The first time Bruce Ford stepped into the new Exxon Bru City convenience store near his north Arlington home, he didn’t want to leave.
“I think I need to move in. Just put a little couch over there and a TV, and I’m good to go,” Ford said Friday as he watched one of the store’s employees fill a 64-ounce jug of beer — known as a “growler” — to take home. Ford’s bubbly beverage of choice that day was The Duke, a light but high-alcohol type of beer known as a barley wine made by Peticolas Brewing, which operates a small plant in Dallas’ Design District.
Every batch is a little different.
Bruce Ford, Bru City customer
The number of craft breweries in Texas has tripled to 189, up from just 59 beer-makers in 2011, according to the Brewers Association, a national group. Texas now has the most craft breweries of any state except California, Colorado, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Washington state. Many of the small manufacturers are in Dallas-Fort Worth.
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Beer drinkers who once craved anything beyond the ordinary six-pack now have several hundred choices, including everything from India Pale Ales with insane amounts of flowery hops to beers infused with cactus juice, coffee, grapefruit and green chile.
The burgeoning trend led to the opening of the rather unusual store in far northeast Fort Worth, near the border with Arlington and Euless. There, along Trinity Boulevard near the intersection with Euless Main Street, stands a place that is part gas station, convenience store and brewpub.
It’s called Bru City, and even though the store still doesn’t have a sign out front and only initiated its “soft opening” earlier this month, throngs of beer drinkers like Ford have already found their way in to sample any of its 60 different craft brews on tap.
“There’s something about the flavors that you just can’t get when it’s been sitting in a bottle forever, where every single one is the same,” said Ford, who works in a nearby industrial park. “You buy a Budweiser, it tastes like a Budweiser in any state you go to, which is good — but these, every batch is a little different.”
Star of the show
Bru City has most of the usual stuff a patron would expect at a convenience store, including gas pumps, beef jerky and fountain drinks.
But beer is the star of the show.
Along a back wall of the large store is a big sign that reads Bru City. There, a helpful employee waits for customers to select from any of 60 Texas-made craft beers on tap, each with its own carbon dioxide supply to ensure it has the proper amount of fizz for its variety.
189 Craft breweries in Texas, up from 59 in 2011.
Business partners Salman Arab and Niraj Shrestha opened the store earlier this month, with a decidedly different approach. Customers who need to get in and out quickly can do so, but those who want to stay awhile are also welcome.
Customers can try samples of any of the beers before deciding which to take home in 32-ounce or 64-ounce growlers. They can also pull up a bar stool and try free shot-size samples of the draught beers before deciding what to buy. Or they can buy 9-ounce or 16-ounce glasses of beer in the store — as if they were passing time in a neighborhood pub.
The practice of allowing customers the option of drinking a craft beer on-site and/or taking a growler home has only been legal in Texas for a couple of years, the owners said.
Just a few feet to the right of the beers on tap is a long row of refrigerated beer coolers. There, the traditional Bud Light, Miller and Coors products occupy only two of the 21 refrigerator doors. The rest of the chilled space is reserved for several hundred craft beers including Dallas-Fort Worth gems such as McKinney’s Franconia’s Koelsch, Deep Ellum’s Dallas Blonde Ale or Neato Bandito Mexican lager and Fort Worth’s Martin House Salty Lady.
The store also sells store-made fudge in up to 12 flavors. And, beginning in October, customers will have the option of buying food to go from a Woody’s barbecue franchise or a Famous Joe’s pizza.
In addition to the draught beers and six packs, the western wall of the store is dedicated to wine — several hundred bottles of European, South American, Californian and Texan vintages.
“This is our effort to change the face of the typical convenience store, and bring this with convenience plus a little bit of class,” Shrestha said.
Arab is a second-generation convenience store owner. His father and other relatives started stores in the Denton area beginning in the 1980s.
“I’m trying to take what they created and take that to the next level, bringing in things like craft beers, craft root beers, famous wines, things that aren’t available at every convenience store,” he said.
Local brewers, many of whom aren’t used to peddling their fare at convenience stores, are looking forward to filling new shelf spaces.
Fort Worth’s Martin House Brewing Co., for example, has several varieties that are strong sellers in grocery stores such as Kroger and Central Market, as well as liquor stores. Among the popular flavors are Bockslider Toadies Texas Bock and Imperial Texan double India red ale.
But Martin House is carried in very few convenience stores, founder Cody Martin said.
“Shelf space is tough,” he said. “I think the number of brewers and brands locally has grown a little faster than the amount of shelf space. Places like Bru City can change that.”
Texas’s reputation for high-quality craft beer is relatively new. Brewers in other states such as Colorado and Oregon have been honing their craft for a couple of decades. In Oregon, for example, craft beer makes up about 40 percent of the beer consumed, compared to about 5 to 7 percent in Texas, according to industry estimates.
Texas was slow to change its laws — many dating back to the 1920s Prohibition era — that made brewing, distributing and selling in small batches legal.
The legal status of craft beer is, in fact, still quite fluid in Texas. Earlier this month, lawyers for craft breweries went to court in Austin to fight against a 2013 state law that prevents brewers from selling their rights to distributors. Beer-makers argue that in essence the law forces them to give away their products to distributors, which also restricts their ability to sell in some markets.
The Texas Attorney General’s office argues that state laws must be maintained to ensure alcohol regulations are strong.
The weather may also be a factor. Many craft beers are full of flavors and seasonings, not to mention more calories than the mass-market beers often advertised during football games.
“The climate affects [sales in] the south and southeast. Not a lot of people want to drink craft beer when it’s 95 degrees, but they [brewers] are adapting to that,” said Eric Shepard, executive editor of Beer Marketer’s Insights, a New York trade publication.
But the future appears very bright for craft beer in Texas, Shepard said.
For example, earlier this month, MillerCoors bought a majority interest in Granbury’s Revolver Brewing, in the latest move by major brewers to keep up with the craft brewing trend by buying up or investing in smaller competitors.
Revolver has several beers available at the Exxon Bru City store, both on tap and in bottles — including its regionally famous Blood & Honey ale.
“There’s a lot of entrepreneurship there,” Shepard said of the Texas craft beer market. “It just takes time.”
This report includes information from the Star-Telegram archives.