Craft beers have become the rage in North Texas. What’s driving the trend?
When Eric Tschetter decided to renovate his Fort Worth pub The Pour House, he knew there would be a lot of changes: New floor, a game room, new furniture. He also knew he would be moving his bar away from the center of the room and off to the side. Why? Because he needed a long, solid wall to hold the dozens of beer taps he was adding to the menu.
And he knew those taps — all 79 of them — would serve craft beer only. It was, in many ways, an easy decision.
“This is the direction the industry is going,” Tschetter says. “Craft beer is the Next Big Thing.”
That’s especially true in North Texas. Craft beer — which Tschetter and others broadly define as “from smaller breweries, usually made with better ingredients and not normally mass produced” — has been a growing trend. There have always been local breweries (in Texas, Lone Star and Shiner have both been around for more than a century), but in the past three years, they have boomed. Just since 2011, at least 12 new microbreweries have opened in North Texas (see sidebar, Page 21). And the market seems to be sustaining the inventory.
“People love the local craft, and craft beer in general,” says Tschetter, who says The Pour House stocks around 35 Texas-based craft beers, as many as 25 from within the DFW area. (At its sister restaurant in Oak Cliff, PhD, Tschetter currently serves 18 craft beers with more to come.) “We have definitely seen a change in our customer profile. They are not as worried about what is the cheapest beer, they just want a great beer, usually without regard to price.” (Mass-produced beers are still available, just not on the craft wall, which Tschetter calls the Craft Draft.)
“Every day we see more and more people actively educating themselves and choosing to drink craft beer,” agrees Rhett Keisler, owner of Revolver Brewing. “People are pushing for local, full-flavored and interesting food products, including beer. I have heard it said that Texans are increasingly thinking about their beer the way they do their barbecue. And that is a good thing.”
The trend is expanding rapidly. Last week, the ilume announced that in May a new restaurant and bar, Cedar Springs Tap House, would open in the space at the corner of Knight and Cedar Springs, with “a focus on Texas craft beers.” And there are many more like that already in the marketplace.
“I’m most surprised by how quickly the local beer movement has taken a foothold,” says Michael Peticolas, co-owner of Peticolas Brewing, which has been in operation just over two years. “When I opened, I recall my excitement when I met a retailer who planned to pour nothing but Texas beer. Fast-forward to today, and Luck just opened with 40 taps, and every single one of them pours beer brewed in North Texas. This happened much more quickly than I anticipated.” (Customers have responded enthusiastically. In 2012, Peticolas production was 800 barrels; in 2012, it was 2,000, and Peticolas predicts that will double this year.)
For Jeff Dietzman, co-owner of Luck, a hot new gastropub in Trinity Groves, the decision to work with craft beers was a natural extension of the restaurant’s entire concept.
“[The restaurant] was always [gonna be] ‘local’ — as much local produce, protein, beer, art, coffee, soft drinks, furniture, etc., as possible. We quickly discovered that [getting] local produce and protein on a consistent basis was more easily said than done, but local beer is easy!”
Already fans of craft beers, Dietzman and his partners — co-founder Ned Steel and executive chef Daniel Pittman — made it a habit to attend new brewery openings, made weekend brewery tours a priority and started befriending many brewery owners; they even contributed to a few Kickstarter campaigns for beer makers.
“When looking at the possibility of having 20 breweries open within a 75-mile radius of the restaurant by the end of 2014, we quickly decided to have 40 taps to be able to showcase all of these breweries — and that was that,” Dietzman says. Keeping our taps localized ensures freshness, as well as make for “green” alcohol consumption: Fewer trucks burning diesel hauling kegs, can and bottles along I-35 and I-45.
At least one brewery probably doesn’t use any gas delivering to Luck. The restaurant’s next door neighbor is Four Corners Brewing Co.
“Four Corners is a big seller, especially their Local Buzz. Community’s gold medal-winning Public Ale and Mosaic IPA do great, as well as Deep Ellum’s IPA, Dallas Blonde and anything by Peticolas. These being the breweries closest to the restaurant, people like the idea — as do we — of supporting our neighbors,” Dietzman says. Other beers — Revolver’s Blood & Honey, 903’s The Chosen One Coconut Ale and Martin House’s There Will Be Stout — sell well, likely due to their uniqueness.
The names of specific beers indicate something of the appeal of craft brews: Recipes are always changing and specialties are frequently available for only brief periods of time. Such seasonality pays off for both brewery and bar owner: Fans pay close attention to release dates of new beers from favored breweries, and even more casual beer drinkers stop by their neighborhood pub to find out what’s new.
“[Seasonality] is not only important for business, but for morale as well,” says Wim Bens, owner of Lakewood Brewing (which will introduce its Valentine’s Day themed Raspberry
Temptress this week). “We all work very long hours, so making the same beer day-in, day-out can get a little old.”
“Brewing seasonal beers allows us to experiment and stretch our brewing legs,” agrees Keisler. “However, I don’t think any [brewery] should lean on variety to set themselves apart.
Each beer should be able to stand on its own.”
“Freshness matters,” adds Peticolas. “Just like a tomato grown in your backyard tastes better than the one bought from the store, beer brewed down the street tastes better than beer trucked in from who-knows-where. The beer I deliver is typically seven days old when it hits the retailer.”
So what has made the trend so powerful? Perhaps it’s a shared appreciation for quality with fellow enthusiasts.
“It’s more about a community feeling,” Tschetter speculates. “When people come in, they are excited to see what we have new on tap, and they are vocal with people around the bar.
It’s a conversation-starter for sure: ‘What are you trying? Is it good?’ Stuff like that is fun!”
Luck’s decision to go all-craft, all-local has paid off for the new restaurant. “We have had even more early success than we could’ve hoped for,” says Dietzman. “People have been very gracious to come over the bridge to give us a try.” And trying something new is what North Texas beer drinkers are realizing gives life its suds.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 7, 2014.