Friday, September 14, 2012
DIY craft beer culture bubbles over in Dallas-Fort Worth
"There's definitely pent up need and desire here for good beer," said the president of the North Texas Homebrewers Association.
The new era for DIY brewing is here, and Dallas-Fort Worth hopheads are jumping on the neighborhood bandwagon.
Events like last weekend's Untapped Festival in Trinity Groves couldn't come at a better time, according to Lakewood Brewing Company President Wim Bens, who built the foundation of his newly established brewery on those two things. He said that public support is important now more than ever because of Texas state laws that make corporate outreach challenging for the beer industry.
"Texas has a lot of overhang laws from prohibition that make it difficult to get your product to the consumer," Bens says citing one stipulation that prohibits his company from distributing directly from their warehouse in North Dallas. "But with so many breweries popping up, [the issue] is in everybody's face."
Lakewood Brewing Company began as a several-barrel operation in Bens' home garage in Lakewood about seven years ago when he started brewing. That modest setup now boasts 240 barrels (with room for 500 more), a team of more than 10 enthusiasts and three solid recipes that had Untapped attendees swooning late into the fest. It's a matter of perseverance for Bens' who won multiple awards for his home brewing and now sees his original recipes being served at over 50 locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. His knack for brewing Belgian styles, inspired by the time he lived in Antwerp, Belgium, and the time he spent in his apprenticeship at Rahr & Sons in Fort Worth both drove Bens' passion and intellect for the craft until he decided it was time to make a serious move.
"You don't just wake up one day and decide to start a brewery," Bens said as he perfectly poured his signature Temptress Stout in a 2 oz. tasting glass. The beer's flavor is unique the day of the festival because it is run through a piece of equipment called a Randall containing bourbon-soaked espresso beans, which instantaneously infuses the beer as it passes through the tap. The former creative director of advertising firm Tracy Locke contemplates about the risk and dedication of opening a brewery.
"The barriers to entry are so high. The licensing costs the same whether you are brewing nine barrels or 900 barrels," Bens explained. "At some point you have to ask yourself if that tiny amount is worth it."
Chuck Homala knows the system well. As president of the North Texas Homebrewers Association, he manages a network of over 400 beer enthusiasts and aspiring brewmasters as well as puts on the Bluebonnet Brew-Off, the world's largest single-site homebrew competition which takes place every spring in Irving. In Homala's opinion, more relaxed laws would boost the state's economy.
"Texas is the single biggest consumer of beer by state, but No. 49 in production. There's definitely pent up need and desire here for good beer," Homala contested as he pointed out that both Cedar Creek Brewery and Lakewood are members of his organization. "Thank goodness it's gotten better over the past year."
One reason is a landmark court case between Austin's Jester King (whose Beer Geek Rodeo was being served at Untapped) and the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission. Last December, a state judge found several of the TABC rules concerning the way breweries market their product to be unconstitutional by way of the First Amendment. Up until this year, breweries were not allowed to tell consumers where their beers were sold, nor were they allowed to accurately describe it as a beer or an ale.
"[The law] made no sense. It was ridiculous," said Homala with a grin. "[The ruling] opens up the doors for all the new local guys who are starting up these microbreweries. They can actually do things more freely now."
While the Jester King case was an important milestone, there is still a long way to go. Several lobbying groups and nonprofits around the Lone Star State are now working toward bigger goals. Take for example Open The Taps, a group "founded on the principles of a consumer advocacy organization but with a clear focus on working within the legislative process in Texas to help to loosen the restrictions that are stifling the growth of the burgeoning national craft beer movement in Texas," according to the organization's website.
The self-acclaimed "grassroots organization" set forth several legislative initiatives for the next year including a bill to permit Texas breweries to sell their products directly to the consumer; a bill to permit Texas brew pubs to distribute their beers to wholesalers, liquor stores, etc.; and a bill to amend the way state breweries are licensed, among other things. The Texas Craft Brewers Guild is one other lobbying group pushing for similar initiatives.
Bens is hopefully, though not naive. The Texas Legislature meets only once every two years to decide on these types of issues, so watching the bustle around Trinity Groves provides optimism enough that local economics are in the craft brewer's favor.
"Our mantra is 'internationally inspired, locally crafted,'" said Bens.
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