It's been quite the 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 that's as big as, if not bigger than, the expansions Houston and Austin have seen in past years. (See "The Rise of the DFW Brew" by Lauren Drewes Daniels in the October 25 edition of Dallas Observer for the full story.)
Dallas/Fort Worth and the surrounding areas have added no less than six breweries to the fold in the past 18 months -- and there are even more on the way. With all that buzz slow to trickle down to 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 is part one in our series on Dallas beer as we spend the week looking at a few of the hot spots in Dallas's new-found beer economy.
We talk a lot here on Eating...Our Words about the "Meccas" of craft beer around town: The Petrol Station, Hay Merchant and the like. Dallas happens to have a little place just as noteworthy in the form of The Common Table. Having just celebrated its two-year anniversary this past summer, the bar and restaurant has developed a strong following in the beer world for stocking some incredible brews and pairing it back to upscale comfort food, all in a tidy little spot in Dallas's swank Uptown neighborhood.
After two years of missing it each time I was in the Metroplex, I was able to swing in this past weekend to throw back some beers -- not to mention a bourbon and Temptress chocolate milkshake -- chat with the guys and finally see what all the buzz was about.
Owner, music nerd (his iPod is on shuffle at the restaurant and gave us several music boners throughout the evening) and all-around Texas craft beer guy Corey Pond was kind enough to give us the low-down on malts and hops in Dallas.
Can you tell us a little about Common Table for the average Houstonian who may not have heard of you guys yet?
Well, I'll leave that mostly to others to decide -- but we love beer and have a huge and awesome base of beer-loving regulars; a large portion of the Dallas craft beer community considers it their home bar. Beyond that, we probably don't talk enough about our food. Our executive chef Mike Smith was nominated for a James Beard award several years back and was twice awarded four stars by the Dallas Morning News (at 2900, his former restaurant). The man has a gift for pairings. I'd put our beer dinners up against anyone.
Dallas has seen a really big serving of new breweries in the past 16 months: Deep Ellum, Peticolas, Lakewood, Firewheel, Revolver, Four Corners... Am I missing anyone? Anyone in the pipeline? I know I heard three or four more names.
The other one that's coming very soon is Community Brewing Co. There was a very solid brewpub that closed a few years back (The Covey) and the brewer from there is at the helm. I know quite a few people that are pretty excited about that one. Martin House Brewing will also be opening up sometime in the next six months or so (or maybe sooner -- just saw today they got tanks delivered). I've had samples of their brews and they're pretty tasty.
What do you think accounts for the current boom in DFW brewing?
There was kind of a perfect storm. We had several high-quality, beer-focused places open in a fairly short time -- The Meddlesome Moth, The Common Table, Goodfriend's -- and shortly after, we had three quality breweries open: Deep Ellum, Peticolas and Lakewood. Dallas was late to the brewery scene so there was some pent-up demand. Beer is fun to talk and read about so it's gotten a significant amount of positive press, which added fuel to the fire. Ultimately if you didn't have likable, passionate people combined with high-quality beers, I don't think we would have seen the outpouring of support we have. Pent-up demand plus great beer plus great people (that are loud and have lots of friends) plus lots of positive media is a pretty awesome combination.
What's your favorite beer coming out of Dallas right now?
Tough call. I think every single beer Peticolas has made has been exceptionally well done. Velvet Hammer is pretty awesome. Deep Ellum's IPA is probably my favorite Texas-made IPA so that's a strong contender, too. And Lakewood's Temptress is outstanding, and there's about to be a bourbon barrel-aged version released that might take the lead.
What's something you want the rest of Texas to know about DFW?
There's a really amazing beer culture in DFW. It's not as large as in some other cities, but the people it's made up of are passionate, fun and smart people. I've seen the change that's occurred in the last year or so and the momentum is unbelievable. I don't see it slowing down anytime soon and that's exciting as hell.
You guys are very vocal supporters of the craft beer proponents at Open the Taps. Where do you see Open the Taps going this year? How about the state legislature?
I'm cautiously optimistic that we're going to see some real change during this legislative session. Jester King's successful litigation versus the TABC, the strong work being done by Open The Taps and the generous amount of coverage that's been given to the exploding craft beer industry in Texas are difficult to ignore. Above all, the current laws defy logic. I think the threat of future litigation against the TABC combined with everything else make it likely we'll see some meaningful changes. But who knows...
Anything else you want to say about craft beer and DFW in particular?
Probably the thing that gets most overlooked by people outside of DFW or outside of the craft beer scene is just how much fun it is. The people here (and likely everywhere) that support it are just great people. They're humble, passionate and funny. They're always willing to share their beer and their knowledge with anyone interested. It's one of the things that I love the most about my job.
You personally have a solid reputation all around Texas in craft beer circles. How does a restaurateur from Dallas get his name -- and his business -- out there and how has that affected The Common Table?
I really don't know the answer to that. I'm pretty loud and love to talk to people about beer. We try to make it down to Austin and Houston once or twice a year just to hang out at the best craft beer spots in Texas, and have gotten to know lots of those people and consider many of them friends. Our support for Open The Taps probably hasn't hurt either. I think it's helped The Common Table somewhat -- we do get people from out of town frequently who come in specifically for our beer selection and to talk beer. The bonus is sometimes they'll bring us beer from their part of the world and we get to drink it! If you want to chat with Corey, find him on twitter @Common_Table
While we were at Common Table, we noticed some similarities to a few Houston beer spots like Mongoose versus Cobra and West End. Namely, it's in a pretty chic area and some of the Saturday night crowd certainly had other focuses than beer. How do you keep -- what to us seemed like -- a pretty laser focus on craft beer when you have customers who may see you as only an eatery, a bar or simply a hot spot first? Is it an issue? Advice for craft beer bars in similar situations?
Good observation. We definitely get people in here who come for the food...or the cocktails or just because it's in the neighborhood. Those people are customers just the same as the ones who come in to have a great beer. When we opened (and for the first six months or so), our beer sales were less than 20 percent of our alcohol sales -- and we sold several Bud, Miller, Coors-type choices. Today, beer is well over half of our liquor sales and we only offer high-quality craft and import. We've converted a decent amount of nonbelievers and we've also seen lots of new people come here because of the beer. Personally, I love the diversity in the crowd -- it gives the place some texture that you don't see very often, especially in this part of Dallas. My favorite places (bar/restaurants) have always had eclectic crowds and we're fortunate to have that at.
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Next time you're in Dallas, seek out The Common Table and have a pint. And if you are there on a Monday night, be sure to check out their weekly "Pour Man's Beer Dinner" featuring an ever-rotating menu of four plates paired with four beers, all for just $29.
Check back tomorrow as we head to Garland to take a look at the Belgian-inspired Lakewood Brewing Co.