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).

The Common Table takes on Frisco with guns a’blazing

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

The ceilings are high, and the tall windows let in a lot of light—especially at night with the electronic ad-screen across the street. The bar top is still pristine, and the structure is just one featureless retail slot of a larger commercial complex. The kitchen is the same, and the new beer tap system belongs about 15 minutes into the future.

However, once you talk to the staff, it’s all familiar as The Common Table. There’s something in the bar’s DNA.

Tonight’s focus is the latest beer-pairing dinner, a multi-course affair that TCT has perfected over the years at their original Uptown Dallas location. Although on hiatus for the past couple of seasons, the event has been resurrected for the opening of the new Frisco store as the “Ale-Star Series” that, so far, has featured some of the most prominent craft brewers in the United States and their hand-selected menus of beers.

The most recent was Texas’ own Jester King Brewery and featuring head brewer Averie Swanson. (Despite craft beer’s recent success, women are still woefully underrepresented in the industry.) As a very unique farmhouse brewery in Austin’s Hill Country, Jester King’s artisanal beers can be a challenge to pair with food given their sour, pungent and creatively wild-fermented beers and related blends. This led to a (mostly) all-seafood dinner, lighter fare such as seared halibut cheeks with an orange-ginger sauce and a delectable cheese course with house-made lavash and Red Hawk cheese from Cowgirl Creamery.

Jerry Jones built “The Star” in Frisco as the Cowboys’ new headquarters and practice facility, and it has been progressively attracting restaurants, bars and clubs like a planet capturing new moons. The Common Table, one of Dallas’ premier craft beer establishments since 2010, was actually courted to expand with a second location at The Star, which opened late last fall. Since then, it has been working to find its beer legs in the burgeoning craft beer environment of the newly paved ‘burbs north of LBJ.

One evening near the end of March, a similar event focused on Avery Brewing of Colorado with owner/founder Adam Avery as host. Avery (both the man and the brewery) are considered part of the industry’s old guard, pioneering craft beer across the nation before other states even acknowledged the business model. This dinner featured a more internationally inspired menu with Moroccan-style Colorado roasted leg of lamb, butternut squash and sweet potato tajine, and plump PEI mussels in a Spanish chorizo and tomato broth.

The Avery dinner might have been one food course shorter than typical, but that was hardly noticed once the paired brewery beers started to fly. With Avery’s longevity in the market and long-reaching skills of brewing and aging beers, glasses of Tectum et Elix (ale aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels), Fimbulvvinter (rum barrel-aged Belgian-style quintuple) and the scowling face of Winston Churchill on the label of Old Perseverance (bourbon barrel-aged ale with maple syrup and dark muscovado sugar) crowded the tables by evening’s end.

Once you talk to the staff, it’s all familiar as The Common Table. There’s something in the bar’s DNA.

This Frisco shop is helmed by Glen Stivison, an experienced manager of local craft beer establishments, and Chief Beer & Tunes Officer Corey Pond now splits his time between the two locations. The new place has extensive patio space, including the long outdoor seating that is its namesake, while a light wood wraparound bar anchors the inside space. A local music series that mirrors the Uptown TCT lineup has begun with the warmer months and should only improve throughout the summer.

Early March saw California’s Firestone Walker Brewing swing into North Texas for a beer dinner with owner David Walker hosting despite suffering through a mild respiratory bug. The brewery’s limited-edition Dark & Stormy, a rum barrel-aged ale with lime and coconut (designed to match the cocktail), shared the evening with more classic dining selections such as bone-in chateaubriand with charred onion au jus (liquid crack!), tiger prawn ceviche with mango and serrano chiles, and a strawberry rhubarb spinach salad with blue cheese.

The Common Table has a long history of both beer-pairing events and playing host to notable brewers both national and international, one of few places in Texas (and a mere handful in North Texas) that can rate such consideration. This reputation is earned through the relationships that Pond has personally cultivated with craft brewers around the country, both as a business owner and an eager evangelist for and unashamed enthusiast in the movement. To his credit, he is not difficult to find at either of his bars, often tugging on his vape with a coffee cup filled with Founders Breakfast Stout nearby.

