Podcast #7 – Barrel Blending w/ The Collective Brewing Project

Seeking to learn more about what seems like “barrel voodoo,” Ryan Deyo sits down to chat about barrel blending and the process he and his team at The Collective Brewing Project use to produce the farmhouse, funky and sour beers that the brewery has become known for.

Thanks to Ryan for taking the time to chat, for mentioning James Herrington, and for sharing their newly released Wood Folk, Batch 2.

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Sightglass #6

One of the privileges of being a writer and providing coverage for the craft beer revolution, that is unfolding here in America, is being able to see events that are going to lead to amazing things. Some of those are the first tapping of a beer that will become a staple, the brewery receiving a “grown-up” brewing system that will allow the brewery to expand, or it’s first anniversary. For me, any of those events are thrilling and bring a lot of joy to anyone involved, even if the results of that event may not be seen for years.

Imagine the first time the German brewers of yesteryear put their beers in caves or the first time someone in Bourdeux, France first harvested grapes. It’s not the fact it was done first, it was the fact they took the leap and said, “let’s see what happens.”

As The Collective Brewing Project rounds the corner and is heading towards their third anniversary, it’s been a big year already. Their first (of several) turbid-mash-into-a-coolship brewing experience, their first “milkshake” IPA, which they added Brettanomyces to and I’d argue it’s pretty damn good and just completely different from others I’ve had, and the launch of their bottle club.

And there is more in store; check out my podcast interview with head brewer/co-owner Ryan Deyo, coming later this week.

Oh, and they launched a small bites menu and a wine list. A wine list at a brewery? Yep. It’s new to us Texans and perhaps Collective is leading the way for us to catch up.

“Not because we’re trying to sway those non-beer drinkers and tell them that it’s okay to come drink here with their friends or spouses,” says Deyo. “All of these wines are spontaneous and wild fermented, which goes along with our focus. We may not be a winery, but a lot of what we do is like a winery. And, it doesn’t hurt that my wife loves wine.”

There is no book or future timeline written for breweries like Collective. And that’s a great thing.

 

A Beer Drinkers Guide Brewery Taprooms: Redux

A few years ago, I wrote an article with small pieces of advice for visitors of brewpubs and brewery taprooms. And in Texas, at the time that article was written, there were very few brewery taprooms located near me. In fact, there was only one in Fort Worth and a barely a handful around the Dallas-area. With that being the case, I focused the attention of my article on brewpubs and brewery tours problems/advice based on what we had at that time.

Three years and several local and national taproom visits later, I’ve learned a few things and would like to share some etiquette/advice that I have observed and learned from spending a lot of time in different brewery taprooms.

In Texas, we still have a ton of laws that are pretty archaic. One of which, is not being able to sell beer directly to consumers for off-premise consumption, unless your brewery has a brewpub license. As a result, this limits any brewery from being able to sell a six-pack or even a keg of beer, directly to you. In short, you have to go to a retailer and pay them, unless they have a brewpub license with the state. We’ve cleaned up a few things in the past couple of years, like allowing breweries to sell a glass of beer to you, which paved the way for taprooms to be legal, but Texas still has far to go in the entire taproom experience.

Brewery taprooms are functionally a bar within a brewery, similar in idea to a brewpub. Some Texas breweries are registered as brewpubs, which gives them more freedom for their customers (like selling growler fills or cans/bottles for off-premise consumption), though this licensing does limit beer production numbers in a calendar year. The Collective Brewing Project, Jester King Brewery and Noble Rey Brewing are just a few that hold Texas brewpub licenses.

What’s different – Tour and Tasting vs. Brewery Taproom

Tour and tasting events are typically $10-15 and include 3 or 4 beers, a tour of the brewhouse and last three to four hours. Visiting a taproom isn’t much different than ordering a beer at your local bar and enjoying one or two, with extended hours on multiple days. No brewery taprooms have guest beers and few brewpub-licensed breweries have guest beer on tap, however some can and do. Many taprooms offer flights and typically have multiple size glasses to fit your desired pour size.

