Saturday, June 24, 2023

Horsemen rein in AHA's 2023 Radegast Club of the Year award

Image courtesy of The Horsemen of the Hopocalypse.

This evening, Fort Worth's Horsemen of the Hopocalypse, North Texas' fastest-growing homebrew club, was named the 2023 Radegast Club of the Year by the American Homebrewers Association (AHA).

Presented during the AHA's National Homebrew Competition awards ceremony in San Diego, California, the Radegast prize goes to a club displaying excellence in diversity, philanthropy, promotion of the homebrewing hobby, teaching, and “overall awesomeness.” The award comes with a $1000 cash prize to be split between the club - a registered nonprofit - and a charity of its choice, to be announced at a later date.

“The Horsemen are an excellent community of friends and family who all love making - and drinking - great homebrewed beer," says Charlie Scudder, the club's information officer. "Winning the AHA’s Radegast Club of the Year award is a great honor, but it doesn’t change the work we do to support our homebrewing community and the greater community in D-FW. From organizing competitions for our area’s homebrewers to fundraising for local nonprofits throughout the year, we’re always looking for ways to give back.”

In the club’s nomination materials for the Radegast, the Horsemen highlighted their competitive success and homebrewer mentorship efforts, along with their charitable work, including raising funds for Brotherhood for the Fallen and Ukrainian humanitarian aid during 2022.

“This is an incredible honor and a result of the hard work and dedication of all our officers and members,” says Steve Russell, the club’s president. "Five years ago, we were a small social home brew club. Thanks to leaders like Shawn Mason, who we lost in 2021, that started us down this road and past-president Jarrett Long who drug us kicking and screaming, here we are."

Funky co-founder achieves Advanced Cicerone status

Collin Zreet is one of only eight Advanced Cicerones® in Texas (Funky Picnic Brewery & Café).

Funky Picnic Brewery & Café of Fort Worth is now home to one of the highest ranked Texas-based professionals in the brewing industry's Cicerone® Certification Program.

Collin Zreet, co-founder of Funky Picnic, recently completed the requirements necessary to achieve the rank of Advanced Cicerone®. Slotting in as the program's second highest tier, the Advanced Cicerone® position requires "distinctive expertise in beer, strong sensory skills, and mastery of flavor vocabulary for both technical and consumer audiences."

Only eight individuals have attained Advanced Cicerone® status in the entire Lone Star State, with no Texans identified as Master Cicerone® - the program's top level. Averie Swanson, former head brewer at Jester King Brewery of Austin, was the state's only Master Cicerone® before leaving Texas to pursue opportunities elsewhere.

As for the significance and impact of the certification, I reached out to Zreet to get his reaction to the news and to get some thoughts on what it means to him from both a personal and professional point of view.

Q: To begin, give readers a sense of what the Cicerone® program is all about.

CZ: Generally speaking, the Cicerone® certification program is a means for training service industry staff in all aspects of beer. Some other beer-related programs focus on individual parts: the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) mostly focuses on styles and flavor perception for beer judging; formal brewing schools are just that, education on more technical brewing processes and ingredients.

The Cicerone® program focuses on five key categories: Keeping & Serving, Beer Styles, Flavor Perception (including off-flavors), Brewing Processes & Ingredients, and Beer & Food Pairing. So instead of focusing on just one corner of the industry, the Cicerone® program is a more wholistic approach.

Q: What sort of commitment is involved in undertaking the path to become a Cicerone®?

CZ: The exam itself is not a means of education.  A syllabus of required knowledge is provided, but it is up to the examinee to find the necessary sources for studying for the exam.  The Cicerone® program does provide some resources with off-flavor kits, reading lists, social media channels, and a few online courses.

Starting with the Certified level exam, the written exam itself requires several multiple-choice and short answer questions and detailed essays covering the five key categories.  From there, a tasting exam is also administered that focuses on off-flavors and blind style identification.  The Advanced exam additionally incorporates blind flavor evaluations to the tasting exam, as well as an in-person oral questioning.

