Parker County Brewing Co.. is not Parker County's first brewery — but it is the first in well over a century.
Back in 1879, Parker County had a short-lived brewery, but it didn’t survive the lean years of post-Civil War Reconstruction. No one has attempted one since.
Flash-forward 139 years to the current craft-beer boom, when premium suds are having a heyday, and two home-brewers decided that it was time to step out of their garage and into the light. Ryan Stewart and Joshua Tarbay like to say that they effectively ended Prohibition when their brewpub opened in February.
Located just off Interstate 20 in the new Shops at Willow Park development, Parker County Brewing Co. is planted next door to the popular new restaurant Drakes Yoke. There is a fenced-off lawn lawn in the development, with projection equipment for movies and music videos, and games for parties and events, near the brewpub's front door. “There was a desperate need for this kind of development in the area,” says Stewart, the head brewer.
What’s on tap?
On a recent visit, the scent of peaches was in the air. A seasonal blonde, infused with local peaches, was getting ready for its debut. Sadly, didn’t get to sample it, but by the time you read this, it should be ready to roll. You can also get a sip at the upcoming Parker County Peach Festival, scheduled for July 14 in Weatherford's Downtown Historic District, where Parker County Brewing Co. will have a booth.
The brewery's American stout is rich, creamy and mild, with a 6.5 percent ABV and characteristic sweet and chocolatey notes. Also popular are the Parker County Blonde and Parker County Hefeweizen — so popular that the brewery was out of them on my visit.
Parker County IPA and an 1879-era ale are both balanced. The IPA comes in at 7.6 percent, with a light orange coloring and the bitterness you expect from an India pale ale. My favorite was the 1879, which Stewart describes as “our way to honor the past and put our brewery in historical context. It’s a pre-Prohibition-style recipe I adapted, with a little maltiness at the beginning and it finishes with a more hoppy character.”
The brown ale is a lighter session ale that he says “is easy drinking, with nutty, roasted toffee flavors.” The summer ale is light and simple, and the chocolate hazelnut porter is exactly what it claims to be.
Cask ales from a bygone era
Cask selections, rarely found in North Texas, are also available. This is the way people drank beer for centuries, and it lends a nostalgic charm. Before the invention of nitro-infused draft, beer was aerated, infusing tiny air bubbles in the beer, so it’s actually not carbonated.
Parker County Brewing offers a selection of these cask ales, hand-pumped from a keg on what is known as a beer engine. The beers are enhanced by the added creamy texture.
“It’s one of my favorite ways to drink beer,” says Stewart. “It’s delicious. We are expecting some patrons will have a more adventurous palate and I think they’ll enjoy it."
Breweries and brewpubs seem to be popping up everywhere these days, but Stewart says that Texas still has plenty of room to grow. He points out that Portland, Oregon, has about 75 breweries — more than North Texas, even though North Texas is much larger in population and area that Portland.
"People are getting more interested in learning about beers and in learning about different varieties," he says.
But there's more than beer
You won’t find a stand-alone brewery in Willow Park because a local law requires any bar to also serve food. At Parker County Brewing, Neapolitan-style pizza was introduced to satisfy that requirement. And it just happens to be darn good pizza.
“I think it’s difficult to execute when you open with a huge menu,” Stewart says. “So we wanted to keep things simple and focus on our pizza.”
The 11-inch pizzas feature a traditional Neapolitan crust (made with extra finely ground imported double-zero flour), but cooked to the point that the center is firm enough to handle by the slice, so the operation doesn’t require a fork and knife.
We sampled the BLT ($11), which has imported San Marzano sauce and mozzarella cheese, topped with bacon crumbles, a little wilted spring mix, tomatoes, tangy Gorgonzola and a drizzle of olive oil. The margherita ($9) is simply perfect with fresh basil leaves, and grated Parmesan. The pizzas alone are worth the trip; there are more than a half-dozen other specialty pies, as well as a build-your-own option.
The menu also includes house-made pretzels, garlic bread sticks, salads and a charcuterie board featuring European cheeses and meats. For non-beer drinkers, wines are also available, by the glass, bottle or flight.
Parker County Brewing Co., 225 Shops Blvd. Suite 105, Willow Park, 817-757-7777, https://www.parkercountybrewing.com. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday.