After several weeks of sampling the finest craft beers made in Dallas-Fort Worth, our competition has come to a head, and a fabulous Final Four have emerged.
In each region, the favorites faced worthy and occasionally brutal challenges, but in the end they lived up to and exceeded expectations. Only one No. 2 seed snuck into the final group, with three No. 1s.
Now comes the fun part. You’re invited to a Final Four tasting (see details, at box on the left) on Dec. 14 at the Pour House, where you can sample a flight of all four finalists ($8) and tell us your favorite. You also can enter to win fabulous prizes, sample some terrific Texas beers at happy-hour prices and enjoy half-price apps. Pour House, which has a great new tap wall, has many of the worthy competitors that were included in our 32-beer bracket.
So join us Dec. 14, and right now raise a glass to the Final Four. (And for a closer look at each of these Fab Four, and a chat with the brewmasters who made them happen, click here. Want to know who the readers moved into the Final Four? Click here for a look at both the readers’ and judges’ brackets.)
Dark and Malty
(1) Lakewood The Temptress vs. (2) Rahr Ugly Pug
Again and again throughout our inaugural beer bracket matchups, the old guard and the new have clashed, with the tried and true often falling just a little short. This round was no different, as relative newcomer Lakewood Brewing Co. went toe to toe with craft brew mainstay Rahr & Sons Brewing Company. Each brought its best dark beer to the fight — Lakewood’s delectable, almost creamy The Temptress; Rahr’s disarmingly light “schwarzbier” Ugly Pug black lager — and while both have their strengths, the less hefty approach of Rahr’s undercut its appeal against The Temptress. Broadly speaking, those sipping a darker beer like a little weight and texture in the glass, and that’s where Lakewood outdoes Rahr. The Temptress, a milk stout, fairly coats the mouth, going down sweet and faintly bitter, with a pleasant, coffee-tinged aftertaste. Rahr’s Ugly Pug is very drinkable, especially for a darker beer, but its roasted maltiness and chocolate flavors fade from the palate almost as soon as it’s swallowed. A little thin, Ugly Pug leaves little or no lingering aftereffects to round out the tasting experience. Consider us seduced by The Temptress yet again. Winner: Lakewood The Temptress
(1) Revolver Blood & Honey vs. (7) Armadillo Greenbelt Farmhouse Ale
Armadillo Ale Works Farmhouse Ale is a ray of sunshine, especially as the slate-gray skies and winter temperatures converge on North Texas. Even the Denton brewery’s brightly colored can — two-tone green and gold — reminds you that summer is never too far away here. And with its distinctive grapefruit notes and coriander spice, Armadillo’s saison has overachieved from the first sip, knocking off higher-seeded competitors in each round. But in Revolver’s Blood & Honey, Greenbelt finally met its match. The unfiltered wheat beer from the Granbury brewery is a one-of-a-kind creation that charms both hard-core beer nerds and casual craft drinkers. No wonder bartenders told us B&H is by far their most popular beer on tap and it flies off the shelves at grocery and liquor stores. Smooth, with nice body, Blood & Honey delivers the perfect amount of sweetness with a finish of locally made honey and blood orange zest. It’s citrusy, malty and unlike any other beer. Most of all, it’s delicious. Winner: Revolver Blood & Honey
(1) Peticolas Velvet Hammer vs. (6) Lakewood Hop Trapp
Two beers that, to paraphrase Muhammad Ali, float like butterflies and sting like bees — they start off slightly sweet, finishing slightly bitter, with the two tastes providing a fine balance in both. The underdog Hop Trapp, a Trappist-style ale, impressed us with its fruity notes and its coriander spiciness, and the punch was more delicate than it was with other hoppy beers. But not as delicate as the velvet-glove approach of the Velvet Hammer, with its smooth, brown-sugary beginning and gentle hammer-tap of a bitter finish. We did find the Velvet Hammer to be a little inconsistent during its bracket journey, and at least one judge (a Velvet Hammer fan) was surprised enough by the Hop Trapp in this face-off to give it a vote. But the majority rules, and to paraphrase another Hammer, you can’t touch this beer for hoppy drinking.
(1) Martin House Day Break vs. (2) Community Public Ale
There’s always one matchup in which the judges, usually even-tempered sorts, nearly come to blows. This time, it came in the Easy Drinking category of all places. There was certainly nothing easy about this showdown, which pitted Martin House’s Day Break, a beloved “breakfast beer,” against Community’s Public Ale, a complex and awesome English-style ale. Day Break, from the breakout brewery in Fort Worth, is light in body but deep in flavor. The concept is unique, too, combining four grains with local honey and milk sugar, giving the beer a slightly sweet yet very satisfying finish. Public Ale, from the mind of Community head brewer Jamie Fulton, is a clean, crisp beer as well, with a wonderful malt backbone. An extra special bitter beer, or ESB, Public Ale absolutely nails a style of beer that is often tried, but rarely achieved — at least not with this much understated elegance. Both beers wowed our judges during tastings at Bearded Lady and Pour House, but after much debate and a few hurt feelings, the majority was swayed by Public Ale’s fuller flavor, malty goodness and smoother feel. Both beers taste like champions — Public Ale recently won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival — but, alas, there are no ties in the beer bracket. Winner: Community Public Ale