Let’s be honest, “craft beer” is a combination of words that scares most average Joes (including He Wines), and the thought of taking a date to a craft brewery may very well set off an awkward chorus of crickets as she thinks of how best to let you down. When most of us think of beer, we think big brands, and smooth tastes, and while these are lame and watered down in the eyes of beer snobs, we like knowing exactly what we will get. That said, if you look around, you might notice a brewery or two popping up close to your house. In fact, there are now 40 of them in the DFW area, and a few short years ago there were just a small handful. The good news for you is that many brewers are focused as much on the common man and woman as they are the beer nerd. These brewers all have one thing in common; they’re striving to make approachable beers in the hopes of welcoming in the masses.
We quickly discovered that within the craft beer scene, regardless of your level of expertise or fanaticism, there really is something for everyone. Our two-man team tasked with all this beer drinking research was comprised of one young avid consumer of local beer, and He Wines, who prior to this craft beer pilgrimage, would have much preferred sticking with the big brands he already knew, or maybe a bottle of perfectly aged cabernet. At the conclusion of this feature we’ll provide you with our list of the top ten best craft beers in North Texas based on everything we’ve gotten to try, and as you’ll be able to tell, that list is very much an eclectic mix of both of our distinct flavor preferences. For all our He and She culinary couple readers, our conclusion was this: if one of you is unsure about taking the plunge and getting into craft beer, just go for it. Considering the variety of styles and the high number of quality brewers in the area, you’re bound to find something you’ll love.
For several of the breweries that were gracious enough to allow us to come by to conduct an interview and drink some beer on site, we’ve written individual features that detail what makes them special. You can check those features out over on our Drink Reviews page, and we’ll also be linking to them throughout this piece. Now without further ado, let’s talk beer.
The Wheels on the Bus
North Texas is currently home to around forty different craft breweries. Any endeavor to adequately review all these breweries and their respective beer lineups in great detail is a colossal undertaking. It’s an intimidating proposition, not only because of the ever expanding list of esteemed North Texas brewers that merit a mention, but also because the human body can only handle so much booze. When we first set out to try and get an accurate feel for North Texas’s craft beer scene, we underestimated both the scale of this flourishing microbrew industry, and the sheer amount of alcohol our bodies would be required to absorb in order to do the scene justice. Talk about suffering for your work.
So where does someone looking to get better acquainted with the North Texas craft beer scene start their journey? We highly recommend buying a ticket for the Dallas Brew Bus. These fine gentlemen offer tours that visit three breweries in a day, providing both great beer and valuable insight into the state of North Texas’s burgeoning craft beer industry. The Brew Bus’s founder, Matt Dixon, describes it as a “mobile beer festival, wrapped up in an adult field trip.” After spending a day on the Brew Bus, visiting three different brewpubs, and having our fill of phenomenal local beer, we found Matt’s description to be spot on.
The scene is still relatively young (we’re not even a decade out from the first micro breweries popping up around the metroplex), but it is currently experiencing rapid growth. As a matter of fact, the whole state is quickly being populated by more and more local breweries. According to the Brewers Association, Texas was home to 59 breweries in 2011, and by the end of 2015 had nearly 200. There’s never been a better time for North Texas beer drinkers to get plugged into the craft community; good local beer is both a new and novel commodity, but also an up and coming industry on the brink of total ubiquity.
Including the breweries we visited on the Brew Bus, we visited about ¼ of the craft breweries in North Texas. We started up North in McKinney, paying a visit to brewmaster Dennis Wehrmann and his crew at Franconia Brewing Company (feature here). Franconia is one of North Texas’s oldest breweries at a little over eight years old, but their beer heritage extends much further back than that. Dennis comes from a line of German brewers who’ve been at it since 1800, and it’s safe to say he’s doing his family proud. Our favorite Franconia beer is the dark and rich “Tripel Dunkel”, which is available in bottles at several local craft beer spots. Franconia made for a great introductory stop on our craft brewery jounrey, and we highly recommend checking them out yourself.
