Rise of the Microbrews

Cam Horn and Dennis Wehrmann are driven to provide great brews. Photo Courtesy: Jonah Gilmore
Cam Horn and Dennis Wehrmann of Franconia Brewing Co. take a break. Photo Courtesy: Jonah Gilmore

By Amber LaFrance

What Texan doesn’t love beer?

After drinking the cheapest beer I could find in college, I was thrilled to discover Miller High Life’s much tastier relative, the craft brew.

Five years ago, the local craft beer scene consisted of two main breweries, Franconia and Rahr & Sons, but in the last 16 months, we’ve seen at least 13 new breweries pop up in North Texas with more slated to open this fall, like Grapevine Craft Brewery in October.

Sounds like a lot of competition for the two granddaddies of local beer, but Franconia’s head brewer, Cam Horn, claims that it’s all “healthy competition.”

“The more breweries that open up, the more it opens people’s eyes to the beer that’s out there,” Horn said.

Tait Lifto of Deep Ellum Brewing Co. attributes the recent growth to the fact that “people are demanding higher quality products with great taste. They want to eat and drink things made from scratch without additives and chemicals. The craft beer scene took longer to develop in DFW but it’s in the same vein.”

After picking the brains of local brewery founders, yeast biologists, Cicerones and fellow beer geeks, I quickly learned that the recipe for success in this ever-growing market is passion and hard work.

“It takes a love for what you’re doing,” Horn said. “There’s not a lot of money in the brewing industry. If you want to make money on alcohol, own a bar not a brewery.”

Each and every person I met in the local brew scene oozed passion. They live, breathe and eat (well, drink) beer. It’s all about teaching people that not all beers are created equal.

“It takes an enormous amount of cash, a hunger that can’t be extinguished, and a good knowledge of the beer industry and its people,” said Bryan Kaeser, the brains behind The Dallas Beer Kitchen.

“Most of the owners were once home brewers that knew they had some skill at making beer and the money to get started. Some just went and hired the right brewer. No way is better than the other, since they both reach a desirable result: great beer and nice people to sell it.”

Michael Peticolas of Peticolas Brewing Co. takes a different approach with his locally focused business model.

“It’s about slow, slow consistent growth for me and making sure I can take care of my current customer before I market to the next customer,” Peticolas said. “It’s very word-of-mouth. I’ve made it a goal to make my consumers my marketers.”

Regardless of the method, the North Texas beer scene is growing incredibly fast, especially in the last few years, as we continue to see breweries open their doors every other month.

“There’s still room for growth,” Horn said. “I don’t see it stopping anytime in the near future. I definitely see some serious growth for each of the microbrews in the area.”

Recent changes in legislation and a fiver of new craft beer laws have allowed local breweries to now sell beer by the pint. Since they still can’t sell bottles of beer to take home and stow away in your fridge, it hasn’t changed the game much.

“Brew pubs help that process,” Horn said of the growing microbrew industry. “That might be the way the market starts to go. The new legislation hasn’t affected us much at all. We wanted to be able to send people home with six packs or growlers, but we can’t yet.”

Here’s to hoping that that will change soon. Happy drinking!

Franconia Brewing Co.
The Environmentalist

Born and raised in Germany, founder Dennis Wehrmann has been serving craft beer since 2008. Striving to give locals authentic Bavarian beer, he’s also worked to reduce its carbon footprint. Boasting its own on-site energy transformer, the brewery goes even further to recycle used mash from brewing into food for local cattle.

“Franconia is an exception to the rule,” Horn said. “We brew traditional German-style session beers. You can have multiples at once in a drinking session, they’re easy-to-drink with 5% ABV or under.”

What you didn’t know: Wehrmann saw an opportunity to open his brewery here after seeing the success of local breweries in Germany. Where he’s from the population is about the same size as DFW, but with around 380 local breweries.

Try this: The perfect summer beer, the Franconia Koelsch, is light and refreshing.

Stop by: Brewery tours are Saturdays at 11 a.m. in McKinney.

Peticolas Brewing Co.
The Brew Next Door

The mantra behind this brewery is so local-centric that founder Michael Peticolas fought for months to have his brewery open in the Design District. Peticolas oversees every aspect of production. It’s so important to him that everyone enjoys the freshest beer that if you live outside of the city limits, he won’t ship his brews to your location, not even if you beg.

He even goes so far as to deliver the kegs himself to places like The Bottle Shop.

“I make balanced beers; I’m not the extreme brewer,” he said. “I’ve made about eight or nine beers and it’s all about balance. It’s about this local area.”

The love story: Peticolas fell in love with beer after tasting his mother’s home-brewed Mexican lager with apricot notes.

Try this: The full-bodied Velvet Hammer. This brew is so popular that a local girl recently married it in the brewery (the keg even wore a tux).

Stop by: Brewery tours are on the first and third Saturdays of the month from 1-3 p.m. in the Design District.