What may be the best evidence for TCT’s draw is the dinner that kicked off this current series in late February featuring Brooklyn Brewery. This night was hosted by brewer emeritus Garrett Oliver, former head brewer turned author, speaker, presenter and all-around craft beer bon vivant (and to The Common Table’s reputation, not the first time he has hosted a night here). Where Oliver goes, serious craft beer cred is automatically bestowed.

The Brooklyn Brewery beer-pairing dinner on a cool evening in February stands out as one of the finest craft beer events I’ve ever attended. Not only were diners treated to a stunning A5 Wagyu tomahawk steak (properly seared with help from Dee Lincoln Prime across the street) with bone marrow butter, other courses included a fine New Zealand lamb carpaccio and an amazing Manhattan littleneck clam chowder that is still spoken about.

Not to be outdone, Oliver brought with him a couple of his famous “ghost bottles,” unapproved small-batch or experimental beers that generally do not leave the New York brewery outside of the pockets of employees. The expected Black Ops imperial stout, a wild ale named Kiwi’s Playhouse, and a Belgian-style golden ale named Aglovale (an Arthurian reference) all paired magnificently with each course of the meal—none of which compare to the included complimentary signed copy of Oliver’s book The Brewmaster’s Table and the simple thrill of just hanging out and chatting with him.

It’s still very early days for this place on the bar/restaurant scale, but spawning a clone has not seemed to slow them down. If you have never enjoyed a beer-pairing dinner, Frisco’s The Common Table is an excellent place to start. SD

Visiting area breweries on the Dallas Brew Bus

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

As a general rule, the rain keeps me at home and out of pubs and local breweries. Low turnout, putting on pants and messy, slick streets are just not worth the effort on such grey days.

However, today someone else was driving.

It was the holiday-appropriate ‘Merica Tour aboard the Dallas Brew Bus, a roving craft brewery-themed revue that has become a minor institution in the Dallas area. Operating semi-monthly now for more than four years, the DBB is a curated bus trip run by Matt Dixon (of Dallas Brew Scene and North Texas Beer Week) and wife Vanessa to select North Texas breweries and area craft beer locations. With most of my brewery visits being solo trips and having never been part of the ongoing bus adventure, a ride was long overdue.

The first scheduled stop on this patriotic road cruise was Lakewood Brewing in Garland, a trip across area highways under cloudy skies as the morning rains came to an end. This was the first tour to feature a shiny new luxury charter, quite a pleasant climate-controlled and modern audio system upgrade for the trip (rented district school buses are the norm). Thirty-eight fellow adventurers joined me today aboard clean, stain-free fabric seats, continuing the Dixons’ long streak of sold-out bus tours.

Far from a stale trap for craft beer tourists, the DBB is an interactive event with trivia, prizes, Dixonian anecdotes and a themed soundtrack throughout the ride. The crowd is mixed, mostly locals with a few out-of-towners, and includes patrons spanning the age and demographic spectrum who are encouraged to interact and stay lively. Less than a circus sideshow, Dixon is personally an unending source of first-hand knowledge for modern North Texas brewing and personalities (and indie music), so the fluid salesman-like patter along the trip rarely stops.

This is the fundamental appeal of the Brew Bus: The ticket is all-inclusive.

Upon boarding, riders receive a drinks card that is checked off with each beer ordered at the various destinations. This is the fundamental appeal of the Brew Bus: The ticket is all-inclusive. A collective logo sample glass entitles riders to fills at each brewery, so there is never a need to open a tab, show ID or even carry cash (exceptions for additional beers, merchandise, food trucks or staff tips at the participant’s discretion).

Lakewood did not disappoint, as their still-new taproom offered all varieties of seasonally brewed Temptress specialties such as a rare bourbon barrel-aged molé variety. Bottled water and a light snack are even included aboard the bus, a varying culinary fare usually provided by the maestros at LUCK—today, a cellophane-wrapped roasted pork sandwich with fresh coleslaw, which was far better than a bag of dry pretzels.

Dallas’ On Rotation was our second stop, by then the day beginning to dry out while the bus crew was just hitting their drinking stride. A self-proclaimed “craft beer laboratory” sandwiched between local brewing giants on this tour, On Rotation always affords an additional food source with hot pizza available from Cane Rosso located just next door in its suburban-like strip center near White Rock Lake.

