On Saturday, the third iteration of Dallas' Big Texas Beer Fest went down at the automotive building in Fair Park. Every year that Chad and Nellie Montgomery have hosted the event, it has sold out -- a testament to the huge interest in craft beer in North Texas and their work to secure great local brewers and obscure kegs.
"There hasn't been a better time to live in Texas," Nellie told me. "At one point, we could only hope to travel to a different state to be able to try breweries like Firestone Walker and Odell. They're on our grocery store shelves now."
Just a few years ago, you would have also had to travel if you wanted to attend a world-class beer festival like the Great American Beer Fest or a handful of others. After one of these pilgrimages, the Montgomerys realized that with the craft brew explosion in Dallas, their hometown could probably support a similar festival. Nearly 4,000 people came the first year.
This year, despite the rain and the same I-30 traffic that defiled all of our city's big events over the weekend, the Big Texas Beer Fest was successful again. More than 400 beers from nearly 100 breweries were available for 2-once tastings, and everyone who got in was given a card good for 12 samples. Extra sampling cards were available for $2, an overly-reasonable price for 24 ounces of beer.
The Texas breweries were set up at either end of the building, and the middle was filled out with national and international brands. Locally, it seemed to me that everyone was represented, and there were several from the non-North parts of Texas that I had only read about but never tasted. Side note -- even random places like Pflugerville and Justin and Seven Points have their own microbreweries now. Apparently, it's officially a craft beer world and we're damn privileged to live in it.
I asked Nellie about the set up, and she said it was designed with the hope that people might discover different breweries as they travel between the ends. "We've set up Big Texas Beer Fest so that both Craft Beer Aficionados and Newbies can find a common ground and have a conversation about what they're trying."
Lots of the big boys on the national scene showed up, including Stone, New Belgium, and Dogfish Head. I was happy to see Oskar Blues ponied up for prime real estate and had a keg of Ten Fidy in Whiskey Barrels, and Founders brought along their famed Kentucky Breakfast Stout. A few true Belgians were to be found along the sides. Food trucks were outside in abundance, as well as a stage for bands to play throughout the day. It only makes sense to have the bands play outside, as the automotive building is the loudest concrete echo chamber in the world. I would have enjoyed having the food and drinks mixed up in the same space instead of separated by the doors, but even with the bands relegated to the rain, the echoes of thousands of beer enthusiasts shouting every time someone dropped a sample cup made it hard to order a drink without lots of pointing.
Speaking of, let's talk beer. Here's a copy of my sampling card along with my notes. Again, there were over 400 beers, so this is in no way meant to be representative of everyone's experience, but this is some of what I tried.
903 Sasquatch Chocolate Milk Stout Freaking delicious. Creamy, chocolate-y, and decadent, this 10.3% ABV is just begging to be substituted for dessert. And, now that you mention it...
903 Sasquatch Ice Cream by LUCK All I wrote in my notebook was, "If Jesus made ice cream instead of wine, it would have tasted like this. Hell yes." So, I think I liked it.
Cedar Creek Brewery's Lawn Ranger Cream Ale I once had a boss who, during tasting with a French winemaker visiting Dallas on a promotions tour, made America proud when he declared that this particular Chenin Blanc was "a real patio pounder." I still laugh when I remember how the accented Frenchman asked, "And what is a pah-tee-yo pun-dair?" Lawn Ranger Cream Ale is a patio pounder of the highest order. Sweet, clean, crisp, delicious. I'd like seven more, please.
Cobra Brewing Co. Hoppy Dazed IPA This was my first taste of anything from Lewisville's new brewery, and I think it could have used a little more time in testing. It starts very sweet -- think cotton candy -- and finishes like Christmas trees and bad gin.
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Firestone Walker Sucaba This was one of those rare kegs that Chad worked so hard to bring in. FW's take on an English barleywine, this brew is complicated and flavorful. Toffee? Yes. Sour cherry? Yup. Some sort of oak barrel? It's in there. If you told me you tasted kettle corn and pot roast, I would believe you.
FireWheel Brewing Co. I really like everything I've tried from them, especially their Midnight Ninja black ale. On Saturday, I took a chance on their one-off Apple IPA. I'll give them an A for effort, but I think that a different, sweeter fruit (they've made a Strawberry IPA that I've heard works well) than apple would work better. This was more like a hoppy cider, but not in an especially pleasant way.
Rognesss Brewing Co. I would really like to make fun of Rogness Yogi, a chai-spiced Amber Ale, because it tastes weird and unpleasant in all of the specific ways you would expect a beer brewed with chai to taste. But, if I were to make fun of it, someone would inevitably drag out my home-brew recipe for a Ginger Peach Tea Hefeweizen from the depths of the internet and I would have no retort. Keep on doing your thing, Rogness. And pass me a Bella, your very excellent take on a Belgian golden ale, while you're doing that weird thing.
Texian Brutus IPA English IPAs are typically not my cup of tea, but I gave it a try anyway. Slightly less hoppy than a standard American IPA, Brutus is more cedar-y than I prefer. Not my favorite, but I don't want to judge everything from this Richmond, TX company (just east of Houston) based on a style I don't really like.