Food & Drink

New Fort Worth brewery sows a Wild Acre of hops

When you drive past the old security gate of the former Ranch Style Beans complex just southeast of downtown Fort Worth, it feels a little like you’re visiting a historic landmark.

The black rectangular column that juts upward is visible from Interstate 30 and remains iconic even if the giant “RANCH STYLE” has since been removed and the pillar scrubbed clean.

The complex comprised multiple buildings of the bean factory before the brand was sold to food corporation ConAgra Foods in 2006 and production was moved from Fort Worth.

Now, it’s a mixed-use commercial and industrial area that is home to several businesses including Trinity River Distilling (which produces Silver Star Whiskey) and the new Wild Acre Brewing Co., Fort Worth’s newest brewery.

Just like the building that houses it, every brewing business has a story. Although many breweries are founded by homebrewers who get tired of the daily grind of working for someone else in a job they aren’t passionate about, this isn’t always the case.

In the past few years, several Texas breweries have been founded by veterans of the industry looking to start their own endeavors.

Revolver Brewing in Granbury was co-founded by longtime Sam Adams brewer Grant Wood. Jamie Fulton, who ran brewing operations at Fort Worth brewpub The Covey and consulted on brewery startups for years, helped found Community Beer Co. in Dallas.

Karbach Brewing in Houston started out with Eric Warner of Flying Dog Brewing fame.

Coming in with knowledge of how to brew on a large scale has allowed these breweries to flourish by removing much of the guesswork and scale-up adjustments that come with producing gigantic batches of beers that had previously existed only in five- or 10-gallon batches.

However, not all industry experts come from the brewing side. John Pritchett worked more than a decade for beer distribution giant Ben E. Keith before taking his knowledge and experience to run his own brewery. Pritchett’s Wild Acre Brewing Company launches Friday, and much like Karbach did in Houston, Wild Acre will start larger and more developed than most new breweries.

“I’m trying to take notes and lessons from being in wholesale as long as I was. We spent our time basically looking at who was doing well, who was not. We’re trying to take some of those lessons and just trying to apply them,” Pritchett said. “The industry, in aggregate, has so much room to grow.”

Atmosphere important, too

Self-described as not being exceptionally knowledgeable about how to brew beer, Pritchett knows the business side. And he knows it really well.

The beer industry is much more complex than most people might think.

For a brewery to be successful, brewing good beer is a given. If the product stinks, it won’t sell. However, the business and marketing side is perhaps just as important for a brewery that wants to grow quickly.

Compared with the operation inside, Wild Acre Brewing is somewhat unassuming as you pull in from El Paso Street. A few blocks from Lancaster Avenue on the east side of I-35W, El Paso Street is on the south side of the Fort Worth T Operations base and well away from most of the heavy foot traffic on Lancaster.

The brewery has a modest facade that doesn’t feel particularly different from many other start up breweries. The brewery logo is painted prominently on the front, some bay doors are open to the brewhouse on the right, and there’s a door into the brewery’s office on the left.

Around the left side of the building, however, it becomes apparent that Wild Acre planned a bit more than just industrial warehouse space for its operation. Upon further exploration, it becomes clear that Pritchett wanted to launch Wild Acre with a fully realized operation in place beyond just beer production.

Many breweries start with a few wish-list items and focus on getting the brewing operation off the ground before prioritizing some of the accoutrements that go nicely with a brewing business. Having an air-conditioned taproom and a spacious outdoor lawn with room to comfortably fit hundreds of brewery visitors is an early luxury for a brewery that is launching into the market ambitiously.

“We’re going to try and go for more of a setup where people can set up and hang out as opposed to showing up and having to stand in line and wait for a beer the whole time they’re at the brewery,” Pritchett said. “You go to Colorado and California; going to those breweries, it’s a laid-back, cool experience hanging out having a beer.”

The taproom features huge windows that show out to stainless-steel tanks in the adjacent brewery area. The building was most recently a brick warehouse before Wild Acre arrived, so the bar features lacquered bricks that were left over from the previous tenants.

It’s a nice touch that’s also a nod to Fort Worth’s generous use of bricks throughout the city (think Camp Bowie Boulevard).

Pritchett’s concept is to produce a quality product in a market that is still thirsty despite the ever-growing number of breweries locally and nationally, even if Wild Acre’s beer won’t be a distinctive new take on beer styles.

“I really think that there’s so much good beer out there. I think it’s really difficult to just say, ‘We’re going to be unique.’ What I tell our group is that we need to focus on being great. Put out good beer and good packaging and get good people and work hard and be successful,” Pritchett said.

