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.