The champions of DFW.com’s four Beer Battle regions don’t have much in common.
One is a silky milk stout. Another is a heavenly hoppy red. The English ale has a flavor profile as complex as a Rubik’s Cube, and the beer with blood-orange zest and honey, well, is unlike any we’ve tasted before or since.
And yet, all come from the same wellspring of creativity that is fueling DFW’s craft beer revolution.
Here are snapshots of our Final Four beers, and a peek inside the brewmaster minds that dreamed them up. (To read how they made it to the Final Four, check out their most recent battles by clicking here. Want to know who the readers moved into the Final Four? Click here for a look at both the readers’ and judges’ brackets.)
Specialty region champion
Revolver Blood & Honey
One of North Texas’ most popular craft beers came about because a Granbury organic farmer and beekeeper had some crystallized honey on his hands.
“He showed up at the brewery when we were first getting started with a 5-gallon pail of crystallized honey,” says Rhett Keisler, co-founder of Granbury-based Revolver Brewing. “He said, ‘This is crystallized, and I can’t do much with it. You guys want it?’ So Grant said, ‘Sure.’”
That would be Grant Wood, Revolver’s master brewer, another co-founder along with Keisler’s father, Ron. Wood started thinking about what kind of beer he could make with the honey.
“He thought back to a dinner party that he had been to,” Rhett Keisler says in a phone interview. “He was in charge of dessert, so he brought a blood-orange sorbet. That’s really where the two crossed in his mind. So we decided to brew a blood-orange and honey beer.”
Of course, Revolver needed more than just 5 gallons of crystallized honey to get started, so it uses some honey from the beekeeper but gets most of its supply of Texas wildflower honey from North Dallas Honey Co.
“I thought we might have something when we were first brewing it,” says Keisler, explaining that the earliest versions were brewed on what is essentially a more sophisticated version of a home-brewing system. “The guy who was designing our logo was a firefighter, [and] we had him try the different beers that we had at that time, including the Blood and Honey. I think he showed up a day or two later and said, ‘I just can’t seem to get that beer out of my mind. I had a dream about it last night.’”
Once on taps, the brew took off, and it doesn’t take much more than a sip to see why. Unlike some “easy drinking” beers, the draft version of Blood & Honey has a nice body to it — in other words, this Blood feels thicker than water. But between its fruity accents and its mildly sweet honey finish, it goes down easily. A couple of the DFW.com Beer Battle judges even detected a hint of banana in the flavor, even though banana isn’t one of the ingredients. It wasn’t just us.
“Typically, a hefeweizen yeast gives you those banana and clove flavors,” Keisler says. “But we don’t use German, hefeweizen-type yeast. We use an American ale yeast, which doesn’t have those banana flavors. But I have heard that before. It’s kinda hard to explain where it comes from.”
Keisler says that even his wife, who doesn’t like beer, said she could drink the Blood and Honey. But he says he was still surprised that the beer became so successful.
It fast became a fixture on tap walls at restaurants and bars throughout DFW. And in August, when Revolver launched a bottle version in stores, it flew off the shelves.
JR Clark, Central Market Fort Worth’s wine and beer manager, says one of the reasons the beer has become so popular is that it’s a “bridge” beer, one that’s not too hoppy or malty, but rich and medium-plus bodied — and one that pleases craft beer newbies as well as aficionados.
“It has this nice and very pleasant sweetness that comes on,” Clark said in an August interview about B&H’s launch party at Central Market. “It’s a beer that women and men enjoy equally. … The questions we’ve had from our customers have been almost equally spread among the gender gap.”
Clark added that the 7 percent alcohol by volume doesn’t hurt. But this is a beer to savor, not to swill.
“Even people who come from a domestic-beer background enjoy it,” Keisler says. “It’s just a very drinkable beer. And very full-flavored. That’s what Grant and my father and myself set out to do. We said, ‘Texas is hot and hotter most of the year, and we want to make beers that people don’t feel like they’ve earned a medal when they get to the bottom of them.’”
Hops region champion
Peticolas Velvet Hammer
Like a lot of craft brewers, Michael Peticolas of Dallas’ Peticolas Brewing Company puts a lot of thought into the names of his beers. Cleverness counts, but with the Velvet Hammer, Peticolas found a name that perfectly describes this brew that starts smooth, even a little sweet, then hits you with its hoppy punch and 9 percent ABV.
