When people talk about North Texas' craft beer scene, they're talking about something of a new phenomenon. In 2010, the area was home to just eight microbreweries; now there are more than 50.
Looking at craft operations alone, however, doesn't tell the whole story of beer in Dallas-Fort Worth. In fact, a local brewery made one of the most important contributions ever to the American beer industry.
Opened in 1969, MillerCoors in Fort Worth remains the region's oldest active brewery. At a projected 7.4 million barrels of beer produced in 2016, it's also by far the largest. The facility was originally built in the early 1960s for Carling brewery, but it faced production issues and was ultimately bought out by Miller Brewing Co.
The next decade, in a battle to be America's No. 1 brewer, the company launched Miller Lite. It was first brewed in Fort Worth in 1975, jump-starting the low-calorie or "light" beer revolution.
The plant remained a Miller manufacturer until 2008, when its parent company, SABMiller, and Molson Coors Brewing Co. joined forces to create MillerCoors. This expanded the facility's production portfolio to include 18 brands, including Miller High Life, Coors Light, Milwaukee's Best, Steel Reserve and a variety of imports. It also contract-brews beverages for Pabst Brewing Co.
If you've had a Foster's beer in the United States in the past eight years, it was brewed in Fort Worth, according to Michael Wilken, communications specialist for the brewery.
MillerCoors' Fort Worth brewery is without a doubt astonishing, with 155 acres of land, 51 of which are "under roof." Trains pull up on the tracks that flank the east side of the complex to deliver hundreds of millions of pounds of malt, hops and corn to brewers, who run the two brewhouses 24 hours a day, every day of the year. There's also a bar on-site where MillerCoors' 540 employees can each drink a free beer at the end of their shifts once a week.
Which beers they brew at any given time is dictated by what Gil Alberding, MillerCoors brewing process leader, calls a "yeast cadence." The quality control department helps determine the order in which different brands are produced to keep their respective yeast strains healthy. MillerCoors has two brewhouses -- one that's 1,000 barrels and another that's 600 barrels -- and once it's time for fermentation, beers are kept in vessels ranging from 1,400 to 5,000 barrels.
But the size of one's boat doesn't necessarily indicate its ability to float. Earlier this year, MillerCoors shut down one of its facilities in North Carolina after a 10 million-barrel decrease in production. On Oct. 11, Molson Coors acquired full ownership of MillerCoors after SABMiller and Anheuser-Busch InBev closed the biggest beer deal in industry history, a $108 billion merger known as the "mega-brew." Though how that will affect the Fort Worth plant remains to be seen, it will likely continue to produce the brands in its current portfolio, says Wilken.
Craig Poupore, vice president and plant manager of the Fort Worth brewery, points to ways MillerCoors plans to compete in an industry that's seeing more palates turn to wine and spirits. One strategy is acquiring craft brands with loyal followings through its Tenth and Blake subsidiary, including Granbury's own Revolver Brewing in August.
The beer giant is also doubling down on flavored beverages, which have recently skyrocketed in popularity. Next year, the Fort Worth brewery is investing $25 million in what Poupore calls "the most dynamic and capable flavor system in our brewing network."
"The company is investing a lot of money in capabilities to meet the demands of the consumer," says Poupore. "It sets us up for the future, with capability to be more flexible and to make different types of products that consumers are asking for."