First-time contributor Julissa Treviño sends this report from her Rahr Brewery Tour:
“It’s really refreshing to see what’s going on in Texas,” said Fritz Rahr, owner of Rahr & Sons Brewery in Fort Worth, of the recent craft beer boom in the state.
On Saturday afternoon, the Rahr brewery in the Near Southside neighborhood was packed with a few hundred sweaty beer lovers. Temps hit the high 90s, and the brewery has no air conditioning. Luckily, the open backdoor let in a breeze. Four long, wooden picnic tables stretch across the warehouse, but many of the visitors here have brought their own lawn chairs.
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The Rahr warehouse looks like it’s in the middle of nowhere—the streets are potholed, the houses nearby are rundown—but walk several blocks in any direction and you’ll find downtown Fort Worth on one side and the up-and-coming Magnolia Ave. and Fairmount District on the other. Every Saturday and Wednesday, the brewery opens its doors to the public for a few hours. Seven dollars gets you a pint glass and three pints of your choice of beer (from a selection of four or five beers on tap) and a tour—sometimes by Fritz Rahr himself.
“What happened in Colorado 10 years ago is now happening in Texas,” Rahr tells a tour crowd near the end of the tour. Rahr is referring to the consistently growing craft beer industry in Texas. So far this year, Texas Beer, a blog dedicated to the craft beer industry in the state, has logged the opening of three new breweries. One more is slated to open later this year, and at least eight more are in the works.
With the influx of new craft breweries, some bloggers and beer lovers in the state have wondered how brewers plan to keep their businesses fresh and competitive. Rahr isn’t worried.
“We were one of the first three or four [craft breweries] in Texas,” says Rahr, who opened up his business in 2004. While many breweries are crafting unique, sometimes unheard-of styles of beer (like the newly opened Cedar Park-based Twisted X Brewing Co.’s Jalapeño-Infused Tex-Mex Pilsner, “we brew a real style of easy-drinking lager… All of our beers are core brands of session beer,” he says. Session beer generally has a low or moderate alcohol content; it’s intended for social drinking.
But I think Rahr was selling his brewery short. Rahr & Sons does brew session beers, but let’s not forget about the seasonal brews, the limited edition beers and the small batches of specialty brews it serves up to a very lucky crowd on its Wednesday tours (think Blueberry Wheat, English Red Ale, and a stout that you can’t get anywhere outside the brewery). Regular session beer wouldn’t attract this many people, in this heat.
“Do you have anything special on tap today?” I ask the bartender. “Not today, but try this.” The man, with his distinct Texan accent, grabs my pint glass and fills it up half-way with the brewery’s signature black lager, Ugly Pug. But I choose to have the Stormcloud IPA instead. It’s a light, not-too-hoppy IPA good for a hot day.
Considering the weather, I drink my beer rather quickly as it was getting warmer by the minute. Next, I move on to Summertime Wheat. This current seasonal is a traditional German-style Hefeweizen, and although I don’t usually like wheat beers, I can’t deny its spicy, unfiltered goodness has a certain appeal.
This was a regular brewery tour, but from what I hear, Rahr tours are bigger than most. Each tour is catered by local restaurants (from burgers to Mediterranean food), and many times there’s live music (this Saturday it was acoustic-country duo Hyry and Sullivan). You can probably expect to run into some of the same people, too. The tour has a very home-y feel, but on a much larger scale.
At 2 p.m. (the brewery opened its doors just an hour earlier), the bar had already run out of two of its beers—the Texas Red and the Summertime Wheat. All that’s left now is the Ugly Pug, the Stormcloud IPA, and the Blonde Lager. Beers go quickly here, but people stay and chat for hours. It’s almost like you’re hanging out in your backyard with good beer, good music, good food, and 200 of your closest friends.