Braindead Dead Flowers

Flash Review

Finally, someone does the style correctly. Mild, clean saison, tame but with a good yeast character and light wheaty body. Additions of chamomile and honey are natural elements for what began as a rural French/Belgian farmhouse ale. The honey/herbs play perfectly to the base, rounding out the flavor profile without dominating. A refreshing hot-weather quaffer, and welcome change from too-heavy saison styles brewed in the <7% range.

Braindead Dead Flowers
Braindead Brewing (Dallas, TX)
Braindead Brewing/draft
ABV 5%
Rating 3/5 (Good)

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The First Four: Wild Acre Brewing

Wild Acre Soul Pleasure

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

Wild Acre Brewing CompanyOpening this past summer, it’s already apparent Wild Acre Brewing came loaded for bear. They seem to not be fazed by typical brewery start-up woes, and unhesitatingly plunged into the growing craft beer market of North Texas behind many but already ahead of a few.

However, such boldness is not surprising when you look at this dream-team of a brewery staff. The owner and founder is John Pritchett, former general manager of Ben E. Keith for the past dozen or so years, and one would be hard-pressed to find someone more knowledgeable about the business of craft beer in North Texas. For his brewer, Pritchett hired Mike Kraft, also a North Texas craft beer veteran with decades of experience originally with the local TwoRows Restaurant & Brewery locations and more recently from California’s Lagunitas Brewing.

Introducing breweries new to North Texas with their first four beers to market

Wild Acre Brewing boldly took over the long-iconic Ranch Style Beans building overlooking the lower part of downtown Fort Worth and have already outfitted a 5000-square-foot taproom in addition to their production space.  They are letting no grass grow under their brewhouse and have hit the market with fully formed, developed and balanced products, and slick with marketing polish. Cans should be on shelves soon, if not already.

Overall, their initial portfolio might not look impressive to today’s mature craft beer consumer but, back in the day, this layout would be fairly standard for microbreweries at open. (Only very recently have craft brewers been producing somewhat daring or experimental styles within their first years of operation.) Still, these beers all exhibit solid quality and intent, and each has just enough personality as to not be forgettable amid the crush of new products found on local taps. More importantly, they all have strong character as repeat purchases.

Soul Pleasure. Not long ago, North Texas brewers were called out for abandoning traditional stouts in favor of the strong, flavored or barrel-aged varieties, and happily we now have one worth drinking again and again. Labeled as a “Southern Stout,” this beer pours a dark, opaque brown/black and has a rich, full-bodied flavor that is toasty but not heavy. Hints of bitter dark chocolate and sorghum are smoothed out by a tiny addition of oats. Easy to drink with no alcohol heat at all (6% ABV), its flavor very much reminds me of Rogue’s Shakespeare Stout.

Tarantula Hawk. Wild Acre bypassed the obligatory IPA that every brewery seems to bank on and instead released this “India Red Ale,” a 6.5% ABV hoppy version of a traditional Irish red. It pours an amber brown color with good clarity and a firm, foamy head; the taste is roasty, dry and moderately hopped with a light, almost raw (but not off-putting) grainy flavor. This beer will not go head-to-head with American craft IPAs and may not silence an obsessive hophead, but it is solid and satisfying.

Billy Jenkins. Named with a nod to Fort Worth’s military namesake, this “Session Bock” is a slightly lighter version of the traditional German style. At only 5.2% ABV, the beer has a nice caramel flavor with a moderate roast, and is obviously a lager from its cleaner nature with faint elements of dark fruits and brown sugar but with a dry finish. Long has Texas desperately needed a year-round bock from craft brewers who, like the stout, seem to overlook this naturally very Lone Star style.

Moonlight Shine. Their only beer without an enhanced style designation, this wheat ale (technically, more a blonde krystalweizen) has striking clarity with a clean, smooth wheat flavor and easy body, low on the acidity. The barest hint of vanilla is added along with orange zest—just a touch—edging it in the direction of an unspiced witbier but staying true to the identity of an American wheat. A tad heavy to be sessionable at 5.7% ABV, it should be a great addition to lighter summer drinking during Texas’ hot weather.

Four hits, no strikes. This will be a brewery to watch. SD

COOP Ale Works brings The Big Friendly to Texas

COOP The Big Friendly's Trail to Texas

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

COOP Ale Works

Texas is the center of the beer universe — well, our universe, at least for those of us who live here. Texans acknowledge that our adjoining sister states have breweries but we rarely give any thought to the more mainstream beer operations just over our state borders. (We also don’t acknowledge Colorado as a genuinely separate state and still claim it as “Far North Texas,” but that’s another discussion.)