Each bus stop is planned for about 90 minutes each which, allowing for variable travel schedules based on particular distances, is plenty of time to socialize, run through the sample card and explore new locations. (Today’s beverages included only those brewed in-house, not from On Rotation’s extensive commercial tap wall. However, their current Red, White & Blueberries is well worth seeking out.) Most places are happy for the off-peak influx of an eager craft drinking crowd arriving midday, although a thirsty bus unloading at the door can be a visceral shock for some if not aware of the schedule beforehand.

DBB tours usually encompass three local stops, most often from Dallas and the adjoining areas but Fort Worth locations have been included as demand allows and newer breweries arise. Featured breweries have included craft beer destinations as far away as Cedar Creek Brewing in Seven Points (roughly 50 miles southeast of Dallas), and a Tarrant County-based tour is already scheduled. Holiday themes are common (Memorial Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, “Endless Summer”), and the tour and its services are also available for private events.

Our final destination was Community Beer Company, which was also our starting point and a common spot for tour embarkation due to space, parking and a widely known central location. With riders now well-lubricated from a half-day of reckless sampling, we folded into the normal weekend taproom crowd at its late-afternoon peak due to clearing skies and broadcast sports; fortunately, the lines moved quickly and the wait was minimal. Community’s Passiflora IPA, a hoppy saison brewed with passion fruit, was newly debuted this weekend and quite in demand by bus riders and general taproom visitors alike.

Although the tour would not formally end for a while yet, riders melted into the mass of normal weekend patrons as the bus departed empty, all our official stops now completed. Any brief camaraderie our little tour group had quickly disintegrated as non-tour friends and designated drivers joined their charges in Community’s spacious front taproom with a band starting up at the far end. In the end, we simply added to the normal Saturday brewery crowds for as long as we individually cared to stay.

Community’s location proves an ideal benchmark to include in the DBB tour (officially or not) as its position in the Design District allows for a variety of after-events with nearby breweries, beer bars or even activities at the American Airlines Center. However, the Dallas Brew Bus is more than enough for a great afternoon spent indulging in the local craft beer experience, whether one is experienced in the North Texas scene or not. SD

Where Does Your Beer Come From?

Dallas

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

As a craft beer fan and dedicated consumer, do you know where your beer comes from? Not the ingredients, not the brewery ownership, but culturally and conceptually?

Most of the classic beer styles we enjoy every day were created somewhere else, mostly in the Old World, and many originally individual and unique to particular regions. Before industrialization, brewers had to work with only the grains, adjuncts and water chemistries readily available to them. And until the dawn of microbiology as a science, brewers were often at the mercy of nature, too.

We enjoy a wealth of beer diversity in America, but we can claim very few formal beer styles as wholly created here. The first settlers in New England were mostly from the British Isles and Northern Europe, and brought with them an ale tradition that served as their everyday beverages long before commercialization. Citizens brewed and blended their own brown ales and porters of varying shades as their households and pubs had done for centuries prior.

Our biggest beer shift came with German immigration in the early nineteenth century, the largest ethnic influx our country has ever experienced. Magnates like Adolphus Busch and Eberhard Anheuser built empires of lagers on the heels of the steel and railroad industries, moving the balance away from ales well into the twentieth century. Ironically, “American beer” was defined for a time by uniquely German tastes.

In the twenty-first century, American beer is more an intellectual melting pot than ever before. We threw away ineffectual temperance efforts and with the rise of international travel, we have embraced old English and Scottish ales; sharp Czech pilsners; Bohemian weizen and bocks; Scandinavian sahti and Slavic kvass; soured beers from the Low Countries; bold Russian stouts and Baltic porters; and Belgian ales that are classic, experimental and ecumenical. We have adopted many beer styles as our own despite their origins, and produce distinctly American hoppy IPAs with native-born strains never known to old European brewers.

