We took a look at the bustling brew scene in Fort Worth last month, but if recent activity is any indicator, East Dallas is poised to restore some geographic balance to craft beer terrain in the area. Woodcreek and Hemisphere brewing companies are in full production in Rockwall, with Royse City’s Thirsty Bro Brewing Co. set to join them soon. Right now, though, if you are looking to spend a family-friendly evening lingering over some of the best shared plates and Euro-Californian brews in DFW, your go-to destination is Bankhead Brewing, Rowlett’s first brewpub.
Bankhead is the shared vision of chef Kevin Lefere and brewmaster Ryan Pyle. Lefere, a veteran of several DFW kitchens, is best known for his Italian/Mediterranean concept Zanata, located across Lake Ray Hubbard in Rockwall. Pyle is a familiar face in North Texas homebrew circles. He’s been making beer for going on 20 years, honing his skills on traditional European styles while serving as the president of the Rockwall Brewers’ Association and as a certified beer judge at regional homebrew competitions.
It was at last year’s Bluebonnet Brew-Off, in fact, that Pyle met Chad Moshier, who was preparing to relocate to Texas from California. It was a providential meeting: in addition to being a Certified Cicerone® and a producer for the massively popular Brewing Network podcast, Moshier had helped launch several Bay Area brewpubs. After a brief courtship, Moshier came on as Bankhead’s head brewer, helping Pyle keep Bankhead’s 15-barrel system humming.
American innovation and European tradition play out in a distinctively Texan way on Bankhead’s beer menu. Traditional German and English recipes take the lion’s share of the board, and deservedly so; lagers can be a hard sell for some wild-style American palates, but Pyle’s mastery of brewing fundamentals (and, especially, his control of Bankhead’s water supply — all the H2O undergoes reverse osmosis, after which Pyle adds back in whichever minerals are most conducive to the brew) results in undeniably great beer.
Take the Giggle Water, a Vienna lager, which had both body and personality, leaning in on toasted cereal caramel from the nose on down, or the Hoot 'Nanny Munich Bock, which followed a similar trajectory while notching the mouthfeel up a few degrees. The Hoofer’s Hev, a Bavarian hefeweizen, nailed the banana-and-cloves balance like too many hefeweizen’s do not. For our money, it stands poised to join Live Oak and Big Bend in the Texas Hefe Triumvirate. It was a flawless exercise in beer fundamentals. We’ll have to clear out some sour space in the beer fridge for a growler of this stuff.
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Bankhead’s brewtanks aren’t pure tradition, however. Moshier’s pale ale advocacy is well-served by the Wheels Off West Coast Pale Ale. Pyle and Moshier didn’t skimp on the Centennial and Citra hops on this one, yet managed to sand off the bitter hop spike that puts some folks off the defensive. We also scored a sample of an imperial oatmeal stout, which is currently spending some time in Witherspoon Distillery whiskey barrels and which Pyle already gauges at 12.5 percent ABV.
It's an auspicious start for an establishment that is barely five weeks old. For Moshier, Bankhead's initial success and the continued growth of the North Texas beer market in general bring back good memories and point toward future glories.
“It’s kind of like going back in beer time. When I moved here, it was kind of like going back 10 years in California when the boom hit," he said. "Brewpubs were opening. Production facilities were opening. Now everyone’s doing great. Everyone’s growing. I see that happening in Dallas. When I first came here last year, I was like ‘OK, there’s Deep Ellum, there’s Community. Those are the big dogs. There’s Lakewood, Revolver.’ So those are the guys you’d heard of, but now you see all these other breweries popping up. You see your Woodcreeks, your Intrinsics, your Braindeads.
"The level of Dallas, where it’s at versus California, it’s up-and-coming right now. You feel that excitement, you feel that vibe, you see the average domestic drinker gravitating towards craft beer. That’s what I experienced in California, and I see it happening here."