It's been a big year for craft beer in Texas. One of the biggest stories, however, is news that hasn't quite made its way down to Houston. Dallas is currently experiencing a boom in breweries as big as, if not bigger than, the expansion Houston and Austin have seen in past years. Dallas/Fort Worth and its surrounding counties have added no less than six breweries to the fold. With all the buzz slow to reach Houston, Eating...Our Words decided to take the show on the road and head to Dallas to see if the City of Hate could make us fall in love with their beer. This week we look at a few of the hotspots in Dallas's new-found beer economy.
Of all the beers to make their way down to Houston from Dallas this past year, none has had quite the buzz surrounding it as The Temptress Stout from five-month-old Lakewood Brewing Company. Most Houstonians had their very first taste of The Temptress and other Lakewood beers at last month's Draft beer festival. Since then, the question we have heard most often -- and rightly so -- is, "When are these guys coming to Houston?" We took that question and a few of our own to founder Wim Bens of Lakewood Brewing.
The brewery itself is not situated in its namesake Lakewood proper, but rather just down the road across 635 in Garland -- a distinction very few outside of Dallas will probably recognize. The brewery is housed in a large complex of strip warehouses, not all that different from the nondescript metal and brick structures that once held Saint Arnold and now house Karbach.
See also: The Common Table Gives Us an Insider's Look at DFW Brews
Once you step inside Lakewood, it's easy to forget you're standing in a suburban warehouse. What would normally be a boring, industrial entryway has been carefully and cleverly repurposed as Lakewood's tasting room. The walls, covered in a clapboard facade of raw wood, are a warm contrast to the stark and barren parking lot outside. Through the middle of the small front room runs a long community table and barstools, sitting in front of a metal-topped bar. On tap at the end of the bar is Lakewood's complete lineup of five beers.
Belgian-born Wim Bens -- who's not only the founder, but also the head brewer -- was winding down with his crew after a regular tasting and tour on the Saturday afternoon we visited. They were kind enough to hang out and talk with us and give us the full run down on Lakewood's current lineup.
One of the key points touched on several times by Wim in our time with him was that of bringing a line of beers that askew the big boozy styles that are in vogue in craft beer at the moment for approachable beers that will encourage a repeat drink. The breweries focus on Belgian influence and style will be more fully realized in their next line of beers he said, although the influence is already noted in their mainstay beers. In talking with Wim, so often his answers were quick but never once did you doubt they were supremely thought out, the product of at once deliberate and intellectual but passionate brewer.
We got a chance to run down Lakewood's full line of beers and have laid them out for you below:
Lakewood's wheat beer offering, it is subtlety amped up beyond your typical wheat with the addition of rye malt. A fuller, cleaner body without the dry, earthy husk tinge wheat beers are so often known for. Notes of black pepper and slight orange citrus. This beer serves as case in point for the drinkability and repeat orders we heard about from Wim.
Compare to: Believe it or not, Saint Arnold Weedwacker is -- we feel -- a close comparision to this beer, largely for similarities in body. Two different beers, arriving at very similar conclusions.
A Belgian-style IPA, this was the real surprise of the day. As the itch for some semblance of winter to arrive in Houston grows stronger, so shorter grows the desire to drink yet another IPA. Coupled with the strong offerings from 512, Independence and Deep Ellum, we just didn't feel the need for another Texas IPA -- let alone a "Belgian IPA," a hybrid category that's been marred with-- let's be frank-- a lot of garbage as of late. We were wrong. Lakewood is really flexing their Belgian muscles on this one. Malty, complex and full of Belgian ester notes first and foremost, this beer is backed up by a simple but well-paired hop profile. A strong contender in the fight for best Texas IPA.
Compare to: Flying Dog Raging Bitch. I really wanted to find a more local comparison, but there simply aren't any Texas beers in this style other than the one-off Bitter Belgian from Saint Arnold -- and Hop Trapp is playing in a completely different league. High praise for a five-month old brewery to be equated to one of the best beers in the country, but we feel Lakewood really gets it right. The malt profiles are markedly different but the overall structure and approach are quite similar. In the end, two very good, very well-executed examples of the style.
This was, for us, the low point in the tap lineup -- but a large part of that is our taste preferences. A strong, biscuity malt profile for a lager but not nearly as big and bold as Live Oak Big Bark. Crisp, clean finish with just a touch of soapy Belgian notes. It's a big enough lager to make jaded beer nerds take notice but remains approachable.
Compare to: Closest true comparison is probably Abita Amber. The tasting notes are vastly different, however. Abita's crisp distinct water is evident in all their beers and it makes them a tough comparison. This is a beer I think 10 people will describe 10 different ways despite its relatively straightforward style.
It's exactly what it sounds like -- a pumpkin Dunkel -- and We're still shocked we haven't come across this no-brainer combination before. Houston loves traditional German styles and pumpkin beers, so this one is going to go like gangbusters if it makes it down to Houston next year. Like Hop Trapp, it doesn't try to get cute, It's just a very good Dunkel with a smart, clean pumpkin and spice addition. The Texas music-phile in me wants a picture of a Dallas punk legend like Bobby Soxx or Jim "Reverend Horton" Heath on the label should this beer ever reach bottles.
Compare to: Saint Arnold Pumpkinator, but not really. Far less boozy and without the need for a year laid down to age, this is the pumpkin beer Live Oak would make were they so inclined. Instantly drinkable.
The one you've been waiting for. We'd say this is the best beer in the lineup, but that would be doing a disservice to a very strong offering of beers. That said, this is the best beer in the lineup. It's almost worth the three-and-a-half hour drive to Dallas in and of itself. Silky smooth, this sweet stout belies it's true depth and ABV at the beginning. As she builds on your tongue, chocolate, confectioners sugar and a warm caramel booze begin to escalate but the beer never fails to finish cleanly.
Compare to: We got nothing. We haven't been quite this taken with a Texas beer since Darkest Hour from Deep Ellum and Real Ale 15 before that. It's going to get nitpicked by big stout-loving beer nerds, but this is a supremely approachable stout that has a chance to be, 10 years from now, remembered as many Texan's true first love in craft beer.
We talked at length with Lakewood about their take on Texas beer and what the future holds for craft beer in general, so keep an eye out for even more coverage from Lakewood very soon.
While Lakewood beers are not currently available in Houston bars, they are working on packaging as we speak. So talk to your friends in Dallas and remind them there's no real reason to be friends with someone who lives in Dallas -- unless they bring you beer.
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