No other brewery embodies the art, music and culture of Deep Ellum. “It [Deep Ellum] is a little rough. It’s not meant to be polished, but it’s experimental and all-encompassing. That’s how it works for our beer; one day we can be making an easy, sessionable Blonde Ale and the next we’re doing a Double Rye Imperial IPA. We don’t really have a distinct genre for our beer, that rough all-encompassing experimentation.
People say, ‘Wow you’ve got a great brand.’ The truth of the matter is, the brand was already here, we just had to find a way to assimilate. Deep Ellum was already a place. It’s had a history. The turn of the century it was a hot bed for jazz musicians, the flight to the suburbs in the 60s, the original hipster boom in the 80s and 90s with a whole music scene, and then it lay dormant for a decade. Now it’s on a new chapter and to be a part of that, with music and art as a back drop, is an awesome thing. We asked ‘How do we combine good music, great beer, art and that whole culture into what Deep Ellum Brewing Company is?’ We came down here with what we wanted our brand to be and began pushing the experimental boundaries of our beer. It just seemed to fit with Deep Ellum. Pure music, arts and this experimental community is a pretty good short answer for Deep Ellum Brewing Company.”-John Reardon
DEBC Tap Wall with Art by The Davies Brothers
John, did you spend a lot of time down here growing up?
“I did. I did. I grew up in Dallas, coming down to Deep Ellum. It’s always just been a really cool neighborhood for me. I’ve lived right outside of Deep Ellum for the last 6 years. Just to clear my head I’d walk through Deep Ellum 5 times a week; just admiring vacant buildings and store fronts, thinking through all that could be done in the area.“ Deep Ellum is poised to see a new revitalization. “To be the next chapter is a really exciting thing. It’s taken a lot of people to get it where it is, but we’re definitely picking up steam as an area.”
Why did you start brewing?
“I started back in Colorado about 12 years ago. I started homebrewing for the love of the camaraderie. I was a pilot. I mean I still am and have been for many, many, many years. The camaraderie of pilots was just always awesome and, as funny as it may sound, brewing is that camaraderie on the ground. I just loved it! It was that excitement of trying new things and talking it over with buddies. So I got into it. In college, my roommate
The guys hard at work with a Re-creation of the Good Latimer Tunnel on the wall.
and I would never lock our apartment and there would be people over there all the time because we had to get rid of the shit we made. We were just constantly brewing beer. But there wasn’t much glamor in brewing, at the time. This was back when New Belgium was still very small and regional, Left Hand was very small, even Sierra Nevada was just breaking out of California and Shiner wasn’t out of the state of Texas. It was a very early time for craft beer. To see it grow the way it has and for the longest time not seeing a brewery in Dallas, it just seemed like the next logical step was to bring a brewery.”
John’s the business mind side of things and not the best suited to brewing the beer. So John ran into Drew on Pro-Brewer. “Lucky for us it was a match made in heaven. Drew, once in his life, had been in that forum, saw us and asked ‘What are you guys doing down there?’ He came down and we interviewed, a.k.a. drinking a lot of really good beers for an entire afternoon. We just absolutely loved what he did. So he moved down here and helped us get this thing off the ground.”
Nick is DEBC’s Co-Shephard of Awesomeness. “He came to us from Full Steam in North Carolina. He’s been an incredible addition. Another got-lucky find. They make a good team.”-John Reardon
John, did you homebrew before you ever had a craft beer or did craft beer lead you to brewing? “I came from Texas and I was having those arguments of ‘What’s better; Bud, Miller or Coors?’ I was brainwashed. I think Fat Tire was really my leader. I like malt forward beers and that’s what got me into the craft and steam rolled into other things. Once I found out I could make my own, it was like, ‘Ok. Let’s give that a shot!’
I went to my first Great American Beer Festival over a decade ago. And it was a shadow of what it is today, but it was exciting for us. That was when I first tried 420 from Sweetwater, out of Atlanta Georgia, Hazed and Infused, that was a Boulder Beer, Avery, of course. Trying all of those beers was a real eye opener. But again it went back to the culture and the camaraderie. To see all that on the forefront in Colorado, that’s what stuck with me all this time. And to have the opportunity to bring that back to Texas really intrigued me…made me say ‘Ok, I’m crazy enough to give this a shot.’”
Drew Huerter, how did you get started in brewing?
