Tag Archives: Dallas

Across Calatrava’s Bridge: Four Corners Anchors Revitalization of West Dallas

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,FourCorners - Cart (fcbrewing-com) 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).

FourCorners - Callatrava Dallas (fdbrewing-com)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.FourCorners - Local Buzz Tap (fcbrewing-com) 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,FourCorners - Loteria Mexicana (Wiki) 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.IMG_9795 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. FourCorners - Brewery (fcbrewing FB)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.

FourCorners - Block Party Cans (fcbrewing FB)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.Celebracion Tap (fcbrewing FB) 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

IMG_9797The 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

Image Credits

“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.

A Bavarian in Texas: Franconia Brewing Company

Dennis Wehrmann brewed his first batch of beer at twelve years of age and never looked back. Many begin their brewing careers with a motley collection of pans, buckets, and hoses, and at a much older age at that. Not Wehrmann. He brewed his first batch on a thirty-barrel system.

That this should come to pass was, perhaps, preordained, for Wehrmann is the latest in a long line of brewers stretching back to the early nineteenth century in his native Franconia.100-2890_IMG His mother holds a degree in brewing sciences, and his uncles are still active in the Bavarian brewing scene. But Wehrmann, who apprenticed with Neumarkter Lammsbräu before taking over the reins of the Altstadthof brewpub in the castle district of Nürnberg, chafed under the burden of running both the food and beverage ends of the brewpub.

(On a personal note, long before I made Wehrmann’s acquaintance, I spent a relaxing evening at that very same Altstadthof after a long and taxing day conducting research for an entirely different project at the Documentation Center for the Nuremberg Rallies of the Nazi Party.)

Taking his leave of this timbered Franconian city famous as the birthplace of Albrecht Dürer and infamous for its unfortunate run-in with the history of the Third Reich,Albrecht Duerer - Selfporitrait (Wiki) Wehrmann set off for the United States with his wife. And like so many Germans before him, he ended up in Texas. Even if Wehrmann is the first brewer in his family to fire up a brew kettle outside of Bavaria, though, his Texan beers are German-inspired through and through. No donut and bacon beers here.

Franconia Brewing Company maintains a relatively low profile on the Texas beer scene, but is worth a detour off the I-35 north of Dallas, especially if you identify with the kind of brewer who studiously avoids the latest fads in craft beer. Indeed, Wehrmann – a colourful character with an impish grin – is charmingly fanatic in his denunciation of high IBUs and the recent trend toward sour beer and barrel aging.IMG_0072 High hop rates? “The easy way out!” exclaims Wehrmann. Barrel aging? “Bad beer in, good beer out. You can’t go wrong!” Sour beers? Don’t even get him started. He dismisses these good beers gone bad with an impatient wave of his hand: “We have to ask ourselves why this particular beer is sour.” Only sour beers “done right” – a Berliner Weisse, for example – pass muster.

Instead, Wehrmann and his cheerful band of brewers at Franconia Brewing Company choose to submit themselves to the rigours of the German Reinheitsgebot (Purity Law). If you’re like me and you have a soft spot for Hefeweizen, Munich Helles, Kölsch, Munich Dunkel, Rauchbier, Festbier, Bock, and Doppelbock, you are in luck. Even Franconia’s limited-edition beers – an Oatmeal Stout here, a Double IPA there – are brewed with German yeast and left to lager for a time. Patience is the name of the game at Franconia. As per Reinheitsgebot strictures, all of their beers are naturally carbonated – a leisurely step that adds another two weeks, on average, to the brewing schedule.

Catering to the drinking needs of northern Texas for the past six years now, Franconia was only the second craft brewery to open in the Dallas metroplex area after Rahr set up shop in Fort Worth.Franconia Beers (Examiner-FB) The brewery began bottling its year-round offerings six months ago, and has expanded its distribution throughout Texas. Its flagship beers include a Kölsch, a Hefeweizen (labeled simply as Franconia Wheat), and a Dunkel. The summery and crisp-finishing Kölsch presents spicy aromas reminiscent of coriander underneath fruity tones of stone fruit (peach) and floral lemon. White pepper and a pleasant minerality accentuate blanched almond and bready Pilsener malt flavours. Wheat comprises sixty percent of the Hefeweizen’s malt palette, lending a subtle pepperiness and citrusy orange tang to the mild banana, almond, and light brown sugar notes. Franconia’s ruby-brown Dunkel hews in the direction of a Schwarzbier, combining dark caramel and coffee notes with a hint of smoke. Creamy and mildly bitter, this malt-forward beer is surprisingly refreshing.

Other seasonals that Wehrmann poured for me included a Weizenbock as rich as dark banana bread but leavened by a green apple-like acidity. Another, a whimsical smoked Weizen, bore a resemblance to the year-round Hefeweizen, with an enhanced malt sweetness and a smokiness suggesting air-dried ham.

If Wehrmann’s adherence to the Reinheitsgebot and his aversion to contemporary trends in craft brewing might strike some observers as quaintly traditional, his approach to Franconia’s environmental impact is positively cutting-edge.IMG_0074 Wehrmann is proud of his accomplishments, and with good reason. His days at Neumarkter Lammsbräu, a brewery at the forefront of organic and green brewing practices, made a deep impression on him. Right from the beginning, Franconia’s 6000 square-foot brewery was conceived with an eye toward green technology. Aside from bottles, the brewery is a waste-free facility. Like many craft breweries, Wehrmann hands off his spent grain to local farmers. And like a smaller number of craft breweries, Wehrmann strives to reuse as much water as possible – eighty-five percent, in Franconia’s case. But he surpasses most other craft breweries in his commitment to renewable energy resources, firing his brewhouse with solar energy, powering it with a bio-fuel electricity generation system, and capturing as much energy from the brewing process as possible for re-use. Wehrmann has been so successful in his endeavours that he is not only self-sufficient in terms of his energy needs, but also sells excess power back to the grid.  Franconia TourFranconia Brewing Company is located about forty-five minutes north of Dallas in the town of McKinney, and is easy to find from I-35, Hwy 380, and Hwy 75. Two-hour tours of the facility take place every Saturday morning at 11:00. Tours cost $5, and include samples of the good stuff. No reservation necessary.

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Images:

Altstadthof, Nürnberg: photo by F.D. Hofer

Albrecht Dürer, Self-Portrait at Twenty-Eight Years Old Wearing a Coat with Fur Collar: Wikipedia

Dennis Wehrmann, Owner and Master Brewer, Franconia Brewing Co.: photo by F.D. Hofer

Bottles of Franconia Beer: courtesy of Franconia’s Facebook page/www.examiner.com

Franconia’s green energy system: photo by F.D. Hofer

Franconia tour ad: courtesy of Franconia’s Facebook page