Big Texas Beer Fest 2017

Lego Ren

Big Texas Beer Fest 2017

Dude, you gotta pace yourself at Big Texas Beer Fest. Can’t try all 500 beers at once.

The Adventures of Lego Ren: Dark Knight Drinking

Where Does Your Beer Come From?


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.


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.


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?


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.


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

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

Big Texas Beer Fest at five years

BTBF-2016_logoHow long does it take a craft beer festival to mature? Do they grow and evolve on the same life-line as bars, pubs or microbreweries? Do they lead (or lag) the local consumer economy?

Last weekend, Dallas saw the fifth annual iteration of the Big Texas Beer Fest. It filled the cavernous Automobile Building at Fair Park as it has from the start with the spring weather cruelly perfect for a mostly indoor festival. Thousands of thirsty craft beer fans pressed into the fairgrounds Friday evening and all day Saturday, the decision made to wisely spread attendance over two sessions instead of packing more ticket holders into the same square footage.


I wandered through the wide aisles early, getting my beer bearings and warming up my palate with just a sip of Goose Island‘s Bourbon County Rare, sweet and syrupy with a deep flavor reminiscent of a classic Thomas Hardy. The growling crowd of VIPs pushed at the nylon ropes, awaiting their one hour jump on entry before general admission, and that Golden Hour can be just enough time to find some of the rare and special brews hidden among the booths that will inevitably disappear quickly. It also provides a more manageable, almost convivial experience among somewhat familiar and like-minded fans before the bulk of attendees crush in, even allowing room for a skateboarding Michael Peticolas.

In just five brief years, enthusiasts and absolute amateur fest promoters Chad and Nellie Montgomery have created what is now a Dallas craft beer institution. The Big Texas Beer Fest has become not only the largest single craft beer event in North Texas but also somewhat of a sure-bet experience, as it always concludes without significant faults or troubles and manages to provide an enjoyable experience to all attendees, from beer novice to professional drinker.


Certainly, there have been growing pains from the inception of this festival but nothing catastrophic. Ticketing and entry procedures were a big delay that first year but understandable for trying to move crowds measuring close to 5000 individuals. The air conditioning was overlooked one year and left the venue too warm, but with this particular venue and time of year that was a decision simply made too late. Water stations, ice, layout, food vendors and logistics have all been incrementally improved year after year to the benefit of attendees and representatives alike.

Small things we thought would be major headaches turned out to be nothing at all. –Nellie

This year, brewers and related vendors stretched to each end of the facility with the soundstage and bands moved to their own fenced and adjoining space outside. Early years of this festival placed them inside at the endspace of the building, dominating the limited indoor acoustics, but outside they thrive with a captive crowd surrounded by grilled aromas from circled food trucks. With the first truly great weekend weather of the year, the postcard blue sky seemed to attract as many fest-goers as did the beers inside.


Inside saw the participation of about 150 craft breweries this year, heavy on the in-state brewers and even more so for those local to North Texas. The high-traffic DFW favorites such as Deep Ellum, Peticolas, Community and Rahr & Sons anchored the larger locations at the end of the aisles, providing more access for their surging interest and demand. Lakewood used its space and this opportunity to debut their new All Call cans, a clean, lightly malted and refreshing kölsch brewed in association with the firefighters and police support organization Guns & Hoses, and which will undoubtedly become a popular best-seller. Major national microbrands were also represented, if not with a featured booth of their own then a smaller presence manned by distributors and volunteers.

Two o’clock brought the general admission ticket holders, and the comfortable crowd of VIPs surged into a sea of people, from the ordinary to the weird. Brewery tee-shirts, pretzel necklaces, beards, funny hats and even the occasional cosplay blended among the ordinary fans, casual and daily consumers now immersed in craft beer culture for a few hours. Longer lines formed for popular breweries, and sought-after specialties were greedily drained.


Instead of stocked tables uniformly staffed with reps pushing samples, many breweries embraced the evolving festival spirit by loosening their corporate collars. Shannon Brewing set up a small pub in their space, complete with video games. Franconia brought what has become their signature ice sculpture taps, chilling the beer with embedded tubing. Martin House hosted a small disk golf competition out of their booth adjacent to the obligatory blue “B” and “G” photo-troll display from the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau.

…even allowing room for a skateboarding Michael Peticolas.

