Chuckle if you will, but judging a double-header of Imperial Stouts and Barrel-Aged Beers is a taxing proposition. My friend and I were in the Dallas area for the weekend to serve as judges for the annual Bluebonnet Homebrew Competition, and this judging assignment was our last of the weekend. Plenty of the burgeoning Dallas craft beer scene remained for us to explore, but our saturated senses were calling for a long time-out. After a brief discussion, we settled on Four Corners Brewing Company. Both their motto, “All Day Ales,” and their approach––sessionable beers that range between 4.5% and 6% ABV––seemed perfectly tailored to this balmy spring afternoon.
An endless landscape of warehouses and sundry remnants of West Dallas’s heavy-industrial past unfolded before us as we rolled along the route from the judging location in nearby Irving. This area was originally settled in the 1850s by French and Swiss immigrants who aimed to establish a socialist utopia, but that experiment gave way in relatively short order to a decidedly dystopian wave of industrialization around the turn of the century.
Cement factories came first, followed by chemical factories and oil refineries, each industry giving rise to hard-scrabble working-class towns on the periphery of Dallas. Before incorporation into Dallas in 1954, the area laboured under a general lack of amenities such as running water and paved streets. To make matters worse, for nearly half a century dating from 1934, the RSR Corporation operated a secondary lead smelting plant that laid waste to the environment with its processing of used batteries. Several thousand inhabitants suffered from elevated bloodstream lead levels as a result. Such was the lot of these historically underserved and, by now, predominantly Hispanic and African-American communities until the area qualified as an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund Site in the mid-1990s. A clean-up effort ensued, and by 2005, a completed Five-Year Review deemed the site “protective of human health and the environment” and fit for “the safe redevelopment of residential and commercial properties” (EPA, 2014).
Tire shops and garages now populate many of the low-rise brick storefronts lining the thoroughfares of these communities, but the first signs of a tectonic shift are beginning to make themselves felt. Immediately to our east rises perhaps the most visible symbol of this transformation: a finely wrought arch etched against the foreground of the Dallas skyscrapers, its pearl-like luminescence and avian grace bearing the inimitable stamp of renowned architect, Santiago Calatrava. We stop short of Calatrava’s recently completed Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge and pull into the lot in front of the colourfully appointed warehouse enveloping Four Corners Brewery.
Inside the taproom, my friend and I joined a group of convivial patrons for a few drinks as I waited for co-owner and head brewer, Steve Porcari, to finish his Sunday rounds. Porcari and co-founder, George Esquivel, got their brewing start after seeing a TV ad for a homebrew competition organized some years back by Sam Adams. They bought and brewed the kit, but never entered that first effort into the Sam Adams competition. Little did they know back then that this inaugural batch would become the basis for their Local Buzz, a refreshing brew that now incorporates honey from Burleson’s Honey Company in Waxahatchie, TX.
Like all of Four Corners’ beers, Local Buzz features a striking label with bright colours and boldly rendered pictograms. Four Corners’ design aesthetic pays hommage to a Mexican game similar to bingo, Lotería, in which the caller announces the cards to the players by way of riddles and associations. Four Corners’ beer labels evoke local linkages in an analogous manner. Red’s Roja reflects the plethora of tire shops that dot the neighbourhood, while La Bajada, adorned with a defiant gesture, renders tribute to the working class neighbourhood in which Four Corners finds itself.
The iconography of La Bajada recalls the resilience of the neighbourhood inhabitants who built the dike system along the Trinity River to control the once-catastrophic floods. On a different reading, though, the visual vocabulary seems to bespeak the tensions that accompany the penetration of fashionable arts and culinary scenes into long-established communities. The Trinity Groves urban renewal project backed by Philip Romano of Macaroni Grill fame was the first lot cast in the rejuvenation of West Dallas. Four Corners followed suit in 2012, setting up shop in an 11,000 square-foot repurposed big rig factory in the heart of this erstwhile marginalized section of the city.
Along with Romano’s “restaurant incubator” concept that forms the backbone of the Trinity Groves development, Four Corners serves as a magnet enticing people across the bridge. But will those who come from more affluent parts of Dallas disrupt the fabric of West Dallas’s established communities? Such is the dual-edged nature of urban revitalization. How will the proposed development of West Dallas integrate neighbourhoods such as La Bajada and Los Altos?
