A Look Inside Braindead Brewing, Deep Ellum’s New Brewpub, Which Opens This Week.
Try as he might to put on a good front, to smile and politely argue otherwise, Sam Wynne’s feeling a bit of pressure right now.
As well he maybe should: At 30 years old, Wynne’s finally walking down the path that perhaps always made sense for him to take, following in the footsteps taken by his famously entrepreneurial family before him and striking out on his own to open up his first business — a new Deep Ellum brewpub called Braindead Brewing that’s set to open its doors to the public on Tuesday, March 3.
Braindead’s an exciting venture for a number of reasons, the first and foremost being that a brewpub seems a long time coming for Deep Ellum — not to mention Dallas as a whole. Only recently did the laws change, allowing brewpubs to become a possibility around these parts. And while Braindead once seemed primed to become the first such place to open in the wake of those changes, it now looks to become Dallas’ third such spot behind Oak Cliff’s Small Brewpub and Lakewood’s On Rotation.
Still, Braindead looks primed to break out from even that small pack given the four-headed monster running its operations. Manning the brewery portion of the spot is Drew Huerter, the brewer who helped Deep Ellum Brewing Co. get its feet off the ground. In the kitchen, there’s David Peña, formerly of Palomino in the Crescent and Henry’s Tavern in Plano before that, crafting what he calls new American cuisine with Texas inspiration or, more succinctly, “comfort food but not really comfort food.” Out front, there’s co-owner Jeff Fryman, a cicerone who helped Uptown beer haven The Common Table develop its beer program.
And then there’s Wynne himself. If Wynne’s last name strikes you as familiar, that’s because it should. It’s a name that carries substantial weight around these parts. His father, Shannon Wynne, is the man behind the Flying Saucer, Flying Fish and Rodeo Goat chains, as well as various other single-location spots around Dallas and Fort Worth, among them Meddlesome Moth, LARK on the Park and Bird Cafe. His uncle, Angus Wynne III, is iconic for other reasons: For years, he ran the Arcadia Theater and, in 1969, he threw the Texas International Pop Festival in Lewisville, a legendary three-day music festival that featured performances from such acts as Chicago, Grand Funk Railroad, Janis Joplin, B.B. King, Led Zeppelin, Santana, Sly & The Family Stone. Then there’s his grandfather, Angus Wynne Jr., who just so happened to be the guy behind the Six Flags, no big deal.
So, yeah, it’s a lot to live up to. And, regardless of whether he’ll outwardly admit it to the leering press, it’s taking its toll.
“Oh, he’s definitely more stressed than I am,” Fryman says of Wynne’s demeanor of late, chuckling some as he does.
But such is just the nature of the beast, says Wynne, who has some experience of his own on this front. Previously, he worked as the assistant beer director at Flying Saucer and also helped his father open the first Rodeo Goat location in Fort Worth. He says he never initially intended to follow in his family’s footsteps, though. Nor did his family ever urge him to do so.
“Coming up in the restaurant business, this wasn’t something I set out to do,” he says. “It’s just something I ended up doing. I don’t think anyone ever wants their kid to follow them into the restaurant business — it’s such a hard, fickle industry.”
And yet here he is just the same, spurred on by his desire to carve out a niche of his own — and especially one that fits in so well with his love of craft beer. Interestingly, though, a brewpub wasn’t his and Fryman’s plan at all. At first, the two set out to open beer haven-cum-pizzeria. But upon securing their lease at 2625 Main Street in Deep Ellum all the way back in November of 2013, their new direction — and one that makes perfect sense given that the two became friends while studying for the master cicerone test — came to light.
Good thing, too: With its inviting wraparound patio and location near the intersection of Main and Good-Latimer, Braindead looks to be an inviting entry point into Deep Ellum. Inside the doors, its mix of wooden and antique furnishings further crafts a welcoming appeal that’s abetted by separate lunch, dinner and late-night menus.
And then, of course, there’s Huerter’s beer program, which will provide some four to six of its own beers to the restaurants 25 or so regional-focused taps.
During a somewhat surprise pre-opening test run during which a Bike Friendly Oak Cliff group ride stopped by the then-still-being-built-out space, Wynne, Fryman and Huerter offered future patrons their first sips of two Huerter creations: a corn-based, pre-Prohibition-style cream ale called Grits, as well as an English Mild. The two beers are notable because, unlike so many other craft beers, they’re remarkably sessionable beers — brews that are still quite flavorful, while also intentionally less Velvet Hammer and more Miller Lite in ABV levels. In turn, they follow suit with Wynne’s long-standing notion that he and his team are “beer geeks, not beer snobs.”
This isn’t to say of course, that Huerter isn’t able to flex his high-ABV muscles elsewhere. At that first tasting, while trying to place aside the stress of this overwhelming turnout from these bicyclists, Huerter and Wynne also shared with a select few some other brews they’ve got in the works.
The Pearl Jam-referencing rye brown ale, Given to Rye, checks in at 5.5 percent ABV. His super tasty Blacklands Double Pale Ale, made with malted barley from Leander, clocks a cool 7.75 percent ABV. And then there’s his staggeringly great four-hop-blended double IPA, which might take some time to reach the brewpub’s taps — but should prove well worth the wait just the same. Tentatively called Tenth Anniversary, this beer boasts 85 IBUs, a 9.5 percent ABV and such powerful fruit notes that it tastes like the headstrong bastard child of a deadbeat beer that’s been raised by its single Hawaiian Punch mother. (Lest it’s not clear: It sounds weird, I know, but I mean that as a massive compliment.)
Sipping on Tenth Anniversary, with the mayhem of far more bicyclists milling about his space than anticipated, Wynne’s shoulders, if only for a moment, finally loosen from their previously tense state.
“It’s a passion project for both Jeff and me — and all of us,” he says, glancing around his brewpub’s kitchen and smiling over Huerter’s creation. “Everything that we’re gonna try to do here, we’re gonna try to do it the best in the neighborhood. We definitely don’t have the capacity to do that with music in this part of town, but we’re trying to make our own little beer Disneyland.”
Then, almost on cue, another group of cyclist curious cranes their necks into the kitchen, wondering if they’ve come to the right spot. Wynne assures them that they have, points them in the direction of the taps kegged for this rather impromptu get-together and, once more, tenses up a bit. Finally, while stroking the “unemployment beard” he’ll shave just days before this spot’s formally open, he shrugs.
“This,” Wynne says, “is everything I’ve ever wanted.”