Crowds continued to grow both inside and out in those hours after late arrival. The sea of people thickened into a dense mass on the inner aisles, with traffic snaking around queues and oblivious conversation pods and Untappd users logging beers on their phones. The buildup always peaks somewhere around the four o’clock hour, the drinking balance reached of early attendees and the spent just beginning to depart. Traditional for beer fests, a dropped sampling glass (historically glass but now plastic, for obvious reasons) elicits a roar from the crowd that propagates down the length of the building like a stadium wave. The collective effects of alcohol begin to show, mildly.


A wide variety of beers were to be found, not only wide of style and flavor but across the spectrum of quality as well. The best are obvious, as any craft beer list online can gladly recount, and the worst are discretely dumped into a nearby wash bucket. But the fun is more in the unexpected: those great beers flying under the radar, relationships revealed, gems rarely hyped or newly discovered. Bitter Sisters debuted their Winter Bush, a refreshingly plain but solid Russian imperial stout, dark and roasty without bitterness, barrel aging or liquor enhancements, wholly un-messed with. Artisanal brewer Jolly Pumpkin, known for their delicate bottle-conditioned farmhouse ales, also brews great traditional American styles under the North Peak Brewing label. And On Rotation made a very unique and tasty Jalapeño Saison infused with cucumber — it’s weird, but it works.


It was also a nice touch to include local brewpubs such as Dallas’ native Humperdinks, brewers from the local California-chain Gordon Biersch locations in Dallas and Plano, and even Irving’s Twin Peaks breastaurant (now brewing on-site), talented brewers all but of a status and caliber often overlooked or dismissed at fests such as these. Disappointly, the acclaimed Asian bistro-brewer Malai Kitchen was expected but absent, no doubt victim to a spring weekend overstuffed with competing and conflicting food-themed events around the Metroplex.

I managed to talk with Nellie briefly during the event, and asked about the most important thing she and Chad learned with now five years of craft beer festival planning under their belt. “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” she said. “Small things we thought would be major headaches turned out to be nothing at all.” SD

Weekend Pint: Craft and Growler


Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

craft_and_growler_logo_with_borderA growler revolution is underway in the Lone Star State. Little over a year ago, growlers in Texas were the exclusive province of the all-too rare brewpubs, and many dedicated fans of craft beer were unfamiliar with the practice or even the term.

In case you don’t know, a growler is a 64-oz glass container that is filled with beer, sealed and purchased for home consumption. Thanks in no small part to Texas’ own Whole Foods Market, which last year executed a corporate mandate to install wine and beer service areas and growler fills in each of their locations across the state, growler popularity has soared. It also turned out that misinformation about filling growlers abounds and the actual TABC laws are not that restrictive after all, so a few local pubs are catching on to growlers, also.

Where to find good beer

Last November, Dallas saw the first dedicated growler fill station open just off Exposition Avenue in a space facing the entrance to Fair Park. Craft and Growler is the work of Kevin Afghani and Cathrine Kinslow, who did plenty of legal research and decided to build a bar for the express purpose of filling these valuable jugs full of local craft beer and selling them to the public. Although their space is dedicated to selling beer “to go,” it has also been outfitted into a comfortable space to sit and have a beer in a somewhat less- crowded area south of Deep Ellum.

Most growlers are simply filled from an existing tap line — a satisfactory practice for a well-trained bar staff but not ideal. Afghani took the concept one step further and adapted the Blichmann beer gun, a rather fancy homebrewer’s gadget, to serve as the filling tool. Instead of a fixed tap operated by a pull handle, the 30 draught beers sold at Craft and Growler are each dispensed from their own hand tool at the end of a flexible hose, which minimizes foam and maximizes sanitation for the optimal container fill to the benefit of the consumer. And with this setup, filling a pint glass is just as fast and easy as filling a half-gallon growler.

But Craft and Growler is more than just another craft beer bar with a fancy tap setup. One whole wall is dedicated to selling growlers in all shapes and forms, from the traditional 64-oz portion to half that size, and half again, all the way down to individual-serving swing-top bottles. They are offered in various shapes and with several logos, from glass to ceramic to stainless steel, including one exclusive hand-made artisan job costing in excess of $100. Along with the containers are also sold various accessories to securely swaddle and carry your beer-filled glass to and from your home.

No food is available on-site but there are other restaurants nearby, and food trucks are becoming more frequent as Craft and Growler’s popularity grows. Prices are listed at the bar for each and every sized vessel, based on a per-ounce cost, and they will fill any commercial growler, not just their own. Their official grand opening is planned for tomorrow, February 2nd, with prizes, music and a few special local craft beer releases.

Recommended pint: Any of Community Beer Company‘s three beers, all of which are available on tap.

Craft and Growler
3601 Parry Avenue
Dallas, Texas