Lest we ever forget, this cultural fingerprint is still with us today. Kosmos Spoetzl built on Czech and German settlements in South Texas to brew his beers in the little town of Shiner. Pierre Celis almost singlehandedly rescued his native Belgian witbier style from extinction and became an Austin legend. Lakewood’s Wim Bens puts his personal taste on his products for Lakewood that reflect his own Belgian heritage. Fritz Rahr‘s German brewing family predates Prohibition in Wisconsin, and Dennis Wehrmann brews beers from the Franconia region where he grew up.

And the efforts have not ceased. As China, India and South American markets embrace the craft beer industry and their equivalent consumer base grows, what local malt-beverage styles have yet to be reproduced for a widespread American audience? Bradon and Yasmin Wages brought a Vietnamese bia hoi to their Malai Kitchen restaurants, and many local and national brewers continue to experiment with ingredients and influences from ginger to pulque. From Near East to Far East and everywhere between, what new immigrant brewer will bring a rich new flavor to our bars?

American craft beer is incredibly diverse, with thousands of fathers and mothers from around the world, and we are a culturally stronger nation for it. Let’s work hard not to forget that.  SD


Included in the event program for Big Texas Beer Fest, March 31-April 1, 2017

Peticolas Brewing finally joins the taproom age

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

logoThey anticipated a quiet opening week, a Thursday soft opening that might attract a few of the craft beer loyal, just enough to make keeping the doors open worthwhile on a weeknight.

Peticolas Brewing seriously underestimated their fans and their customer base.

With the new year brings a fundamental business shift at Peticolas Brewing, at least in weekly operations for the Dallas craft brewer. Rather late to the party, Peticolas debuted their new brewery taproom to an eager public on a crisp and clear mild winter’s evening. Estimates of the crowd ranged from 150-200 thirsty supporters, perhaps more as they continued to cycle in and out all night at the Design District industrial location.

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The man himself, Michael Peticolas, missed opening night with a family-imposed quarantine (flu, maybe malaria) but wife Melissa was present, running empty glasses along with the brewery staff just trying to keep up with a crowded bar service. Lines for the tap wall were consistently deep and self-replenishing, patrons retiring with their pints to one of the many social spaces as people continued to stream in the door.

Peticolas may have added that critical mass to make the area a serious nightlife destination.

The taproom is not a new build but a full renovation of the main floor, itself an expansion space Peticolas added a few years ago as a common area adjacent to the production brewhouse. Where once were thrift-store sofas and seating for bimonthly weekend tours now is an attractive, spacious bartop framed in brushed metal and unfinished wood. The small stage that hosted local bands and at least one wedding now opens up as a rolling garage door with counter seating facing the street and that provides cool ventilation for the growing body heat of the bar area.

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Although selling only house products, the bar itself is already competitive with many other local craft beer establishments. Seventeen taps were available opening night including nitro pours and a cask offering as well as specials and seasonals. Vintages of kegs held back from previous years were also offered as were a few taproom-only beers, a standard commercial draw for the now-legalized brewery format.

Naturally, the timing of this brewery addition is curious. The State of Texas succumbed to lobby efforts almost two years ago and legalized the on-premise sale of beer that makes taprooms possible. (Off-premise, or package sales, is still being fought in the legislature, with possible success this coming summer session.) Nearby craft brewers Community Beer Company and Noble Rey Brewing (and not too distant Four Corners Brewing) were quick to adapt space for commercial taprooms, and Texas Ale Project designed theirs into their structural build. So why would Peticolas delay opening one until now?

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The answer is that Michael Peticolas may be suffering from the plague but he is certainly no fool. He has always built, run and expanded his brewery operations very conservatively and deliberately, answering to no investors and taking his time with a focus on quality and slow, reliable growth. (His beers still are not packaged.) The craft brewing industry is now mature enough that the brand is as much a consideration as the product sold, that breweries must husband their name as much as they do their products. Peticolas has created his own worth simply by his choice not to follow development opportunities that his competitors have—a risk, to be sure, but it worked for Apple. His success is demonstrated by Peticolas’ almost rock-star following among North Texas consumers.

The bimonthly Saturday tours will continue as scheduled for now, most likely to be folded into taproom operations eventually. The old brewery bar and production floor are closed off to the public with the remodel, but the new taproom offers plenty of space and sights other than stainless steel tanks and sacks of grain. The bar itself opens with limited hours, running Thursday and Friday evenings and most of the day on weekends through Sunday. The operations will likely be modified once a routine is established and sales determine how to best accommodate the visiting public.