  • Limit Taster Flights
    This is more than just for your own safety and being able to drive home, but also has to do with your ability to actual try and enjoy the different styles the brewery offers. Assuming you consume eight different style beers, your palette is going to quite confused by what beer you are enjoying after a while. Did you really enjoy beer #3 and much as #7, and are you sure it really tasted that way? Unless you are cleansing your palate and staying sober, in all likelihood, you won’t be totally certain. But if you do purchase a flight or two, remember, Uber and Lyft are super cost-effective.
  • Tip Bartenders / Servers
    At Tour and Tasting events, bartenders are mostly volunteers. At brewery taprooms, bartenders are actually working at bartenders wages, which is $2.13 per hour in Texas, unless the brewery decides to pay their bartenders a higher wage. Regardless, these folks are working for you just as much as they are working for the brewery, so when it comes time to settle up, make sure you are taking care of them like you should be at a normal bar.
  • Try a Full Pint – Half Pints are Great, too!
    If visiting a new brewery and I’m out-of-town, I often order a flight and make my second round a full-pint of something I liked or might like based on the bartenders suggestion. If I’m visiting a local brewery, I try to go for a couple of half-pints and maybe a full-pint of something I am almost certain I’ll enjoy, leaving me the opportunity to try other beers next time. Flights are for discovering what you want a full pour of, not just to taste things. It’s not a race and Untappd will be okay if you only check in two or three beers. Remember, it is about having fun and enjoying the beer as well.
  • Tours are Fun
    Most breweries offer a brewhouse tour at some point, scheduled during the week or weekend, or on one particular day, but there are some breweries that don’t offer a tour. Don’t expect every taproom to have a scheduled tour, but check online before arriving so you have an idea upon arrival. It never hurts to ask, but if a tour isn’t regularly scheduled, don’t expect anyone to be able to give you one if the taproom is busy.
  • Come Back for the Events
    Perhaps it’s a given, but seriously, check out the events schedule and plan a Saturday afternoon or Thursday evening around an event or two at the brewery. Most brewery taprooms have full event schedules throughout the week and most keep their Facebook page and website regularly updated. Some brewery taprooms bring in food trucks similar to tour and tasting events, while others take it a step further and host beer dinners and private tasting events in their taproom.
  • Call ahead if you are bringing a big group
    Thinking about bringing a big group with you to the brewery? If you aren’t renting out the whole brewery and thinking about bringing more than 1 table worth of people to the taproom with you, give the bar staff a heads up. No matter whether it’s a busy or slow day, they’ll appreciate it and will be ready to serve your group. After all, taproom staff are their to serve the brewery’s beer in the best possible way, and that includes the service, too.

 

Easy Pouring and Clean Glasses

If you’ve visited a brewery taproom or beer-centric bar, you might have noticed bartenders turning your glass upside down over a small surface that sprayed water inside of the glass. Normally this glass rinser, or, star sink, is found right by the taps or glasses are stored. By the time you’ve finished your first beer of the day, you might have seen this action multiple times and wondered what is going on.

A star sink/rinser doesn’t take up a lot of space and is a great addition to beer-focused bars or breweries. You might incorrectly assume this quick rinse is for cleaning, when in fact, the bartender uses this process to ensure the beer arrives into the glass – and, in turn, to you – in the best possible way.