Our next stop was to Dallas’s design district (which is fast becoming the brewery district), to Community Beer Company (feature here) for a beer and cheese pairing. Whereas Franconia showed us what craft beer faithful to its old world origins looks like, Community gave us a glimpse of what craft beer is becoming. We loved Community’s beer, in fact, we fell in love with their Marzen lager: Community’s take on the copper colored Oktoberfest style beer that reminded He Wines of being back in the motherland. This brew from Community epitomizes the style; it’s both rich and flavorful, while light and easy drinking. In addition to perfectly encapsulating the style, it’s probably the perfect gateway beer for those looking to find something more flavorful than the big brands they’re used to.
We certainly couldn’t talk about great gateway beers without mentioning Grapevine Craft Brewery (feature here). Their founder, Gary Humble, describes their lineup as “the six pack you keep in your fridge” kind of beer. Everything about their brews says balanced and approachable. We especially loved their award winning English style brown ale, “Sir William’s”. We also certainly wouldn’t mind drinking another one of their refreshing “Monarch” pilsners out in the beer garden on a sunny afternoon. Next time you’re on your way out of town via DFW airport, remember to get one last cold local brew before you split town, make sure to stop by the Grapevine Craft Brewery taproom.
After visiting Grapevine we hopped over to Garland to see our friends Cary and Tex over at Intrinsic Smokehouse and Brewery. This duo is working to bring the community of downtown Garland something unprecedented in the area. Despite being the first brewpub in town, Intrinsic definitely feels like it belongs. Cary, the founder and brewmaster, told us they picked the name “Intrinsic” in order to convey this sense of belonging, this deep rootedness within the community. The locals have embraced Intrinsic, and with good reason, their beer is phenomenal and they offer something for everyone. If you have a friend that swears by Blue Moon, have them try Intrinsic’s Hibiscus Wit. Brewed with actual flower petals, this beer is so light, sweet, and clean, its flavor is distinct from anything else we tried on our craft beer journey. Speaking of distinct flavors, Intrinsic’s Tamarind Habanero lager was equally memorable. While the taps have run out of this amber colored lager, it will be back soon. When it returns, be sure to bring a Growler to Garland because you will want to take some home. It’s not spicy, as the name might suggest. Instead, it’s both light and full bodied with a smooth finish that leaves just a little bite on your tongue. It pairs perfectly with a hearty dinner! Speaking of dinner, don’t forget Intrinsic is a restaurant and pitmaster Tex’s BBQ is top notch! They also have Sangria on tap for Wine lovers as well as house made non alcoholic root beer for the kids.
Speaking of BBQ, our next stop was a return to the design district where we wound up discovering a beer that makes for a great BBQ marinade. “Great Scot!” is Peticolas Brewing Company’s (feature here) limited release scotch ale. This wee heavy style is a personal favorite, and Peticolas does it marvelously. Turns out, all of their beers are pretty marvelous. We didn’t try a brew we didn’t like. Beyond the Great Scot with its magical brisket brining powers, our other favorites from Peticolas were their famous imperial red ale, “Velvet Hammer”, and their kolsch, “Golden Opportunity”.
Remaining in Dallas proper we drove over to Braindead Brewing in Deep Ellum for the next stop on our craft beer rager (at this point our families started to think we might have a problem). Braindead is housed in a great location. If you’re a fan of the increasingly trendy Deep Ellum night life, their spacious patio area might be a new haunt. As for the beer itself, we felt Brainedead was definitively so-so. Their lineup is solid enough (The “Export Stout” with its pleasant, lingering caramel notes is probably the one to get), but nothing really blew us away. Admittedly, our impression of the beer may have been influenced by the fact that, during our brief tour, we noticed the brewery was a little untidy, and we were treated as something of an afterthought by the ownership. This behavior seemed to conflict with the idealistic motto painted on Braindead’s walls: “Be Excellent to Each Other”. All in all, Braindead is worth a visit (we’ve heard the food is quite good, but didn’t try it), but if it’s the best local beer in North Texas that you’re after, we think there are better spots.
