Almost 10 years ago, Wisconsin native and former Texas Christian University swimmer Fritz Rahr opened Rahr & Sons Brewing Co. in Fort Worth.He may not have thought of himself as a beer pioneer, but it’s easy to award him that distinction now.A decade ago, North Texas was still “very much a Miller-Coors environment,” he says, and selling craft beer was difficult.But around 2009, beer drinkers’ taste buds seemed to suddenly evolve.“Craft beer really came on the scene,” Rahr says. “It was like somebody flipped a switch and — boom — there it was.”Now Rahr & Sons, whose production levels have grown from 500 barrels in 2004 to an anticipated total of 24,000 this year, is recognized as the boss brewer among a fast-growing group of local craft breweries, including up-and-comers such as Martin House Brewing Co., Panther Island Brewing, Shannon Brewing Co. in Keller, Grapevine Craft Brewery and Revolver Brewing in Granbury.That’s not including a dozen or so more that have recently popped up in Dallas and surrounding areas, with more on the way.“Even though we’re all competitors, we’re all here for the common good of craft beer,” Rahr says. “To keep it growing and expanding and on the forefront of people’s mind when they think beer.”North Texas is not alone in the craft brew movement. According to the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association — which defines a craft brewer as small (producing less than 6 million barrels a year), independent and traditional — growth of the craft brewing industry in 2013 was up 18 percent by volume and 20 percent by dollars from the year prior. Craft brewers sold 15.6 million barrels in 2013 compared with 13.2 million in 2012. More than 2,800 total breweries operated in 2013, the highest total since the 1870s. Even more, restaurants across the board are responding to consumer demand by adding more taps, with some like Brewed offering growler programs that allow customers to walk out with jugs of their favorites. “A lot of restaurants that traditionally had three or four taps have reconfigured their bar area to support 12 to 15 taps,” Rahr says. Summer’s approach means it’s time to switch to sips that are refreshing, with easy drinkability and maybe a citrusy note or two. Four local beer experts, whose jobs entail choosing good brews, offer their picks for summer suds, both those made locally and non-locally. (The task was like choosing a favorite child, for some.) Stock up now for this summer’s barbecues and beach trips, or wherever your cooler takes you. Eric TschetterOwner, The Pour House Local summer suds: Revolver Brewing Blood & Honey: “Shocker,” Tschetter says. “There are a ton of great local beers and I love trying them all, but Blood & Honey is just a great go-to beer.”Tschetter is not alone in his selection. Blood & Honey, finished with blood orange zest and local Fall Creek Farms honey, has put the Granbury brewery on the craft beer map for its refreshing blend of spices and hint of sweetness. Four Corners Brewing Co. Local Buzz: Tschetter’s also digging Local Buzz, a honey-rye golden ale infused with locally sourced honey from Dallas’ Four Corners Brewing Co. “The whole top comes off when you pop the can, and it is like you are drinking out of a cup,” he says. “Very cool and innovative.”Non-local summer suds: Brooklyn Brewery Summer Ale: A modern rendition of the light dinner ales brewed in England from the 1800s to the 1940s, this golden beer boasts crisp bitterness with citrus and floral aromas. “It’s light and refreshing,” Tschetter says. “Great for summer.” Where to buy: Central MarketJR ClarkBeer and wine manager, Central Market Fort WorthLocal summer suds: Rahr & Sons Brewing Co. Bucking Bock: Note that this traditional German spring bock is available in draft only, but we found it on tap at Central Market in Fort Worth, where we took it home in one of the grocer’s growlers.“It’s golden in color and it’s not harsh on the tongue like an IPA would be,” Clark says. “It goes with anything off the grill, so it’s great for summertime cooking.” Non-local summer suds: Saint Arnold Brewing Co. Summer Pils: “It’s very easy to drink,” Clark says of Houston-based Saint Arnold’s German-style Pilsner that’s available April through August. “It’s bright, crisp and clean. It’s a very traditional Pilsner, so the bubbles are tiny and it’s very effervescent. It just goes down really, really clean.” Where to buy: Central Market (Bucking Bock available at Fort Worth store only.) Keith SchlabsManaging partner/beer enthusiast, The Flying Saucer and Bird CafeLocal summer suds: Community Beer Co. Belgian Witbier: Brewed using unmalted wheat, which leads to its cloudy appearance, this brew offers a high level of carbonation and hints of orange peel and spice. “That style is just about perfect for hot summer days,” Schlabs says. “It’s light and refreshing and has mild citrus flavors.” Non-local summer suds: Dogfish Head Festina Peche: A mild Berliner Weisse, which is a tart, acidic wheat beer with almost no hop bitterness, the Festina Peche “can take the edge off of a long day and refresh the body at the same time,” Schlabs says. “It is delicate and quite drinkable and would pair with just about anything you’re cooking.” Stone Brewing Co. Enjoy By IPA: Brewed in California specifically not to last, Stone Enjoy By IPA comes with an “enjoy by” date printed boldly on the label, meaning imbibers have only so much time to consume it for premium flavor.