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Malai Kitchen is Basically Dallas' Only Brewpub, and It Deserves our Love

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Last summer, Texas laws governing alcohol sales changed slightly -- not nearly as much as they should have -- allowing a brewer operating under a "brewpub" license to produce more beer and, most importantly, sell it outside of their own establishments. This is why we're seeing a rash of new microbreweries popping up with this license -- Shannon Brewing, Collective Brewing -- and traditional brewpubs with an eye toward distribution now in the works -- Small Brewpub and BrainDead Brewpub, among others.

But the brewpub license itself has been around since 1993, allowing restaurants to turn their kitchens into makeshift breweries and make their own beer to serve alongside their food. About a half-dozen restaurants took the bait and gave it a shot in the early mid-90s, but none survived for long in a market that still demanded Bud-Miller-Coors. Several national chains, like BJ's and Gordon-Biersch, have pushed the "brewpub" concept pretty hard in their marketing, despite not actually making any beer on most sites and, also, making bad beer. With Union Bear now (sadly) closed, and none of the newsmakers yet open, I can only find one local Dallas restaurant that's taken up the state of Texas on its brewpub offer: Malai Kitchen in the West Village.

When I visited last week, chef/owner Braden Wages had three brews on tap. The first two have been honed since last spring, when Malai debuted their brewpub offerings -- Bai Hoi, a Vietnamese rice lager, and Thai-PA, an IPA flavored with Thai herbs. Bai Hoi is brewed with a 50/50 mix of rice and barley and clocks in at 5.2 percent ABV. It's cloudy and a bit more aromatic than I was expecting, but it's main function is as an effortlessly drinkable thirst quencher that lends itself well to an outdoor patio and bowls of spice. Thai-PA is not a hop-head's dream, but it's light and citrusy that makes a good base for the Thai spices -- coriander, lemongrass, turmeric, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, ginger -- to make themselves known.

Thai-One-on is their rotator beer, of which they recently debuted a Maibock. Maibocks are traditionally brewed as a spring beer (Mai = May), celebrating the end of the oppression of severe winters. Braden said the style made more sense in North Texas during the early fall, to celebrate the end of our own severe season -- 100-plus degree summers. Though most bocks are brown, Maibocks are generally golden and this one seemed even a shade more golden than others. Braden's version is bright, boldly hopped, and a pretty refreshing sip in the sea of dark, spicy seasonals that are typically released in the fall.

I like it when folks who brew for a local audience -- and a brewpub epitomizes this, brewing to accompany a set menu in a particular place -- go out of there way to try and make something unique. Brewing pumpkin beer in Texas is a bit like spraying fake snow on a shop window in Hawaii at Christmas; it's traditional, I suppose, but it's also pretty stupid. A fall day in North Texas is more likely to be 88 and go well with a golden maibock than it is to be 35 and require a dark, smoky porter. This is the whole point of brewing -- and drinking -- local, so we don't have to pretend we're in Boston and drink whatever Sammy tells us is "seasonal."

To this end, Braden and his team are doing it right, focusing on place, and offering something unique. (I should note that Rahr & Sons also make a seasonal maibock, but they release it during its traditional springtime.) It doesn't hurt that he also makes a living building one heckuva' banh mi sandwich that isn't reminiscent of, you know, a maniacal occupying military force. Until more folks open up real brewpubs, a West Village-based Vietnamese/Thai restaurant is keeping the flame of super-localized beer in Big D.

Because Dallas is a strange, strange city sometimes.

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