“Although it has as much hops as your typical imperial pale ale, it has a very serious malt backbone to it,” Peticolas says during a phone interview. “The inspiration is balance. When you drink it, it doesn’t necessarily come across as a hoppy beer would, but it doesn’t come across as a malty beer, either.”
And like a lot of craft brews, it started as a backyard beer — something Peticolas made at home, to strong response from friends.
“They’d say, ‘You’ve made some good beers, but this is awesome,’” Peticolas says. “[But] when I started on the road back in 2010 to [having] a brewery, I didn’t have any preconceived ideas of what I was going to brew. My model at the time was to try to brew two different brews a quarter till the market picked a flagship.”
But because the imperial red ale had been so popular at home, Peticolas decided to make it one of the brewery’s first two beers.
Despite its promising background, it did have doubters. A representative from beer distributor Ben E. Keith told Peticolas that red ales don’t sell in North Texas.
“My response was, ‘Oh, my gosh, here I am, talking to a distributor — these folks sell beer for a living, they know what they’re doing — [and] his immediate response is that it’s not gonna work!’” Peticolas says, with some mirth in his voice. “But I went ahead and brewed that beer anyway. … That rep and I have become friends, and he said, ‘You know what, I need to amend that. Reds don’t sell — except for one of them.’”
Yes, this one does. Servers at Fort Worth’s Rodeo Goat Ice House and Little Red Wasp have sung the beer’s praises to us, and it also received high marks from the bartender/proprietor of Dallas Beer Kitchen. We thought maybe they were being prodded a little bit, but Peticolas says he doesn’t do a lot of touting of his beers at local bars, but rather lets their reputations develop on their own.
“I’m kind of unconventional in my approach,” says Peticolas, who adds that he has no immediate plans to bottle or can his beers. “I haven’t walked into a bar in more than a year and a half and said, ‘Hey, here’s my product.’ The only way you get my beer is if you call me. Everywhere I’ve ever taken a beer, those guys call me up. And it’s all about taking care of those guys. I am much more concerned with them than finding the next guy.”
Peticolas, whose brewery celebrated its second anniversary this month, launched Velvet Hammer in January 2012 with an event at Dallas’ Meddlesome Moth, which isn’t too far from his brewery. It was a cold, rainy night, but the event was well-attended, and bartenders told Peticolas that they were selling one Velvet Hammer about every 30 seconds.
“So after a three-month period came and I thought about brewing something else, I’d already said, ‘Well, shoot, I should probably give this beer a little more life,’” Peticolas said. “It had already generated a bit of a buzz on its own. And then after six months, it was clear that there was no way I could stop brewing that. To this day, it still sells better than anything else I have out there.”
Dark & Malty region champion
Lakewood The Temptress
Lakewood Brewing Co. owner Wim Bens is used to his imperial milk stout being called names.
“People have called it an adult milkshake [and] sex in a glass,” Bens says during a recent phone interview. “They feel very attached to The Temptress. … People really embrace it as a beer they love.”
It’s an infatuation Belgian native Bens and his brewers have known about ever since they were conducting grassroots tastings out of Bens’ garage in the east Dallas neighborhood of Lakewood, where the now Garland-based brewery got its start. Lakewood Brewing opened its doors in August 2012, offering a range of beers, including the Rock Ryder (a rye/wheat beer) and the Lakewood Lager (a Vienna-style lager).
According to Bens, The Temptress began as a home-brew recipe, and the public reaction to the dark, luscious, gorgeously textured beer (packing a hefty alcoholic punch with 9.1 percent ABV; “For being such a high-alcohol beer, it’s still very drinkable,” Bens says) was almost instantaneous.
“It became a crowd favorite pretty quickly, so we knew we had something that was going to work for us,” Bens says.
Bens describes The Temptress as a “big, rich, chocolaty stout,” and says it has “been fun seeing it evolve.”
Widely available in bottles (at stores like Central Market, Whole Foods or Total Wine) and on draft (scads of area brewpubs and restaurants offer it on tap), The Temptress is occasionally served via nitro taps in restaurants and bars. (For a great explanation of the difference between nitro and carbon dioxide taps, see CraftBeer.com’s thorough write-up.)
