Grapevine Craft Brewery is not one of Dallas-Fort Worth's oldest breweries, but it's certainly one of the most storied.
Since opening in late 2013, the business, which was once billed as one of the fastest-growing local brands, has moved locations and started a subsidiary brewing company. It even picked up a gold medal from Great American Beer Festival along the way.
But where its products were once available throughout the Lone Star State, Grapevine ceased distribution this past summer. And as the brewery prepares to celebrate an anniversary Saturday, it could be argued that it hardly bears any semblance to the Grapevine Craft Brewery that opened three years ago. And according to founder Gary Humble, that's not a mistake.
Humble says he's been weathering the increasingly competitive craft beer market by continually tweaking his business model. In August, when Grapevine announced it would discontinue distribution and make its beer available exclusively at the brewery, Humble hoped it would help offset his costs. Plus, the taproom, which Humble calls "the heart of our business," had become more lucrative.
"It's very difficult for me dealing with a distributor and retail chains, who at the end of the day, are the means of my success," he says. "I'd rather make my own success."
Still, there's no denying the bottom line. Around the same time Grapevine stopped packaging, it brought on a new contract client: Dallas' Deep Ellum Brewing Co., which took the lion's share of Grapevine's capacity to produce its Dallas Blonde ale in kegs.
John Reardon, owner of Deep Ellum Brewing Co., says he considered acquiring Grapevine Craft Brewery outright to help Humble. The two had become close through a joint lawsuit their businesses brought against the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission in 2015, seeking the right to sell packaged beer to go — they're expecting a ruling from the judge before the end of the year — so when "things got a little too tight," Reardon says Humble phoned him. But instead of buying Grapevine Craft Brewery, Reardon opted to become its biggest source of revenue.
"I said, '[Expletive] all this, I don't want to own your brewery anymore; I want to make your brewery profitable,'" Reardon says.
"I said, 'You've got an amazing brewery with an amazing staff, how about we just put my beer in your brewery and figure out how to go from there?'" Reardon adds.
The deal afforded Reardon an extra 20,000 barrels of coveted capacity. In September, Deep Ellum brewed 670 barrels of Dallas Blonde in Grapevine and grew business by 35 percent. For Humble, the deal enabled him to develop the North Texas Brewing Co. contract business, which includes Armadillo Ale Works and Infamous Brewing Co. in its portfolio, and, perhaps more importantly, keep his head above water.
"Deep Ellum coming online for us, frankly, kept us alive," Humble says. "We get to do what we love, make great beer, and let everyone else fight the beer wars."
What exactly does this mean for Grapevine Craft Brewery as a brand?
It still brews small-batch original recipes on a three-barrel pilot system under the direction of Tyler Cullender, who leads the brewing staff, and Bobby Mullins, the head brewer for Armadillo Ale Works who replaced Grapevine's former brewer over the summer.
Humble promises that Saturday's anniversary party will feature all of Grapevine's staple recipes, including the award-winning Sir Williams English Brown Ale, plus two seasonal specialties: Stocking Stuffer Winter Warmer and Christmas Cookie Ale. The party runs from noon to 10 p.m. and is free to attend; however, it is also a benefit for nonprofit GRACE, which provides food, clothing and other amenities to those in need. Bring three pantry or personal hygiene items and you'll get a free raffle ticket for a swag bag drawing. Beers are pay-per-purchase.
For those who can't attend, Humble contends there's still hope drinkers may one day be able to have a six-pack of Grapevine beer in the fridge. (It's worth noting you can still find Grapevine beer on some store shelves as distributor Ben E. Keith clears out its stock.) Should the judge rule in the brewers' favor in the lawsuit against TABC, Humble plans to sell packaged beer to-go from the taproom.
"That changes everything for us," he says. "We'd start packaging again day one."