It’s no secret the craft beer industry is booming. About 10 new breweries have opened in Dallas-Fort Worth every year since 2011, including a remarkable 14 craft breweries last year alone, bringing the area total to more than 45.
Some say the industry has already peaked, but Brian Brown believes otherwise. Brown is a freelance writer who covers the craft beer industry in North Texas. As co-author of North Texas Beer: A Full-Bodied History of Brewing in Dallas, Fort Worth and Beyond and founder of the blog Beer in Big D, he has studied the history and science of beer for 20 years.
We recently sat down with Brown, who’s also a certified judge from the Beer Judge Certification Program, to talk about what’s brewing in North Texas’ craft beer industry.
GuideLive: Why do you think the North Texas craft beer industry doing well?
Brian Brown: We’re still pretty young in terms of developing a beer culture. I like that a lot of the growth in the breweries is not just concentrated in one place. We’re getting to the point where we almost have a brewery in every little city. As we’ve grown, we’ve consistently won awards at the top level of national competitions. In just the last two years, we’ve won about a dozen awards at the Great American Beer Festival, which is huge for Texas. A few years ago we weren’t winning anything. And we’re winning them for different kinds of styles. What we’re doing well is we’re slowly but surely getting national attention.
What do you think is lacking in the Dallas market?
One thing we do lag on is we only have a few brewpubs, places that serve both food and beer. I think it’s something that is going better in other places. There’s also really not a sour beer brewery here, which is a big thing. Jester King is a big one down in Austin. We have a few breweries that are trying sour beers, but we don’t have an exclusive sour beer brewer here.
In 2015, the local industry welcomed 14 new craft breweries. Is that kind of growth sustainable?
It doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down. There are around 10 more brewing operations looking to open up. As far as sustainable, that’s the ongoing question. As far as breweries per capita, we still aren’t even close to some of the bigger brewing cities like Denver and San Diego. I think we can sustain the amount of breweries we have; I think we can sustain more. My biggest thing is I’d like to see the growth slow down. Having 10 new breweries open every year is a lot really quickly.
You only get to have the title of the newest brewery in the area for like a month before someone else comes in.
What are some of the ways breweries can differentiate themselves from the competition?
There are a lot of ways that you can try and stand out. Barrel aging is a popular thing, and there are a lot of different types of barrels. There’s a lot of beers in bourbon barrels, but we’re seeing a lot of branching out with rum barrels, tequila barrels, different kinds of wine barrels.
Sour beers are one way to stand out right now. That is one of the biggest trends, even beyond barrel aging right now. A few breweries have tried some sour beers like Collective Brewing Project, Lakewood Brewing Co., BrainDead Brewing, Noble Rey Brewing Co. and On Rotation. Anytime one of these breweries comes out with a sour, people get excited because that’s one thing we don’t have a lot of here.
What are your predictions for the industry in 2016?
I think 2016 is going to be a lot more of the same as the last five years – a lot of new breweries, a lot of people trying to fight for tap space; that’s one of the things going forward that’s going to be a problem. Well, it’s already a problem really. Breweries are going to have less and less tap space to sell their beer in bars and restaurants.
One thing we’re already seeing and that I think will continue is that breweries are packaging their beer earlier. And that’s a function of tap space. So we’ll probably see more beer in grocery stores. Right now you see a lot in specialty stores like Whole Foods and Central Market, but I think you’ll probably see more beer in Kroger, Tom Thumb and different places.
I’d like to see more beer in the sporting arenas, American Airlines Center, Dallas Cowboys, etc. There are a few there, but I’d like to see us get a foothold in those places. People go to those events and they drink beer, and I’d like to see them drink something other than Miller Lite.
Should North Texas expect any acquisitions this coming year like the one between Anheuser Busch-InBev and Breckenridge Brewing Co.?
It’s probably inevitable. Someone somewhere down the line is probably going to be acquired by a big beer. There are different reasons that these companies get acquired. Some of them are just doing it for distribution because they want to go national. Some of them sellout, if you want to use that term, because someone’s opened a brewery and they don’t have family to pass it down to, or they’ve had their time in the business and they’re ready for something else.
There are so many breweries here now it’s a matter of when, not if.
Karly Hanson is studying journalism and international studies at Southern Methodist University. Outside of writing she works in outdoor recreation and political studies.