Before Brutal Beerworks in North Richland Hills held its grand opening in June, co-owner Eric Johnson was direct and plainspoken when it came to how his operation would find its own niche in the Mid-Cities.
“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.”
While Fort Worth and Arlington have been serving craft beer lovers on the western side of DFW International Airport fairly well in recent years, it’s not exactly a closely guarded secret that the Tarrant County-located Mid-Cities area of Bedford, Euless, Hurst, Haltom City and North Richland Hills isn’t frothing over with craft beer activity. But that’s changing in a flavorfully encouraging way.
Bedford’s Turning Point Brewing has been injecting bold, colorful beers into the suburbs of Fort Worth since early 2018, and Brutal makes for a fantastic addition. With 12 beers on tap during a recent visit, it was easy to see that middle-of-the-road, sessionable brews aren’t really what Brutal is all about.
Nestled in a relatively nondescript strip shopping center near Tarrant County College’s Northeast Campus, Brutal welcomed a steady stream of customers just after opening its doors on a recent Saturday visit. Many of the early arriving patrons sported T-shirts and caps from other area craft breweries.
It makes sense serious local beer lovers would make a point to stop into Brutal early on the weekend. One look around the brewery is all one needs to see how serious Brutal Beerworks is about creating an inviting atmosphere.
Bordering the half of the seating section of the space is a massive, vibrant tattoo art-style mural. Taking up what looked to be at least 40 feet of wall space, the mural focused on some sort of wild Viking octopus. The half of the former restaurant space, on the other side of the bar, housed the gleaming brewing tanks and equipment, completing a highly pleasing art and science vibe combination.
The spirit behind the lively décor could also be enjoyed in the beers. It’s nearly impossible to get a flight of four beers here that will offer similar appearances. On our visit not a single pale ale, pilsner or lager was available. Our flight presented a rainbow of pink, orange and black.
The Froot Smoothie (8% ABV) is a blackberry milkshake IPA with vanilla beans and milk sugars. Just as was the case with the other beers we tried at Brutal, the relatively high ABV wasn’t terribly obvious thanks to a complex blast of flavor. The berry tartness and floral hoppiness were expertly smoothed out with the lactose and vanilla, but not drowned out. Another adventurous fruit showcase, the Upside Down pineapple sour (6.1% ABV), was indeed sour, but yielded a thicker mouthfeel compared with other sours, thanks to the addition of actual pineapple upside down cakes during the brewing.
The Rise of Vidarr triple New England IPA (10% ABV) with its super dry, almost cider-like finish and the crisp Zenith German Kolsch (5.7% ABV), offering a far hoppier profile than many other Kolsch’s, were the two most traditional offerings, though each offered their own twists to keep them from being predictable.
The Snozberry imperial shandy-style ale with raspberries and lemonade (7.1% ABV) veered away from the cloying sweetness we were initially worried about in favor of a refreshing, clean finish perfectly suited for summertime hangs at the pool.
The funkiest, most surprising thing we tried all day was perhaps the least colorful. Much in the way that a crowded restaurant gawks at the waitress carrying a sizzling tray of fajitas through the middle of the room, heads also turn when you walk around with a glass of Gourdzilla milk stout festively topped with a twirling cone of whipped cream.
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Coming in at 6.8% ABV, the Gourdzilla isn’t an imperial stout as many other pumpkin stouts are (see: St. Arnold’s popular Pumpkinator), but what might be lacking in alcohol heft is made up for in whimsy and flavor. Brewed with pumpkin pies (yes, you read that right) and vanilla, sipping this beer through the thick whipped cream “topper” just made too much sense to not try. Impeccably balanced between the roasted notes of the stout and the sweeter notes of pumpkin pie and vanilla, there wasn’t anything to not adore.
It's impressive that in just about every case, the beer’s flavor eclipsed what one would typically expect from beers not boasting a double-digit ABV. That sort of over-delivering of expectations doesn’t simply make a beer enjoyable, but for an area still growing its craft beer scene, it’s a tremendously welcome luxury.
Brutal Beerworks, 8447 Boulevard 26, North Richland Hills. Open 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday and Tuesday.