Louisiana’s Abita Brewing enjoys the most notoriety from Texas consumers by virtue of wide distribution but, although just a few hundred miles distant, offerings from Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico rarely get our attention or any significant tap space. Tulsa’s Prairie Artisan Ales has probably had the most success recently with some of their more original farmhouse products, but we living under the Lone Star know more about Oklahoma’s infamous “3.2 laws” than about any of their breweries.

COOP The Big Friendly’s Trail to Texas
Style: Berlinerweisse with peaches
Rating: 3/5

That is about to change as COOP Ale Works of Oklahoma City recently rolled into North Texas with planned events all over the Metroplex leading up to a prominent spot at Fort Worth’s Untapped Fest last week. They brought with them The Big Friendly, a modified school bus that is now a pub-on-wheels and rolling ambassador for the brand, parking at several Dallas and Fort Worth locations as they served beer samples and introduced the company to Texans.

COOP Ale Works began in 2009, part of the same fast-evolving craft beer movement taking place here and around the country. They went through a major facilities upgrade in 2014 that has allowed them to begin expanding into neighboring states, with North Texas their first market south of the Red River. Now one of the largest breweries operating in Oklahoma, their estimated output of 15,000 barrels this year puts them just behind Rahr & Sons Brewing in size and capacity. (Unrelated but at the same time, Rahr & Sons has just begun distribution out of state to Oklahoma.)

In celebration of their arrival, COOP brings with them a special release named The Big Friendly’s Trail to Texas, a peach-infused berlinerweisse style limited to only 3000 bottles. It is a kettle- soured beer, meaning a touch of Lactobacillus was added to the wort ahead of the yeast to begin developing some desired sour elements before primary fermentation, and then 10 bushels of fresh peaches were blended in for the finished corked-and-caged product.

Trail to Texas is a mild 4% ABV that pours a hazy light gold with a thin head that disappears too quickly and a very light sour nose with apparent but indistinct fruit, maybe mild citrus or melon. The flavor profile is very much a classic berlinerweisse, a light and refreshing wheat flavor with a touch of tartness. A faint peach element does emerge in the back of the swallow, subtle, just enough to let you know it’s there. I would have preferred a little more carbonation to give it more life on the palate but such is the nature sometimes with bottle conditioning.

Of course, COOP arrives in DFW with a half dozen or so of the more popular beers in their portfolio, including beers such as Alpha Hive, a double IPA with orange blossom honey, and several special twists on their standard DNR Belgian dark ale. With North Texas now COOP’s largest market outside of their home state, make sure they notice how thirsty Texans can be.

Availability: Trail to Texas may be difficult to find with such limited quantities, but COOP beers should now begin to appear on shelves and taps throughout North Texas.

Cheers!


Originally published June 21, 2016, at Examiner.com. 

Second of the Moveable Yeasts: Altared Amber

Dallas

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

Houston’s Saint Arnold Brewing continues its experimental series called Moveable Yeast with the release this week of their second beer in the family, the Altared Amber (pun intended). This beer is their normal Saint Arnold Amber Ale fermented with a strain of Belgian Trappist yeast, the specific origin of which was left unspecified.

Yeast is the most important ingredient in beer, which this series is specifically designed to spotlight. Malt and hops can provide a base that makes some beers taste similar to others, but the defining flavor characteristics can all be attributed to these little bugs. Recall the Weedwacker of a few months ago, and how simply using different yeast yielded an entirely different taste.

The traditional Saint Arnold Amber Ale is one of this brewery’s flagship products, and has been around for almost 15 years. It is a typical American amber style, lightly malted and lightly hopped, very mild and a pleasant drinker. Some might call it “boring,” or at the very least, “uninteresting.”

But add a Trappist yeast strain and it becomes a new beer altogether. The Altared Amber looks about the same, a light pale copper color with a foamy white head, but the aroma is immediately changed. The nose is yeasty and bready with a light citrus, and the taste is dry and mildly complex with a very small hop bite, finishing smooth and easy to drink.

Personally, I like this release better than the Weedwacker. This is a better pairing of ingredients with a more distinct yeast action, and would not be out of place as an imported light Belgian pale ale. This one I would buy year-round if available, especially in our long brutal summers.

Availability: Draft only and limited quantities, as are all the beers of this series. Found at the usually beer-focused establishments like Flying Saucer, Ginger Man and the like. Quantities are limited, so it will disappear quickly.