In short, nitro taps make smaller bubbles than carbon dioxide taps. Bens says there’s no wrong way to enjoy The Temptress, although he did allow that some people have noted a difference in the chocolate notes when drinking a nitro pour (milk) versus a carbon dioxide pour (dark).
“It’s completely up to the person drinking it,” Bens says. “I think it’s a great beer on nitro, just because it’s already decadent and it adds a little bit of a velvety texture to it.”
However the foamy head materializes, The Temptress comes on strong but pairs well with a surprising array of sweet and savory foods.
“I think a lot of people tend to go toward the sweet spectrum — they’ll pair it either with ice cream or a chocolate brownie. But I like pairing it with some savory stuff as well,” Bens says. “Anything that has some darker, roasted flavors to it … anything that has a really intense flavor, the beer complements it very well. It can stand up to foods that have really big flavors.”
Lakewood Brewing Co. has roared out of the gate in its first year, with a slate of four beers in year-round production and a trio of seasonal offerings, with additional beers in the works. (Indeed, one of Lakewood’s seasonal beers, the winter-only Bourbon-Barrel Temptress, is described on Lakewood’s site as “everything you love about the Temptress, but boozier and nicely-aged.”)
“We’re ahead of schedule,” Bens says with a slight chuckle. “We didn’t really know what to expect, [but] that’s kind of the beer business. You roll with the punches and you make the best of what you can. We’ve been very blessed and very lucky to have a really loyal following and have a lot of people in Dallas who are enjoying craft beer.”
Bens is happy not only that his Temptress has seduced so many craft beer fans, but that Lakewood Brewing Co. is part of the rapid proliferation of craft breweries in the Metroplex.
“The more locally made beer we have, the better — because it’s going to be fresher,” Bens says. “For somebody who’s trying craft beer for the first time, I’d much rather they try a craft beer that’s a week old versus something that’s coming from California or some other state where it’s been used and abused a little bit. … If they drink a local craft beer they like, they’re more likely to drink somebody else’s craft beer as well.
“A rising tide raises all ships when it comes to locally made beer, I think.”
Easy Drinking region champion
Community Public Ale
Community Public Ale won a gold medal at Denver’s Great American Beer Festival competition in October, but it’s not the type of beer to spike the football and do an end-zone dance. It’s a more modest beer that Community head brewer Jamie Fulton says was underappreciated till it won the prize, even though it had earned other medals.
“There’s nothing that just really stands out at you,” Fulton says. “It’s not really hoppy, it’s not high-alcohol, it’s not dark, it’s not barrel-aged. It’s got no sharp edges, which is what makes it so easy-drinking. A lot of people just scoff at it because it’s not a huge monster like an IPA, which is our bestseller. But there’s a lot to be appreciated in that beer.”
Fulton, who owned the Fort Worth brewpub The Covey (which closed three years ago), says he brewed the beer at the request of Kevin Carr, Community’s founder. Carr’s favorite style of beer is an English-style Extra Special Bitter, or ESB, known for its convivial pub-style drinkability.
“I initially resisted brewing [it], but Kevin wanted it,” Fulton says. “It is my favorite beer now, which is ironic. I’m glad it won that award, because I was afraid it was going to die a slow death.”
According to the beer’s “bio” on the Community website, the Public Ale’s ancestor is Fuller’s ESB, a mid-20th-century winter ale brewed by Fuller, Smith & Turner of London.
“It was originally a holiday beer,” Fulton says. “Fuller’s ESB was the original ESB — that’s what the others all stem from. American versions [tend to] lose a lot of the rich maltiness and especially the yeast character, which is big in my beer. We’re using a unique English yeast strain that really adds a lot of complexity to that beer.”
Fulton says the other ingredient that he showcases in the beer is Maris Otter English pale malt, which tends to be overshadowed by more modern malt varieties, but which Fulton believes gives the Public Ale an unrivaled taste for this style of beer. And like Revolver’s Blood & Honey, it’s a good bridge beer that appeals to specialists as well as dabblers.
“That was the idea with that beer,” Fulton says. “That, [Community] Witbier and Vienna Lager, they’re all approachable beers to novices, people just getting into it. But on the flip side, while someone that’s not used to craft beer might drink it and say, ‘That’s a good beer,’ veteran beer drinkers tend to appreciate it. That beer is all about subtleties, but within those subtleties, there’s a lot of complexity going on.”