Cans launching in August

To ensure that all that business acumen would be backed with a solid product, the brewery enlisted former Lagunitas brewer Mike Kraft.

Having brewed at Lagunitas’ satellite brewery in Chicago after spending years working for the brewpub chain Two Rows, Kraft used his experience during construction of the brewhouse and in planning the business along with Pritchett.

With tight branding and well-designed packaging, Wild Acre is hoping to launch four of its beers in cans by August. And, with an initial fermentation capacity of 540 barrels at once and a cumulative 10,000 barrels annually, they’re planning to sprint compared with some other local breweries in their first years.

“I think it’s critical to be in package. Long term, that’s where the majority of your business is probably going to be. That being the case, I wanted to be in package and I wanted to do it on-site, and the capital to do a packaging line [means] you have to pick [between bottles and cans],” Pritchett said.

“I’m a believer that [a can is] a better delivery system for the beer. It keeps out all the light, it’s a better seal,” he said.

With a canning line in place from German manufacturer Markl and mountains of its four core beers stacked ceiling-high, Wild Acre won’t exactly be tiptoeing into the market.

Launching at Pouring Glory on Friday, Flying Saucer Fort Worth on Saturday and Woodshed on Sunday with many more launches to follow, Wild Acre aims to get going at a rate mostly unseen in these parts.

Wild Acre is also doing things a little different with its launch than many breweries. Putting as much beer out into the market as possible for the first month is top priority, so the brewery won’t hold an open-house launch party or any public tours until mid-July at the earliest.

The beer business is booming in Fort Worth and Wild Acre joins six other breweries in a 3-square-mile area of the city. Upon first impression, it appears they’ll have no trouble quickly becoming the next big thing to come out of DFW.

So what about the beers?

Wild Acre will launch with four core beers on draft and in boxed six-packs of cans. The four beers are aimed to serve as many drinkers’ palates as possible and position Wild Acre to grow quickly.

“We basically came up with what we were going to brew based on a combination of what Mike thought he brewed well, what I thought would be a good space to be in and also categories we felt that you just kind of have to be in,” Pritchett said.

Tarantula Hawk India Red Ale: A bright, hop-forward amber-red beer, Tarantula is Wild Acre’s beer to satisfy IPA lovers. It features plenty of late-addition Mosaic and Amarillo hops that give it a distinct aroma.

“It’s an IPA with a little bit more malt in the grain bill to darken the color and balance it out a little,” Pritchett said. “In my mind, if you’re going to roll out a craft beer in this market, you need an IPA or an IPA-esque beer.”

Billy Jenkins Session Bock: Wild Acre’s sole lager is named for the founder of Fort Worth: Gen. William Jenkins Worth. Since that mouthful of a name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, the brewery shortened it to Billy Jenkins.

Texans tend to think of Shiner when they think of a bock, but the traditional bock style is actually quite different.

“We’re calling it a ‘session bock’ in that if you take a traditional German bock you’re looking at 6  1/2 -plus alcohol and big malty sweetness. And then you have Shiner Bock, and the chasm between those beers is massive,” Pritchett said. “We just kind of come in the middle.”

Billy Jenkins will hit the market a little later, as lagers take longer to ferment than ales.

Moonlight Shine Wheat Ale: An American wheat ale, Moonlight Shine is expected to be Wild Acre’s most accessible offering. “We put a little vanilla in the boil and some orange peel and then enhance that with the Mandarina hop in the dry hop.”

Soul Pleasure Southern Stout: With moderate sweetness, Soul Pleasure will seek to fill an underrepresented segment in the beer market for the straightforward, easier-drinking side of American stouts.

Pritchett said he and his team named Soul Pleasure after the feeling they associate with the style.

“When you’re drinking a stout, I have this image where you’re kicked back in a chair, enjoying a dark beer that’s pleasing to the soul.”

Wild Acre Brewing Co. inaugural tapping

  • 5-11 p.m. Friday
  • Pouring Glory Growler Fill Station & Grill
  • 1001 Bryan Ave., Fort Worth
  • Updates under “events” on Pouring Glory’s Facebook page

Launch parties also Saturday at Flying Saucer Fort Worth, 111 Third St. in Sundance Square, and Sunday at Woodshed Smokehouse, 3201 Riverfront Drive, Fort Worth.

Wild Acre Brewing Co. is at 1734 E. El Paso St., Fort Worth.