Cheers!


Originally published December 10, 2010, at Examiner.com

Welcome Jester King to North Texas

Dallas

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

The best thing about this space is being able to introduce new beers to readers, something they might have overlooked or has just arrived. Even better than that is introducing new brewers, especially when they are home-grown right here in Texas. They may not be local, but Austin’s Jester King Craft Brewery has arrived in North Texas.

Jester King is the venture of brothers Michael and Jeffrey Stuffings and their associate Ron Extract. They spent this past summer building a brewhouse in the Hill Country right outside of Austin (complete with an 8000-square-foot beer hall for events and parties) and began brewing beers about six weeks ago.

The Brothers Stuffing are starting out bold and big, not only putting a lot of money into facilities but they are already producing enough beer to push product across the state. Far from conventional or even “safe” beers most new brewers follow, their initial lineup just months after opening includes Franco-Belgian inspired farmhouse ales, an English mild, a rye IPA and liberal applications of various products aging in whiskey barrels.

Already, Jester King beers have begun appearing at selected craft beer-friendly establishments such as The Common Table, the Meddlesome Moth, Flying Saucer (Fort Worth and Garland) and the Ginger Man (Fort Worth). This list is certain to grow, especially when bottling operations are set up and running.

Two beers are to be found locally: Commercial Suicide, a 3.3% ABV English-inspired dark mild ale, and Wytchmaker, a 9% ABV rye IPA that is as bitter as a witch’s tongue. I am especially fond of the Commercial Suicide, a style much overlooked by craft brewers, with a full-bodied roasty flavor that has faint hints of cocoa and provides the best session beer one could ever want.

Availability: Draft only right now, limited to the accounts listed above but that list should grow quickly. Bottles of 750-ml barrel-aged beers should follow soon, also destined for North Texas, as well as 12-oz bottles of their other products.

PS: The brewery website seems to be having some trouble lately, but they can still be found through their Facebook page.

Cheers!


Originally published November 14, 2010, at Examiner.com

First of the Moveable Yeasts: Weedwacker

Dallas

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

This past summer, Houston’s Saint Arnold Brewing announced one of the boldest experimental commercial brewing ventures ever heard of in Texas beer history.

They named this undertaking the Moveable Yeast series. Under development for a couple of years, the plan is to take four of their ordinary production beers and brew each with a contrasting strain of yeast that is atypical for the given style. The results? Risky, if you don’t know what you’re doing.

The first of the series was released just recently, named Weedwacker. This beer has the base malt and hops recipe of their Fancy Lawnmower—which technically is a koelsch style—but fermented using a Bavarian hefeweizen yeast. A select few (such as this sample from the Meddlesome Moth in Dallas) were also dry-hopped with just a touch of Amarillo hops.

The result is equally bold and style-defying. It is light yellow and hazy served from a cask, with a heavy fresh yeast taste that lends a lot of lemony citrus. It has the slightly sweet malt flavor of the Lawnmower but with a grassy, almost fresh funky hay element. Although it has Czech and German roots, this beer may be able to pass for an authentic light Belgian farmhouse style.

If you can, sample this one with the regular Fancy Lawnmower side by side. I would call this first installment of the Moveable Yeast a success, and look forward to the others yet to come. And props to the Saint Arnold brewers for being willing to experiment.

Availability: Draft only, and released in very limited quantities, so it will disappear quickly. Found at the usual beer-heavy spots like Flying Saucer, Ginger Man and a few others. The dry-hopped versions were apparently distributed randomly, so ask which version they have.

Cheers!


Originally published August 28, 2010, at Examiner.com

The other IPAs: Left Hand 400 Pound Monkey

Dallas

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

If there ever were an “official” American beer style, my vote would be for the IPA. American craft brewers and consumers (especially West Coasters) have rabidly expanded the style and, using hops unique to the New World, made the IPA their own.

This beer is all pine and citrus, sometimes strong but always very sharply hopped. However, there is another style of IPA that, well, is the “original” style—that of the British beers, who indeed invented the India Pale Ale style. We do not see many of these over here in the US, so enamored are we with our own bitter beverages.

As a fan of these British-style IPAs, I am more than happy that Left Hand Brewing in Longmont, Colorado, chose to follow this style instead of just brewing another hop-bomb. From what I gather, that is actually the rationale behind the decision and the name: Director of Brewing Operations Joe Schiraldi once retorted something to the effect of “any monkey can throw 400 pounds of hops in a kettle and call it an IPA.”

