Wednesday, December 27, 2023

2023 Year in review: Record movement in and around The Metroplex

All logos and graphics the property of their respective owners. Image: Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

Let there be no doubt, it's been a dynamic and challenging year in the North Texas beer industry, with new highs recorded in both openings and closings among the roster of local breweries. The news isn't all bad, but it isn't good either, as breweries on the cusp have gone public with struggles and even resorted to fundraisers in an effort to stay afloat.

Taking stock, an increase in closures shouldn't come as a surprise. For several years, market headwinds have been a hot topic of discussion in industry groups, with the Brewers Association at the forefront sounding the alarm.

What's causing the headwinds? In addition to the after-effects of the pandemic, the BA points to slowing demand, declines in draft sales, and reduced shelf space for craft beer at retailers. Increasing competition exacerbated by the influx of other alcohol segments is certainly playing a role across the board, but the draft and retail bits have been a factor for some time. These being a catalyst to the rise of taprooms and the push for passage of beer to go legislation.

Locally, reasons for closing have mostly centered around the familiar refrain of the pandemic's influence on inflation, the supply chain, and staff retention. Increased operating costs aggravated by rising rents have convinced some to decline lease renewals, while undercapitalization and a general lack of local support have contributed to the demise of others.

Given the choppy waters, what maybe is surprising is the continued momentum behind new projects. Some current owners say they never would have opened a brewery if met with today's market environment at startup. Even still, a new breed of undeterred entrepreneurs appears ready to take on the difficulties of a crowded market in the midst of a flat growth period.

And there, perhaps, is an important point. Some see the rate of closures and start talking shakeout, but so far this isn't like how the bubble burst on the brewpub era of the late 1990s. In that case, the number of breweries in North Texas dropped by half over the course of five years, with no one waiting in the wings to fill the gaps. This was followed by an extended period of industry stagnation.

Right now, things have simply leveled off after a decade of continual growth, with openings and closings offsetting. So, will the trend continue, will the number of wort wranglers rise again, or is there a reckoning still to come? Pundits will have their predictions, but only time will tell.

With that, let's dive into more details on the 2023 year in beer.

The Business of Beer - Local Dealings

In response to the headwinds, the BA has suggested a need to innovate, while also engaging in strategies to reach new and existing customers with new flavors and new experiences. Indeed, as we've seen in recent times (and past year in review articles) local breweries have been doing just that since before the pandemic.

For example, most locals have explored new flavors beyond beer, like hard seltzer, hop water and kombucha. A list of items introduced in 2023 would include Society Spirits - an in-house small-batch spirits program at Community Beer Co. of Dallas, the expanded line of branded spirits (produced by a local distillery) at Rollertown Beerworks of Celina, "Oh, Snap" craft sodas at HopFusion Ale Works of Fort Worth, and Palo Pinto Craft Cocktails from Martin House Brewing Co. of Fort Worth.

On new flavors in beer, it's worth mentioning a brewery that stepped far outside of its comfort zone in 2023. Four Bullets Brewery of Richardson, traditionally a maker of English-inspired ales, brewed a hazy IPA for the first time in its eight-year history. The company's Ace in the Haze IPA debuted in early December.

There's also the topic of low-ABV or non-alcoholic beers, which up to now have only been attempted by a few producers (Community Beer Co. of Dallas, Funky Picnic Brewery & Café), the latest being Turning Point Beer of Bedford, who just days ago dropped The Reverend Green, a non-alcoholic West Coast IPA.

Of course, pairing those beverages with food is another avenue for adding flavor. Among the food-service enhancements for 2023: Say When Brewing Co. of Denison began offering made-to-order pizzas in July, while Division Brewing of Arlington opened an additional spot across from its production facility, where they've been serving a menu of house-made burgers and pizza since October.

Shifting the focus to new experiences, five local brewing companies added new locations in 2023. Union Bear Brewing Co. of Plano kicked off the year by announcing plans to open a restaurant-only location in McKinney sometime in 2024. This was followed by news in September surrounding the acquisition of Armadillo Ale Works' former facility in Denton. Union Bear's taproom there is still under construction, but beer production started in October.

Elsewhere, White Rock Brewing Co. of Dallas unveiled new digs off Beckley Ave. in April, 3 Nations Brewing Co. of Carrolton opened an Anna satellite in September, Soul Fire Brewing Co. of Roanoke launched its Cleburne space in November, and Bankhead Brewing Co. added to its roster of brewpubs in Rowlett and Fort Worth with a Farmers Branch locale in December.

As for others upgrading aspects of their brand experience, Happy Hippie Brewing Co., transitioned from an alternating proprietorship at Hop & Sting Brewing Co. of Grapevine to its own brick-and-mortar location in Richardson, the opening act taking place there in October.

And, while it's on a smaller scale, Intrinsic Smokehouse & Brewery of Garland literally propped up its taproom experience with the installation of a rooftop deck. Completed in October, it's proven to be a popular spot for elevated imbibing.

Looking ahead to 2024, Glen Echo Brewing of Wylie, Black Hawk Brewery of Prosper and Three Wide Brewing of Fort Worth are weeks away from opening. The same can be said for Tupps Brewery, as they put the finishing touches on a new site in McKinney.

On the horizon: Balanced Rock Brewing of The Colony, Bearded Ax Brewery of Midlothian, Beer Geeks Brewery of Fate, East Dallas Brewing Co. of Dallas, Forney Brewing Co. of Forney, Smittox Brewing Co. of Dallas, Texas Foothills Distillery of Bowie, Toasty Bros. of Denton (permanent location) and Village Creek Brewing Co. of Rendon.

