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

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Texas brewers’ legal victory significant for more than obvious reasons

Texas State Capitol

mask-of-silenus-avatarThis week, Texas craft brewers claimed something rare for their industry in this state. They won a legal victory.

The drama began three years ago with what was then known as Senate Bill 639. Introduced into the 2013 state legislative session by Dallas state senator John Carona (who subsequently lost the next election), the bill stated its intent of “protecting the independence of distributors” by eliminating compensation for craft breweries for territorial distribution rights of their products. Essentially, it stripped small breweries of the right to make money by selling their brand—something the distributors still had the privilege of doing once a distribution agreement was signed.

Craft brewing has the same rights of identity as any other industry operating in this state.

In an unprecedented action, three Texas craft breweries took the state legal code to task in December 2014. Two North Texas breweries, Peticolas Brewing of Dallas and Revolver Brewing of Granbury, jointly filed suit with Austin’s Live Oak Brewing and the Institute for Justice against the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) to have the new law overturned as a violation of the state constitution. For small businesses like today’s craft breweries, the ability to make money selling their distribution rights can be a big revenue source at start-up, not to mention that they would receive no benefit or compensation should a contracted distributor strike a later deal. It was a blatant and vulgar power-grab by the wholesalers lobby, and challenging it was the right thing to do.

District Court Judge Karin Crump agreed this week, finding no compelling state interest in such a law. Although consumers may not see any tangible benefit from such an esoteric lawsuit, it will only contribute to the improving health and strength of craft brewing in Texas (which ultimately benefits consumers). However, more has been achieved with this decision than simply rolling back biased regulations or defending the pockets of small brewers. This decision may be a truly significant turning point for the brewing industry in Texas.

First significant legal challenge in Texas craft brewing

The craft brewing industry has made monumental advances in Texas brewing laws in recent years, probably the largest favorable gains since legalization of brewpubs back in 1993. They have struggled tirelessly to change laws both state and municipal; they have fought zoning, distributors, retailers, even conservative anti-alcohol groups who have no interest in craft beer. They face down the TABC and lobbyist groups every two years when the legislature meets in Austin.

What makes this result any different? This was a legal challenge to an existing law enacted in 2013, not a state-wide popular movement for incremental change. This was not grass-roots anything: these were some of the most knowledgeable, seasoned professional brewers this state has to offer taking on an unjust law forced upon their industry by a much more powerful special-interest group.

And the judge agreed with them. This giant is not as invincible as we once thought.

Intellectual property matters, even for breweries

What also sets this struggle apart are the stakes over which it is being fought. Of course, every legal matter regarding business and regulation can usually be boiled down to money and, truthfully, this decision is no different. Laws are enacted to win economic power and either project it or protect it. The parties behind laws are always fighting to control bigger pieces of their respective pies.

However, this lawsuit was not explicitly about commerce or access or territory or financial advantage over a competitor. The lawsuit just won was brought over control of a brewery’s intellectual property, the ownership of their fundamental rights as a business at the point of distribution and thereafter in future transactions. Too long has craft brewing been singled out as an industry, operating under a legal double-standard not even shared with wine and other alcohol manufacturers. Craft brewing has the same rights of identity as any other industry operating in this state.

Craft brewers can collaborate on more than just beer

Collaborations are nothing new for the craft beer game. If not simply a business partnership for a combined venture, genuine friendships develop and result in new and inventive beers. Brewery X will meet Brewery Y at a common event like the Great American Beer Festival and decide to collaborate on a flashy, co-branded product. The industry is embarrassingly amicable to direct competitors, even those in the same market, and these ventures usually result in a win-win-win for both parties and consumers.

But this collaboration is a brand-new animal. Texas craft breweries have now demonstrated that they can band together not only for a united front for change before lawmakers; they can also work together to fight for a focused, tactical purpose on behalf of their entire industry. Craft brewing is no longer a domain of hobbyist businessmen selling in a boutique marketplace. This was a grown-up lawsuit, and we walked away with the W. SD