2011: The Year in North Texas Beer

Has there been a better year for beer drinkers in North Texas, and particularly Dallas, than 2011? Not one that I can think of, for reasons enumerated in the awards below.

My year's wrap-up isn't over. Coming soon are my favorite beers of the year and a run-down of the good and the bad in winter seasonals and Christmas beers. But with the blogs taking a couple days off for the holidays, they'll probably be coming a few days after you've already popped the top on a bottle of something special (and I'm not talking about champagne or even Infinium).

Best Event
While it wasn't without its logistical snafus, and while the cancellation of Dallas Beer Festival was a bummer, Dallas Beer Week was a blast. Even if not everyone wanted to participate, it got people excited about craft beer and got ostensible competitors to join in its celebration.

Best Anniversary
If the Meddlesome Moth keeps putting on events as exciting as Ale Week, which brought in a who's-who list of brewing stars including Greg Koch of Stone Brewing Co., we can forgive their snubbing of Dallas Beer Week.

Best Consumer Advocacy
The benefit to small, locally owned businesses in changing Texas' weirdly anti-beer alcohol laws is obvious. Making it easier for small breweries to sell their products would level the playing field and not give so many advantages to wineries and the huge foreign-owned breweries whose light beers have the lion's share of sales revenue in the state. But it would also benefit consumers, too, which is why some Houston beer drinkers formed Open The Taps in response to yet another legislative disappointment when a couple of modest proposed bills that would benefit craft breweries were slapped down this past spring. Hopefully the 2014 legislative session will be different.

Best Store Opening
You know what's not a good idea? Paying a first-time visit to Spec's 10 minutes before the store closes. That was how I first experienced the emporium of liquor, beer, wine, cheese, sausage, kitchen gadgets and more. A speed-walk through the beer aisle and beer cooler revealed a few totally unfamiliar brands and bottles I've never seen in any Dallas stores, most at lower prices than I expected. Next time - and there will be a next time very soon - I'll slot out as much time as I usually allot for an unhurried visit to Half Price Books. Now I see why people were so excited for the chain to expand into Dallas for the first time.

Brewpub Idea of the Year
My wife is about to start working for a restaurant owned by the Spillers Group, which will soon open Union Bear in the West Village. Even with that disclosure out there, I feel conflicted about telling you what a great idea it is to open a pub where customers can BREW THEIR OWN BEER. So I'll let Teresa Gubbins do the talking.

Best News of the Year
As exciting as it was that the whole city is now wet (or at least beer-and-wine wet) and the lawsuit trying to overturn the will of the voters is finally dead as a hammer, there's no question that the best news for Dallas beer drinkers is the arrival of Deep Ellum Brewing Co. with Peticolas Brewing Company and Lakewood Brewing Company close behind. Peticolas, located in the Design District, was on schedule to start its first batch, Velvet Hammer, this week after passing last week's state inspection. And Lakewood is moving into its new home in, uh, Garland. In fact, you can start your New Year's Eve festivities early with a 1 p.m tour at DEBC featuring Festivus and the awesome imperial rye stout Darkest Hour.

Brewery of the Year
Jester King. What a first year it was for Jester King, starting with its January grand opening party. Great collaboration beers and events with "Gypsy Brewer" Mikkel Borg Bjergsø of Mikkeller. The drastic response to the issue of overcarbonation in Commercial Suicide bottles by changing to an all-farmhouse-yeast operation (with a few sour and wild exceptions) and then a bottle recall. Yet its biggest waves in the brewing world came not from a taproom or brew-house, but from a court room. The upstart company, along with took the bold step of suing the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission -- and won on two of its complaints. According to U.S. Western District Judge Sam Sparks' decision, beers can now be labeled "beer" or "ale" or both, rather than the TABC's former antiquated, arbitrary and often-inaccurate requirement that beers measuring 4 percent alcohol by weight (about 5 percent ABV) or less be labeled "beer" and those above that threshold be labeled "ale" or "malt liquor." Meaning no more embarrassing "Malt Liquor in Texas" labels. Also, breweries are now allowed to join the ranks of wineries and just about every other legal business on earth and actually tell customers where they can buy the product.

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Jesse Hughey
Contact: Jesse Hughey