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If you habitually tote your growler to Central Market to fill it with 64 ounces of Revolver’s Blood & Honey, then chances are you’ve also been to a tour and tasting at Rahr & Sons or Deep Ellum Brewing Co.
If this is you, then consider yourself a living, breathing, drinking part of the local craft brew craze.
Since 2011, so many craft breweries have popped up around DFW that it seems as though a new one is opening every other week.
In fact, more than half a dozen breweries are slated to open all over North Texas in the coming months.
And then there’s the roaring success of Revolver Brewing’s retail launch this year at Fort Worth’s Central Market. The Granbury-based brewery’s popular Blood & Honey fairly flew out of the store, as customers lugged six-packs and cases of the stuff to enjoy at home.
“It’s been a little surprising that it’s accelerating as fast as it is,” says Kevin Afghani, owner of Craft and Growler, a self-described “growler filling station” near Fair Park in Dallas. “It’s also awesome. … It’s a good thing. You look … at many cities that have an urban lifestyle — it was alien to us three years ago.”
As regular Joes become more sophisticated about their beer (we’ve come a long way from our love affair with Miller Lite), and as the groundswell of handmade suds in North Texas keeps bubbling over, we thought it was high time to have some fun with the craft beer movement, and give it the DFW.com bracket treatment.
What better way to assess the breadth of brews than to pit them against one another, tournament-style?
But first, let’s take a look at how we got to this embarrassment of riches — and how we still have a way to go to compete with brew scenes on the national scale.
Crafting a scene
Our wave began in Fort Worth in 2004, with Rahr & Sons Brewing Co., the craft brewery on the city’s near south side.
On Saturday, Rahr will celebrate its ninth anniversary, making it the oldest existing craft brewery in North Texas.
But Rahr almost didn’t make it.
“Nine years ago, when we started the brewery, it was incredibly difficult to sell a craft beer in the North Texas market,” says founder Frederick “Fritz” Rahr. “You would get the first sale, of course, when anybody was interested in trying something new, but there just wasn’t that huge craft beer movement like there was down in Austin. In Houston, it was starting to gain steam. But up here, it was almost nonexistent.”
Rahr says that more than once, the brewery has come close to shutting down. But something always changed to allow it to keep moving forward. And perseverance paid off, because the craft beer culture started to change, and Rahr was positioned to reap the benefits.
So were the breweries that followed.
Beyond the success of Revolver’s retail launch, Community Beer Company and Deep Ellum Brewing Co. from Dallas, Martin House from Fort Worth, and Armadillo Ale Works from Denton are just a few of the ambitious breweries that have gained a foothold in the local market.
Nowadays, you can find a bevvy of local craft beers on store shelves, at growler filling stations and on tap at popular bars and restaurants, such as Rodeo Goat, Brewed and Flying Saucer.
And plenty of local watering holes now offer beer flights — previously the province of fine wine or liquor — where curious consumers can sample a variety of flavors and textures, and discover a new favorite.
“I think it’s very healthy for the craft beer market,” Rahr says. “There seems to be a real cultural change in North Texas for something unique, something different, something that people can hang their hats on and say, ‘Hey, this is made here locally, and I’m proud to have a local brewery here.’ Nine years ago, I don’t think you saw a lot of that.”
In fact, those involved in the craft brew scene say that despite DFW’s recent craft beer flurry, the area still has plenty of catching up to do in order to compete with the top-tier microbrew cities in America.
According to the Brewers Association, a national organization, in 2012, Texas ranked 42nd out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia when it came to the number of craft breweries per capita (84 total).
“I’ve always struggled to find good beer in North Texas for a long time,” says Chad Montgomery, an organizer of the Big Texas Beer Fest. “I knew it was coming, but we were behind the eight ball. We still have a long way to go. Portland [in Oregon] is the model — it’s a third the size of Dallas proper, and it has 70 breweries.”
Fritz Rahr says that the craft beer culture has been maturing for the past 30 years nationwide, and like a lot of things, it started on the coasts and has worked its way toward the heartland.
“I don’t know why Texas has lagged so far behind,” Rahr says. “Austin has had a fairly good craft culture for the past 10 or 15 years. North Texas — maybe it’s just one of those things that just happened, and it finally caught on in the north part of the state. But even three years ago, there wasn’t this heavy crash that we’ve seen here in the last 16 to 18 months.”
Rahr says he expects the growth to continue.
But for anyone who hasn’t yet waded into the local craft beer pool, the sheer volume of choices can be intimidating.
JR Clark, beer and wine manager for Fort Worth’s Central Market, says the best way to get started is to “ask questions.” Lots of questions.
Central Market’s just-opened beer bar, which features take-home growlers and more than a dozen microbrew taps, is one way to get started on what Clark calls “self-study.” He also recommends talking to bartenders at some of North Texas’ fast-expanding brewpubs and craft-beer-centric bars. “The bartenders there are the true, true experts,” he says, and can guide you to any number of stouts, ales and IPAs worth your time and money.
Or, you could take part in North Texas Beer Week (formerly known as Dallas Beer Week) and the Texas Brewvolution beer festival, where more than 25 craft brewers from across the state will be offering samples, answers to questions and, as festival organizer Montgomery puts it, a tangible connection to what you’re sipping.
“Being able to meet the guy who made something you’re drinking and [that] he cared about what’s in your glass, that’s important,” Montgomery says.
That ability to tour Rahr, Revolver or Martin House (which, like many breweries, offer weekly tasting tours) and shake the hands of the folks who brewed your beverage is what sets craft-brewed beer apart from the international conglomerates, giving consumers a stake in the product and a way to shop locally.
Much how farm-to-table dining has become more popular, craft-brewed beer functions as an extension of that ethos, which in turn keeps retailers on their toes.
“If you’re in the [retail] business, you’ve got to do your research. … You have to know not only what breweries you have [now], but what breweries you’re going to have in two months, two years,” Clark says. “I would say the interest in craft beer at our level, the retail level, is at least 100 times what it was two or three years ago.”
We’ll lift a glass — or 32 — to that.
We’ve assembled a bracket, split into four types (the tip of the iceberg — the Brewers Association lists more than 100 official types of beer): Hops, Easy Drinking, Dark and Malty, and Specialty. We’ll play through over the next few weeks.
So grab your growlers and pint glasses, fill them up with a great North Texas brew, and join us as we wade into DFW.com’s 2013 Craft Brew Bracket. To vote online, click here.