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More than the delayed opening, this Peticolas taproom may bring with it more underlying significance for the surrounding area. The Design District has been rapidly evolving from an ugly no-go industrial area to one beginning to enjoy a few late-night restaurants and even growing residences. With the likes of four Dallas craft brewers and one cidery operating within a scant few miles of each other, bolstered again by craft beer establishments such as Meddlesome Moth and Rodeo Goat, another taproom may finally affect the larger evening consumer business. Peticolas may have added that critical mass to make the area a serious nightlife destination.

Regardless, the new taproom is already a good place to reliably find Peticolas beers and a good space to comfortably hang out and socialize, or even pick up brewery merchandise. And as Michael Peticolas surely suffers in the throes of Ebola, his crew has eagerly taken up the charge and already has the taproom ticking along as if it has always been there. SD

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

Common Table Poor Man’s Beer Dinner still on point

Poor Man's Beer Dinner

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

Common TableToday, beer and wine dinners have become almost a yawning marketing commodity among the bar and restaurant industry. But in the days a half-decade ago when craft beer was just establishing its foothold in North Texas, beer-pairing dinners were rare and celebrated events.

Early movers with Dallas beer dinners both in prominence of brewing figures they attracted as well as the outstanding craveability of the food and beer pairings were Meddlesome Moth and The Common Table, two of the more senior and respected local craft beer meccas. Whereas the Moth still hosts preeminent dinners of no decline in quality, The Common Table left the standard event model years ago for a still-novel concept: the weekly Poor Man’s Beer Dinner. Prepared afresh each time, an affordable multicourse meal is paired with stocked commercial craft beers but offered regularly and to order.

Recently realizing that a couple of years had passed since my last Poor Man’s dinner, their past Monday offering caught my eye with the theme of Hatch chiles, that seasonal consumer darling that overruns Central Market and seems to spawn marketing gold each summer. Often these dinners are constructed around a theme, usually by breweries newly arrived to Texas with their products, but being a fan of the fruit (yes, chiles are a fruit) I had to give this one a try. I’m happy to report that the quality of this meal deal remains top-notch.

First course
Hatch chile chicken tortilla soup paired with Duvel Single
Hatch chile chicken tortilla soup

A small bowl of chunky soup with thin, fried tortilla strips, the dish was deliciously flavored but burning with fiery chile heat. Although somewhat a chore to finish (at least for my bolillo heat tolerance), it was the hottest element of the entire meal, and woke up the palate with a full-faced alarm.

The paired course beer, Duvel Single, is Moortgat’s lighter version of their Belgian pale ale, single-fermented for the same flavors but without the strength of regular Duvel. One would think it an optimal match for the Hatch heat but alcohol does little to quench capsaicin once it makes camp on your palate.

Second course
Garden salad with Hatch chile avocado dressing paired with Sierra Nevada Kellerweis

Garden salad with Hatch chile avocado dressing

Seemingly plain in comparison, this simple mixed greens salad had a smooth, lightly creamy dressing with a pleasant cooling effect after the heat of the previous course. The flavor of the Hatch was captured and eased somewhat by the smooth, fatty avocado texture.

Sierra Nevada Kellerweis is that brewery’s unfiltered wheat ale brewed after a traditional Bavarian style. It worked with the fresh salad to tame the heat of the previous course as well as the flavors themselves pleasantly complimenting each other.

Third course
Blackened red snapper with Hatch chile risotto fortified with Fontina served on a lemon beurre blanc paired with Community Mosaic

Blackened red snapper with Hatch chile risotto (fontina) and a lemon burre blanc

This dish was outrageously perfect, and by far the star of the evening. Perfectly cooked snapper was served mildly blackened with mellow cajun spices to work with but not overshadow the still-lingering pepper heat. It was dressed with a tart lemony sauce and served on a bed of luscious Hatch chile risotto beautifully fortified with Fontina that almost overshadowed the entrée. (I would enjoy this added as a regular menu item, or at least a rotating special.)

