Armed with its New Four Swords, Deep Ellum Brewing Co. Takes Over Goodfriend Tonight

Deep Ellum Brewing Co. is launching what founder John Reardon says may be their best beer yet tonight at Goodfriend Beer Garden. After enjoying a sample bottle, I am inclined to agree. 

Also featured in the 6 p.m. tap takeover are 2011 and 2012 Darkest Hour (my other candidate in the DEBC-favorite coin flip), 2013 Dream Crusher (the double rye IPA) and 2013 Cherry Chocolate Double Brown Stout.

Four Swords is a Belgian quadrupel or strong dark Belgian-style ale, and while it's a big, bold, 9.5 percent ABV beer, it shows surprising restraint for a brewery that often thumbs its nose at convention -- especially considering that with four brewers (the four swordsmen) working on it, it easily could have fallen victim to the old maxim about too many cooks. Instead, it sticks to BJCP standards for a Belgian quad, and is all the better for it. 

It's a thick, rich brew that pours a murky brown-leather color with a thick, long-lasting head. Toffee, caramel, brown sugar all leap from the glass, while the traditional Belgian yeast strain gives it some clove and other yuletide spice flavors. It's sweet in a good way, without being sticky or too sweet and with a nice hop bite at the end to balance it out. Along with being on tap at various establishments, it will be packaged in 750-mL bottles. I'm sure it would make for a great holiday-party or date-night brew to share. But tasty as it is, and as well-hidden as its potency is, you won't want to.

Brewvolution Wasn't Very Crowded, Which Was Great for Me but Not for the NTFB

Categories: Hophead

Dallas Observer Street Team
An undersized crowd at Brewvolution didn't bother these guys.
Last Saturday's Texas Brewvolution, the kickoff party for North Texas Beer Week, featured a couple dozen Texas breweries -- the most I've seen under one roof -- some rare finds from other great craft breweries across the country, and about half the attendees it should have had.

I got to try Community Beer Company's Trinity Tripel, which they describe as "a tripel with attitude," a very hop-forward tripel, as promised, with a big fruity aroma and a spicy finish. Lakewood Brewing Company's Lion's Share was a fantastic Belgian-style double IPA that I think had some woody, bourbony flavor from barrel-aging, but I could be mistaken as a few hours of sampling big-ass beers had rendered my notes rather questionable by that point. And it was an early chance to try beers from Salt Lake City's Uintas Brewing, which just started distributing in Texas -- and the huge Labyrinth Black Ale, which their booth's rep described as a "quadrupel black ale" packed a ton of flavor into a 13.2 percent ABV beer that didn't taste a smidge above 11 percent. Food-wise, the brisket pizza from the Doughboys food truck was awesome -- and came with a great T-shirt for just $10.

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Five Beers I Loved at Untapped Fort Worth

Categories: Hophead

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Tracie Louck
The line for Founders KBS (Kentucky Bourbon Stout)
The marriage of Spune Productions and The Common Table may be the best thing that has ever happened to local craft brew fans whose music taste extends beyond cover bands and Top 40 DJs as well as music fans who'd prefer something better than $8 pints of Bud Light. Saturday's Untapped Fort Worth, the second installment in the Untapped concert/beer fest series, was just as good as last September's initial Untapped in Trinity Groves. Maybe even better, as Pecan Lodge was selling chopped-beef sandwiches with a generous helping of its transcendent brisket. (I was a bit miffed at having to shell out $10 for a single sandwich without so much as a bag of chips for a side. Then I took a bite, and all was forgiven.)

Jaime-Paul Falcon did an excellent job describing the music and overall mood of the fest, while our photographer got some fun shots of the fans and the bands. As for the beer, here are five that really stood out for me, listed in the order in which I tried them.

1. Founders KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout): This had by far the longest line of the fest from the moment the gate opened at 2 p.m. for VIP ticket-holders. I'd guess it was 75 to 100 deep, as beer cognoscenti darted to the booth to try one of the world's most highly regarded stouts. It was indeed great. Smooth yet bitter, with rich dark coffee and chocolate flavor, well-balanced but with some bite and a lovely body. Best in the world? I don't know. It wasn't even my favorite stout I tried that day, but it made for a great start to the fest.

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Big Texas Beer Fest Was Even Better the Second Time. Here's Why.

Categories: Hophead
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Mike Brooks
Big Texas Beer Fest wasn't the best place to check out the ladies, but it could be done, as the dude in the camo shirt can attest. (See more of our photos from the event here.)
More than two hours in to the second iteration of Big Texas Beer Fest, I ran into organizer Chad Montgomery and asked him what beers he'd had so far that really impressed him. The answer shocked me: He hadn't had a sip yet, he was so busy. 

