Sightglass #7

Having grown up in three and a half hours north of Austin, I have visited our state capitol many times; sometimes many times a year. Seeing the town grow through my younger, less judging eyes and now through my frank, I-feel-like-I’ve-seen-a-thing-or-two eyes, I can talk with most locals about how the town, I mean city, has changed. And beer has been apart of that change for many years. Though few of those old guard breweries still remain, Austin tells of a proud heritage of people who work hard to make a good product. Sure, the influx of money, those “damn Californians” and startups has brought new groups of people, lots of development and change to Austin, at it’s core there is still a group of folks with the mentality of just “givin’ a’damn.”

As times change, some newer upstart breweries perhaps may have their histories starting with “so it all started at startup weekend,” instead of “I couldn’t find beer I liked, so I started my making my own.” And while it maybe true that some of upstart breweries have better taprooms from the beginning with logo’d yard games, polished media and NEIPA’s, that doesn’t really mean anything more than they started during a different time.

The future is very bright in Austin’s beer scene. There are many breweries that are (and are not) paying attention to the trends and going full-steam ahead with focusing on making great beer, some even with logoed yard games at their pretty taprooms. From my perspective, instead of keeping it weird in Austin, I think Austin can safely say they are working on keeping things honest.

And I can’t think of a better way to be introduced to the city’s beer scene.

Well, that and a tall glass of Pilsner.

Podcasts, Beers, Battlestar Galactica

After a long hiatus, the podcast returns!

As we’ve grown, we began to realize our need for a setup that allowed us to easily get in and record. While a mobile setup was really fun, the Casually Lit Show reached out to us about using their equipment, located at the almost-opened New Main Brewing, in Pantego. All they asked in return was high-fives and for us to tell folks that we used their stuff.

And so, December 2017, we’ve recorded three episodes, the third of which is posting to iTunes today.

With this new setup, we’re hoping for a more consistent schedule, more interviews, more hot beer(sports) opinions and more fun.

Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and stay tuned for more fun!

Going Clear: A New England IPA Story

As North Texas continues growing and maturing as a beer scene, I am seeing that the New England IPA (NEIPA) has officially entered the repertoire of experimentation for North Texas breweries. Thus far, Three Nations Brewing, Hop and Sting, Peticolas Brewing (I believe taproom only?), Division Brewing (taproom only), Chimera Brewing, Oak Highlands Brewery (taproom only), and Collective Brewing Project (fermented with Brettanomyces) have already done their own versions of the latest IPA trend.

Due to the newness of the style variant, turbidity of its nature and open to interpretation (BJBC as yet to officially consider it a style variant), the NEIPA goes by many names like Hazy IPA, Milkshake IPA and Juice/Juicy IPA, or some combination therein.

Essentially it is an unfiltered IPA or Double IPA that has been packed with a ton of fruit-forward characteristic hops, lending the flavors to more smooth and fruity flavors, rather than intense bitterness. Due to often being so highly dry-hopped, NEIPA’s flavors rely on freshness; the fresher you can get it, the better. Although, even that is up for some debate, some brewers have said they taste great at 2 months old. From my own experimentation and talking with other fans, it seems the general consensus seems to be focused on the new and fresh, with the older, less fresh versions tasting not so good.

With all of the aggressive dry-hopping, some have rebelled further against the clarity of the standard IPA and added additional ingredients, like flour (Tired Hands, Ardmore, Pensylvannia and Monkish Brewing, Torrence, California, to name a few), to enhance the cloudiness of the beers. Locally, Collective Brewing Project, has added their own spin by fermenting their version with Brettanomyces, which they call a Brett Shake IPA.

Regardless of how you brew this as-of-yet-not-recognized-by-the-BJBC beer, there is real opportunity for brewers to try their hand at something that seems to already be taking off in other beer scenes. Trends such as these can open the doors for experimentation and unique-ification of a breweries’ line-up and I believe North Texas breweries would be smart to try their hand at them. And why not? I’m not saying this because it’s a trend, folks will do things because they are trends regardless if it’s a good idea or not. I’m saying this because I want to encourage more diversity and experimentation.

Current beer fans want them, new beer fans really want them and a brewery that tries their hand at something like this won’t downplay the rest of their line-up, so what is there to lose? True enough, in another year or two we’ll likely be able to say that the NEIPA was a trend, but since we’re in the midst of it’s growth as a style we truly can’t say and so I say let’s use this as a way to encourage our local breweries to keep innovating.