In fact, we came across two such spots while riding the Dallas Brew Bus. We stopped in at On Rotation, a fun and experimental brewpub run by a husband and wife team, which He Wines She Dines always roots for! The two standout brews for us at On Rotation were the subtly spicy Jalapeno Saison and the “Cafe Au Lait” Coffee Milk Stout. The Cafe Au Lait, emulating New Orleans style coffee, includes an ample helping of chicory in the brew, that really makes the beer come alive, imbuing it with a potent, memorable coffee flavor. In addition to On Rotation, the Brew Bus also introduced us to Noble Rey Brewing Company. Yet another design district brewery, Noble Rey cultivates a fun and relaxed atmosphere, furnishing their brewpub with beanbags and Nintendo games. More than a fun environment, they also brew good beer. We even found a new favorite at Noble Rey; their Mexican style lager, the hilariously titled, “Sex in a Canoe”. It’s a great poolside, sunny weather beer. We wound up taking some home in a growler.
Staying in the design district for a moment, allow us to talk about one of our favorite breweries we visited during our continued research ( by now, more a bender than research). Texas Ale Project (feature here), like On Rotation, is a brewery run by a husband and wife duo, Kat and Brent Thompson. These two can proudly claim to have built the first from the ground up brewery in the city of Dallas since prohibition. They can also proudly claim to be brewing some of the tastiest, most balanced beers in all of North Texas. Kat and Brent gave us a taste of their “Fire Ant Funeral” Amber Ale, and we were enamored with its mixture of memorable malty sweetness, slight tinge of hop bitterness, and total drinkability. Fire Ant Funeral was one of the best beers we sampled, and we can’t wait to visit the Texas Ale Project taproom soon for another one.
Last but certainly not least, we have to mention our trip to Audacity Brew House in Denton (feature here). Audacity is currently Denton’s only craft brewery. A bit surprising, as Denton as a whole is heavily influenced by its college town culture that embraces local products when it can, and is starting to embrace craft beer. Audacity’s founders, Scott Lindsey and Doug Smith, understand this about Denton. They’re hard at work building up a college town craft beer community, serving up a varied selection of quality local brews. A couple of our favorites were their witbier called “Spring Break”, a cloudy Belgian style beer that we could sip all day long, and their “Evil Cream Soda”, a real easy to drink treat that can easily sneak up on you at 6.9% ABV.
Cheers to North Texas Craft Beer
As we’ve mentioned previously, adequately reviewing all of the excellent local beer readily available in our neck of the woods is an almost impossible task. Our feature, while we hope you find it useful, is not meant to be exhaustive. There are a great deal of heavyweights in the North Texas craft beer community that, due to either time constraints or logistical complications, we were not able to visit and form full impressions of. We tracked down certain beers at our local growler fill up stations and sampled them on our own, and for some breweries (like Lakewood), we patronized the taproom as typical customers in order to get a feel for their beers. Below you’ll find the list of our top ten favorite beers based on everything we got to try. There’s also a link where you can download a handy chart of our top 10, something to refer to the next time you’re thinking of going out for a local beer. You’ll also find a few honorable mentions we felt were too essential to leave out. Our list is a combination of brews selected by both a lover of dark beer and a lover of light beer; much like the North Texas craft beer scene, our top ten offers up something for everyone. Cheers!
He Wines She Dines Top 10 Craft Beers in North Texas:
1.) Community: Marzen Lager
2.) Peticolas: Velvet Hammer Imperial Red Ale
3.) Intrinsic: Tamarind Habanero Lager
4.) Texas Ale Project: Fire Ant Funeral Amber Ale
5.) Franconia: Tripel Dunkel
6.) Grapevine: Sir William’s English Style Brown Ale on Nitro
7.) Community: Barrel Aged Legion Russian Imperial Stout
8.) Peticolas: Great Scot! Wee Heavy/ Scotch Ale
9.) Audacity: Spring Break Belgian Witbier
10.) Lakewood: Vienna Style Lager
Honorable Mentions (Select North Texas beers that we tried over these four-ish weeks that you shouldn’t miss, listed here in no particular order):
Noble Rey Sex in A Canoe Mexican Style Lager
On Rotation: Cafe Au Lait Coffee Milk Stout
Peticolas: Golden Opportunity Kolsch
Deep Ellum: Deep Ellum IPA
Revolver: Blood & Honey
Intrinsic: Hibiscus Wit
Grapevine: Monarch Pilsner
Texas Ale Project: The Caucasian White Russian Imperial Stout
Lakewood: The Temptress Imperial Milk Stout
Rahr & Sons: Blonde Lager