The buzz for Big Texas Beer Fest on Saturday morning was palpable miles away from Fair Park. From the Mockingbird Station where I embarked, people of all stripes, many sporting T-shirts from breweries and the bars where they're served, were packed like anchovies into the DART train. Despite the occasional befuddled passenger cocking a head and wondering, sometimes aloud, where all these people came from, it was obvious we all shared a destination.
The Fairgrounds were no less crowded shortly after noon, with the line snaking all the way from the Automotive Building to the gate by the Fair Park DART stop and just a handful of ticket takers. After a few minutes of confusion, I ran into organizer Chad Montgomery and was able to retrieve my press pass without standing in line -- a huge relief. I later heard that the lines right at opening time lasted more than 45 minutes, settling to 10 to 20 minutes a few hours (and a few floated kegs) later.
The long line was the only glaring misstep I noticed that could be laid at the feet of Montgomery and his wife, Nellie. With very limited food options, the lines for a bite to eat were problematic as well, but there's little the Montgomerys could do about that: All but three of the area's food trucks inexplicably blew off a golden opportunity to get their names in front of thousands of people and earn a shitload of money.
Otherwise, the event looked like it was successful beyond even my most optimistic expectations. I generally expect the majority at such beer-centric events to be mainly middle-aged upper-class white dudes, but this was an interesting cross-section of Dallas and the outlying burbs. Along with the Europhiles in kilts or Premiere League jerseys, guys with mohawks, longhaired dudes in metal concert T-shirts, yuppies, hot co-eds and old farts of every color mingled, with friendly conversation between strangers of wildly different demographics the norm. Beer tends to have that effect, particularly when you're waiting in line for an in-demand brew.
And the lines inside the hangar-like Automotive Building were the surest sign that North Texas beer drinkers are becoming savvier by the pour. Booths for corporate-owned beers such as Pabst Blue Ribbon and Tecate often had no visible takers at all, and pseudo-craft beers such as Shock Top and Blue Moon must have had plenty of leftovers at the end of the fest. Even Widmer Brothers, Kona and Redhook, companies that began as independent breweries but are now part of the partially Anheuser Busch-owned Craft Brewers Alliance, had scant few takers.
Entertainment seemed to be a hit as well, even if most were listening at a distance that rendered the music all but incomprehensible in the building, which was clearly not designed with pristine acoustics in mind. Fish Fry Bingo's hard-rocking bluegrass set the raucous mood early and The O's kept it going. O's singer/guitarist John Pedigo didn't mind that so few ventured close to the stage. "There's beer over there," he said pointing toward the booths a stone's throw away. "And it's free."
I tried more than 20 beers, nearly all of which were new to me or to the area. A few stood out in particular. The cask-conditioned Rahr & Sons Ugly Pug with vanilla was a twist on the brewery's standby black lager, creamy and with just a touch of vanilla that didn't overwhelm. No Label's Jalapeño Ale was great. I've never liked peppered beers, but this one -- a pale ale made with reduced hops and an addition of 60 pounds of jalapeños -- had just a touch of spiciness and was actually really refreshing.
A few people passed out on the Fairgrounds lawn notwithstanding, there didn't seem to be too many drunks leaving the fest afterward. The lines for in-demand beers forced you to pace yourself; it would have taken some work and some less picky beer-drinking to get hammered. I certainly left with a nice buzz, but I'm not sure whether it was from the alcohol or the excitement of seeing that the Dallas beer scene has truly arrived.
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