Austin Ford, Denton County Brewing Co


Ford Austin DCBC
Brewers Series: Who Makes Your Beer?

Denton County

Austin Ford is Denton County Brewing‘s newest back-of-house hire, starting as Assistant Brewer just this past April. As far as professional craft brewers go, he is still wet behind the ears but Ford’s sharp culinary skills and eagerness to perfect his craft more than make up for a lack of academic brewing credentials.

The Deets:  Hometown is Bristow, Oklahoma. Graduate of culinary school, commercial chef for 6 years with experience in some notable North Texas restaurants, most recently Denton’s Barley & Board. As an amateur homebrewer of a year-and-a-half, it was in Denton that Ford worked as a line/station cook and eventually took the reigns of B&B’s struggling in-house brewing program.

One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” by John Lee Hooker

What was your (nonprofessional) entry into craft beer? It was a bottle share not that long ago with the then-manager of Barley & Board, a bottle of Avery Brewing‘s Liliko’i Kepolo [a Belgian-style witbier with passionfruit]. Also enjoys bourbon, and has a much wider alcohol taste range than many his age.

What is your brewing philosophy (if you have one)? Craft brewers fall into two schools of thought: Overall, 20% prefer the classic, traditional styles and 80% prefer experimentation with styles and ingredients, sometimes carried to an extreme.

The best way should be a middle path, able to satisfy fluctuating customer tastes while remaining true to your brewing self. It’s the same balance as in cooking, say, a perfect omelette: There is a prescribed recipe and technique for the ideal French omelette yet plenty of room for variation and customization.

What was the best beer you ever made? The worst? The worst beer he ever made was an early homebrew batch, possibly his second brewing attempt, with a traditional scotch ale recipe. He added a handle of Jack Daniel’s post-fermentation and turned it into a hot and undrinkable alcoholic blend.

Mommas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys,” Waylon Jennings

The best beer he has made to date was the house ESB while at Barley & Board.

Beer is food. What are your dietary habits (likes, dislikes)? Until recently, it was a typical working chef’s diet of eating out (working with food all day, resist cooking at home). The diet has improved considerably while working more regular hours at Denton County Brewing. He prefers fresher food packed with more flavor, such as pasta or vegetables.

Likes seafood but fed up with the difficulty of getting quality seafood this far inland. Favorite soup is gazpacho; worked at a kitchen’s broth station, so enjoys a good dashi or flavorful broth. Recommends The Brewer’s Table in Austin.

What do you think of the current state of the craft beer industry? Where do you see it going in the near future? The industry is certainly not facing a commercial downturn; it is here to stay, not pessimistic of the industry as a whole. But a quickening is expected, reducing numbers of craft brewers hopefully based on quality.

Over the hazy IPA fad, wishes brewers would focus more on quality beer than commercial novelties. Breweries benefit from diversification, which includes continuing with the traditional styles as well as the experiments.

Catfish Blues,” Gary Clark, Jr.

What other breweries or brewers do you admire (either the products or the people)? Abe Hernandez at Community Beer Company, Bobby Mullins at Armadillo Ale Works, Seth Morgan [Ford’s boss and Hollywood leading man] at DCBC. Austin’s Jester King and Roughhouse Brewing in San Marcos. The early creativity of Dogfish Head. Admires those breweries that attempt to apply principles of terroir, or are involved in local community development as well as commercial brewing.

What are you obsessed with? An avid outdoorsman, Ford enjoys camping and kayaking. Growing up with his father’s woodworking shop, he is currently building his own river kayak to fulfill a dream trek of kayaking the full length of the Mississippi River from source to sea.

And, of course, cooking: Recommends Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking by Michael Ruhlman, and On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee.

Austin, welcome to the Wolf Pack. SD


Craft beer is evolving. So is craft retail.

BTBF-2016_logoIt’s no secret that American craft beer changes with the times. The beer in your glass responds to consumer demand and brewer creativity as well as the unseen influences of ingredients, costs and regulation. But the end-product is not the only thing changing.

The many and various ways that craft beer is retailed and ultimately sold to the consumer evolves along with changing market forces and demands. Just as environment shapes the organism, consumers are collectively and unknowingly shaping the craft beer environment.

Think about buying a craft beer back at the turn of the century (for the kids, barely 20 years ago now). Craft beer was a commercial novelty, enjoyed and supported by a strange but loyal following, and the only places it could be purchased were licensed brewpubs or a few dedicated local, so-called “beer bars” such as The Ginger Man, multiple Flying Saucer locations, or a couple of independents. At inception, it was mostly a closed craft market with few access points.

A new business model has arisen from a maturing population fueling suburban sprawl: the “growler-fill station.”

Compare the situation today: It is difficult to find any larger restaurant or bar, even national franchises, without a selection of 30 taps or more. Where years ago a “craft beer” tap may have been grudgingly reserved, most likely for the brewery in the immediate neighborhood, now it is not unusual to find the latest seasonal or limited offering from distant states. Where once only premium liquor stores carried bottles of craft beer, now every major grocery chain has a dominant craft beer section.

Certainly, distribution and legislation have played their parts. Major distributors consolidated and local zoning laws relaxed, which greatly improved the availability of packaged products. Taprooms were legalized just a few short years ago, turning breweries’ sterile manufacturing facilities into vibrant social destinations. Even right now, another effort is moving through the Texas legislature to allow off-premise sales direct from brewery locations.

The consumer end is still reshaping retail as the demographics shift. A new business model has arisen from a maturing population fueling suburban sprawl: the “growler-fill station,” an economic strip-center location with a presence between retail store and beer bar. Patrons can conveniently fill their glasses or their growlers from dozens of taps without trekking farther to an established craft beer destination and retailers get to close at 9 PM, avoiding the expense, hassle and risks of operating a nighttime bar or pub.

We are watching the latest retail phenomenon develop as what may be described as the hybrid or “crossover” business model for craft beer. Retailers are combining other consumer businesses or entertainment venues with the standard growler-fill, reclaiming something closer to the original brewpub model of restaurant plus brew-on-site. These places build premium craft beer bars within or alongside an unrelated product such as a movie theater (Alamo Drafthouse, Flix Brewhouse), an arcade (Free Play, Cidercade) or even a more traditional coffee house (Civil Pour, Golden Boy and a few others).

Obviously, the motivation behind this latest retail model is to play to another market besides craft beer—which is a smart move while costs and competition continue to rise. So far, consumers seem to be embracing these creative chimera businesses, and most seem to be doing well. What’s next for the craft beer retail sector? Stay tuned and find out. SD

Originally published for 8th Annual Big Texas Beer Fest (2019 program).