“It’s well-made, fresh and has some great refreshing qualities — snappy hops, crisp carbonation, big earthy hop aroma and enough strength that one will do,” Schlabs says. Where to buy: Kings LiquorMichael Vallandingham General manager, The Ginger Man SouthlakeLocal summer suds: Rahr & Sons Brewing Co. Summertime Wheat: The 2014 version of this lightly hopped, unfiltered ale, noted for its banana and clovelike notes, was released May 1. “A classic,” Vallandingham says. “Summer is ‘wheat beer’ season and this one is great.” Deep Ellum Brewing Co. IPA: This is Deep Ellum Brewing Co.’s flagship brew — a bitter ale made with American hops that is highly aromatic with citrus, pine and floral notes. “This beer is just fantastic and it’s available in cans, which makes it perfect for camping or outdoor concerts.” Martin House Brewing Co. Daybreak: Vallandingham calls Martin House’s now locally famous four-grain number, Daybreak, made with honey and milk sugar, a sweet “breakfast” beer he enjoys anytime he’s outside. Non-local summer suds: Real Ale Brewing Co. 4-Squared: “This is a slightly stronger version of Real Ale’s popular blonde ale, Fireman’s #4,” Vallandingham says of the Blanco brewery’s hoppy “burly” blonde. “With a stronger hop finish and availability in cans, it’s a perfect river-trip companion.” Where to buy: Central Market Beer in the kitchenJulia Child once said, “I enjoy cooking with wine; sometimes I even put it in the food …” Likewise, dishes made with a craft beer can be as enjoyable as drinking it from the bottle. Cooking with a brew isn’t limited to beer-battering onions, artichoke hearts and avocado slices. Take a cue from The Flying Saucer chef Bob Blenderman’s brew-infused baked chicken, which can also be grilled, served with a smoky porter barbecue sauce worth elbowing over. Make a finger-licking batch to take to your next backyard gathering with this easy recipe.Don’t feel like fanning the flames of your grill? For some sweet summer relief, pop open a beer and pour it over ice cream, float-style.FnG Eats in Keller elevates the basic beer float — typically a scoop of vanilla ice cream drowned in a dark stout — to gourmet status by combining chocolate ice cream, a brownie spiced with minced habanero and Deep Ellum Brewing Co.’s decadent Double Brown Stout.Chef Bob Stephenson says the key to building his velvety float is pouring the brew slowly over layers of ice cream and crumbled brownie, creating just the right amount of bittersweet beer foam for an explosion of creamy, chewy and fizzy textures.“And don’t forget the cherry,” he adds. “Every float needs a cherry on top.”Panther Island BrewingBand mates-turned-brewing buddies Michael Harper and Ryan McWhorter have partnered to open Panther Island Brewing, Fort Worth’s latest addition to the city’s growing brewery scene. This one is on the north side of downtown (Rahr & Sons is just south and Martin House Brewing Co. is a stone’s throw east), in a long-vacant 7,500-square-foot building at 501 N. Main St., south of the Trinity River Vision Authority’s Panther Island Pavilion. While the brewery is not yet open to the public, Harper and McWhorter, both former home brewers, are hard at work inside.“I started with a Mr. Beer kit. You know, the kind you get from Wal-Mart,” says McWhorter. “I worked my way up and thought, ‘Let’s do this for a living.’ ”Having perfected their product by brewing recipes over and over again (previously under the name Wahoo) for more than two years in a 1,200-square-foot space in Haltom City, McWhorter’s and Harper’s persistence paid off. The duo won best brewery at the inaugural Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival Burgers, Brews & Blues event for Allergeez, their American wheat ale brewed with local Texas honey, chamomile flowers and rosehips. “Allergeez is our baby,” Harper says. “We think that’s going to be our huge seller. So far, that’s the one that’s received the most positive response. We’re really happy with it.”Look for Allergeez to hit area bar and restaurant taps this summer and later, a strawberry blonde ale modeled after strawberry shortcake made with biscuit malt. The duo is also brewing beer exclusively for the Trinity River Authority’s new weekly Sunday Funday summer event series at Panther Island Pavilion, set to take place every Sunday, starting June 8, from 1 to 6 p.m. The series will feature tubing, food trucks, live music and water sports. “The people of Fort Worth have been overwhelmingly kind,” Harper says. “The response has been really great. We’re ready to be here for the long haul.”McWhorter adds that while the guys are swamped preparing their expansive venue for taproom hours and Saturday tours, to be dubbed as “parties,” he welcomes any brew enthusiast to drop in. “We’re very personable people,” he says. “We like to hang out and have a good time. If you ever drive by here and the big door’s open, come on in.” Info: www.pantherislandbrewing.com
Belgian pale ale baked chicken with Stone Smoked Porter barbecue sauce
For the brine:
1 gallon water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon white pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
16 ounces Upslope Brewing Co. Belgian Style Pale Ale (available at Total Wine & More in Fort Worth or substitute a Belgian or wheat beer)
4 pounds chicken leg quarters
For the seasoning mix:
1/3 cup coarse black pepper
1/3 cup kosher salt
1/3 cup granulated garlic
1. Mix together the brine ingredients. Submerge chicken in the brine and refrigerate for 24 hours.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove chicken from brine and pat dry with a paper towel. Lay chicken on a sheet pan and season liberally with the seasoning mix.
