Longhorns, honky tonks, dancing tumbleweed, dusty cowboy boots and tobacco-chewing ranch hands are just some of the images that pop into the imaginations of the city folk unfamiliar with what life is really like in modern Fort Worth.
Of course, Fort Worth is as much a gleaming metropolis as any other city with a population of one million. World-class dining, opera, symphony and museums are just as accessible in the city limits as classic country and good barbecue. But there remains plenty of small-town, country charm and a number of opportunities to understand just how Fort Worth came to be known as Cowtown.
Beer and barbecue are easy to find in Fort Worth. Open since October 2018, Cowtown Brewing Company has offered both in one setting. Sitting on the eastern edge of downtown on Belknap Street, it's a spacious brewpub with an equally expansive outdoor patio situated around the brewery’s barbecue smoker.
Given that the brewery has named itself after its city’s western-fueled nickname, and offers barbecue as its cuisine, we could’ve done without the extremely loud, generic modern rock music pumping in the taproom. Not that we encourage giving in to lazy stereotypes, but switching out Muse and Red Hot Chili Peppers with Willie, Waylon and the boys would’ve been welcome.
The draft options on a recent Saturday afternoon visit offered a pleasant array from light to dark and ranging from light and crisp to highly hoppy to decadently dark. Patrons can order a pint, choose their own flight of four 5-ounce samples or opt for a 32-ounce crowler can to take home. But no matter which of the six different brews we tried, regardless of style or which vessel we drank from, a satisfying theme connected each of them.
Each sip had an easy-drinking smoothness that often betrayed its ABV content. We’re not surprised that the Johnnie’s High Brau, a Dortmund export-style lager coming in at only 5.5%, was a crisp sipper with a clean finish. But even the beers with higher ABVs were imminently drinkable in a way that many would term “sessionable,” even though session beers don't pack 7% ABV and higher.
The Horse with No Name, a dry-hopped India pale lager (7% ABV), was bright and offered the sort of twist on the standard IPA that many examples of the aforementioned “session IPAs” hope to offer but typically fall short of. Rather than the piney or heavy floral notes in an IPA, the lager qualities led to a lightness we really enjoyed. At 9.4% ABV, the Stampede Imperial IPA wasn’t light, but a sweet spiciness, reminiscent of the El Chignon IPA from Four Corners Brewing, hit the tongue where an Imperial IPA will typically punch with a whiff of alcohol.
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The La Cabra Dorada German-style maibock (6.8% ABV) offered a slight hit of malty sweetness at first before finishing with a small hoppy twinge. The Rhinestone Cowboy is a unique take on the German-style kolsch in that it's a kolsch/blonde hybrid. With a hint of honey at first, the combo of German malts and floral hops works together for a dry finish. Coming in at 9% ABV, the Cow Tipper Imperial milk stout was an immensely satisfying, silky brew with a supremely well-balanced collection of roast chocolate and coffee notes. Even for the typically smooth milk stout variety, the Cow Tipper is a standout.
As plates of brisket and bowls of brisket queso were delivered to patrons, we couldn’t help but enjoy the whiffs of barbecue smoke that would come rushing in from outside each time the door opened form the patio area. As cliché as it might be, the thought of brewing beer in the heart of Fort Worth with a massive smoker nearby seemed to be just about perfect.
Cowtown Brewing Company, 1301 E. Belknap St., Fort Worth