Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The State of the Texas Craft Beer Scene Part 1: 'A Fort Night' ft. Martin House Brewing

In what is hoped to become a semi-regular feature of [AA], the writers (that's "writers" without the 's') of this spotty publication will attempt to occasionally examine the current state of affairs regarding the craft beer scene in this Great State; it being a reeaaally long limb to step out onto, given that nothing else appears to be as healthy economically, socially, and culturally within the last 28 months than small beer -- and thusly, becomes a pretty goddam easy thing to babble on and on about.

Whenever there is a flourishing industry in which success is measured by a precarious equation of two-parts popularity and one-part quality, competitors often view the achievements of others as a personal affront, as if being robbed of something that is rightfully theirs. You see it all the time in various enterprises of retail or consumables -- two areas in which craft beer uniquely operates under a single umbrella -- yet remains the example of the one, single, resolute outlier without industry cannibalism.

As it stands at this moment, brewers, investors, capitalists, politicians, and the general collective of craft fans appear to be at the height of satisfaction with small beer's state of affairs, given its cultural and economic impact on communities all over Texas -- and in large part, the entire country.

Recently, I had the opportunity to broaden my exposure to the hyper-local craft beer scenes in other Texas cities beyond my beer-sopped interests of Travis County -- and so, with Mrs. [AA] as my forever companion in kickassery, we went looking for raucous piss-ups in Fort Worth for a night of exploring and matrimonial bonding through the medium of hopped-and-malted fermentables. 

BEER, is there anything it can't do?


In civic terms, there appears to be a bit of a wince from the Fort Worth populace when packaging the 'FW' into the equation of 'D' as part of the running Metroplexial summation.  This is to say that a bit of escapism is practiced by the local Fort Worth demographic from the banalities of being Dallas' little sister -- and with no disrespect to Dallas -- I don't blame them for it. 

Fort Worth, on its own, is such a magnificent city that it appears a total injustice for it to be packaged as the salsa to Dallas' tortilla chip -- as if Big D is the only vehicle in which Fort Worth can be properly enjoyed, an axiom found by the [AA]'s to be wholly untrue.

Instead, Fort Worth is bacon.  And Dallas is eggs.  And though they are dependable companions, each can be thoroughly enjoyed without the help of its geographical ally. 

And so this is what we did.  A full porcine helping of Fort Worth's belly meat -- first stop, Panther Island Pavilion.

Excuse me while I plagiarize a bit of my own work, but in another publication about the Fort Worth's Untapped Music and Beer Festival, I wrote about how at some point in time, someone, somewhere opined, "whatever happens in indie music happens in craft beer".

Truthfully, nobody has actually ever said that -- but if someone had, the theory would hold up well: quality collaborations, mashups, harshly palatable grimecore, revivalism, and, ultimately, the showy-showy showcases of talent in the form of a festival circuit.

To me, its seems positively mad that these two mediums -- craft beer and indie music -- have never been aligned in a completely determined way, being that they are so analogous on so many levels.  Here, in Fort Worth (and in Dallas at the later half of 2012), the two were masterfully allowed to cross-pollinate on a rather gorgeous Saturday in the spring.

Apart from the gorgeous weather and clever musical narration, what made this festival a relevant example of Fort Worth's emergent beer scene was: 1) The impressively visible representation of North Texas' breweries who were proudly serving their new, yet fully gratifying line-up of beers, and 2) The very appreciative and prescient crowd who expertly gravitated to the beer tents like old ladies to multiple-play bingo.  There was a definitive air of knowledge on the festival grounds that day, and left me with the impression that the people of Fort Worth are serious-to-fuck about great beer.  For its size, I would be hard-pressed to think of a more well-organized and better-curated beer event than Fort Worth's Untapped.

Beside the obvious treasures of [AA] family-favorite Founder's Kentucky Breakfast Stout and Firestone Walker's hot-tag of Parabola and §ucaba, one could find limited treasures from Fort Worth's Rahr & Sons Brewing in the form of two casks named Cheech (Imperial Red dry hopped with Galaxy and aged on Spanish cedar) and Chong (IPA with hemp seed and jalapeno), a not-so-subtle head nod to the event's coincidental calendar date.

For a community of beerists who tend to become very pretentious over time in rather unfair fashion -- and who often say unspeakable shit like, "OK, now fucking impress me" the beer vendors at Untapped had the attention of every single person in attendance, including us reprobates from [AA], who continued throughout the day to shoot flirty eye-boners at the tent handling Fort Worth's newest brewery, Martin House.

The thing with beer festivals in general is that its a bit like being in the Beer ICU, where one is on a steady drip of booze and pharmaceuticals all day and its veeery fucking easy to get inadvertently ruined.  Sometimes, you need a break from the 2oz sampling -- and strangely enough, the best way to do this is to get a proper pour of single beer to recalibrate the system. 

Brilliantly, Untapped made it simple to achieve this typically-impossible beer festival task by offering pours for a measly five skins.

And as a result, we elected Martin House's River House Saison to transition us from an afternoon of boozing in Fort worth to an evening of boozing in Fort Worth.  Congratulations to us.

River House Saison was the jaunty banjo of foot tapping Americana -- an excellent interpretation of a Wallonian, but not distinctly Belgian at all.  Instead it reflected on the heritage of the old-world while maintaining the ambiance of mid-century, mid-American brewing, then juxtaposed with a modern lo-fidelity texture, like Justin Vernon recording in the summer kitchen of a small stone house by some fucking woods or whatever.

River House maintained steady cohesion and great control from its brewers, who despite brevity in business, appear to be expert in skill.  River House was citrusy with foraging wheat and underlying fruit spices.  It really impressed with its refreshing and bright complexity, but understated composites.

It set us in a good direction.

ABV ~5.o%
Acquired Untapped Festival [Ft. Worth]
Can I Find This in Austin? Not yet, but canning is forthcoming and I'm feeling lucky.
Album Pairing Volcano Choir | Unmap (2009)

And thus, after a light dinner we gathered ourselves again, because the enjoyment of beer is not something that we ever run out of.

We drifted on to two of many highly recommended beer bars in the approximate areas of downtown and the Mockingbird area -- The OG Saucer and The Live Oak Music Hall and Lounge.  I'm a bit envious that 1) Their Saucer actually does NOT suck like the Austin one does, which is shameful because the Austin Saucer has proximal advantages that many other Austin beer bars don't, and has the corporate backing to bring in heavy hitters, like the aforementioned Founder's KBS, and 2) Fort Worth has a very legitimate, very permanent, very seamless venue for craft beer and live music in the form of The Live Oak, which beyond the badassedness of that alone, is curated and portered by the venerable Tony Drewry of Tony Drewry fame.  The melting of minds caused us to bail on our final destination, Zio Carlo Brewpub.

But, we left ourselves a reason to return.


Christopher Sheppard said...

Great post, looking forward to the rest of the series.

Mo G. said...

Hey, cheers. Next one will be on Houston.