Lakewood’s Taproom in Garland boasts a rainbow flag, a gay bar manager and Wayne Smith performing weekly, all while serving their signature crafts beers like the Temptress, pictured, and exclusives from the Sour Tower. (Photo by Arnold Wayne Jones)

Lakewood Brewing Co.’s Wim Bens raises a glass to the gay community

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  |  Executive Editor

Foodie culture spawned the locovore movement, the farm-to-table movement and even the cocktail movement. But for Wim Bens, the food trend that has meant the most to him is the rise in craft beers. Although born in Belgium — a pedigree, Bens admits, closely associated with three products: “Chocolate, waffles and beer” — that was not the instigating factor that led him to create Lakewood Brewing in 2011.

“I moved [to the U.S.] when I was 7,” he says, “but I got taste for beer at a very young age — I like to joke that the drinking age there is more of a suggestion than a law — but it is so ubiquitous that it’s sort of taken for granted. It is very cultural and part of the [national] identity, but it is not the same as the craft beer culture here. Craft beer here is so new and innovative, people are excited about it; Belgian beer culture is about the tradition.”

The distinction is what led Bens to morph from homebrewer with a set-up in his old house in Lakewood (hence the name) to one of the leaders of the North Texas craft beer craze of the last decade.

LBC-Temptress6Although a national phenomenon, it has been especially active in North Texas. Consider: In 2004, Rahr & Sons became the first local microbrewery in decades; it was joined in 2008 by Franconia. By 2014, at least a dozen more microbreweries opened, and many gained quick and loyal followings for their signature beers: Mosaic IPA from Community; Dallas Blonde and Double IPA from Deep Ellum; Peticolas’ Velvet Hammer; and, of course, “the beer that built Lakewood,” the Temptress.

He admits the Temptress was an unlikely smash; it’s an imperial milk stout, with a dark, ebony luster and 9.1 ABV (alcohol by volume). “It was supposed to be a winter seasonal, but people were going bananas over it. But Temptress is a dark beer that sells like hotcakes in the middle of the summer.”

Add to that Lakewood’s Till & Toil saison, specialty versions of Temptress (mole, raspberry, coconut) and his ever-evolving slate of widely-consumed brews, and you’re confronted with a success story you can actually taste.

“I’m proud of all the beers we make because we make high quality consistently, which is a challenge and shows the talent that we have — it’s easy to make a good beer once, but not be able to repeat it.” Since 2012, Lakewood’s production has increased nearly 10 fold. And that success extends far beyond the product, and into Lakewood’s support of the gay community. (More on that in a bit.)

“At first [brewing] was a hobby — let’s make some beer in the garage. But like with any hobby, you try to better yourself,” Bens says. After tinkering at home, he realized there was some potential to turn his passion into a real enterprise. So his next step was getting a beer education (he graduated from the American Brewers Guild in 2010) and some experience under his belt (he worked at Fort Worth-based Rahr for a few months before incorporating Lakewood). Then he ventured out on his own.

“We started with three employees,” including himself, he says. ”I think at the end of the first year we were up to 13, including sales people, production people and delivery people. Now we are 100 percent distributed through wholesalers.”

And as his employee base grew, so did the number of LGBT people working for Lakewood.

“The brewery is built on four core values: family, community spirit, creativity and inclusiveness,” Bens says. “We try to embody that with the brand we produce, the beers we put out and company culture. And since we’ve always had between 10 and 20 percent LGBT employes,” it made sense to support gay equality.

Brewery2“We make beer for everybody, and we employ everybody and have been very vocal advocates of LGBT rights and marriage equality. When [the U.S. Supreme Court recognized a federal right to same-sex marriage in 2015], we had already printed up glasses in support,” he says. “Though the craft beer culture is built on an open door policy, I think a lot of the LGBT community had been underserved by craft beer — no one really wanted to take that leap and stick their neck out.” But going back to the core values, Lakewood Brewing embraced the corporate activism. “There was a risk to come out and support the LGBT community, but a risk we were comfortable with.”

The initial reaction from other breweries when the pro-marriage glasses were printed was curiosity — had Bens heard consumers complain? He admits there was some blowback … but much more support. “If we lose a customer because of who we are, then we don’t lose much,” he says.

Bens and company doubled down with that support with the decision earlier this year to become the first-ever name sponsor of Dallas’ gay Pride parade. “I think if you go back to the value of community spirit, obviously being a Pride sponsor was tied to that, he says. And it was an experience he thoroughly enjoyed.

“It was fantastic. That was my first parade to go to — not gay Pride parade… any parade! It was pretty cool. I think the only way I will be able to attend a parade in the future is to be in it.”

But Pride isn’t a Sunday-in-September thing; it’s year round, as Lakewood demonstrated with its expanded taproom in which proudly hangs a rainbow flag (Bens even showed up to our photoshoot wearing a rainbow T-shirt — a total happenstance, he insists, as he had initially forgot we were meeting that day); Wayne Smith performs his Cher-E-Okee show there weekly as well. Consistency isn’t just a good quality in beers; it’s a good quality in humanity.           

Lakewood Brewing’s Taproom is located at 2302 Executive Drive, Garland. Open weekdays from 3 p.m. and weekends from noon. Cher-E-Okee Tuesdays, 7–9 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 13, 2017.