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DFW.com craft beer bracket: Round 1 results

Posted 11:57am on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013

Wow, are we buzzed — with excitement.

After spending the last week hunting down and sampling 32 of the best local craft beers in North Texas, consider us blown away the creativity and complexity we found in each gulp. We’ve also been impressed by the ingenuity and quality coming from these 14 breweries, most of which have only been in business a few years.

That said, our job was to wade into the sea of local craft beers and try to find the best in each region: Hops, Easy Drinking, Dark and Malty, and Specialty. So our dedicated team of judges — who range from sophisticated beer nerds to relative craft brew newbies — went forth with growlers in hand and drank their way through 16 head-to-head, side-by-side matchups.

The results comfirmed some our seeding process — all four No. 1s advanced, but two of the No. 2s made early exits. And no one brewery dominated the bracket, though several (Revolver, Lakewood, Community, Martin House and Rahr) asserted themselves nicely with multiple wins.

We hope our tasting notes will do two things: give you snapshot reviews of each of the beers, and give you incentive to go out and try these locally made brews yourself. Many are available on store shelves — we found a bunch at World Market, Central Market, Total Wines, Specs and World of Beer. Others will lead you to some terrific restaurants and bars with expansive beer menus like Flying Saucer, Live Oak Music Hall, Brewed, Rodeo Goat and others. If you’re a growler guy or gal, fill up at Craft and Growler in Dallas or Central Market in Fort Worth.

However you find the brew for you, we want to hear your comments. And we’d love for you to cast your votes in our readers’ bracket at dfw.com. We’ll announce the results of Round 1 of the Readers’ bracket next week. Until then, check out the judges’ reviews and cheers!

Hops

1. Peticolas-Velvet Hammer-D vs. 8. FireWheel Texas Pale Ale-D

Seems like every time we’ve mentioned Velvet Hammer recently, a server or bartender has piped up about how much they love the beer. It’s easy to see why: It has a mild sweetness that cuts the bitterness of most hoppy beers, with enough smoothness for newbies and enough punch for the serious crowd. It won this round, but don’t count out the Texas Pale Ale (which we found at Dallas Beer Kitchen) from tiny Rowlett-based FireWhee.l It had a slight, appealing sourness that played well head-to-head against the Velvet Hammer’s sweetness. We’re fans of both, but only one could win. Winner: Peticolas Velvet Hammer

2. Deep Ellum IPA-D vs. 7. Revolver High Brass-D

Very close call between these two unpretentious brews, both of which were easy-drinking enough to appeal to craft-beer rookies and those with milder tastes. But we’re giving the edge to the High Brass, a blonde ale that delivered on its promise of being “malty without being heavy,” while we couldn’t detect the fruit notes DEBC boasts about for its IPA. The High Brass is a little harder to find than Revolver’s popular Blood & Honey; we found it at the Royal Falcon Pub on the Weatherford Traffic Circle in west Fort Worth, and we’re told that it’s at Live Oak Music Hall and that Zio Carlo Magnolia Brew Pub just got a keg. But if you’re looking for it, it’s a good idea to call those places first to make sure it’s there. Winner: Revolver High Brass.

3. Community Mosaic IPA-B vs. 6. Lakewood Hop Trapp-B

The toughest match-up in the hops bracket. Both beers have a malty creaminess that had us savoring sip after sip. But with Lakewood’s Hop Trapp — so named because it’s a Trappist-style ale — we picked up more hints of spice and fruitiness than we did with the Mosaic, giving it the edge. Still, it was a very close call, enough that we had to give both several tries. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. Winner: Lakewood Hop Trapp

4. Martin House Imperial Texan-C vs. 5. Rahr Stormcloud-B

Rahr & Sons boasts that the Stormcloud IPA has an “assertive bitterness,” but we found the bitterness of the Martin House Imperial Texan to be more assertive — in fact, we found it to be aggressive, lingering longer than the bitterness of any of the other hoppy beers. Some will enjoy that assertiveness, but we found it to be too much, and Stormcloud rains — er, reigns here. Winner: Rahr Stormcloud

