Since 2006, a Father-Son duo has helped give the suburbs north of Dallas a true beer-nerd clubhouse in the form of Lonestar Beverages in Carrollton. But as of the past week, Sam and Rick Ali have added a seductive new element to craft-beer loving here in the Dallas-area as Lonestar Taps and Caps, a long-time dream of the Ali's is now open and already hopping. Until the soft-opening back on December 5, possessors of empty growlers had to choose between a well-meaning but meager selection from Whole Foods in Addison, or trek down to Lakewood Growler or Craft and Growler in Expo Park to fill up on to-go, draft-style sexiness.
Sitting on the Southeast corner of the Sam Rayburn Tollway/State Highway 121 and Josey Lane, just inside Lewisville's city limits, bordering Carrollton and The Colony, the 1,800 square foot Taps and Caps is quite the destination for hop-heads, stout-snobs, and porter-pickers.
On Saturday, at the never-too-early-to-start hour of noon, with a full week of operation under its belt, the front door rarely stayed closed, as the twenty chairs at five, locally-crafted wooden tables rarely were left lonely for more than a few minutes. For Rick Ali, Sam's impressively bearded son, the busy nature of the week had been welcome, but a tad surprising, given that his team hadn't advertised the soft opening aside from a few mentions via social media.
"We let people know about our soft-opening on Facebook and Twitter," Rick said as he took a break from tending bar. "And we would tell people who shopped at Lonestar Beverage, but there've been more people show up this week than I imagined."
There's much to admire about the new shop, which is open seven days a week, namely the fifty taps with beers ranging from local favorites to obscure offerings. But unlike the area's other growler shops, Taps and Caps offers most of the available beers in six different drinkable manners. To go along with the standard growler fills of 64 and 32 ounces as well as by-the-pint pricing, the Ali's stepped things up considerably. One can stroll in at any time, look at the electronic menu board -- similar to the one at Lakewood Growler -- and pick a beer to enjoy as a 4 ounce "taster," a flight of four tasters (which come in handmade wooden flight trays, no less), or one can take home one a hand-picked brew in a "Crowler." No, that isn't a typo.
A crowler is an open-topped, silver 32 ounce aluminum can that, right in front of your amazed eyes, gets dashed with CO2 gas for carbonation, then filled with your chosen suds, then swiftly sealed at the top with a standard pop-top lid then labeled with a black and white wrap-around sticker. Using a $3,500 hand-powered canning machine that the Ali's purchased directly from the Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont, Colorado a few months ago, Taps and Caps is offering something few others can. As it just so happens, the western side of the Metroplex has the crowler option thanks to Fort Worth's Collective Brewing Project, but the young, irreverent brewery's taproom is only open on Friday and Saturday. There are a few crowler canning machines making people happy in spots such as Chicago's DryHop, Mendez Fuel in Coral Gables, Florida and select Oskar Blues outlets in Colorado, among a very small batch of other places. But for us in north Texas, Taps and Caps is a bit of a crowler trailblazer.
With a freshly-sealed crowler of (512) Brewing's Pecan Porter and a 64 ounce growler of Peticolas' beloved seasonal 10% ABV Wintervention Ale ready to take home, we made our way through a flight of regional selections including the Peticolas Lost Epic (#31), Live Oak Brewing's Hefeweizen (#32), Deep Ellum Brewing's Four Swords (#15) and Real Ale's The Kraken (#22) in short, but methodical order. Thanks to the often unusual options available and the knowledgeable friendliness of both the staff and fellow patrons, folks who fail to hang out for a bit tend to miss out on what is a surprisingly interactive beer event.
It's important to note the colorful, informative electronic menu board is located on the room's south wall, well before one would get to the tap wall and where the two cash registers are placed. This isn't an insignificant, or accidental, arrangement. The rushed anxiety that often accompanies placing an order with your bartender staring at you can be a pain. Listing the prices, style, ABV percentage, the origin city, and most importantly, the amount of liquid left in the keg of each elixir, the electronic display proved to be quite entertaining. As we sipped from our flight, picking out the beers and breweries we weren't familiar with from the list became a beer-geek version of pub trivia or a Golden Tee game. Such brain-busting led us to pick the beer with the second highest ABV at that time for our next drink- Epic Brewing Company's (Salt Lake City, Utah) Big Bad Baptist. The magnificent imperial stout indeed showed its full 12.5% ABV, but the finish was cleaner than expected, even with the decadent chocolate aftertaste.
The choices of what will and will not be offered at Taps and Caps will be made similar to how the inventory at Lonestar Beverage is handled. Rick said he has always employed a combination of what he personally enjoys, with what his many regular customers ask for most often, and indeed, simply "what sells."
Crowlers, flights and fancy menu boards aside, the beer selection will be the main attraction of Taps and Caps moving forward, according to Rick. The relationships and good reputation he and his father have fostered and earned as they've made their tiny but killer bottle shop south of their new bar will help them have access to beers, ciders and barleywines that other bars may never get their hands on. On Saturday, five barleywines, a root beer and an intriguing cider, Aspall's blackberry-enhanced Perronelle's Blush from England, were available. And in a seemingly against-the-grain decision, local beer isn't going to dominate the menu, simply because selling local brews may generate buzz. In fact, it was somewhat startling to look down the list and see only 15 north Texas beers represented among the 50 handles.
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Rick's simple philosophy has served Lonestar Beverage well for years, and seems to be serving Taps and Caps well already.
"It's about what's good," Rick said, after I gushed over the revelatory power of the Big Bad Baptist. "I like local beers as much as anyone else, but I love a lot of beers that aren't from around here and that are hard to get in this area, so we're going to offer those beers also. This is going to be the kind of place that I would want to go to all of the time."