3. Bake approximately 45-60 minutes. Brush on the Stone Smoked Porter barbecue sauce and serve.
Stone Smoked Porter barbecue sauce
Makes about 3 1/2 cups
4 jalapeños, chopped
1/4 cup onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups ketchup
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons liquid smoke
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
5 ounces Stone Brewing Co. Stone Smoked Porter (available at Central Market Fort Worth and Spec’s Wine, Spirits & Finer Foods)
1. Saute jalapeños, onion and garlic in olive oil in a medium stockpot for 10-12 minutes.
2. Add remaining ingredients, except beer, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
3. Blend the sauce with an immersion blender. After the sauce begins to cool, slowly add the beer. May be enjoyed with beef, chicken or pork.
Nutritional analysis per serving (chicken with sauce): 233 calories, 9 grams fat, 4 grams carbohydrates, 30 grams protein, 103 milligrams cholesterol, 1,924 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 38 percent of calories from fat.
— Flying Saucer, 111 E. Third St., Fort Worth, 817-336-7470, www.beerknurd.com/stores/fortworth
Double Brown Stout float
2 scoops chocolate ice cream (FnG Eats uses Henry’s Homemade Ice Cream out of Plano)
1 triple chocolate-habanero brownie, crumbled (recipe follows)
1 can or bottle Deep Ellum Brewing Co. Double Brown Stout
Whipped cream for garnish
1 tablespoon macadamia nuts, chopped
Chocolate shavings or sprinkles, if desired
1 maraschino cherry
1. Layer the ice cream scoops and crumbled brownie into an ice cream float glass or pint glass.
2. Slowly pour the stout over the ice cream and brownie layers.
3. Garnish with whipped cream, nuts, and chocolate shavings or sprinkles, if desired, and top with a cherry.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 736 calories, 34 grams fat, 84 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams protein, 101 milligrams cholesterol, 192 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 45 percent of calories from fat.
— FnG Eats, 201 Town Center Lane, Suite 1101, Keller, 817-741-5200, www.fngeats.com.
Triple chocolate-habanero brownies
Makes 16 brownies
5 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 habanero pepper, minced
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 ounces semisweet chocolate chunks, chopped
1. Place oven rack in middle or lower half of oven. Preheat to 350 degrees. If using a convection oven, turn the fan to low or off altogether. Place a pan of water in bottom of oven on lowest rack to maintain moisture. Coat 8-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Line entire pan with foil and coat foil with cooking spray.
2. Combine semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, unsweetened chocolate and butter in a doubler boiler over low heat. Allow to melt and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the minced habanero and cocoa powder. Set aside and let cool slightly.
3. Combine eggs, sugar, vanilla and sea salt in a bowl. Whisk together for 15 seconds.
4. Fold melted chocolate mixture into egg mixture. Add the flour and fold with a rubber spatula until just combined. Do not overwork batter.
5. Pour batter into prepared pan. Spread evenly to all corners. Disperse chopped semisweet chocolate chunks on top and press into batter.
6. Bake until lightly puffed and an inserted toothpick comes out with a small amount of sticky crumbs, about 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool on wire rack for two hours. Remove brownies from pan by pulling out the foil. Cut into 16 equal squares. Brownies may be stored in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to five days.
Nutritional analysis per brownie: 252 calories, 14 grams fat, 34 grams carbohydrates, 56 milligrams cholesterol, 74 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 45 percent of calories from fat.
Get ready for summer week!
Monday: Great new grilling cookbooks; children’s summer safety tips
Tuesday: Poolside reads
Today: Best craft beers of the season
Thursday: A guide to summer events for kids and families
Saturday: Teacher gifts that elementary schoolers can make
June 2: Summer TV preview