Mike Everly sits in the quaint taproom at Four Corners Brewing Co. sipping a Paletero pale ale. This sunny Wednesday is Everly's first time at the brewery since he's visiting on business from Henderson, Nev., and he's just received a personal tour from one of the brewery owners.
"I like being around the people that made" the beer, Everly says. "They're passionate about what they do. Now I'm passionate and excited about what they do."
Just two years ago, this type of relaxed experience would not have been possible. But taprooms are quickly becoming a fundamental piece of the microbrewery model in Dallas-Fort Worth, adding the comfort of a neighborhood bar to the businesses' industrial production spaces.
Taprooms benefit drinkers and brewers alike by providing access to craft beer when it's the freshest, acting as a laboratory for test recipes and offering more tap space than one operation might ever receive at a bar or restaurant. And brewers say the extra income isn't bad either.
Before 2013, Texas law prohibited breweries from selling beer directly to the public, which meant owners had to search for loopholes to bring customers in the door. Many local establishments promoted weekend facility tours for a $10 entry fee that included "complimentary" beers.
"It was basically a glorified keg party," says Greg Leftwich, co-founder of Four Corners, which opened in West Dallas in 2012.
Like most local breweries, Four Corners has deviated from that structure. In fact, the moment the bill allowing direct sales passed, the brewery began transforming its beer-filling station into a cash bar. Patrons now buy beer by the pint, flight or 10-ounce pour and take the tour in smaller groups -- for free. Four Corners partner George Esquivel loves that it's given him more time to talk craft beer with the clientele.
"We're in this to spread the gospel, and you can't do that with 400 people roaming around," he says.
In addition to the vibe, drinkers can expect to find experimental or one-off batches exclusive to local taprooms, since they're something of playground for brewers.
When FireWheel Brewing Co. founder Brad Perkinson began build-out on his new facility in Rowlett in late 2014, he installed 24 taps for house-made beers and sodas. Many recipes, like FireWheel's peach IPA, won't be sold anywhere else, he says. Perksinson's volunteers have also flexed their creative muscles making inventive mixed beers, such as the FireWheel Black and Tan, a pour of the brewery's pale ale topped with its imperial American black ale. And the bar will "float" any beverage by adding a scoop of ice cream for $2.
New microbreweries coming to the scene have the advantage of weaving watering holes into the fabric of their design, so suburbs such as Allen (Nine Band Brewing), Keller (Shannon Brewing Co.) and Sherman (903 Brewers) not only have a local microbrewery, but also a new craft-beer bar.
Being able to leverage the taproom as a second revenue stream has been crucial for Kat and Brent Thompson, co-founders of the recently opened Texas Ale Project in Dallas. Between the indoor space and outdoor beer garden, it can fit roughly 300 patrons plus a food truck and sometimes even a band.
Despite the obvious benefits, the Thompsons and other brewers offered a word of caution: Running a taproom is not the same as running a brewery.
"It adds a level of complexity," Kat says. "It's a second business."
Perkinson says he never wanted to own a bar and the daily grind is demanding, but there's one aspect that makes it all worth it.
"The main thing is connecting with the community," he says, "so they can be proud to support something local."
FIVE TAPROOM FAVORITES
Audacity Brew House
Denton's first microbrewery may be nestled in an industrial district, but it's hard to miss. The building is neon green inside and out. It's a cozy, family-friendly environment with wooden tables, up to 12 taps of house beer and the occasional bit of live music. There's also a patio out back where food trucks regularly pull in.
DEBC converted what used to be office space into a rustic-chic taproom with exposed brick and Edison fixtures. Owners installed 16 draft taps for beer nerds and several TVs for sports junkies. The taproom also has direct access to the beautiful dog-friendly beer garden, which features a stage for live music.
- Address: 2823 St. Louis St., Dallas
- Hours: Monday-Friday from 3 to 10 p.m., Saturday noon to 10 p.m.
- Tours: Thursday from 6 to 8:30 p.m., Saturday noon to 3 p.m. Free.
- Serves: Pints
- Contact: 214-888-3322. deepellumbrewing.com.
Lakewood Brewing Co.
As part of a 14,000-square-foot expansion, Lakewood Brewing added a spacious new taproom backed by floor-to-ceiling windows that look into the new brew house. Expect 16 taps and a big merch booth where you can pick up T-shirts, glassware and even underwear.
- Address: 2302 Executive Drive, Garland
- Hours: Wednesday-Thursday from 3 to 8 p.m., Friday 3 to 9 p.m., Saturday noon to 9 p.m., Sunday noon to 6 p.m.
- Tours: Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. at the top of the hour, Sunday 1 to 3 p.m. at the top of the hour. Free.
- Serves: Pints, 5-ounce pours
- Contact: 972-864-2337. lakewoodbrewing.com.
Shannon Brewing Co.
Located on an unassuming stretch of U.S. Highway 377, this taproom provides outdoor space that's equally as great as its indoor space. The bar boasts 18 drafts and a cooler of bottled beers available for purchase. Be sure to stop in the brew house, which has custom equipment for Shannon's "fire-brewed" beers.
- Address: 818 N. Main St., Keller
- Hours: Thursday-Friday from 4 to 9 p.m., Saturday noon to 7 p.m.
- Tours: Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. Free.
- Serves: Pints, flights and growler fills
- Contact: 817-337-9892. shannonbrewing.com.