It’s nearly impossible to keep track of all the breweries and brewpubs opening and obtaining licenses in the Dallas and Fort Worth city limits right now. But that cluster in between the two metro bookends — known as the Mid-Cities — hasn’t seen quite the same explosion, not on the Tarrant County side of the spectrum, at least.
But it was only a matter of time before that changed. Other than a couple of great brewers in Arlington, which is more of its own city than one of the more standard suburban spots, the Mid-Cities offers plenty of room for craft beer growth. New Main Brewing in Pantego, Turning Point Beer in Bedford and Shannon Brewing in Keller are indeed bright spots worthy of a visit from beer snobs on either far side of DFW, but soon, North Richland Hills will have its own stop on the Mid-Cities brew tour map, thanks to the enterprising locals behind Brutal Beerworks.
As is often the case with upstart breweries, Brutal’s roots sprout from the fertile North Texas homebrewing scene. North Richland Hills resident Eric Johnson, who co-owns Brutal with Sallie McIntyre, and Jason Perez of Watauga, began home brewing as a hobby in 2008. It’s important to note that Perez isn’t just any ordinary brew buddy, either. He’s the former head brewer for Martin House Brewing in Fort Worth.
In 2015, Johnson’s Belgian Blonde aged with raspberries took home a gold medal from Deep Ellum Brewing’s annual Labor of Love homebrew competition. More medals from other noteworthy regional competitions soon followed. Almost as much as anything else, those grand signs of validation gave Johnson the confidence to begin turning his hobby into a full-fledged business.
That vision will soon result in an “Open for business” sign on Grapevine Highway, just a couple of blocks from the Tarrant County College Northeast campus that sits near the border of Hurst and North Richland Hills. The construction on Brutal’s six-barrel brewhouse and taproom could be complete as soon as this month, Johnson says, though no official opening date has been set just yet.
Their name is derived from the process Johnson and his team have endured to make the journey from homebrew hobbyists to craft beer professionals. In fact, the name was changed from its original one to Brutal a while back, thanks to the arduous journey. “Brutal” might be a harshly dramatic term, but Johnson makes it clear it’s a fitting one because he and his co-owners “grew up in very poor situations” and “didn’t take handouts from Dad or Mom and are not trust fund kids.”
“The name Brutal Beerworks,” he says, “comes from knowing how hard and how much it was going to take to open a brewery along with our everyday lives going on at the same time. That wasn’t always going to be the name either. The first person to come into the brewery when we open to tell me the original name gets a beer on me.”
Johnson says the space will be designed in a “clean and open” manner so that patrons will never be confused as to what they’re drinking or where they’re drinking it.
“Our focus for the overall design has been on making sure that everyone will see our equipment,” he says, "so they can have a few beers right next to where we made them.”
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When the taproom does open, Brutal’s flavor focus will be rather bold, eschewing, initially at least, the all-too-common trend of approachable session beers. The tap wall will feature 16 offerings, which will include a couple of taps reserved for cold brew coffee and “some pretty unique soda choices,” Johnson says. Sweet stouts, hazy IPAs, as well as Belgian and German styles will all be part of the brewery’s regular rotation when the doors open. Johnson says his Mango Milkshake IPA and Little Debbie Strawberry Shortcake Milkshake IPA have been the two beers of his most requested by people eager to have Brutal’s taproom open for business.
Although the Mid-Cities isn't just yet an oversaturated hotbed of craft breweries, Brutal, just like the many dozens of other North Texas brewers, must find a way to establish itself in an increasingly crowded market. Johnson is confident they will do just that, and he’ll draw from the path that’s led him to this point to guide Brutal into the future.
“I think we’ll stand out because we have no need, nor want, to grow beyond our means,” he says. “We like being a small craft brewery. Our focus is making great Texas craft beer and bringing people together over just that.”
Brutal Beerworks, 8447 Boulevard 26, North Richland Hills