The eighth annual edition of the Big Texas Beer Fest in Dallas felt like the biggest one ever. On Saturday afternoon, a sold-out crowd of 5,000 filled Fair Park’s Automotive Building to take a shot at around 100 brewers offering nearly 500 beers. Add in the 2,100 that festival organizers say attended Friday night’s session, and there’s clearly a lot of truth in the title of the Big Texas Beer Festival.
Whether you’re a well-traveled cicerone or a day-tripping Miller Lite lover, there’s a great deal to love about this sort of hops- and grain-covered prom. There’s the wide selection of different breweries from different regions under one roof, and because your ticket includes 12 samples (or more for a nominal additional fee), you can really get crazy with some new, funky styles you might normally balk at buying a pint or six-pack of in a normal retail scenario. The people-watching and overall communal spirit of such an event are tough to beat.
But let’s go back to the “big” aspect of the Big Texas Beer Festival. Judging from the nearly two dozen samples we tried, with a heavy focus on beers from our area, it was clear that many of North Texas’ most beloved brewers packed their big guns for what they likely figured would be a more discerning crowd than their average group of Saturday afternoon day-drinkers. Here’s what we learned at this year’s fest:
Big stouts are all the rage.
Oak Cliff Brewing’s Canadian Tuxedo imperial stout was a decadent combination of maple and the properly syrupy mouthfeel that lets you know the stout you’ve sipped is indeed an Imperial one. Though it’s a porter, and not a stout, 903’s phenomenal Oak Aged Maple Coffee Pecan Porter Reserve drank like a special occasion stout, thanks to its sweet but refined blend. For what it’s worth, that one likely offered the most divine “nose” of any of the beers we tried, thanks to a nirvana-inducing scent of roasted coffee notes and the maple kiss.
Panther Island Brewing’s Sweet Fang peanut butter stout, coming in at only 6 percent ABV, punched well above its weight thanks to a prominent but balanced peanut butter kick that suitably complemented the roasted cocoa and coffee notes in the stout base. Fort Worth’s Hop Fusion brews the addictive Fur Slipper imperial stout, but at the fest offered its Coco Anejo coconut stout, which was nice, if a bit too heavy on the coconut sweetness in both taste and smell. Maybe more than any other single festival booth, the presence of Flix Brewhouse signals just how seriously wild and prosperous the North Texas beer landscape has become. It’s a movie theater with an impressive craft brewery attached to it, and its Barrel Aged Umbra Chocostout was a deliciously well-executed piece of evidence as to whether it belongs or not. Aged in wooden barrels from Lewisville’s Witherspoon Distillery for four months, this was a worthy beer, regardless of what type of brewery it comes from.
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Beer festivals are great for other big beers, too.
There were plenty of non-stouts available of course, with big double and triple IPAs being as prominent around the building. It was nice to have some high-ABV hoppiness cut into the opaque richness we had been primarily helping ourselves to, whether it was from an IPA or something else.
For example, Fort Worth’s Wild Acre Brewing served up a complex, throat-warming Wreck Room imperial IPA, while Keller’s Shannon Brewery poured a beautifully sweet, but wheat-forward Peaches and Cream Wheat Ale. And Peticolas served up its iconic Velvet Hammer imperial red ale from a cask, allowing the beer’s already stellar malty richness show off its deeper complexities, along with a version of its Don’t Be Scared barleywine, brewed with fresh orange peel, that came off tasting pleasingly similar to its rather new Old-Fashioned-inspired beer The Usual.
The North Texas Craft Beer Scene is still a very big deal.
Now that we’ve seen our area blossom with craft beer for over a decade now, it’s easy to take for granted just how big a deal it is that there’s a local craft beer scene at all, given how paltry the offerings were even 15 years ago. With any boom, there are some busts, and recent years have seen some local brewers close up shop. It was highly encouraging to see the lowest lines snaking in front of the booths for either local beers or ones from other parts of Texas. But one look around the festival hall, and it was brilliantly clear the bubble hasn’t burst on this beer scene, and there’s not much reason to worry about it happening any time soon.