Even passing the second level Certified Cicerone® exam is an accomplishment, much less the higher ranks.  Not only does it take a lot of beer knowledge and practice to pass these exams, but it is also recognition from a highly accredited organization stating that an individual knows a certain level about beer.

Q: So, looking at it from the business side, what are the benefits to having a Cicerone® on staff?

CZ: Any business can state that they have the best tap list or brew the best beer, but having a truly knowledgeable individual on-site that can not only talk beer, but make food pairing recommendations and troubleshoot draft systems, makes a real difference.

With the craft beer industry now more mature, and even more competition with new beer-adjacent products, having superior quality and being able to point out off-flavors is more important now than ever. With lingering economic effects from inflation and so many options in D-FW now, supporting those breweries with superior quality is paramount in sustaining the local beer scene.  The up-ending effects of COVID have forced food to become a more integral part of most breweries, whether it's an in-house kitchen or rotating food trucks.  Having beers that are approachable and pair well with a variety of food will be vital for breweries going forward.

Q: With this background in mind, let's explore the ever-popular beer versus wine topic. Some people say Cicerones® are the Sommeliers of the beer business, a sort of parallel order of merit compared to the wine industry. What's your take?

CZ: The Sommelier certification (put on by the Court of Master Sommeliers) is probably the closest program content-wise compared to the Cicerone® program.  They are both similar in their levels of certification, with an introductory first level, followed by Certified, Advanced, and Master levels.  The Sommelier certification also focuses on wine service and tastings, in addition to the production process and history, not too far from the knowledge that the Cicerone® program requires for beer.

Higher-end restaurants and bars tend to have an in-house Certified Sommelier to select, serve, and recommend wine to patrons. The Certified Cicerone® (also Level II) is educated to the same level as the Certified Sommelier, but most seem to be enthusiasts or homebrewers.  If they are in the industry, they are more likely to be bartenders or other front of house staff, with little to no authority in buying decisions.

Cicerones® do not receive the same respect as Sommeliers, until they achieve the higher levels of the Cicerone® program. This could be because of the relative newness of the Cicerone® program, or more likely, the higher gravitas that comes with wine compared to beer.  Beer is just as complex, if not more so, as wine and should be treated with the same respect.

Q: Obviously, you've put in the work regarding the education and training aspects of being an Advanced Cicerone®.  From a personal point of view, why did you feel it was important to pursue the certification?

CZ: Personally, I wanted to pursue the Advanced certification to push myself and my understanding of beer. Not only has it increased my own personal knowledge, but it has helped me in my role at Funky Picnic.

Q: That naturally leads to the question of how will you put the training into practice on an everyday basis at the brewpub?

CZ: Sometimes, it’s just small things like troubleshooting a foamy beer line or deciding with our brew team whether we can substitute the latest hop products in a recipe to be more efficient.  Other more substantial practices include creating the beer and food pairings for our regular and beer dinner menus, or working with our staff on sensory quality control to ensure our beers are tasting and pouring properly.  Even deciding which beers to enter into competitions and what styles to enter has an impact.

Q: Finally, with regards to the future, there's still another level of certification to conquer in the Master Cicerone® level. Any plans to pursue Master status?

CZ: Haha, not any time soon! From what I've heard, the two-day Master level exam is exponentially harder than even the Advanced exam. At the moment, only 22 in the world have passed the Master exam. Maybe I’ll take it eventually.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Temple a town with Czech lagers you can count on

A number of Czech lagers are available at Tanglefoot Brewing
in Temple (Photo © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

Czech lagers date back hundreds of years, but lately it seems like they've been trending locally. Considering there are nearly 200,000 Czech-Americans living in Texas (according to Wikipedia, the largest number in any state), it's a little surprising the country's brewing traditions have yet to enjoy a greater presence beyond Bohemian pilsners.

Well, if Andy Martinec has anything to say about it, these types of beers will gain more of a foothold in the future. In the spring of 2021, Martinec chose to use his own Czech heritage as an inspiration for opening Tanglefoot Brewing in Temple.

