Should you need any concrete proof that the craft beer scene in Dallas has impressively evolved over the past decade, a stop into Steam Theory Brewing will likely help you out.
The proof goes beyond the fact that the gleaming, Steampunk-inspired restaurant and brewhouse sits within a bottlecap's throw of the building that once housed Four Corners Brewing, one of the primary players in the local beer boom circa 2012, before its move to The Cedars. The contrast between the sleek style of Steam Theory’s present and the memories of the old tire swing that used to dangle in the middle of the Four Corners warehouse operation is something to behold.
But more important, Steam Theory, open since last summer, is the sort of full-service operation beer lovers of North Texas could have only dreamed of back then when concrete floors and a lack of heating or AC were often the primary design elements of many local taprooms. An immaculate, airy space — offering not only a large number of beers brewed on-premise but a sizable food menu to match — is a killer concept on paper, but fancy flight holders, strikingly designed furniture and a trendy address aren’t worth much if the beer isn’t great.
Let’s end the suspense: This beer is absolutely worth a damn.
On a recent visit, when the all-day Saturday and Sunday happy hour meant beers were $1 off, it was easy to discover that Steam Theory’s philosophy of focusing on traditional styles paid off. Of the 23 beers available, with all but two being Steam Theory beers, there weren’t any trendy or edgy offerings — no milkshake IPAs or anything brewed with peppers. Seeking something from a cask? Sorry. Hoping to quench your thirst with something sour? You had one choice, and it wasn’t a Steam Theory offering.
That’s not to say there wasn’t a range of flavors, styles and profiles. Over the course of two flights with six 4-ounce beers each, an attractive spectrum cascading from light to medium to dark revealed itself. On the light and crisp end, the La Resistance (6 percent ABV) proved to be a highly approachable French saison with just enough of that farmhouse funk to keep die-hards happy, but not so much that a burgeoning beer nerd would be scared away. Similarly, the Burning Down the Haus Bavarian hefeweizen (5.1 percent ABV) was far crisper than your average, wheat-forward hefe, with banana notes and a slight bubblegum aftertaste.
Some of the beers in the middle of the brewery’s rainbow fell into a sort of middle ground of flavor. The Singularity blonde ale (5.8 percent ABV) and the Equilibrium American red ale (6.6 percent ABV) were certainly fine examples, but not any better than the many others of the same styles from any number of local brewers. That’s arguably part of the risk a brewery undertakes when placing its emphasis on traditional beers in a local market that’s been drinking such standard styles (from competing brewers) for so long.
The West Coast-style wet hop IPA Comet Sutra (6.9 percent ABV) offered a nice, almost spicy complexity, while the Brutally Frank brut IPA (8.3 percent ABV) was a refreshing, citrus-forward sipper betraying its higher ABV. Unlike the blonde and red, the Brew Bohemians Czech pilsner (6.2 percent) rose above the glut of recent craft-brewed pilsners with a delicate hop-forward distinction that your aunt from out of town can appreciate when she visits and wants a sample of local flavor.
There’s a lot of ambition to behold when hanging at Steam Theory for a couple of hours, and perhaps the most enjoyably ambitious element is the quirk factor in many of the beer names. There are plenty of local shout-outs (like the Trinity Grooves American pale ale), but for super fans of The Office, there’s no defeating the Threat Level Midnight American stout (7.2 percent ABV). It's a dark, roasty brew with just enough natural sweetness, and we’re not sure if Michael Scott is bold enough to drink it, but we’re beyond certain that his alter-ego Michael Scarn could down gallons of this highly sippable stout.
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And speaking of sipping brews, the Glutenous Maximus Wee Heavy (11.1 percent ABV) might be our new favorite dessert, thanks to a smooth but robust blend of caramel and toffee notes that offered a gorgeous, buttery finish.
The Dallas beer landscape has grown in many exciting ways, but Steam Theory makes the case that regardless of size, scope or sizzle, any brewery looking to make its mark must first master the basics of simply brewing tasty beer people want to drink.
Steam Theory Brewing, 340 Singleton Blvd. (West Dallas/Trinity Groves)