The photo called to me from my phone screen. It showed a Technicolor saccharine fantasy, a long-forgotten 1980s childhood dreamscape, but for adults: The photo was of a beer can label with a slice of pink cake and a layer of thick, white icing.
Strawberry-cake flavored beer? I had to have one.
Maybe I was just hungry — or tired, in want of sugary, weekend diversion — as I lay prone on the sofa scrolling, zombified by social media. But the visual siren caught me, tugged and reeled.
The post's caption advertised a cleverly titled new beer series, Down With the PastryArchy, which was to feature cream ales punched up with tasty-sounding ingredients from local bakeshops. A release party for the first edition would feature free slices of the very same pink cake from regionally-famous Mom's Bakery, 50 pounds of which had gone into making the brew several weeks prior.
The beer was a limited release, with just 50 canned cases in existence. The party started in one hour.
You can guess what happened next: I got up and drove to Sherman without a second thought.
The little town of Sherman, Texas, is home to 42,000 people and is located in Grayson County. Urbane Dallasites have referred to it as "sub-Oklahoma" but locals tend to adopt the term "Texoma." (I should know. I spent the first 18 years of my life in neighboring Fannin County, also Texoma.)
Despite Sherman's seemingly long distance from Dallas proper, 903 Brewers is just a 30 to 40 mile drive for anyone in the northern D-FW suburbs. When traffic cooperates, the trip is a breezy half-hour well spent.
And, 903 Brewers is one of North Texas' older microbreweries, the beerchild of Jeremy and Natalie Roberts. It was founded in 2012, around the same time as stalwarts Peticolas Brewing Company, Lakewood Brewing Company and Community Beer Co.
The Roberts' work has been astounding. In a handful of years, they have — along with head brewer Wilson Cook and a dedicated staff — fermented nationally recognized recipes and fomented a passionate fan-base in a formerly beer-leery area. Soon, they plan to expand the business to a second location, also in Sherman, which includes converting a former schoolhouse into a brew pub and event space.
But, back to Down with the PastryArchy.
It's a feel-good story, but good intentions don't always lead to good beers. PastryArchy — so far — feels like a genre revolution.
Each beer starts with an effervescent cream ale base, a riff on The Chosen One, one of 903's standards. From there, the brewing process implements ingredients from local bakeries. December and January brought flavors from Food Network-famous Momo's Donuts, resulting in brews that tasted like blueberry doughnuts and cinnamon rolls.
Now: 903 Brewing is hardly the first to implement dessert flavors into their drinks. Many brewers promise sweet, chocolaty, fruity or cakey flavors, but it's rare to find such a beer that actually delivers sufficiently bold flavors that don't also taste artificial. That's where 903's PastryArchy beers thrive: Cook has the technical proficiency to produce flavors that taste both authentic and decadent, and he's done it outside of the PastryArchy line, as well.
In January, the brewery rolled out the first beer in a coffee series: Mocha Vanilla Buzz, made in partnership with CJ's Coffee Café. It evokes a smooth, frothy latte.
For its fifth birthday in February, 903's signature Sasquatch received an astonishing toasted marshmallow tweak that, especially after a few sips of the high-ABV brew, can make a suburban fireplace seem like a woodsy campfire.
Natalie says adding lactose is what gives the brewery's bubbly cream ale the body and sweetness of a pastry. And, the series has inspired interest in cream ale, the American beer style that hopheads have, frankly, found to be a bit basic — or, at best, underrated.
Not so in Sherman, where patrons patiently purchased multiple six-packs of the limited release beers. The scene was reminiscent of desperate parents snatching up final remaining boxes of the Strawberry Shortcake Berry Bake Shoppe at Christmastime, circa 1980.
Release parties for the blueberry doughnut and cinnamon roll stirred similar enthusiasm.
The next release party, featuring a beer made from Oreo cookies, is scheduled for Feb. 9. True, it's a break from partnering with locals, but who doesn't love Oreos? It was hard to resist experimenting with a group favorite, Natalie admits.
And, take strawberry-shaped heart: 903 will issue a second release of the rosy pink brew made with cake from Mom's Bakery in the coming months.