“I take my brewing from my dad. He’s a home brewer and a founding member of The Kansas City Bier Meisters. While his brewing was on hiatus for most of my childhood, he got back into it once I showed some interest in it.”
Drew inherited his dad’s old (Navy Stock Pot) system when his dad built a brand new system while his mom was out of town. “It had a bit of wear on it, but I was making pretty good beer right out of the gate.”
Drew is the kind of guy that wants to know everything before he begins his endeavors. “It helps that I did a lot of research before I started. I knew I wanted to get into it for almost a year. Luckily it was at a late enough period that there was a lot of good information on the internet. I did my first homebrew batch with my father in December of 2004, I started homebrewing on my own in 2005 and started really competing in 2006. I entered as many competitions as I could on what was, basically, a non-existent budget. A college student couldn’t really carpet bomb the competitions like other guys could.”
How did the competitions turn out?
“If I entered 4 beers I usually walked away with 1 award and sometimes would walk away with 3. I medaled in the first competition I entered, which was pretty impressive. I never took best of show or anything, but I did manage to do pretty damn good for what I was working with. I tried to master a few styles. After I started medaling in Kolsh and American Wheat, I knew my process was pretty sound and started testing the waters in Belgian Specialty and Category 23, which definitely helped me in developing a voice and getting to where I am today. Looking back on some of the stuff I did, I don’t know why I ever thought it would be a good idea. Most of the time the results were pretty drinkable.”
What was the worst thing you ever did?
“Other than infected batches…? There was a roasted jalapeno smoked imperial porter that I did. It was really spicy. It wasn’t too bad. There was a curry indian spice IPA. That was kind of a train wreck. I had to try it, though. Some of the experiments that I tried sounded like they could’ve been disasters and actually turned out quite good. I brewed an American Wheat Beer with beets in the mash. That actually worked.”
What did you do after homebrewing?
Mr. Smiley Tags
“My first break was at the Morgan Street Brewery. My buddy, Charlie, left to go be a brewer at The O’Fallon Brewery. Luckily, they [the good folks at Morgan Street] were aware enough of me and what I was doing, they called me up on a Sunday and said ‘Wanna start next week?’ and I said ‘Ok, I’ll find a way to work that into my schedule.’
Schlafly came online 6 months later in March of 2008. I started there [at Schlafly] as an assistant brewer in the taproom. My job was, basically, to clean tanks and fill firkens and help clean the draft lines. If we were doing a big, well it felt big at the time, 60 barrel batch of barleywine or imperial stout we’d have to go over two shifts. Then I would actually get to do a little bit of brewing.
I also got to do a little bit of recipe development. They had a few seasonal beers that had kind of been lagging in sales. Since I had the most up-to-date knowledge on what ingredients were available at that time and just as much, if not more, recipe development experience, due to my homebrewing, than the other two guys there, including Steven who had been there for 17/18 years, they turned me loose on a few recipes. Every time they let me do one it really spiked in sales or, if it was a new one, it usually sold out in a flash once word got around. That’s where my reputation started to come from, on the professional side.”
Why do you think drinkers were clamoring for your beers?
“I guess I’ve developed an ability to make beers that are really expressive. The Porter, and The Alt and The Dubbel were the first ones that they turned me loose on. They were solid beers and on paper they looked great, but in practice they were a little flat…a little lifeless. I can’t categorize it or codify it in any real way, but I just have an understanding of the ingredients I’m working with to know how to make a recipe that’s going to pop and bring that extra little bit of life to it, I guess.
After a year there, I was offered a position over at The Bottleworks, Schlafly’s big production facility. I started over there in the cellar full time. Once we ramped up production enough, another spot opened in the brewing rotation. I got brought on in there. Actually, I managed to help tame that beast of a cobbled-together, crazy brewhouse that we were transitioning into automating. I managed to help them get that to the point where, on some days, we were able to squeeze in one or two more brews than we had previously. A lot of that came from the automation, but I was able to find little tricks and exploit them in a way that other breweries hadn’t explored to that point. We were able to push beer through a little faster, which was a cool experience.
I learned a lot over there. There was an enormous amount of brewing experience and knowledge. So that was my real goal for my time in the bottle works, was to be a sponge and learn as much from all those amazing brewers as I could.”