The people behind Four Corners consider themselves to be part of the answer to these pressing questions. Esquivel, one of the partners in the Four Corners venture, has a stake in this emerging neighbourhood, having grown up in nearby Oak Cliff. Collectively, he, Porcari, and Greg Leftwich, the third of Four Corners’ co-founders, want their establishment to serve as a catalyst for measured change and economic stimulus in this once-neglected neighbourhood brought closer to the Dallas metropole by Calatrava’s bridge. Tasting Notes
Four Corners is in the business of producing flavourful, balanced, “everyday” session beers. For them, 8% ABV is straining the upper range of the scale, and only a few of their seasonal beers bump up against this threshold. Relates Porcari, in a city recently tuned into the dual trends of barrel-aged offerings and out-sized “status” markers such as high IBUs and high ABV, Four Corners’ commitment to a lineup of sessionable beers has, on occasion, presented challenges in terms of finding tap handles at local bars. A shame, really, for as I’ve argued elsewhere, beer doesn’t have to be big or “extreme” to be worthy of our attention––and I think Four Corners’ beers merit our attention.
At the lighter end of the colour and ABV spectrum we find Local Buzz, the aforementioned honey-rye golden ale with fresh floral aromas of honeyed grain, subtle hints of pepper, and a surprising scent reminiscent of a cross between fresh cucumber and gooseberry. The grain-accented beer is crisp, with a spicy-herbal hop character that melds well with the rye and ensures that the beer finishes refreshingly. A fine beer for a warm day.
Clear dark ruby and pecan in appearance, the Block Party Robust Porter comes across with plenty of mocha and coffee aromas layered with sassafras, cherry-plum yeast esters, and a hint of citrus-grapefruit suggestive of North American hops. At 40 IBUs, this off-dry beer is firmly but not overly bitter, with the hop notes of the bouquet joining forces with a toast, burnt caramel, and roasted coffee malt profile.
The Notorious OAT is a late winter seasonal stout that is as harmonious as it is intense. A hefty grain bill contributes 7.2% ABV along with aromas and flavours of roasted barley, toasted toffee, butterscotch, malted milk, maple syrup, and a wisp of smoke. Its relatively high level of carbonation for the style provides an effervescent accent to the licorice-like earthiness and light-roasted coffee, the latter of which provides a smooth bittering undercurrent that carries through the pleasant roasted grain and maple finish.
Clocking in at 8% ABV, Celebración Belgian Strong Ale is the strongest of Four Corners’ seasonal offerings. Spices take center stage in this beer that exudes complex aromas of ginger, nutmeg, a dash of cinnamon, orange blossom, chai tea, and mild caramel. The effervescent mélange of chai, molasses, gingerbread, caramel, and Christmas cake make this an ideal winter warmer that is, nonetheless, light-bodied and deftly articulated. I asked Porcari what kinds of spices go into the beer. Just one pound of ginger per barrel, he answered. The combination of Belgian malts and Belgian yeast does the rest. Eminently in line with Four Corner’s pragmatic approach to beer-making, I thought, even if more than a few of these might put a premature end to my afternoon drinking session.
Odds and Ends and Further Reading
The rooster logo: Cristi Brinkman, the artistic designer behind Four Corners’ beer labels and tap handles, translated the brewery’s name into a weather vane with the obligatory rooster perched on top. The cock’s crow is still endemic to the neighbourhood.
Peter Simek’s “Trinity Groves: The New Dallas Starts Here,” D-Magazine (January 2013) traces the outlines of the urban development controversy unfolding in West Dallas while detailing the interests and stakes of the various constituencies involved. http://www.dmagazine.com/publications/d-magazine/2013/january/trinity-groves-the-new-dallas-starts-here?single=1
A section of the West Dallas Chamber of Commerce’s website narrates the history of the area from the early 1800s through the present. http://www.westdallaschamber.com/west-dallas/index.html
The Environmental Protection Agency’s document, “RSR Corporation Superfund Site, Dallas, Dallas County, Texas: EPA Region 6, Congressional District 30” (updated June 2014) provides a brief encapsulation of the environmental contamination and clean-up of West Dallas. http://www.epa.gov/region6/6sf/pdffiles/rsr-tx.pdf
“Palatero” push cart: Courtesy of Four Corners Brewing Company
Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge: Courtesy of Four Corners Brewing Company
Local Buzz tap handle: Courtesy of Four Corners Brewing Company
Lotería Mexicana: Wikipedia
Lotería-like beer labels: F.D. Hofer
Four Corners exterior: Courtesy of Four Corners Brewing Company
Block Party in cans: Courtesy of Four Corners Brewing Company
Celebración Tap Handle: Courtesy of Four Corners Brewing Company
Rooster Logo: F.D. Hofer
© 2014 Franz D. Hofer. All Rights Reserved.