Revolver Brewing
The Barley Wranglers

Granbury-based father-son duo Ron and Rhett Keisler teamed up with seasoned brew genius and Cicerone Grant Wood in October. After a 16-year stint with Sam Adams in Boston, Wood joined the team and set out to brew with fresh, local ingredients.

Try this: Revolver’s Blood & Honey wheat ale – made with local honey, which Wood said is particularly special. He knows his stuff; one of his hobbies back in Boston was beekeeping after all.

Stop by: Brewery tours Saturdays from noon-3 p.m. in Granbury.

903 Brewers
The New Kid in Town

The newest player to the game, 903 Brewers, opened just over a month ago with only two beers. Homebrew-loving newcomer Jeremy Roberts paired up with good friend Austin Jones (who did a stint at Rahr & Sons) and plans to launch four new beers by the end of summer.

What you don’t know: 903’s Roo’s Red ale, a 7% ABV, is named after the mascot of the local Austin College, the Kangaroo.

Try this: The Chosen One with a hint of coconut. They’ve also been experimenting with a Whopper Stout, where they add Whoppers to a dark stout as it boils.

Stop by: Trivia on Tap each Thursday from 6-8 p.m. in Sherman.

Martin House Brewing Co.
The Outdoorsman

Brewery Engineer Cody Martin, a civil engineer turned brew master, opened Martin House in March. He has more than 10 years perfecting his home-brews which crafted the selection they offer today: River House, The Imperial Texan, There Will Be Stout and Day Break.

The location was chosen to easily hop on mountain bikes after work and ride the trails behind the brewery.

“Our beers are all stand outs from the crowd, they’re not comparable to others in the market,” said Martin, who has a beer modeled after a bowl of cereal, the Day Break.

The love story: Martin fell hard for Unibroue La Fin Du Monde, a triple fermentation blonde ale and it snowballed from there.

Try this: There Will Be Stout is brewed with more than six pounds of sourdough pretzels per barrel. It’s salty and sweet.

Stop by: Brewery tours are Saturdays from 2-5 p.m. in Fort Worth.

Rahr & Sons Brewing Co.
The Patriarch

If you live in Texas, drink beer and haven’t heard of Rahr & Sons, there’s something seriously wrong.

William “Fritz” Rahr opened in downtown Fort Worth in 2004 after deciding to continue the family legacy here in Texas (the family started brewing up North in 1847). It features the granddaddy of local brews, with numerous awards. Their Winter Warmer, a chocolaty brew with hints of cherries, took home the gold at the Beer Tasting Institute’s World Beer Championship.

What you didn’t know: You can book a spot on the “2014 Rahr Brew Cruise,” where beer bellies and beer lovers alike will set sail for a five-day Western Caribbean cruise.

Try this: The seasonal wee-heavy Iron Thistle Scotch-Style Ale.

Stop by: Brewery tours are Wednesdays from 5-7:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 1-3 p.m.

Community Beer Co.
The Do-Gooder

Head brewer Jamie Fulton opened the brewery in December with an impressive resume after wanting to create a place that not only brews beer, but hosts art and magic in the yeast laboratory (he’s studying to become a microbiologist).

The love story: After attending Le Cordon Bleu in London and falling in love with fine foods, Fulton took a tour of Europe and set his mind to recreating the classic flavors of the brews he tasted abroad.

Try this: Voted the Best of the Rockies/Southwest at the U.S. Beer Tasting Championships, the Mosaic IPA won’t blow your head off with hoppy bitterness.

Stop by: You can buy beer by the glass during Tap Room Fridays 5-9 p.m. or attend Beer School Saturdays at noon. There’s regular brewery tours Saturdays from 2-5 p.m. in the Design District.

Deep Ellum Brewing Co.
The Experimentalist

Since opening the doors in November 2011, this Deep Ellum-based brewery is chock full of BIG personalities. With four brews available year-round, they’ve gotten to work creating handfuls of small-batch brews, some available for only a limited time. My personal favorite was the limited edition Bourbon Barrel Aged Deep Ellum IPA. Community-centric and proud of their home, they filter everything they do through a Deep Ellum filter (think of it as WWDED).

What you didn’t know: New Brew Master Jeremy Hunt started this month after studying at the Bluegrass Brewing Co. in Kentucky.

Try this: The Dallas Blonde – a citrusy golden ale that “goes down easy.”

Stop by: Brewery tours on Thursdays from 6:30-8 p.m. in Deep Ellum.

Lakewood Brewing Co.
The Former Mad Man

After making the move when he was 7, Belgian-born brew master Wim Bens spent years honing his craft at The American Brewer’s Guild and an apprenticeship at Rahr & Sons. Before opening in March 2011, Bens punched his timesheet as a  creative in advertising at Tracy Locke.

The love story: Growing up in Belgium, lower alcohol beer was marketed towards kids so Bens had a sip or two, but he spent his 20s hanging out at the first Flying Saucer in Addison. “That’s really where the journey began,” he said.

Try this: The Temptress’ chocolaty and caramel notes will tempt you to add a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Hell, why not?

Stop by: Brewery tours are Saturdays from noon-3 p.m. in Garland.