Montgomery's dedication to making the event run smoothly meant he missed out on most of the coveted rare and unique beers. But while the early-entrance VIP crowd didn't leave the most sought-after brews for the single most VI of the Ps, he did have the satisfaction of seeing 5,300 happy ticket-holders -- and his favorite part, hearing the roar of the crowd pass from one side of the Fair Park Auto Building to the other every time someone dropped a sample cup.

His next favorite aspect of this year's fest was the huge increase in Texas brewers, he writes by email a few days after the event: "The more and more we can focus on Texas brewers, the more we can narrow down our American and International craft brewers and be more selective with those."

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Shock Top Sent Me $100 Worth of Swag and Two Awful Beers. That Sums Them Up Perfectly.

Categories: Hophead
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Jesse Hughey
Yesterday I received a box full of suburban "camping" gear and a couple of sample beers from Shock Top, a package that stands as the perfect symbol of Anheuser-Busch InBev's utter contempt for and cluelessness about the culture of craft beer.

Packed inside a shock-resistant SwissGear Synergy laptop backpack, which retails for $65 to $99, were a backpacking stowaway pot (about $20), two Hershey's chocolate bars, marshmallows, a packet of graham crackers, roasting sticks, a Sterno can and some dessert thing with a s'mores base and chocolate molded into the shape of a beer mug. Most odious of all was a box of "Campfire Cologne," which consists of a few sticks of cedar wood, matches and instructions to "waft the essence over your flannel and beard." It sells for $13 a box at Urban Outfitters. Oh, and there were two bottles of Shock Top Campfire Wheat, too. It's made with graham wheat, chocolate malts, marshmallow flavoring and aged over cocoa nibs, because apparently the world needs a beer that tastes like artificial s'mores.

Boy, the marketing department at that multinational, billion-dollar corporation really nailed us craft-beer drinkers, didn't they? We're a bunch of bearded, flannel-wearing laptop jockeys who aspire to an outdoors lifestyle but in reality are more likely to buy the scent of campfire smoke at the mall. And rather than spending money improving their core product, they know we'll line up to sample a gimmick beer made with weird ingredients, as long as they can create the perception that it's in limited supply.More »

Divine Reserve 13 Is in Dallas Now, and It's Amazing

Categories: Hophead
Jesse Hughey
Actually, Snoop would probably like something with much danker hops.
Saint Arnold is now on No. 13 in its Divine Reserve series, with Monday's release of a strong dark Belgian-style ale. As always, it's a very limited release, with social media abuzz over sightings of the elusive beer. I called a few Dallas retailers Monday afternoon to find out if they had it yet, and got the feeling from most of those answering beer-and-wine-department phones I wasn't the first. Most said they'd be getting it midweek, so if you've whiffed on picking some up so far, despair not. There's a good chance one of your favorite stores hasn't even received delivery yet. It's out in six-packs of 12-oz. bottles (which some stores, including North Oak Cliff Beer & Wine, will sell individually), 22-oz. bombers and on cask. You can try to trace it by following the #DR13 hashtag on Twitter, but it's probably quicker to just make a couple or three phone calls to the likely suspects to score some yourself. I picked up a sixer at Whole Foods Park Lane on the way home from work last night. Here's what I thought:

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Hophead Ranks Stone Brewing's Enjoy By 04.01.13, Which is Available Right Now, So Hurry Up Already

Categories: Hophead
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It has been way too long since I used the old Hophead Ranking System, and I've been looking for a good reason to dust it off. So when Stone Brewing Co. sent a bomber of Stone Enjoy By 04.01.13 IPA, it seemed the perfect opportunity, and the time limit on the beer's availability gave me the kind of deadline I need to actually get something done.

The "Enjoy By" series uses huge amounts of hops in a big, bold double IPA, and is intended to be consumed as soon as possible. In fact, Stone vows to remove any remaining beers from shelves the day after its titular expiration date.

The irony of this is that giving a big IPA an expiration date flies in the face of the IPA creation myth. The popular story is that IPAs, or India pale ales, were brewed with bigger amounts hops and higher levels of alcohol to preserve them on the voyage from the British Isles to India. You'd think something with this big a dose of hops and this much alcohol would last for years. And it probably would, though the pungent, piney, floral hops would lose some of their punch. My theory is that Stone founder Greg Koch gets annoyed by the hoarding instincts of serious beer geeks and in most cases (Vertical Epic being an exception) just wants them to enjoy their beers instead of aging them. People sometimes ask him on Twitter if they should drink some special release now or hold onto it, and the answer is often along the lines of, "Open it now, but it probably would have been better a long time ago." Enjoying beer while it's fresh -- what a concept.