Paired with Community Mosaic, the aggressive IPA brought enough sharp flavors for a fresh, palate-cleansing bite. On its own, Mosaic is one of my personal weekly go-to beers and easily one of the top IPAs to come out of North Texas.

Fourth course
Vanilla bean ice cream with candied Hatch chiles and crushed pecans paired with Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout

Vanilla bean ice cream with candied Hatch chiles and crushed pecans

One would never think of chiles as a dessert item but candied, sliced rounds of Hatch chiles still coated in sugar provided a fantastic vegetal flavor to the creamy scoop and crunchy pecan bed. All elements for the entire dish just synched, both in flavor and texture.

The last stocked bottle of Sam Smith was served just before my course was served, but calling an audible with Ninkasi Vanilla Oatis worked equally as well. With all respect to Tadcaster ( a legend on its own), Ninkasi’s oatmeal stout with vanilla was an even better match for this particular course.

Unknown at the start, this was Chef Nick Wells’ last Poor Man’s dinner as he leaves this week for a new kitchen not too far away (Dots Hop House, a new Deep Ellum venture soon to open from the owners of Denton’s Oak Street Drafthouse). Once again, The Common Table proves it has an expert hand in not only selecting a quality lineup of taps but also a kitchen still strongly firing on all cylinders.

Walk in any Monday evening between 6:30 and 9pm for a small treat of refined yet affordable cuisine. 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. 

North Texas brewers need to step up their stout game

Dallas

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

Today is November 5th, recognized as International Stout Day. Celebrate with a fresh craft stout from one of our local North Texas breweries, a refreshing beer such as… um…

Crickets chirping. That’s what you find when you go looking for a good, sessionable DFW stout. And as robust as our current craft beer scene is, that’s a downright shame.

Looking at local shelves and tap handles, it may appear that locally made stouts are plentiful. True, there are some prime examples out there of Russian imperial stouts, oatmeal stouts, sweet stouts, coffee stouts, barrel-aged stouts, and even stouts infused with chocolate, honey, vanilla beans, mint or raspberries. But if you look closer, these all skew strongly toward the heavy end of both the flavor and gravity spectrum, all clocking in at 8% ABV or much, much higher.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with these hefty, delicious stouts except that they are, well, pretty strong both in alcoholic kick and weighty calorie-laden, palate-crushing tastes. In their rush to the highest ground, North Texas craft brewers seem to have overlooked the other end of the stout spectrum that consists of richly flavored yet pleasingly drinkable stouts such as the dry (Irish) stout and its slightly hoppier cousin, the American stout.

The best-known example of the dry stout is Guinness, the archetypal Irish stout produced by a corporate giant that has near universal market saturation with a modest 4.2% ABV. For an American stout, you will have to reach out to breweries to our south (the seasonal Saint Arnold Winter Stout, 5.6%) or to beers brought in from out of state like Sierra Nevada Stout (5.8%) or North Coast Old No. 38 Stout (5.4%).

The Dallas/Fort Worth area just does not produce anything comparable. The closest we have in this category would be a couple of foreign export stouts, a slightly stronger style originally brewed for dedicated sales outside the country of origin such as Mother’s Little Fracker from Revolver Brewing (7.5%) or Braindead’s Export Stout (6.6%). Shannon Brewing makes a fine Chocolate Stout (5.7%) and Cobra Brewing has an award- winning “brownie stout” named Best Mistake (6.5%), both with ample cocoa natures. Martin House has There Will Be Stout (6.5%), a unique stout brewed with crushed sourdough pretzels that imparts a good salty quality. FireWheel’s Midnight Ninja started out close (6.5%) but has since drifted up to 8% ABV, and even that will not be around any longer as FireWheel Brewing announced they would close later this month.

North Texas craft brewers have shown they are not afraid to take on any beer style, even the rare, obscure and historical. We have available to us black ales, black lagers, dark IPAs and even black saisons, and we have plenty of all shades of porter. Brewers seem to embrace the low-end, hoppy session beers but few have tackled just a plain, enjoyable stout.

Here is a gap in the present market that one of our fresh, new breweries should grab as soon as they can. If I’ve overlooked any local sessionable stouts, please send me a note so I can go drink a lot of it.

Cheers!


Originally published November 5, 2015, at Examiner.com.