Thus, we now have Left Hand’s 400 Pound Monkey, an “English-style” IPA. This one lacks the sharp bitterness of American native hop species, using the more earthy and subtly floral UK hops instead. A toasty malt base keeps it drinkable, and a tart and bitter finish reminds you it is still an IPA, but this is a soft and moderate ale that is easy to drink without being aggressively hopped for the sake of hoppiness.

Being 6.7% ABV, the 400 Pound Monkey still works well at any dinner table. Compare it to Belhaven’s Twisted Thistle, and it has easily found its way into my normal fridge rotation.

Availability: Found just about in all better beer bars, pubs and retailers, as Left Hand enjoys almost as wide a distribution as New Belgium or any other Colorado beer.

Cheers!


Originally published June 2, 2010, at Examiner.com

Mysterium Verum: A Real (Ale) mystery

Dallas

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

Welcome to the newest hot trend in craft brewing: barrel aging. Certainly, beers have been aged in all sorts of spirits barrels for a long time but now it has found its own submarket in the American craft beer scene.

Aging beer in a barrel does many things. First, it allows a beer more time to age and mature, which can help lagers and some of the stronger, harsher beers considerably. Second, the barrel beer ages in can impart a flavor as the beer extracts essential oils from the wood. And, of course, along with the nature of the wood comes the flavors of its previous contents.

Because of the time commitment, barrel-aging by nature produces a premium and limited-edition product. What is surprising is the scale at which some of the established Texas craft brewers are embracing this trend. Gone are the days of a handful of barrels obtained for a specialty release—nowadays, “aging rooms” are being planned at breweries.

Blanco’s Real Ale Brewing has already released what they are calling their Mysterium Verum (“Real Mystery”) products, which are already appearing locally on tap. This is a somewhat vaguely defined series of aging their normal portfolio of beers in barrels with a variety of spirits, wines and woods for a fantastic myriad of effects. Already seen in Dallas have been their barrel- aged Coffee Porter, barrel-aged Real Heavy and their “Kraken” (barrel-aged Sisyphus).

Likewise, Fort Worth’s Rahr & Sons—who due to a new roof are only about two weeks from brewing once again—is also planning not only barrel-aging some specialty products but also establishing a dedicated aging area in their revised brewery space. Already, their Winter Warmer Christmas seasonal has had tremendous local success in past years aged in whiskey barrels.

Saint Arnold of Houston has already experimented with barrel-aging their stout, and doubtless now in their new brewery will have the space to pursue more. Even tiny upstart (512) Brewing of Austin has aged their Pecan Porter in an extremely limited hand-bottled edition that is worth more than gold right now.

Barrel aging has its benefits and drawbacks, and pairing styles of beer with particular casks is as much an art form as brewing. But experimentation is what craft brewing is all about.

Availability: Both Real Ale and Rahr & Sons have plans to package their products in 22-oz bottles very shortly, which is a natural format for these limited-edition beers.

Cheers!


Originally published May 12, 2010, at Examiner.com

Finally in Texas: Kulmbacher, the original eisbock

Dallas

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

Yes, I have a wish list of beers I want to see available for sale here in Texas. And today, that list is one beer shorter.

We now have Kulmbacher Eisbock stocked in Texas coolers, from the Kulmbacher Brauerei of Kulmbach, Germany. Kulmbacher is a relatively rare style known as an eisbock, or “ice bock,” that takes advantage of a quirk of chemistry that ethanol does not freeze solid until a temperature of –173°F.

According to the story, the eisbock was invented accidentally when a barrel of recently brewed bock beer was left to freeze outside during a cold winter. As the water freezes long before the alcohol, it can be removed as a solid block of ice and leaves behind a much stronger, more concentrated beverage. (If you have at all been following the recent BrewDog alcoholic arms race, this is the method they are using to achieve such high-gravity products.)

Kulmbacher is everything a good doppelbock is, only intensified. It pours a deep brown-black with a sweet and malty aroma, and the taste is heavily caramelized and roasted. Sorghum elements are present, as are deep, rich flavors of prunes, raisins and figs. However, even with a strength of 9.2% ABV, it remains smooth and never harsh or hot with alcohol.

Current Texas law prohibits our local breweries from producing eisbocks, as the method described above is technically distilling. And even with its luxurious flavor and alcoholic strength, Kulmbacher still pairs well with a meal of roasted beef or bird, heavy on the campfire.