See, we’ve moved beyond the time where breweries need to tie themselves to the Old World, like German, Britain and beyond styles, to encourage beer lovers to buy their beer. The standard IPA itself still feels like a trend, but it’s not going anywhere and I think we’re tired of saying that. Or, at least, I’m tired of hearing about it.

The U.S. beer drinkers have made it clear that, at least for the majority of the craft beer drinkers, the U.S. is an IPA country. And despite the style not originating here, the British are even brewing NEIPAs and calling them a NEIPA. Something I find quite ironic since the original style was brewed first in the U.K., brought here, and now we sort of own the style and have exported it back to the U.K.

Beyond worrying about brewing a style that might be already considered a fad, like the Black IPA or Session IPA before it, there is a lot of opportunity from a business standpoint. And perhaps that’s why many are jumping on the train of brewing a beer that some say is brewed for people who don’t like beer. Again, why not? What is NEIPA’s become the new gateway beer, like Witbier or Hefeweizens before it? To me, NEIPA’s feel different as a trend than the Black IPA; it feels like it could be something that sticks around.

From a business standpoint and due to the fresh flavor desirability of NEIPAs, many breweries could benefit from selling this beer directly to a consumer, should it take off. Unfortunately, here in Texas you can’t do this unless you are licensed as a brewpub and keep your yearly brewing numbers somewhat low. (My opinion of the State of Texas’ stupid liquor laws aside, if a brewery is licensed as a brewpub, they can sell beers to-go from their taproom, they could make some hefty cash for their brewery, while maintaining that ability for consumer to get the beer as fresh as possible.) I’m not saying drop distributors or selling outside of your taproom, but the more you sell from your own taproom bar, the more money stays in the brewery.

Regardless of an IPA trend, keeping money in a breweries pockets while making more beer is a good thing. This can mean more money for canning lines, fermenters, staffing, equipment upgrades and so on. It’s can be a good business decision, if it fits your breweries’ setup. Sometimes as a business you make those decisions to get to the place you want to be at. And with these sort of trends, are opportunities for breweries to build that revenue to get to that next place and I think fans are ready with their wheelbarrows.

Let’s be clear, I am not suggesting brewers should do this just for the money. Nor am I suggesting they do this because it’s a trend. Ultimately, good business decisions should be made with a focus on a quality product. Experimentation is a good thing and a vital part of brewing and a community of breweries and we need more of it!

Breweries need to keep fresh, keep the creative muscles flexing and the juices, figuratively and literally, flowing. Regardless of us as beer fans and our opinions, breweries even if it’s a small batch. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. If you don’t do it well, try something else. You don’t want to be that brewery that brews the terrible NEIPA’s, right? When a brewery experiments and tries something like this, they set themselves apart and it makes them a better brewery, which is better than the brewery who is trying to make a baseline, mediocre beer brewed for the consuming masses.

For us fans, the big question on our minds could be simply: is the NEIPA a trend?

And to that I answer, who cares?

Is the beer good? If so, let’s drink the hell out of it and hope the breweries can keep up with us.

If not, there’s plenty of other beer where it came from.

2018: A Pivotal Year for NTX Beer

Over the past year, I’ve taken a lot of time to contemplate what I do on this blog and the North Texas beer scene. Since 2013, I’ve been apart of seeing it grow, covering the change and writing about various pieces of that change which has helped create some understanding of this beer thing which we all love. As an observer who is trying to make sense of things just as the rest of you, watching this evolution has truly been a fun ride.

This year, we’ve seen a lot of growth which has revolved around building upon foundations which breweries have set in their beginning year(s). From just getting through the first year, changing to make the brewery sustainable for the next ten-plus years, combing through what works and hasn’t, finding out what trend works for them and what should be treated just as a trend or stepping stone and so on, there has been a lot of activity inside the four walls of breweries in North Texas. It’s a great thing to see and consider these sort of changes that have happened this year. And these changes help us take the temperature on the North Texas scene and show us that North Texas breweries are truly growing and changing, each at their own pace. Beyond just adding to the statistic numbers, we can easily look at these changes and show positive growth.

So as the calendar brings us closer to closer to 2018, I see 2018 as another big building year locally. I, like many breweries I have visited this past year, see it as an opportunity to continue the work ahead of building and setting North Texas apart from other beer scenes, with local areas like Fort Worth, Denton, Dallas and the northern Dallas suburbs leading that charge and I’m looking forward to seeing the Mid-cities and Arlington areas grow this coming year.

