by Andrew Chalk
It only seems like a decade, but this year but this year Rahr & Sons Brewing Company, the Fort Worth family-owned-and-run pioneer of craft brewing, turns ten. This week, Del Frisco’s Grille in Fort Worth’s buzzing downtown threw a celebratory “plates and pints” dinner with brewery founder Fritz Rahr in attendance to regale a packed room of happy Rahr fans (Rahrites? Rahrians?) with just some of his extensive mental inventory of tales from the first ten years.
I was an invited media guest and asked him whether, with the craft beer industry on a seemingly endless roll, the decade had been a bed of roses. “We almost gave up in each of the first three years”, he responded. Nobody was interested in stocking their beer on an ongoing basis, despite endless personal ‘house calls’ to bars and retailers. The craft beer craze had not begun in North Texas, despite a burgeoning movement in Oregon and Colorado. Just a few years later, in 2010, heavy snow caused their brewery roof to collapse, stopping operations. However, good insurance, including business interruption insurance, kept Rahr alive and allowed them to rebuild (nonetheless, the trauma caused them to make a beer, Snowmageddon, to commemorate the event).
“Then it was like someone pulled a switch”, said Rahr, “craft beer took off in North Texas”. Since then, Rahr has grown to 20,000 barrels/year in output, making them one of the larger craft breweries in the area. They are also in distribution in all major Texas cities, giving the family more time to work on brews and meet consumers. From barely viable, Rahr has become “The Beer That Made Fort Worth Famous”.
When you visit Fort Worth, the best downtown in North Texas, make sure you visit Del Frisco’s Grille, located in the Sundance Square Plaza. Although open for only a year, it has built a solid following. There are two levels of seating and a second floor bar that is a great place to meet after work. The style might be described as casual elegance, with patrons dressed in everything from formal wear to jeans and demographically ranging from their twenties to their seventies. Free validated valet parking from any Sundance Square Valet stand uses a clever ‘texting’ method to get your car back before you step out of your restaurant. It made our late arrival from Dallas a cinch.
Del Frisco’s catered the dinner in a private room, serving up an expertly selected range of four courses to accompany Rahr’s four wines. The experience reminded me how well beer pairs with food and that in many countries it is beer, not wine, that is the first choice at meal times.
For example, with Rahr & Sons “Blonde” Munich-Style Helles Lager? The light (5% ABV), yellow-gold colored beer was ideal with chef Carter Reyenga’s pan-seared bay scallops on serrano guacamole dressed with pineapple minted herb vinaigrette.
What about “Stormcloud”, Rahr’s IPA? Grouper tacos worked a treat, with the grouper beer-battered and served in a flour tortilla with jicama slaw and spicy chipotle tartar sauce. This IPA deserves comment. Fritz Rahr clarified that it is an “English style IPA”, to distinguish it from the more prevalent style of craft IPA. The more prevalent style has basically descended into a contest between brewmasters as to who can ratchet up the IBU (bitterness) rating and ABV (alcohol) the most. The claim is “my IBU is bigger than your IBU”, but it is a contest that runs a risk of ending in brewer’s droop. Rahr has eschewed that fight in favor of a balance between bitterness (70 IBUs) and malt. This beer, in fact, would go well with just about any spicy food (not just Mexican, but south Asian or Sichuanese as well).
The Weizen Doppelbock “Angry Goat” doesn’t get a mention on Rahr’s web site but it is currently available. This is the dark malty beer you serve with red meat. It has hints of banana and clove in the nose and a bubblegum flavor in the aftertaste. Del Frisco’s braised lollipop lamb chops and served them with juicy beer-glazed carrots and cooked ‘til tender root vegetables. All of this was topped with cherry glaze that delivered enticing sweet-and-sour flavors. The tender and tasty lamb filled the mouth with earthy, iron flavors. The 8% ABV Angry Goat stood up to this with no quarter given. A great pairing decision.
Finally, was the dessert and what is always the hardest beer pairing decision of all. What do you serve with Nutella and peanut butter bread pudding with macerated berries and vanilla chantilly cream? For Rahr, it was “Tenderfoot” American Barley Wine, an 11.5% ABV powerhouse of fruit and malt. Lovers of barley wines will want to put this on their lists to try.