(Possibly even more exciting than finally getting Kulmbacher locally is the fact this beer is brought in by the Shelton Brothers distributors of Massachusetts, a major importer of European beers, now available in Texas. Can EKU, Cantillon, Fantome and dozens of others be far behind?)

Availability: Bottles are now found at better liquor stores and pubs; I would assume draft accounts are soon to follow. A bit spendy, as a six-pack usually retails for around $16, but worth every penny.

Cheers!


Originally published February 19, 2010, at Examiner.com

Top 10 beers of 2009

Dallas

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

Of course, everyone puts out a “top ten” list this time of year, so break with tradition?

This list of mine is not necessarily of the best beers available commercially today, nor are they essentially new beers brewed for the first time in ’09. This is a list of what I consider the best beers to make their first appearance on the local North Texas market this year just past—beers worthy of not only a second chance but fine beers you should be purchasing on a regular basis.

10. (512) Pecan Porter. Only just recently trickling into our market, this offering by the Austin-based brewery is hopefully a good omen of more to come.

9. Big Sky Moose Drool. Already a staple and a legend in other states, this is a great, satisfying rich brown ale that I find really easy to drink any time.

8. Abita Andygator. I love bocks, that should be no secret; and this is a fantastic maibock made by an often overlooked brewery nearby in Louisiana.

7. Harpoon Leviathan (Imperial IPA). Harpoon debuted strong in our market this year, and their Leviathan series is a much anticipated addition.

6. Real Ale Shade Grown Coffee Porter. Neither new nor new to our area, this fall seasonal makes the list for being made available in bottles for the first time ever.

5. Belhaven Scottish Stout. What took Belhaven so long to think of brewing a stout? Bye bye, Guinness!

4. Anderson Valley Boont Amber Ale. A surprise addition for a “best of” list, given that most entries are most often high-gravity and super-robust, but this is the amber ale executed just perfectly.

3. Rahr & Sons Bourbon Barrel-Aged Winter Warmer. Also not a new addition (especially as Rahr is a local brewer) but a return to using Maker’s Mark for their aging barrels plus a slight tweak of the recipe this year guarantees the “Whiskey Warmer” a slot in my list.

2. Fuller’s Prize Old Ale. A gorgeous, flavorful, complex beer that can really convince you to become a fan of the old ale style.

1. St-Feuillien Tripel Abbey Ale. I have a small spot on my mantle where I set the bottle of the best beer I’ve had recently, only to be replaced when something better knocks it off. This bottle is still on my mantle.

There’s my list (and it was a close contest between #1 and #2). Let the arguments commence, and have a safe and happy New Year!

Cheers!


Originally published December 30, 2009, at Examiner.com

A new life for Gale’s Prize Old Ale

Dallas

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

Old ales are so named for two reasons. First, they are among the oldest of the British ale styles, brewed for centuries before the pale ales and porters became popular with the public.

The other reason for the name is that they are often well-aged after brewing. Also known as “stock ales,” old ales were generally higher-gravity beers cellared for at least a year, and used by publicans to blend with newer, fresher beer for a more well-rounded flavor (or flavour) that pub patrons enjoyed.

One of the greatest brewers of English beers in general, George Gale & Co. Ltd., was purchased by the Griffin Brewery in 2005. Griffin is best known for the popular Fuller’s line of British ales and associated pubs in the U.K., many of which we already get here in Texas and have for some time.

But this version of Prize Old Ale is new, also in two different ways. This is newly arrived to Texas, which has never seen Gale’s products before, and the 2007 dated edition on shelves now is Fuller’s first attempt to re-create this historic Gale beer. And they’ve done a mighty fine job of it.

Prize Old Ale pours a deep red-brown with an aroma that is malty sweet, vinous and slightly papery. Aged for two years before bottling, the beer is slightly oxidized—which adds to its complexity rather than being a fault. The taste is sweet but not cloying, with almost a port or sherry nature, maybe even fruitcake. Malt is king here, with elements of red grapes, dark cherries, plums, figs and maybe old pipe tobacco.

Like bocks, old ales are a particular passion of mine that we don’t see enough of. This beer might pair well with roast beef, but at a sneaky 9% ABV (none of which is detectable in the taste) it is better left as an after-dinner sipper in place of a brandy.

Availability: Sold in single 500-ml bottles for about $5 to $7 each at better beer bars, British-style pubs and better liquor and grocery stores. As it is now a Fuller’s product, it should enjoy the same wide distribution of their beers.

Cheers!


Originally published August 21, 2009, at Examiner.com