Easy Drinking

1. Martin House Day Break-C vs. 8. Franconia Lager-D

Dubbed a “breakfast beer,” Martin House’s Day Break goes down smooth in the mid-afternoon, too, which is when we sampled it and Franconia Lager at Live Oak Music Hall in Fort Worth. We liked the Franconia German-style lager, with its golden color and floral fragrance, but its sweetness was a bit overwhelming. Day Break, on the other hand, offered a just whiff of sweetness but a depth of flavor befitting a beer made with four grains — barley, wheat, oats and rye — and finished with honey and milk sugar. It was refreshing, easy drinking and delicious. Winner: Martin House Day Break

2. Community Public Ale-D vs. 7. Rahr Blonde-B

Rahr Blonde was the Fort Worth brewery’s first beer and you can see why it helped establish Rahr as a local favorite. The pale lager is purely drinkable — not too bitter, not too sweet, just very dependable. Public Ale, however, is a dynamic beer that delivers a deeper, more balanced flavor. An English-style ale with a alluring amber color and rich malt taste, Public Ale recently won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver and it is setting the gold standard in the Easy Drinking region of our bracket. Winner: Community Public Ale

3. Franconia Wheat-B vs. 6. Peticolas Golden Opportunity-D

This battle, one of many between veterans and relative newcomers, was surprisingly close. Franconia’s Wheat beer is a German hefeweizen-style beer. Peticolas Brewing Company’s Golden Opportunity, a German Kolsch-style beer, offers a smooth, slightly wheat-y flavor profile, which finishes with hardly any aftertaste. Franconia Wheat packs a little more body in each sip, but Golden Opportunity was more satisfying in our head-to-head taste test. Another razor-thin margin of victory between two terrific craft beers. Winner: Peticolas Golden Opportunity

4. Lakewood Rock Ryder-B vs. 5. Four Corners Local Buzz-D

In this clash of Dallas breweries, two easy-drinking beers faced off, each bringing something a little different to the fight. Four Corners brews its Local Buzz golden ale with a touch of honey, and finishes with a nice hoppy kick that cuts through the tinge of sweetness. Lakewood Brewing Co.’s Rock Ryder (named in honor of bicyclists speeding around White Rock Lake) is an American rye wheat beer. Each had a terrific golden hue and an exceptionally smooth finish, although Rock Ryder edged out the Local Buzz ever so slightly. Both are top-notch local beers, but Lakewood beats Four Corners by a hair. (A portion of the proceeds from the sale of each Rock Ryder six-pack goes to For the Love of the Lake.) Winner: Lakewood Rock Ryder

Dark and Malty

1. Lakewood The Temptress-B vs. 8. Four Corners La Bajada-D

They don’t call her The Temptress for nothin’. Lakewood’s popular milk stout pours inky brown/black with a big, creamy beige head. The flavor is milky chocolate malt with intoxicating hints of smoke and sweet coffee. This is a hearty, sweet stout that went down smooth and then steamrolled its competition, the drinkable brown ale La Bajada from Four Corners. We liked La Bajada’s nutty toffee flavor, but it was no match for The Temptress. Winner: Lakewood’s The Temptress.

2. Rahr Ugly Pug-B vs. 7. Revolver Bock-D

We found both beers for this dark and delightful matchup at Rodeo Goat in Fort Worth. The Revolver Bock was a dark amber pour, and we loved its smooth caramel and toffee notes, and its satisfying medium body. The color of Rahr’s Ugly Pug — a deep, dark brown — belied its comparatively lighter body. The Pug’s telltale hints of chocolate and coffee were there, hitting our pleasure centers by surprise (our two tasters for this matchup are noncoffee drinkers). Well-balanced, and not as heavy as a traditional dark, we found this Pug not so much ugly as supremely drinkable. Winner: Rahr Ugly Pug