Naturally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few things I’d like to see from our local scene in 2018:

  • Quality – In the end, I believe that a brewery that makes *good, quality and consistent* beer will survive, even with staffing changes or marketing immaturity, despite playing their part as well. Good beer doesn’t need as much marketing as you’d think: the proof is in the glass. I’m talking consistency here, making new and different takes on things and ultimately good, well-made beer. (** If you are making a wild fermented beer or throwing in some mixed-culture brews into your lineup, obviously the point is for those to be different nearly every time; regardless, the other two points on within my statement still apply.)
  • Honesty – Marketing ploys are just that. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Remember, this is what the macro breweries sell these days, not beer. Independent breweries need to be more honest about their brand and sometimes that means spending some extra money on good branding or taking the time on hiring the right people for the job. Brewing is a business, too. And people really want to buy-in, especially when you open yourself up to being that local brewery that talks to them like humans via social media and at the taproom/brewery tour. Make sure your marketing and public interaction speaks to the goal of the beer you are brewing and the established (or if you are new, establishing) culture of your brewery top to bottom. Make that honesty and trueness exude from the beer, the staff, the events you put on, and the social media posts you schedule and post. You want quality fans as much as you want to produce a quality product.
  • Frankness – This is a tough one. Local beer is great, I always try to go for one if I can. But if there isn’t a quality local beer on, you’ll find me grabbing brews from other breweries pretty quickly. Sometimes it’s hard. I would like to challenge fans and breweries alike to be educated on what is good beer and what isn’t, as well as seek out more education. We need to not act like every local brewery is just “trying to get by” and support them solely on their location in our metroplex area, though we should try if we can. If you’ve been around more than twelve months and still can’t make a consistent batch of beer or your sales rep can’t show up on time to events or you can’t keep consistent staff…it’s likely some sort of course correction is in order. We are maturing as a beer scene and we need breweries to mature. (We won’t touch on fans maturity for the sake of this post.) Moreover to this end, journalists, publications, myself included, need to not be mean, and need to not try to call out people who aren’t doing it right, but in the same vein, we also don’t need to act like everything is perfect with every brewery. We can build this beer scene up by promoting the wins and learning from the misses and we need to be honest with ourselves.
  • Push Limits – I’ve seen more limit pushing from North Texas breweries this year in regards to beer and new ideas than in years past and we’ve got to keep going. We’ve got to keep relevant, but let’s also make sure we make quality relevant, too.
  • MORE PLACES TO DRINK – I’m yelling this because we need more quality bars and restaurants in North Texas. I promise, future bar owners and entrepreneurs, there are enough drinkers out there, no matter if some of the “belt” folks in DFW wish to admit it or not. We need those doors open. Especially just to keep up with the breweries…not to mention North Texas is growing population-wise faster than ever before!
  • Brewery Taprooms – We need more brewery taprooms. I know, it’s not cheap and it’s not easy, but you never worry about tap handle space at your own brewery. It’s more money and more work, but I believe there are several breweries that should consider the amount of beer they are making or going to be making and perhaps consider being licensed in Texas as a brewpub. This has it’s limitations, and it cost money to switch licenses, but it does give the opportunity for to-go growlers/crowlers and beer to be sold direct from breweries, something production-licensed breweries in Texas can’t do.

I’m looking forward to 2018. We’ve got a bright future ahead of us. Let’s make some beer to prove it!

Stay tuned after New Years for a series about understanding and seeing growth in your local brew scene.

The State of NTX Beer Week 2017

In the past five years, the North Texas beer scene has grown by leaps and bounds. It excites me to see Beer in Big D‘s yearly report, as well as his periodic updates through out the year, on the growth of the (once) little beer scene that could.

North Texas seemed to have started it’s rise at a slow burn and continues that slow burn with consistency and sudden jumps, too. Aside from looking at numbers of opening breweries, I think the biggest thing I’ve seen grow in the past two years alone is the fans. From my own personal friend group to people at events, it’s obvious that we’re past the early adopter phase of craft beer in North Texas and entering the most exciting part, the mid-to-late adopter phase.

This mid-to-late adopter phase of craft beer in North Texas brings the biggest amount of fans, largest amounts of businesses opening and can be considered the biggest boom we will see. I don’t expect this phase to die out anytime soon and for good beer to only continue to grow and settle in as a natural part of life like macro beer did post-World War II.

Not without it’s own unique challenges, we will see more breweries open as well as see some close. We will begin to see the larger differences between mom and pop breweries, breweries with budgets, breweries with real financiers (often with an end goal to focus on the product only enough to make sales), concept breweries, and breweries focusing on singular ideas, be it a particular style or international brewing region.