The Business of Beer - Statewide Statistics 

The 2022 economic update from the Brewers Association has Texas ranked fourth in production nationally (up from sixth in 2021), with 1.3 million barrels produced (up from 1.13 million). Statistics related to the state's total brewery count in 2022 were flat compared to 2021: 407 breweries (up from 406), 1.9 breweries per capita (down from 2) - ranking 47th (steady). 

On total economic impact, Texas was third (steady), contributing over $4.5 billion to the economy (down from $4.9 billion). The state's brewing industry employed just over 27,000 full-time equivalent workers in 2021 (down from 30,000), paying almost $1.3 billion in wages and benefits, with an average annual salary of $47,237 (down from 1.5 billion and $49,984).

For 2023, tracking shows nearly 60 new brewery openings across Texas (up from ~40 in 2022), with 30 or more closures (likely a low count, considering a fair percentage would be from North Texas alone).

Image/Data: Brewers Association.

Comings and Goings

In North Texas, there were 16 new openings offset by 14 closings and consolidations during 2023.

Regarding the latter number, the consolidations qualifier is used to account for acquisitions or cases where active companies have reduced their number of licensed locations. Examples include the acquisition of Grapevine Craft Brewery by Hop & Sting Brewing Co. in 2018, and the assumption of Noble Rey Brewing Co.'s portfolio by Nocona Beer & Brewery in 2019.

There's also Malai Kitchen, who consolidated brewing operations in Southlake under the new Malai Brewing moniker, after the company had previously managed other licensed locales in Dallas (expiring in 2022) and Fort Worth (expiring in 2023). Consolidations also occurred this year at White Rock Brewing Co. and Pegasus City Brewery of Dallas.

Geographically, new projects still target suburban areas, but the City of Dallas landed four developments this year - the most for "Big D" since 2018. Fort Worth, conversely, hasn't been home to a new opening for over two years. As for the future, both cities appear in the list of breweries either under construction or development, viewable by clicking the "In Development" tab at the top of the page.

Summing up the overall state of affairs entering 2024, there are now 93 active brewing operations in North Texas. After accounting for side projects and breweries with multiple locations, consumers can pick from 90 different brands of local beer in the market.


New Locations (not counted as a new opening):

New Taprooms (not counted as a brewery opening).
  • Anvil Brewing, Royse City  (satellite location for Pittsburg, Texas-based brewery).
  • Voodoo Brewing Co., Grand Prairie  (franchise location for Pennsylvania-based brewery).

Permanent Closures:


Taproom Closures (not counted as a brewery closure).

Source: Individual research.

The Year in Beer 
  • Beer meets sportsball

    Local breweries produced a number of beers inspired by local college and pro sports organizations in 2023.

    Pony Pils from Lakewood Brewing Co. of Garland: Inspired by the alma matter of founder Wim Bens, a portion of proceeds from sales will go to the LBC Future Brewer STEM Scholarship at Southern Methodist University (SMU).

    Hell's Half Lager from Fort Brewery and Pizza of Fort Worth: This beer was created in collaboration with local apparel company, Hell's Half Acre Stadium Goods, for the sole purpose of raising funds for the Flying T Club at Texas Christian University (TCU).

    The 133 Premium Pilsner from Rollertown Beerworks of Celina: Inspired by the grassroots fan group known as Rangers.Nation on Instagram, who helped cheer on the Texas Rangers' run to a World Series championship, this beer "celebrates the passion and dedication of this pioneering group of local baseball fanatics."

  • Fool's Game

    In one of best surprise moments of the year, members of the local industry came together for a fun April Fool's Day prank. Over 15 area breweries adopted the colors and designs of others for the day, posting the resulting logos for all to enjoy.

    All logos and graphics the property of their respective owners. Image: Brian Brown/Beer in Big D.

  • Ten-year toasts

    Those reaching the 10-year anniversary milestone in 2023 included Community Beer Co. of Dallas, Martin House Brewing Co. of Fort Worth, and 903 Brewers of Sherman. A sampling of what each was serving on opening day in 2013:

    903: The Chosen One (coconut cream ale), Roo's Red (hoppy red ale).
    Community:  Pale Ale, Public Ale (ESB), Vienna Lager.
    Martin House: Day Break 4-Grain Breakfast Beer, The Imperial Texan (double red IPA), River House Saison.

    Celebrating 10 years in 2024: Malai Kitchen of Dallas (brewing operations now take place in Southlake), Panther Island Brewing of Fort Worth.

    Celebrating 20 years in 2024: Rahr & Sons Brewing Co. of Fort Worth.

  • North Texas award winnersClick here for summaries of award-winning beers from 2023, with competition results from the Great American Beer Festival, World Beer Cup, Texas Craft Brewers Cup, Festival of Wood & Barrel-Aged Beer, North American Brewers Association International Beer & Cider Awards, United States Beer Tasting Championship and U.S. Open Beer Championship.

  • The 2023 list of Beer in Big D's preferred pours (new-to-market, or newly-discovered beers some blogger particularly enjoyed): Armor Smoked Porter, Beard Science pHunky pHlemish, Celestial Sonus, False Idol Velsigne, Funky Picnic A Haw-Haw-Haw-Haw in Billy Gibbons' Voice, Martin House Obsidian Eclipse, Rollertown Dunkel, Three Empires Amber's First Time, Turning Point 2023 Barrel-Aged Stout, Vector Schützenkönig, Windmills Black Market Liver, Wriggly Tin Oro Moro.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

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