3. Four Corners Block Party Porter-D vs. 6. Armadillo Quakertown Stout-D

In one of the tighter matchups in this region, Four Corners’ porter asserted itself with a chocolate coffee/cola taste that was sweet but smooth. The Quakertown Stout was a bit thin (actually closer to a porter) and slightly bitter, but we liked its vanilla/maple syrup flavor and hints of chocolate. In fact, we tasted some similarities between the two brews, but in the end Block Party was just more refined and satisfying. Winner: Four Corners Block Party Porter

4. Deep Ellum Double Brown Stout-B vs. 5. Martin House There Will Be Stout-D

Pretzels and beer are a match made in frat boy heaven, and Martin House brings them together beautifully in There Will Be Stout. Opaque black with a tan head, “the pretzel stout” delivers with whiffs of salt, malt, coffee and chocolate. Deep Ellum’s Double Brown goes in the opposite direction, with a sweet chocolatey flavor and soapy tan head. This stout is actually on the lighter side, which was refreshing, but we found its sweetness a bit too cloying. Winner: Martin House There Will Be Stout

Specialty

1. Revolver Blood & Honey-B vs. 8. 903 The Chosen One-D

Admittedly, the Sherman-based 903 Brewers faced an uphill battle in this first round match-up: Revolver Brewery’s Blood & Honey has become one of the most beloved craft brews in North Texas in an extremely short time. Still, the exotic promise of a coconut-tinged American ale seemed like an interesting contrast to Revolver’s note-perfect, blood orange-perfumed American wheat ale. A few sips later, and 903 was nothing but a memory — “The Chosen One,” despite its pleasant finish and coconut aroma, felt watered down in comparison with Blood & Honey’s more full-bodied flavor and texture. Winner: Revolver Blood & Honey

2. Community Inspiration-B vs. 7. Armadillo Greenbelt Farmhouse Ale-C

Community’s founders set up shop on Inspiration Drive in downtown Dallas looking to fullfill their dreams, and by most accounts they’ve done it with a roster of great new beers, many of which are included in our bracket. But Inspiration, a strong ale with a rich ruby color, doesn’t quite live up to its name. It’s powerful (9.6 percent ABV), but we found the spiciness and malt flavors a bit too heavy-handed. Armadillo’s Greenbelt Farmhouse Ale, from the tiny Denton brewery, was a solid saison that became more enjoyable with each sip, introducing citrusy notes, coriander spice and crispy carbonation. In this case, less was more. Winner: Armadillo Farmhouse Ale.

3. Deep Ellum Farmhouse Wit-C vs. 6. Martin House River House-D

This was the closest and most intriguing matchup of the Specialty region. We liked both beers for their pure drinkability and fresh flavors. River House is a saison, or pale ale, with a distinctly bright and summery personality. A hazy straw color with a smooth, citrusy taste, it seems like the kind of beer you’d drink all day by the river. Deep Ellum’s Farmhouse Wit is a saison hybrid (crossed with a witbier), but it is equally refreshing and offers a bit more complexity and spice. We’d declare a tie here if we could, but forced to choose we’re going down to the River. Winner: Martin House River House.

4. Community Trinity Tripel-B vs. 5. Cedar Creek Scruffy’s Smoked Alt-C

You can’t help but be charmed by ol’ Smoky, the elderly gentleman on the can of Scruffy’s Smoked Alt. And it’s certainly one of the most distinctive beers we’ve tried so far. Cedar Creek smokes German malt with beechwood to set the tone for this altbier, but the aggressive smoky aroma overpowers most of the other flavors in this copper-colored brew. The taste was scruffy as well — too sharp, too bitter. Community’s Trinity Tripel was the opposite — a smooth and creamy Beligian ale with a delicate blend of hops and fruity aroma. Only available in a 750 milliliter bottle at the moment (we found it at Specs), Trinity Tripel pours with a thick, foamy head and hazy gold color, but it goes down very smooth. In other words, it smoked ol’ Scruffy. Winner: Community Trinity Tripel

Key

B = bottle

C = can

D = draft

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