Here are the three ways this process helps your beer:

  1. Lubrication
    The water down splashing the side and bottom of the glass acts as a lubricant for the beer flowing from the tap and into the glass. This quick spray helps the carbonation (bubbles) flow evenly down the sides of the glass and settle quickly, leaving you with more concentrated beer than head (foam) in your glass.
  2. Head Retention and Aroma
    Along with helping your beer arrive into your glass, star sinks also help the head on the top of your beer stay concentrated as well. The head of your beer is where a lot of the aroma is and it can enhance the flavor of the beer if you take a quick sniff before taking a drink.
  3. Keeping Things Cool
    Since well-crafted beer focuses on flavor, frozen or chilled glasses are not typically used. As a result, most glasses sit on a shelf behind the bar at whatever the room temperature is. This means when a bartender grabs your glass, the glass can effect the beer temperature slightly. Even though the glass is likely only 20 or so degrees warmer than the beer being poured into it the quick splash of cool water will cool the inside of your glass and help keep that beer from warming up to fast, leaving you with the opportunity to enjoy that cool brew in the best possible way.

Don’t worry, beer is made up of +93% water so it’s not going to water down your beer, especially with a less than a second or so squirt of water. And while it’s true some bars actually rinse glasses before pouring, the actual use of a star sink isn’t focused on that. If you are handed a glass that doesn’t seem clean, send it back and ask the bartender for a properly cleaned glass that can then be splashed with water from the star sink.

Beer is meant to be enjoyed and shared, but sometimes there are little things we (and your neighborhood bar) can do, to enhance that experience and make it a memorable one.

They Don’t Make It Anymore

I remember the day I found out my favorite local beer wasn’t going to be made anymore.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t find the beer anywhere I went. Tap handles seemed to pop-up everywhere. There were frequent pint nights and it was on tap at the brewery nearly every week and, of course, at all of my favorite spots. The sixteen-ounce cans of the delicious brew even showed up at random liquor stores that I went into in random parts of the city, where it was normally a “craft beer wasteland.” Everything seemed to be exactly as you’d expect for a beer that I perceived to popular..

Except, as I know now, it wasn’t.

Seeing a beer or brewery everywhere doesn’t mean it’s selling well. In fact, it doesn’t even mean the beer is good, although I’ll argue with you that my former favorite brew was awesome, hashtag ar eye pea. (#RIP)

In the case of the beer that I love(d), it could be argued that it could have suffered from a variety of problems circle around the fact it wasn’t an IPA or rare enough. But that probably wasn’t it. It might a consideration that perhaps the container / tap handle design just didn’t stand out to people. Well, actually I bet it was that, either.

The reality in which I was coming to grips with is this, simply: that it wasn’t selling enough, which may or may not be a result of anything to do with the beer, branding, sales or any person related to the brewery it was produced at.

It just wasn’t selling enough. Even if it checked all of the boxes, it just wasn’t happening.

Having been around the business of beer for a while (outside looking in), it’s hard to come to resolve the fact that sometimes things like this happen because of business reasons. The beer business isn’t as simple as it was a few years ago when there was only 2000 breweries in the country.

This is not just the fact there is more breweries out there. Making good beer simply isn’t good enough anymore; rarity has become the zeitgeist of today’s beer fans and it’s spreading across the American beer scene. It’s not the factor that many beers aren’t selling, but it can be argued it is a factor. You may still walk through the local beer shop and pick up a Great Divide Yeti Stout*, because it’s one of the best ones out there, but people are still going to clammer for the next Jester King Atrial Rubicite release or stand fly into Munster, Indiana for the 3 Floyds Dark Lord Day, over something they’ve had once or twice before. For some it’s simply chasing that next release, for others, like myself, it is/was because I thought that beer I liked would always be there.

But let’s not start pointing fingers, really no one is at fault. Not even ourselves.

“It had to be those beer fans fault,” I thought to myself. “They can’t even bring themselves to pick up a six-pack on the regular because their beer fridge is too full of tradable or rare beer!”

No, no, no.

I realized something.

In my full-size-completely-dedicated-to-beer refrigerator there was a six-pack of my favorite beer I’d bought some months back, but it was the first I’d bought in a while.

My fridge wasn’t full of my favorite beer. It was just 3 extra cans leftover from the pack.

Suddenly, I learned a lesson in supply and demand and it taught me that we each have a choice every time walk into the store, bar, or restaurant. That choice is quite simple and it is also quite powerful.

