope to begin brewing in a few weeks, while the ultimate opening of Union Bear Denton is likely to occur in early 2024.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Pegasus City to close Design District space, consolidate ops downtown

Image credit: Pegasus City Brewery.

Pegasus City Brewery of Dallas has announced the pending closure of its original home on Vantage St., with the intention of consolidating operations at the company's downtown location on Commerce St.

Affectionately known as the "Tiny Tap," the Vantage St. facility has been pouring beer in the Design District since its debut in April 2017. Pegasus City opened the doors to its expansion in late 2020, with the new spot being the first brewery to exist in the heart of downtown since the mid-1930s.

According to a social media post, owners Will and Adrian Cotten decided not to renew the lease on the Design District space in light of recent health concerns and a desire to simplify business actvities going forward. Their consolidation plans include "upgrading and enhancing brewing operations downtown to make sure we can keep making the taproom beers you know and love plus new beers, ciders, and more."

As for the Tiny Tap at Pegasus City in the Design District, it will remain open through the first week of October, with at least one last bash still to come in Tiny Tap 'Toberfest set to take place on September 30.

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Keyworth Brewing Co. now open in North Richland Hills

All photos © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

By all accounts, the road to opening the area's newest brewery has been a long one. The name Keyworth Brewing Co. first popped up during the pandemic, with the build-out originally beginning sometime in late 2020. All's well that ends well, though, as the company finally reached the finish line and is now pouring beer in North Richland Hills.

A family-owned enterprise sporting an eponymous moniker, I counted at least two Keyworth couples working the crowd on opening day - Josh and Michelle Keyworth, along with Kevin and Angela Keyworth. Together they welcomed a steady stream of thirsty beer drinkers anxious to experience all the new business has to offer.

Keyworth's locale, by the way, occupies a 2,500 square foot spot at 6428 Davis Blvd., this being part of a retail development called The Railyard in North Richland Hills. The structure itself is raised, with patrons primarily accessing the brewery by way of a stairwell leading up from a parking lot down below.

The production space - equipped with hardware from Stout Tanks & Kettles - fronts the primary taproom seating area at Keyworth Brewing Co.

Once through the doors, visitors are met with an open and inviting space designed around the production area acting as a centerpiece. Amenities include typical seating options (barstools, table tops) and a family-friendly lounge (complete with a selection of board games) on the inside, with a small patio supplementing the public area outside. Wide-screen televisions are tacked to the wall as well, for those desiring a bit of visual distraction during their visit.

Shifting gears to the beer, Keyworth offered up a starting slate of nine house recipes (tapwall capacity is 12 handles). In addition to straightforward selections like a kölsch, helles bock and a farmhouse ale, the lineup featured a pair of fruited sours, two IPAs and a chocolate-peanut butter stout. There was also an interesting pecan amber ale called Scrat's Stash, this beer presenting with a sort of candied caramel pecan character.

As for other menu items, guest wines and cider are available for those preferring a different indulgence, while sodas are stocked in the fridge as a non-alcoholic alternative. Food-wise, snack chips are sold in the taproom, or you can order in from the neighboring Back Forty Smokehouse.

It's also worth mentioning Keyworth is the third brewery to set up shop in the city, joining Brutal Beerworks and False Idol Brewing. The trio exists within a three-mile stretch, which creates a convenient day-trip for craft beer seekers making a trek to the Mid-Cities.

On that note, look for Keyworth Brewing Co. to operate on weekends initially, with doors opening at noon on Saturday and Sunday. The brewery plans to expand its hours to select weekdays sometime later in September.