With the many different buckets a brewery can fall under, we will also see multiple breweries with similar concepts. An current example of this can be found in the Mile High City, Denver, Colorado. A quickly growing beer hub which once featured only one heavy metal-themed brewery and one traditional German-themed brewery in town, (along with the many other “normal” breweries) but now supports multiple breweries with similar concepts, brewed their way. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s a sign of evolving progress.

And we have to continue to progress and evolve if we want to survive. Breweries are only alike in generalizations (they brew beer, or specific beer styles, etc.) but the beer itself is different from brewery to brewery and that’s the part of the journey that beer fans, new and old, are really focusing on.

New, one-off speciality, or rare beer is more exciting to many new fans over what beer they can consume regularly. I might be always buying Real Ale’s Hans Pils for my fridge, but many new fans will find a mainstay and purchase it after they’ve bought up all the new rare/special release beer that has been released that week. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s certainly changing the game for year-round brews and the number of new beers a brewery releases.

With all of these changes coming to the North Texas beer scene, this years NTX Beer Week also brought about a lot of difference which I believe we’ve seen inklings of throughout it’s five years.

In the first couple of years, it seemed the events were primarily standard pint night after standard pint night after standard pint night. The most common comments I heard from many fans was complaining from their significant others of their overflowing cupboards or from spacing issues being able to store the amount of free glasses they received. The events were great, but beer fans have wanted more than a single beer or two with a glass to take home. This year, I feel while pint nights were still the main type of event, the pint nights themselves were better focused on the drinker who already had been around for a little while, offering more variety and extra added excitement beyond showing up to try a beer. This shows that breweries and beer establishments are hearing the fans and catering to them, indicating a beer scene that is beginning to learn it’s crowd.

For NTX Beer Week, you already saw this expanded idea with big events, like Festicle and (my absolute favorite) Brewers Ball; fans look for those rare releases and ability to get down on some delicious food to go with their special release or favorite beers. Beer is fun and people like to have fun with beer and it’s obvious NTX Beer Week organizers are aiming the ship in that direction. This fun is a different sort of fun than perhaps the seemingly uppity events which wine fans tend to enjoy, but we should be fine with that, there is more than one way to have fun with beer!

The big macro brewery conglomerate wants to say that the biggest thing coming against beer is wine and spirits. And perhaps that might be true of them, the giants trying to topple the giants, but when it comes to North Texas’ beer scene, I think we can happily say growth is still in vogue and it’s not slowing down anytime soon.

As I enjoy my NTX Beer Week recovery beer this morning, I look ahead to the future of NTX Beer Week and the NTX beer scene with optimism and excitement. We have the opportunity, we have the ability and we can continue to build something great. Let’s support our area beer week, the breweries looking to brew something great and the establishments helping you to get your hands on the best beer out there. No matter whether a brewery has a brick and mortar building here in the area, or they distribute their delicious liquid to us, it wouldn’t be the NTX beer scene without everyone involved.

Slainté!

Cheers to 5 Years of Celebrating NTX Beer!

Five years! Wow!

It’s pretty incredible to consider that NTX Beer Week has been doing this for five years. I look forward to the beer week each year and this year is pretty broad in the different places celebrating beer in North Texas.

I hope you’ve got your drinking shoes shined up and those debit cards ready to go, here are my picks for NTXBeerWeek 2017!

Friday

Community Beer Co & Peticolas Brewing Co-Tour

Halloween Tribute Night

4 Years of Pumpkinator

Saturday

Revolver Brewing 5th Anniversary Party

Green Flash Cellar 3 Ideal Belgique Tapping

Sunday

Brew Drew: Homebrew Competition

Halloween Sunday Pupday (Collective, HopFusion and Pouring Glory)

Founders KBS Brunch

Monday

Collective’s POGS

Tuesday

Bell’s Halloween Brewsday Tuesday

Halloween Izakaya Pop-Up @ The Collective Brewing Project

Wednesday

3rd Annual Zombie Beer Dinner

Real Ale VIP Tour of Blanco Raffle

Lakewood/Rahr DFW Collaboration

Thursday

Women of Craft Beer Symposium

Revolver Gridiron Launch w/ Brewmaster Grant Wood

Friday

Brewers Ball

Queen of the Mist Flight Night!

Saturday

Festicle 2017: Barrel Aged Beers and Street Tacos

Collective’s Third Anniversary

Rahr & Sons 13th Anniversary

Real Ale Mysterium Verum Morning Wood Brunch with Owner Brad Farbstein

Sunday

Dollar Taco Club: Cinco de Novembre!

Check out the entire listing for details!