Fifteen years and 14 locations after the June 5, 1995, opening of the original Flying Saucer on Sundance Square in Fort Worth, the franchise's "beer guru," Keith Schlabs, still relishes the opportunity to evangelize about the virtues of good beer.
That's even easier at the Meddlesome Moth, his new venture with Saucer partner Shannon Wynne, where light American adjunct lagers aren't even offered.
"I'll try to turn them on to Mama's Little Yella Pils or Sunner Kolsch," he says. "I think once you give people a little information you can educate them and allow them to carefully expand their palate and beer knowledge. We try to be heavy on the information, but not overdo it. We share that with our staff and have them share it with our customers."
What are you doing to mark the anniversary?
We had Breckenridge Brewery make us an anniversary ale for us, and that should be releasing within the next few weeks. We have a couple more planned throughout the year, but it's a matter of working out the logistics with the breweries and the ABC licensing.
The first should be a red wheat, a style that they're not accustomed to. It's a beer that one of our employees in San Antonio experimented with and really liked. So we allowed him to go up to the brewery and he and Todd Usry and the other brewers collaborated on a beer, and it should launch in the next few weeks. It's a darker wheat, made with some amber malts. I'm not sure of the exact recipe, but I hear it's very malty with a little bit of hops at the end of it, a little bit sweet and it's right around 5.5 percent. That should be released toward the end of the month.
We have two beer festivals lined up, one in Fort Worth [October 2] coinciding with Texas/OU weekend and one in Austin October 16.
How did Flying Saucer start?
In 1993, Texas allowed brew pubs to come into the state. I was working for a corporate restaurant group my first few years after college, and a buddy who knew that I liked beer told me about Yegua Creek Brewing Company. They brewed seven of their own beers, had three rotating handles and a wild-game menu with a chef and a pastry chef. It was a fun concept. I loved it. I interviewed with them, got the job and really started getting really passionate about beer and started coming in the mornings to brew with the guys. The brewer, Rob Crommie, put me to work cleaning the vessels, doing the grunt work. It was fun to get into the brewing of the beer, understand how it was made -- ike a chef putting together a recipe.
I got the idea that I could do something myself after about a year and a half, and went to Fort Worth, and the same friend [Aaron Ledyard] went with me. He and I were looking at some property and found the building that is now the Flying Saucer. We liked it a lot and went across the street to have lunch at the 8.0 and found that Shannon Wynne was working the room that day. He knew my friend Aaron, and sat down with us and we told him that we were going to open a brewpub across the street and would be his neighbor. Obviously, we were young and eager. Shannon was real interested and invited us into his office the following week. He already had a plan for a beer joint that served other people's beer, and wanted to call it Flying Saucer. He had the idea for the plates already, but he needed someone who knew something about beer. It was really a great coincidence that I happened to be there at the time.
Schlabs became the first general manager and created the menu and the idea of the "Beer Knurd" club after his friend Aaron Ledyard read about beer festival "knurds"--"knurd" being "drunk" spelled backwards. Since then he has gone to beer school at Sierra Nevada and learned from brewers at Scourmont Abbey (Chimay), Timmermans, De Koninck and others, plus buddied up to American brewing legends like Garrett Oliver and Sam Calagione.
What's the first beer you had that made you realize that there is more to beer than Budweiser?
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. That was a game changer right there. It's interesting to think that back then, it was shockingly bitter. I liked the piney and citrus notes. I never really enjoyed beer before that. I'd tried Shiner Bock and light beers. Don't get me wrong, I drank plenty of beer, but Shiner Bock and some of the beers I was drinking in college didn't really do it for me.
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What are some beers you're excited about right now that keep that enthusiasm going?
It changes quite a lot, but I am a big fan of hops. When I'm drinking with my wife, I'll have Ska Modus Hoperandi readily available. I've had a few Blanche De Bruxelles lately. I had an '05 Dogfish Head Immort Ale the other day that I thought was fantastic. These obscure beers are a lot of fun. I'm a big fan of North Coast Brewing Company. Their Old Rasputin is one of the best of its [Russian Imperial Stout] style. Every now and then a barleywine of some sort. Ommegang makes great stuff, and I'm real excited about Allagash [which will be featured in a June 28 beer dinner at the Moth; five varieties will be featured in the meal, which is $65 or $60 for Beer Knurds].
In other beer news, the Old Monk and Renfield's Corner pubs received four firkins of Stone Brewery IPA and four of Ruination double IPA last Friday. Don't know if they still have any of them left, but the plan was for the Monk to start with the IPA and, after depleting it, switch to the Ruination while Renfield's would do the opposite. Swing by and see if there's any left. Then be sure to take Dad to the Moth Sunday and have one on Shannon Wynne.