A peek inside the Meddlesome Moth's formidable walk-in cooler reveals kegs carefully piled on top of each other, carefully placed to maximize efficiency like some oversized game of beer Tetris with as many as 120 kegs at a time in the cooler. Some have been there or strategically placed in various other cool spots in the restaurant since before the joint opened at the end of April 2010.
"From the start, we had been cellaring beers and putting together a wish list," says Keith Schlabs, beer guru and co-owner, with Shannon Wynne, of the Moth as well as the Flying Saucer chain. "We have been saving some very special beers for this occasion, and thinking about how we could release these. We thought we could do either a beer fest or a tap takeover. The idea was to have a unique collection of products that people could be excited about in one place at one time, and thought of a way to do it safely and responsibly."
If there's anything the Moth's first year and the Saucer's 15-plus years in business have taught him, it's that people will come to events featuring exciting beers. So far, every beer dinner offered at the Moth has sold out, he says. And the list of rare and aged brews available during Ale Week, which begins with tonight's Stone Brewing Co. dinner with founder Greg Koch, easily fits the description "exciting."
A few Schlabs is particularly looking forward to include two barrel-aged (512) Pecan Porters, one aged in a Jack Daniel's barrels and the other in brandy barrels; Highway 78, a Scotch ale collaboration between Stone, Green Flash and Pizza Port Brewing, the latter of which is otherwise unavailable in the state; and some leftover Sierra Nevada XXX Anniversary beer. Green Flash's double stout will make its Texas debut Saturday, April 9, and at least two firkins will be pouring at all times. The full list is available at Matt Quenette's blog.
A year into business, and Schlabs is excited about how the restaurant is doing.
"I think a few people were skeptical about a beer joint in the Design District, but I've been pleasantly surprised," Schlabs says. "Once word of mouth took off, and because our selection is well-managed, people come seek us out."
Manager Matt Quenette, a certified cicerone (the beer equivalent to a sommelier), says he loves converting those accustomed to light American beers, or those who think only wine is appropriate for pairing with fine food.
"I can see that 'a-ha' moment in a lot of faces, when people didn't know that there could be, say, coriander and orange flavors in beer," he says. "Our beer pairing suggestions have helped people explore how beer and food work together."
Schlabs, pointing to some half-dozen new breweries popping up in the state and beer-centric stores' inability to keep high-demand beers (to say nothing of Saint Arnold Divine Reserve releases) on the shelves, believes that craft beer's surging popularity is more than a fad, even in Texas.
"I think we're on the verge of a renaissance," he says. "Even Kroger has craft beer now. I always anticipated that this could happen for beer, like wine did in the '80s."
"Craft beer is on fire so much right now stores have to ration it."
Of course, Texas faces its own challenges, with stringent alcohol regulations, antiquated labeling laws and legislative advantages that favor bigger companies over homegrown breweries. But Schlabs keeps a positive outlook, citing the momentum of small-brewer-friendly bills in the current legislative session and recent changes in Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina allowing for beer with ABVs greater than 6 percent.
"Perhaps legislators will see the value of getting Texas on the map in the beer world," he says. "We're certainly paying for our fair share."
Ale Week runs Monday, April 4 through Sunday, April 10.
Monday is the four-course, six-beer dinner with Koch, including Stone's 2008 imperial Russian stout for $85.
Tuesday offers a $65 three-course, five-beer dinner with Bill Graham of Ska Brewing, limited to 15 people in the Mansfield Room. Also that day is a Green Flash tap takeover with Jim Kenney.
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Wednesday, Breckenridge Brewing owner Todd Usry leads a five-beer, three-course, $65 dinner for 15. Also that day, Real Ale Brewing Co. brings the Mysterium Verum series offering Highlander, Kraken, 14th Anniversary, Devil's Share, Empire and Sisyphus '09, with a flight of the five barrel-aged beers available.
Thursday, Lagunitas Brewing Co. national sales rep Lauren Young leads a five-beer, three-course, 15-person dinner. Meanwhile, Usry will tap a cask of either Christmas Ale or 471.
Friday, Avery Brewing Co. national sales director Ted Whitney will pour a four-year vertical tasting of Samael's Strong Ale, Joe's Pils firkin and a case of Depuceleuse.
Saturday is the big day with two two-and-a-half-hour tasting sessions featuring 52 different strong ales. For $65, you get a tasting card entitling you to 10, 2-ounce samples, one 10-ounce pour, your choice of select entrees and a take-home 10-ounce snifter. Anything leftover will be available for purchase at Sunday's beer brunch.