North Texas brewers need to step up their stout game


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.


Originally published November 5, 2015, at 

Black IPA and What Makes a Beer Style

A rising trend in modern craft brewing today is toward an ill-defined beer known as the black IPA, which breaks down into an American-style IPA brewed with darker malts not out of place in porters and stouts. Beginning with a disclaimer, I am not a fan of this trend as the citrusy, pine-resin bite of domestic hops does not sit well on my palate with the dark-roasted malts used in these beers.

However, many do enjoy this flavor combination, which is why brewers are so keen to rush into this brand-new beer style. But this only begs the question: Is black IPA truly a new style or just a variant of an existing category? What, if anything, defines a craft beer “style” as distinct and official? Can such discrete lines be drawn, or are beer styles a squishy continuum that can accommodate most anything used in a brew kettle?

The categorization of beer styles comes down to just two elements, those being ingredients and tradition. Note that prevalence nor popularity is mentioned at this point; neither should be considered in defining a beer style, especially a brand new one. A new style is a new style, whether brewed by one brewer or adopted across the country. The science of grouping beers into styles should be approached as objectively as the senses can allow.

A beer’s ingredients may seem to be the simple part of this formula, but this element is deceptively complicated. It is easy to enumerate the constituents of a craft beer, and not much more difficult to quantify each in turn. However, modern beer styles have been fairly complete and well-defined for decades now—some for centuries—and wedging a new style into the grid is (and should be) a struggle. If defining new styles were an easy task, we would be left with thousands instead of the hundred or so recognized today.

For example, the black IPA has ingredients that are distinct from the American IPA as well as ingredients that are separate from the robust porter, but does that meet the threshold of a new style? Does the flavor profile of the black IPA reside within one of these other styles? Might it be considered a hoppy porter instead, or an off-style mistake that is too dark to judge within the existing IPA guidelines? If “dark” makes a new IPA style, does “light” do the same if using pale pilsner malts? This latter equivalence should hold for both or neither.

More important than the actual ingredients is the tradition surrounding the beer itself. In this sense, popularity does matter but not in the same way as in modern beer-rating website status. Instead, tradition implies a regional origin and prevalence, something identifiable with a particular locale either for cultural or societal reasons. Does a beer have a unique backstory, or does it exist due to some exceptional local demand from consumers? Does the beer stand the test of time, or will the black IPA fade out of our consciousness in a few years?

This last criterion is probably the most critical, and what will ultimately determine if the nascent black IPA style is to be formally recognized. Like adopting words into the English lexicon or scientists evaluating new species, these professionals must make sure that new changes have some true and meaningful persistence, and not minor blips that fade into obscurity within a few years. If it does just this, the black IPA will be remembered as merely a twist on an existing beer style, not something distinct unto itself.

Without splitting hairs to the degree of substyles, varietals and the unending permutations that can be achieved with both classic and modern beer recipes, we must conclude that the black IPA is not a new and distinct beer style—at least, not yet. This subcategory of beer styles will have to be debated by both the brewing and consuming communities, and only years from now can the stylistic determination be made.

Update: Just this past January, the Brewers Association updated their 2011 guidelines to include the American-style Black Ale, but this has not yet been universally adopted.

Originally published March 27, 2011, at