The Rise of the DFW Brew

Free from the hangover of the '90s craft beer bust, Dallas' small brewers cheer another round of growth.

The brewery was repaired and running at full steam before the year was out. In 2011, Rahr honored its customers, workers and volunteers with a special brew called Snowmaggedon.

"It's a special community environment. It's really a brotherhood," Rahr says.

Meanwhile, in 2008 Franconia Brewing Co. opened in McKinney. Founder and brewmaster Dennis Wehrmann has a long family history in brewing that dates back to the 1800s. In 1999, he graduated from the Doemens Brewmaster School in Munich, Germany, and then moved to the States, where he worked at Two Rows brewpub for a few years. He's inspired by what he sees happening now in North Texas.

"Austin has always had a great microbrewing community," Wehrmann says, "but in the last three years it has really begun to move into Dallas and North Texas. It's really interesting, and it opens a lot of doors. More locals are thinking about it and are willing to try new stuff."

That became obvious in 2011, when the local craft beer scene's cup began to runneth over. Deep Ellum Brewing Co. (DEBC) got its brewer's license in July, quickly followed by Peticolas Brewing Co. in August.

From July 2011 to July 2012, six breweries opened in North Texas. According to the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission (TABC), today 10 breweries have either an active or pending brewer's license in the area, and a handful of others are actively planning to file for one.

Evidence of a strong local commitment to craft brewing was as clear as the hot summer sky this past September at the first Untapped Festival. The Common Table came up with this idea as a way to celebrate local beer. A few months into planning, the organizers were overwhelmed with interest and thought better of the original arrangements, a street party in front of their restaurant, and opted instead for a large empty block in Trinity Groves. There the sold-out crowd had more elbowroom to swill more than 120 craft beers. Hopheads committed to one long line after another and never a foul word crossed their lips about the wait. A few hours after the event started, a line of ticketless hopefuls snaked down the street in a beer-tasting waiting room.

The local craft beer boom lags just slightly behind the overall craft beer industry in Texas. According to the TABC, Texas craft breweries produced 1.4 million gallons of beer in 2008 and they estimate a total of 1.9 million gallons by the end of 2012; that's a 36-percent increase in just four years.

So, barring unexpected snowstorms, life is looking sunny for Dallas' craft brew scene. On the other hand, any fool knows the doom awaiting those who don't learn from the past. Besides, Dallas has a habit of quickly picking up and dropping trends (see: "The Dougie," Jeremy Lin, etc.). Building local allegiances can be a tough sell in a city loaded with a transplanted workforce, too. Craft beer is fizzing right now, but could this be just another beer bubble?

Brock Wagner, the founder of Saint Arnold's Brewing Co. in Houston offers an encouraging perspective.

"I've been doing this for 18 years," Wagner says, "and for me the trend has been going for a while. But I'll say it's a different world today. Selling craft beer in the '90s was challenging. We were educating people about what it was; people had no idea what craft beer was."

Looking back at the first boom, Wagner doesn't fault an uninterested public, but rather brewpubs with a different set of priorities.

"In the mid '90s there was a little boomlet in craft brewing," he says. "And, some people were getting into it for the wrong reasons. You saw a lot of raspberry wheat beer. People were getting into it from just a marketing standpoint. Those have all washed out now. Those are long gone."

There's another factor that's helping the craft beer movement: buying local. Consumers want products that manifest their local identity and pride. Carrots, chicken and cheese are all part of the home team now, but none of those examples carry the tall, frothy appeal of craft beer.

"Now being knowledgeable about beer is fashionable," Sims says. "If you went out on a date and didn't know a thing about beer you probably wouldn't go out on a second date. All we needed was a little bit of education."


A little bit of education is a start, but what Texas' craft beer movement really needs is a little bit of help from the Texas Legislature. While craft beer is booming in Texas, it's also being restrained by decades-old regulations that can be summarized with one term: the three-tier system.

After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, states created a system of regulating beer with a directive to prevent racketeering or monopolies. Texas' system was (and is) based on three distinct tiers: manufacturers, distributors and retailers. No one company can operate in multiple tiers. Manufacturers can't distribute; distributors can't sell; sellers can't manufacture; and so on. Historically, this was seen as the best way to ensure equality among the different parties.

A report recently released by the Texas House Research Organization (HRO) explains, "Supporters for the three-tier system say it strikes an appropriate balance between control of and access to alcohol. ..."

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6 comments
brendan_j_smith
brendan_j_smith

Home brewer here. Great article. Thanks for supporting our local brewers. The Temptress (Imperial Milk Stout) by Lakewood Brewing is AMAZING. But, Rahr, DEBC, Peticolas all make quality stuff as well. My friends and I hope to join them in the business someday soon...

jdaylett
jdaylett

@Dallas_Observer Really great article, keep up the awesome work!

hinmanpe
hinmanpe

While Humperdinks is a brewpub they make some of the finest beers in the Metroplex.

 
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