…because you can.
Last night a panel of many of the most important pioneers of North Texas craft beer gathered together in Lakewood Brewing’s beautiful beer garden to discuss the history, current state and future of the DFW beer scene. The panel included:
- Wim Bens (President and Founder of Lakewood Brewing Co.)
- Fritz Rahr (President and Founder of Rahr & Sons Brewing Co.)
- Dennis Wehrmann (Founder and Brewmaster of Franconia Brewing Co.)
- Jamie Fulton (Brewmaster of Community Beer Company)
- Tim Deemer (Head Brewer of Lakewood Brewing Co.)
- Dan Heinzerling (Brewmaster at Humperdinks)
- Rick Ali (co-owner of Lone Star Beverages and Taps & Caps)
- Brian Brown (Beer Historian and Co-Author of Beer in Big D)
- Our own Captain Keith Schlabs (Beer Guru of Flying Saucer)
The who’s who, moderated by Bens, mused about how hard they’ve all worked as individuals and as a collective to make North Texas such a robust bastion of craft beer. Whether brewer or retailer, every one had their own tale of how 20+ years ago, trying to make a living in craft beer was a Herculean task — even more so than today. Trying to convince customers that beer was so much more than watery, light-colored fizzy stuff required hardcore education and more hours of work than the day had to give. You couldn’t just set up shop based on the merits and popularity of craft beer, as many seem to think you can do today. (By the way, try telling anyone currently working to open a restaurant/bar/bottle store/what-have-you that it just “sells itself.”)
Low demand and awareness.
Back then, craft options (domestic or import) were few and far between and mostly skewed to the import side. Local offerings were even more scarce. So, just gathering with buds to go out in search of a night full of good beer required effort and probably meant you were going to the same place over and over. There just weren’t any options.
Deemer recalled how Rock Bottom Brewing and Restaurant and Copper Tank Brewing Co. would give samples of their house craft options to customers ordering any of the mainstream commercial beers, just hoping to hook them. Rock Bottom brewed Dallas Light as an option to appeal to the typical Coors Light drinker. Fulton mentioned how bars, brewpubs and restaurants had to pull their weight and be just as good (or better) with their food game as they were with their beer, otherwise no one was biting. “We thought people would just want craft beer.” said a humble Deemer.
Forget options. It was all about price and familiarity.
The craft market segment was ridiculously small and fighting for more share meant that everyone had to battle on price. $2 and even $1 pint nights were common just to get people in the door and craft beer in their mouths. “Price was the sticking point,” says Schlabs, “it used to be how many (you could drink in a night) versus what interesting beers you had to choose from.” Places like Hoffbrau, Big Horn/Humperdinks, Two Rose (where Wehrmann plied his craft), and Yegua Creek (where Schlabs started) had to just figure it out and make it work. Bottle shops such as Ali’s had to make do with a very limited craft selection and make great efforts to steer customers away from homogenized commercial beer towards the product that they wanted so desperately to succeed.
The movement had to succeed.
The fight was a big one and took it’s toll on everyone in the game. Rahr lamented having to cut his entire staff at one point and run the whole operation with only volunteers from the community to keep the brewery alive. Without question, a Herculean task. But the movement had to succeed.
And in order for craft beer to succeed, brewers and retailers would have to work together to educate and grow the market. And that’s what these pioneers did and continue to do today. And not to make it about us, but Flying Saucer is very proud to have been there to help pave the way and educate many of the top-notch brewers North Texas and the world love today.
Almost the entire panel reflected upon how Flying Saucer was the hall in which they received a large portion of their craft beer education. It was the Saucer that allowed them to try new offerings that weren’t available in other establishments, including locals. These opportunities to try what the world offered helped inspire breweries like Lakewood, Community, and Rahr, who now have eight GABF and three World Beer Cup medals between them. It’s breweries like these that help Flying Saucer do our job of bringing good beer to good people. We rely on each other and we take great pride in “dancing with who brung ya.”
Why we celebrate.
And while it’s not about medals, but rather the quality of product — seeing how North Texas has been well-represented and victorious at the most illustrious beer competitions in the world makes us proud. So does the incredible beer being produced by not only these gun-slingers but every other great brewery here in North Texas. And being able to head to just about any bar, restaurant, bottle shop and even grocery store to enjoy a local, craft option is probably what we’re most proud to see. The movement is still alive and stronger than ever. From just two to over 50 in roughly 20 years. We’ve come a long way and have the beer to show for it.
And that’s why you should celebrate NTX Beer Week. Because you can.