Luckily, there is plenty out there and the field is prime for the picking. I may miss my favorite beer, but there is plenty more where that came from. And that choice is a great thing to celebrate.

What’s next, chief?

 

 


*This isn’t to say people aren’t buying Great Divide Yeti, my point is that people are grabbing the latest and greatest first and seem to be spending their money on stuff that’s already around if they have any budget left over. Largely, with the amount of breweries around, people are finding it pretty easy to make a beer run and buy only beer they’ve never had before, or are rare. This isn’t a bad thing, but it can become a problem. Remember, buy good beer, and local if you can.

Podcast #6 – Turning Point Beer

New England-style / Hazy IPAs are something of a trend that has been quickly growing in American beer. How you define these beers is not agreed upon, BCBJ and the Brewer’s Association both seem to be dragging their feet on something that has been around for at least two or three years, but beer fans are clamoring for them nonetheless.

And while trends often start in urban city centers, the NE IPA trend seems to be beginning in the suburbs of North Texas with Turning Point Beer. A group of four friends working in the beer industry are looking from taking their full-time jobs and weekend passions for homebrewing to the professional level.

Michael and I met the guys in their bachelor pad garage and chatted their beer and little bit about beer climate, while they continued to let us know that James Herrington (of The Collective Brewing Project) is not involved in the project and is just in it for hiding from his family and drinking free beer. And what their plan was to open up on Bedford, Texas and hopefully be the base for continuing to grow and encourage good, well-crafted beer in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford area.

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Podcast #5 – Interview with Matt Dixon of Dallas Brew Scene

In the past five years, the North Texas / Dallas / Fort Worth Metroplex beer scene has changed in a lot of ways. Expansion, openings, closings, and North Texas Beer Week, Matt Dixon of Dallas Brew Scene/Dallas Brew Bus and Executive Director of North Texas Beer Week, has seen it all.

Matt made the drive over to Fort Worth to chat with us about the last five years, good and bad things that have happened, and why the future is very bright for North Texas beer, if we want it.

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Food and Wine Take on Beer Event a Hit

Operating in it’s fourth year, the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival is not the first food and wine festival in the state. The well-executed festival, which takes it’s proceeds and donates them to local culinary scholarship funds and grant makers, shows food and wine fans that Fort Worth and the surrounding area has much to offer when it comes to culinary and drink talent.

Offering up five events focused around various meals (brunch, desserts, BBQ, and main courses), the final event, Burgers, Brews + Blues, takes a slight turn from the more foodie-like dishes and focuses on chef-prepared burgers, craft beer and blues music. And when I say chef-prepared, the line-up is stacked with folks from Fort Worth’s own Rodeo Goat, Swiss Pastry Shop, and even Dallas’ star, LUCK, serving up some of the best burgers you will ever taste.

Even with a large focus on the burgers, there was no skimping on the beer line-up available for you to wash down those tasty burgers. And with an festival with wine in it’s name, one could make an assumption that the beer was going to be an after-thought; but this most certainly wasn’t true of Burgers, Brews + Blues.

From my own experience at other non-beer focused festivals, I expected a brewery line-up focused on distributor chosen brews. Typically, this means the distribution company is a sponsor and part of their sponsorship gave them an opportunity to choose the top beers to be displayed. This often means beer fans are stuck with what sales well, or to the dismay of some beer fans, what is the cheapest.

I’m happy to say, this is not the case with the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival.

While I’m sure a distributor might have been involved, the line-up reflected a great representation of local and Texas breweries and their appeared to be a great deal of fore-thought put into the local breweries serving up their beer. Every brewery currently open in Fort Worth was present, with others from around North Texas, small town Texas and, even Texas’ oldest brewery, Houston’s own St. Arnold Brewing. Big props to the organizers for a well-rounded line-up that paired quite well with the burgers we consumed.