It's available for a very limited time at most of the usual beer-centric retailers and bars -- Whole Foods, Central Market, Craft and Growler, Meddlesome Moth, Union Bear, The Common Table and so on. You can search the website to find one near you.

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Saint Arnold Starts New Quarterly Beer Series

Categories: Hophead
Saint Arnold Brewing will roll out a limited series of a new beer next week, but don't put in a request for time off work just yet.

The Icon series will be quarterly releases, rotating in style and not necessarily tied to the season, with new label art. On December 10, the brewery will release Icon Red, a Belgian pale ale, to the Houston market, followed by draft, then package release to the rest of the state and Louisiana. Icon Blue, a Cascadian dark ale, is scheduled for March, followed by Green in June and Gold in September. It will be available on draft and in four-packs of 12-ounce bottles priced about the same as a regular Saint Arnold six-pack.

To learn more about it as well as the kitchen under development, and to dig up a little info about the next Divine Reserve release, I talked with founder Brock Wagner.

So tell me about the Icon series. I've read that it's been in the works since 2006. What's the idea for the series, and what led to it coming about now?
This is something we started thinking about several years ago. Basically we enjoy developing beer. It's one of the most fun things we do. But we also have to come up with some kind of avenue to release it. You can't just keep adding beers to your portfolio. You're not going to get unlimited shelf space.

Divine Reserve allowed us to do some of that beer developing on the high-alcohol end, big beers, but it wasn't set up in a way to do beers in the 4- to 6-percent range. Our original thought with the Icon series was to make very traditional beers, kind of the icons of that style. As we got into it, we couldn't help tweaking, playing with them and being creative. We have never been beholden to style guidelines. All I care about is it tastes great. I don't care if fits an existing style guide. We developed the artwork back in 2006. The problem was, at the old brewery we didn't have the capacity to make another beer. We were having a tough time keeping up with sales of our existing beers. You never sit around projecting 25 percent growth every year for a bunch of years unless you've been smoking something.

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The Common Table Will Soon Stop Serving Horrible Beer

Categories: Hophead
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... but not for much longer at The Common Table.
The Common Table enjoys a good reputation among local beer lovers for the ever-changing array of brews it offers. But in the next few days, that reputation stands to get even better for the beers it won't be pouring.

"Starting next week, we will no longer be offering mass produced beer," owner Corey Pond wrote on the gastropub's Facebook page last Thursday. "Instead we will only offer fresh, high-quality beers hand-crafted with quality ingredients -- many of which are made right here in Texas. We believe it's the right thing to do. We will work harder than ever to continue to spread the craft beer gospel and appreciate your support. Farewell BMC ... can't say we'll miss you at all."

Pond is a bit nervous about the risk that comes with not offering "BMC" (short for Budweiser, Miller and Coors products), though he notes that The Common Table wouldn't be unique among local beer bars that stubbornly refuse to stock the cheapest, most popular beers. He stopped ordering them and expects them to run out by Tuesday or Wednesday.

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Samuel Adams' 2012 Utopias Is Great or Awful, Depending on Whom You Ask

Categories: Hophead
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Jesse Hughey
You're doing it wrong, Goody Goody.
The Boston Beer Co. has released its 10th anniversary batch of Samuel Adams Utopias, and it's starting to turn up on shelves around town. I spotted some in the cooler at Goody Goody on Oak Lawn Avenue and had a private little beer-nerd laugh -- clearly, the staff there is uninitiated.

Utopias is an extremely potent, rich and complex beer meant to be served in 2-ounce pours and sipped at room temperature as if it were port or cognac. This year's batch is an unprecedented 29 percent ABV, and 750-mL bottles have a suggested price of $160. I doubt you'll even find a bottle that cheap -- Goody Goody had it marked at $199.99.

One could make the case that this is the world's strongest true beer. Other beers have surpassed that level, and Scotland's Brewmeister just rolled out a 65-percent (that's 130 proof) thing they call Armageddon. As far as I know, every other beer that reaches such levels is ice-distilled, meaning the beer is frozen and ice is removed, leaving behind a stronger concentration of alcohol. And, at least in the case of Brewdog's Tactical Nuclear Penguin and Sink the Bismarck!, two previous world's-strongest contenders, they also pretty much taste like ass

Utopias is brewed with malted barley, hops, water and yeast and naturally fermented. The high alcohol level is achieved over a long fermenting period with the use of very hardy yeast strains including a Champagne yeast, and adding lots of fermentable sugars -- maple syrup in years past, and judging by the taste, this year as well. This year, Utopias is a blend of beers going back as far as 19 years, including barrel-aged Triple Bock from Samuel Adams' original record-breaking 1994 batch (a now-quaint 17.5 percent ABV), and aged in casks that previously held bourbon, rum, tawny port and ruby port.

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