During his time at the Schlafly Bottleworks, Drew also built out and opened a nanobrewery/brewpub called Mattingly Brewing Company. “That gig also overlapped with my time at the Bottleworks (I was very, very busy at the time), it gave me some experience with juggling inventory and more recipe development, as we put out a new beer every week for the two years we were open. At MBC I also got my first employee, Jerid Saffell. He’s opening his own place in St. Louis now, Heavy Riff Brewing.”
John, what beer is always sitting in your fridge?
“Not much, that’s for sure. I work too much. All my beer is here and I have a lot of beer. I’m literally here around the clock.
I am the most promiscuous beer drinker out there. I will try everything once.
Aside from our beer, I’m not being biased it’s only because it’s so readily available, I don’t really get back to too many beers twice. A second round is a big stamp of approval. But that’s what makes this thing fun.”
On to the Beers!
Dallas Blonde (5.2%)-“She’s a delightful little bitch.”
“Blonde is a color not a style. We chose to go with an Extra Pale Ale” (Tait Lifto)
“It’s crisp and approachable. I like to say it’s equally at home with sushi and nachos.” (Drew Huerter)
Per Drew, It’s similar to EPAs like Odell’s St Lupulin and Bear Republic’s. “Those are more hop forward. Our’s still carries the blonde badge. It’s not as bitter as some others, but it does have a nice hop nose…a good hop flavor to it.”
Rye Pils (5.2%)-“The Rye Pilsner has a slight variation in color from the Blonde. It is a little darker than most, from the added malt to make up for that gap in barley flavor.” Drew gave us a little inside on the brewer’s view. “Rye Pils is a Brewer’s Beer. At the end of the day, we’re not usually looking to reach for something terribly strong. We’re looking for something more thirst quenching and really interesting. It’s complex without being complicated. You can drink it just for enjoyment or you can drink it intellectually. It was originally slated to be a seasonal, but it ended up taking a year round slot, which we’ve welcomed.” (Drew Huerter)
“The thing that’s unusual about the pilsner is that we run it through the Hop Back. We are one of the few breweries with a dedicated hop back.” (Tait) Think of a hop back as a drip coffee machine or a french press. The water flashes through the hops just like water through coffee grounds in a coffee maker.
Double Brown Stout-7% Baltic or Oatmeal Porter-”
I think it is one of our biggest hidden gems. When people try it they love it, but sometimes people are scared off because they hear stout and they think Guinness. But porter started before stout and that style was adopted by the Irish. They continued to add different grains and higher levels of grain and started to call it a stout. But a stout is still a Baltic Porter at its base. And now stout has become synonymous with darker, maltier, higher ABV. We’re proud of our Double Brown Stout and it’s a great vehicle for trying other things, like adding vanilla or chocolate or cherries.” (Sir Tait Lifto)
Deep Ellum IPA (7%)-“There are 5 diff hops in it and it’s a labor of love for real. We went through 240 test batches to make our IPA what it is today. IPAs have been popular for a little while, but a lot of people will stay say, ‘I don’t like IPAs.’ because so many IPAs hit you in the face with hops and then crush your palate. Sometimes you can’t even finish one, much less two or three of ‘em. There are IPAs that are balanced. I believe ours is really well balanced. You can drink two or three of them and not get palate fatigue. I’ve had so many people say, ‘I don’t like IPAs, but I like yours.’ And that tells me we’re doing something right. I don’t usually like IPAs, but I like ours. I like Dogfish head and Stone’s IPA. There are few IPAs out there that I like because they’re balanced.” (Tait)
Flavors that Tait gets from The DEBC IPA: “Mostly grapefruit and citrus notes some apricot and resin and pine. But what jumps out the most is the grapefruit.”
What did we find in the aging room?
An American BarleyWine (12%-15%) that has been aging since April 2012 in Rye Whiskey Barrels. Should be ready March or April of 2013. “We were going to call it Numb Comfort, but Texas felt that name was misleading.” So there isn’t a name for this one yet. “I wish we had a name for it…But it’s gonna be awesome!” (Tait)
A Flemish Sour aged in chardonnay casks that might be ready in 2015. “I’m so impatient. I just try to forget that it’s there.” (Tait)
We had fun browsing through the gallery that is DEBC. With it’s focus on creativity and experimentation, Deep Ellum Brewing Company is quickly becoming a regional and soon to be national leader in brewing.
Many of DEBC’s Designs are by Caliber Creative