And don’t worry, there wasn’t a Budweiser, Miller Lite, or Mike’s Hard Lemonade in sight. For a younger festival not focused on beer, this is a huge deal to see them focus on craft only.

Now, let’s be clear for all of you beer festival lovers. This wasn’t a festival full of rare or limited-release brews, but to be clear that wasn’t the point of this event. The focus was very simple: a great time with delicious burgers paired with well-crafted beers, all the while listening to entertaining blues music and supporting a local 501 (c)3 charity.

Burgers, Brews + Blues was a great event that felt like a sigh of relief from some of the insanely packed and (sometimes) drunk fests that some music and drink festivals have become. I’d really like to see more events like this that not only focus on the marriage of beer and food, but also the careful choice of the vendors represented. I believe that breweries, much like chef-run restaurants, focused on quality products can come together for quality events, like this, without having to bring up sales or a distributor’s opinion.

I’ll be back next year.

Header image from FortWorthFoodandWineFestival.com by Farrar Photography.

Podcast #4 – Interview with Revolver Brewing

Almost two years ago, I pulled through the gate at Revolver Brewing on a Monday afternoon. As the dust from the driveway settled, I made my way through the original brewery building and spoke with brewmaster Grant Wood and Rhett Keisler about Revolver Brewing’s formation and mission. Both gentlemen spoke at length to any questions I asked and gave light-hearted critiques on the industry they were working hard to build their business in.

When meeting the guys, it was obvious to me there is more than meets the glass of Blood & Honey. The two of them, along with Rhett’s father Ronnie, have brewed a business founded upon quality, consistency and open arms to beer fans young and old. And if I could be slightly hyperbolic, as I listen to Grant and Rhett tell their story, there is a feeling of maturity and focus involved that is steamed for success, through their hard-work and go-get-it attitudes.

This past week, Grant and Rhett graciously accepted my invitation to be the first interview for the podcast. Despite what feelings many beer fans in North Texas may hold towards Revolver as a result of their majority stake purchase and partnership with Miller-Coors, what hasn’t changed is the beer and hard working attitude.

Many thanks to Grant and Rhett for sharing their feelings and being open about the changes that come with a partnership like theirs with Miller-Coors. And please, if you still feel conflicted or just have questions, go down to a tour at the brewery in Granbury and meet them. They are honest about their openness and would love to discuss things over a glass of Revolver beer.

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Sightglass #5

To many, Asheville, North Carolina has become a craft beer destination to travel to and enjoy. It’s not hard to get to either; Asheville has a regional airport and Greenville, South Carolina’s international airport is only about an hour or so drive away. With 17 breweries within the city limits and about another dozen or so within a 30 minute to hour drive surrounding Asheville, you could spend a good weekend or even a week exploring both the beautiful outdoors and breweries found in the area.

My trek to Asheville lasted about 24 hours, after visiting some family in central North Carolina and my family and I were driving back to Texas and decided to stop for a night on our way home. It’s a quant mountain town with a lively downtown and a few other growing areas surrounding, like Montford and Biltmore Village. With plenty of touristy things to do in Asheville, the hotels available are a mixture of trendy boutique kitschy motels and big name hotel conglomerates, and everything in between. I understand there is a pretty eclectic selection of Airbnb spots, too.

But, the beer.

If you’ve heard of Asheville and never visited, I would imagine it would be because of either Wicked Weed Brewing or perhaps Burial Beer Co. If you haven’t heard of those, then you probably know that Sierra Nevada, Oskar Blues and New Belgium all opened their second locations in (or down the road) from Asheville. These veteran breweries knew what Asheville folks already knew; there is great water, room for expansion and a community to support great beer.

Even though I only had 24 hours and was only able to visit Wicked Weed and Burial Beer Co, I can tell you with great confidence that I can’t wait to get back to Asheville. There are many breweries I didn’t get to hit up like Highland Brewing, Fonta Flora (Morgonton), Hi-Wire Brewing, Pisgah Brewing (Black Mountain) and others waiting to be discovered.