Now, foothold was a purposeful choice of words. Temple, you see, was called Tanglefoot during a period when saloons were abundant in the late 1800s. The name derives from a scene described on the "City of Temple" historical marker where "the combination of muddy streets and liquor made walking rather difficult at times."

Nowadays, though, Tanglefoot represents a brand of clean, crisp and easy-drinking Czech lagers emerging from a somewhat unassuming little spot nestled in a Temple neighborhood.

On recent visits, four Tanglefoot beers identified by strength in degrees Plato (or Balling) have been pouring in the taproom. Recipes have ranged from Czech pale lagers (in 10° and 12° strength), to a 13° Tmavé dark lager, and a 14° Czech amber lager.

My personal favorite has been the lightest offering, 10°, a beer whose flavor profile epitomizes the idea of beer being a glass of liquid bread. Up to now, it and other Tanglefoot products have been exclusive to the brewery, either on tap or in six-packs of cans to go. That said, any homebrewers wanting to take a stab at 10° can find a scaled-down recipe on Tanglefoot's website.

As for potential distribution, Tanglefoot did roll out its first keg to an outside account earlier this month, but that locale was in Temple as well. What that means is, beer drinkers seeking something a bit more stylistic and straightforward might want to contemplate a stop in Temple for Czech beers, before a "Stop" for Czech pastries, the next time they find themselves riding north through Central Texas.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Cowtown closing Southlake satellite

Image credit: Cowtown Brewing Co.

Cowtown Brewing Co. of Fort Worth has announced the pending closure of its satellite taproom in Southlake.

Debuting in December 2021, the Southlake locale was set up in a former location of The Ginger Man Pub. Essentially move-in ready, the spot featured Cowtown beers paired with a modified menu compared to the original brewpub in Fort Worth. Beer production, incidentally, did not take place at Southlake, remaining the provenance of Fort Worth exclusively.

As for the future, the Fort Worth brewpub will continue to operate as usual, and there are also rumblings another Cowtown development may be in the works elsewhere in Tarrant County.

For now, though, the last day of operations at Southlake will be Saturday, June 24.

Monday, June 5, 2023

Flix Brewhouse earns honor at 2023 NABA International Beer and Cider Awards

Image credit: Flix Brewhouse Frisco/Little Elm.

Flix Brewhouse Frisco/Little Elm has been awarded a medal for one of its creations at the 2023 NABA International Beer and Cider Awards.

Now in its 26th year, the International Beer and Cider Awards are sanctioned by the North American Brewers Association. For 2023, the competition took place alongside the Mountain Brewers Beer Fest in Idaho Falls, Idaho, with the combined festivities being the culmination of Idaho Beer Week.

Entries to the event were broken down into over 100 different categories covering beer, cider, seltzer, non-alcoholic beers and other hard beverages as stipulated by the 2023 North American Brewers Association Style Guide.

As for Flix Brewhouse/Little Elm, the brewpub/cinema was honored for Get Smoked, a German-style rauchbier featuring Beechwood-smoked pilsner malt.

Flix Brewhouse Frisco/Little Elm

  • Bronze for Get Smoked in the German-Style Rauchbier category.

Cheers and congratulations to Flix Brewhouse Frisco/Little Elm!

Friday, June 2, 2023

Food Experience Corporation closes kitchen in Aubrey

Image credit: Food Experience Corporation.

Food Experience Corporation, a commercial kitchen and catering outfit, has closed its doors in Aubrey.

Established in April 2021 by Chef Angie Graffigna, Food Experience Corporation catered to the craft beer crowd by offering hands-on brewing classes. All the necessary equipment and ingredients were included in the price of these sessions, which came with an all-important added benefit. Since the company was licensed as a brewpub, participants were allowed to take home their creations once fermentation and packaging was completed.

As for what led to the decision to cease operations, a social media post cited rising costs and staffing issues as contributing factors.