One of our new summer interns, Teo Soares, loves beer, so we sent him off on his first assignment to the 2nd Annual North Texas Beer Festival. Looks like he survived.
“We’ll compete for shelf space, we’ll compete for tap handles, but in the end we’re all friends,” said Kendra Harrell, a sales manager for Saint Arnold Brewing Company. “We’re not going to rumble.” She paused. “Although, you know, maybe I will.”
Saint Arnold was one of fifty breweries at last Saturday’s North Texas Beer Festival, which drew about 4,500 visitors to the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas. Jim Campbell from Andrews Distributing Company opened the Festival by presenting a $5,000 check to Honor Flight DFW, a local nonprofit that sponsors all-expense paid trips for veterans of World War II to the conflict’s memorial in Washington D.C. Before leaving the stage, Campbell reminded visitors to bid on a silent auction (which would eventually raise an additional $5,000 for the organization) and told us to drink.
Jump for the booze.
Beer reps tend to fit a certain mold: lively and a little brazen, with loud voices and firm handshakes. Harrell is no different. She has a fondness for phrases like, “I’m excited,” and, “That’s badass,” and, “We will continue to rock it.”
Saint Arnold, for which she works, brews its beers according to the Reinheitsgebot, the medieval German purity law that restricts brewers to four ingredients: water, malt, yeast, and hops. That list may be short, but the brewery makes the most of it. Its Summer Pils was crisp and hoppy but not bitter, while its Weedwacker tasted like cloves and left a hint of banana in my mouth. (When I asked how they make different beers using only four ingredients, Harrell took pity on my cluelessness and pointed out that wineries use only one.) Though some of the company’s seasonal offerings are brewed with berries and sugars, Saint Arnold mostly sticks to those four ingredients. According to Harrell, this is in contrast to other brewers, which, “if they could fit a kitchen sink into the brew tank and it would impart flavor, they would do it.”
To Christopher Hubbard, District Manager for North American Breweries, this fitting-of-the-kitchen-sink-into-the-brew-tank approach is what makes craft beers great. “There’s so many different ingredients you can put in. We’ve made beers with dandelions, different types of berries, chocolate—you name it.” The Rochester-based company owns Seattle’s Pyramid Breweries and Vermont’s Magic Hat Brewing Company, both of which had stands at Saturday’s event. Visitors who came by Magic Hat’s booth walked away with wristbands and samples of the brewery’s Magic Hat No. 9.
Though most vendors at Saturday’s event considered themselves craft brewers, beer giants Pabst, Miller, and Anheuser-Busch also pitched booths at the Festival. Their well-known beers offered alternatives to the more idiosyncratic flavors of smaller breweries. “There’s only so much motor oil you can drink,” said James “Rev” Frederick from Pabst. At Anheuser-Busch’s stand, the brand’s new Bud Light Lime-A-Rita was particularly popular. “You serve it over ice,” a rep explained.
Budweiser dubs itself “The King of Beers,” and in a sense it is: Anheuser-Busch today commands nearly 50% of the U.S. beer market. In terms of sales, large breweries rule the industry. But the crown comes at a cost. Harrell told me about the rep who visited her booth but only tried the Saint Arnold Root Beer because he viewed the brewery as a competitor. “He was also wearing a beer shirt that wasn’t a craft beer shirt,” she said.
Beer, after all, is a social drink. Chad Jacobson, who trekked to North Texas from Montana with the Big Sky Brewing Co., said the best thing about craft brewers is that, when the dust settles, “We can all go out and sit at the same table and have a drink.” Jeremiah Wallis, from the Kansas City-based Boulevard Brewing Co., echoed that sentiment: “All of us are friends. It’s all of us going with the big guys trying to get to their level, but we know we’ve got plenty of room to grow.”
While they remain underdogs, guys like Jacobson and Wallis share a sense of camaraderie and a love for the craft. “I think that if you talk to most craft brewers, you see the passion that they have for making really good beer and selling it to customers,” said Harrell. “It’s really cool to work for someone who says, ‘If it costs more to do it this way, that’s cool, because I want to make something really good and get it to customers and have them enjoy it.’”
That, to use her words, is badass.