Peticolas Brewing Company Raised The Bar For North Texas Craft Beer in 2014.
These days, it takes a lot to stand out in the increasingly crowded North Texas craft beer market. So, unsurprisingly, that made the task of choosing our Brewery of the Year for 2014 something of a difficult undertaking.
No longer can a brewery — as Community Brewing Company was able to do last year for its deserving win — stand out on medal wins or quality beer production alone. When you have no fewer than five area breweries medaling at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival and countless others making exceptional beer, quality product and shiny medals almost become the baseline. So, if that’s the case, how does a North Texas brewery stand out in 2014?
It’s simple, really: Do more.
But, in the case of craft beer, its increasingly hyper-competitive environment and its constant David vs. Goliath struggle, what, precisely, does “more” entail? In my mind, it’s all about advancing the community — be it the community of craft brewers in North Texas, the community of craft brewers statewide or, hell, just the local community, period.
Our 2014 Brewery of the Year, now in its third year of operations, does all of the above. Yes, this truly was an especially banner year for Peticolas Brewing Company.
In 2014, this brewery took home a gold medal for its Great Scot! brew in the Aged Beer category at the Great American Beer Festival, the company’s second-ever Gold. In addition, Peticolas released several exceptionally high-quality beers, including a special, delicious IPA (the appropriately named Thrilla in Brazilla) inspired by the World Cup in Brazil and its first Belgian-style beer, a dangerously boozy yet incredibly drinkable Belgian Tripel called A Lost Epic. Better yet, the brewery did all this while continuing to produce a lineup of local favorites that includes such notables as Velvet Hammer and Royal Scandal.
Now, as for the “more” I mentioned earlier. It’s often said in the craft beer industry that a rising tide lifts all boats. This is a phrase that embodies Peticolas to a tee. Not only has owner and brewery namesake Michael Peticolas openly trained in his shop many brewers who would go on to become his local competitors, but he’s also developed a mini army of rabid volunteers with little to no commercial brewing experience that he eventually turns to when it comes time to hire and expand his operations. Furthermore, Peticolas has done its part to expand and develop the palates of the North Texas beer consumer by hosting events including a beer-and-cheese pairing courses and stand-up comedy showcases that serve to broaden the appeal of craft beer in North Texas.
But, perhaps the biggest “more” of them all is the company’s recent foray into the Texas state legal system — previously fertile ground for this brewery owner. Teaming up with the likes of Austin’s Live Oak Brewing Company and Granbury’s Revolver, Peticolas is challenging recently passed Texas laws that essentially forfeited a craft brewers territorial distribution rights. Without going too deep into the matter, here’s what’s at stake: Before 2013, a distributor would essentially pay a craft brewer for the right to distribute their product; many times, this meant taking over a distribution network that the brewery had already worked hard to establish; brewers would then use these funds as a means for reinvesting into the brewery to drive growth. Should the trio of breweries succeed in returning things to this model, all of Texas craft beer will surely benefit.
That’s a pretty strong tide, if you ask me.
And, in turn, it’s our honor to announce Peticolas Brewing Company as our pick for the North Texas Brewery of the 2014. Peticolas has always been and continues to be a shining example of what a North Texas craft brewery should be.
With that in mind, we recently caught up with owner Michael Peticolas to talk about the year that was, the beers he brewed and what’s next for both his brewery and the North Texas craft beer world on the whole.
Congrats on a fantastic 2014! Now that you’ve got three years under your belt, could you tell us if this is how you drew it up? Has anything been better or worse than you anticipated?
Good timing! I just reviewed my 2010 business plan and its forecast for the first three years of operations. Production-wise, we produced more beer each year than originally forecasted, which is obviously a huge plus for the brewery. Reception-wise, things have gone much better than planned four years ago — and not just the reception, but the subsequent support of our brand has also turned out much greater than anticipated. The manner in which our consumers speak about our brand in the market validates our hard work and is, frankly, more satisfying than increased sales. Some describe our following as “cult-like,” and it’s this connection with our customers that has blown me away, personally. The only issue I’d term as “worse than anticipated” is the passage of legislation in 2013 that chipped away at Texas brewers’ rights. During a Texas craft beer boom, I believed brewers’ rights would be expanded, not contracted.
Throw the sales figures and public opinion stuff out the window: Push comes to shove, which of your beers, one-off or otherwise, would you consider to be your favorite?
My response to this question changed this year. Royal Scandal had always been my frontrunner, but with the re-release of Sit Down or I’ll Sit You Down this year, all that changed. Sit Down literally caused me to alter my perception of our beer. After opening up and enjoying a Scream IIPA from New Glarus Brewing Company, I realized that Sit Down stands up — no pun intended — to beers brewed by some of the best brewers in the world. I’ve always been a tough critic of our beer, but that experience made me realize for the first time that we are pumping out some world-class beers ourselves.
Tell us a little bit about your decision to team up with Live Oak and Revolver for the lawsuit against the State of Texas concerning compensation for distribution rights. First of all, why Live Oak and Revolver? Secondly, what do you hope to accomplish? And why should Texas craft beer drinkers care?
Since the Texas legislature enacted SB639 during the 2013 legislative session, I’ve considered challenging the law on constitutional grounds. It made sense to join with other Texas brewers who felt equally as strong about the issue. Our goal is to obtain a ruling that the law is unconstitutional, thereby restoring the rights we lost last year.
For North Texas Beer Week, you did a collaboration event with Community Brewing Company. We’ve also seen Lakewood do a collaboration beer with Rahr. But, compared to other cities, we probably haven’t seen as many collaborations between brewers as one may think. Any thoughts on why this might be? Do you see there being more of these as the local market matures?
You’re talking about two separate issues — brewing beer collaboratively versus collaborative events. Collaborating on a beer with a fellow North Texas brewer does not excite me as much as a potential project with an established jewel of the craft beer industry. I’d prefer to pursue the latter than former, especially when talking about a “first” collaboration beer. As for collaborating on events, our event with Community [Beer Company] was a success, and I’ll certainly participate in additional co-events in the future. Hopefully other North Texas brewers follow suit. The collaborative events build camaraderie in the industry and further craft beer education in North Texas.
You’ve been kind of vocal about the way you approach hiring and staffing for the brewery. In the early days, you were focused on being a lean, family-run brewery where you maintained responsibility for most aspects of the business. Now that you have a staff, can you tell us about your decision to hire from a volunteer pool mostly lacking in formal commercial brewing experience?
We’re still a lean, family-run brewery. Rather than hire seasoned veteran brewers from other breweries, we’ve hired exclusively from our volunteer pool. It’s a model that works for us. Our employees felt so passionate about our brewery that they volunteered their time to help it grow, expecting nothing in return. They truly care about our brand and are consequently exceptional employee candidates. Additionally, we learn more about potential hires — and they learn more about us — working alongside one another. Although our employees lack commercial brewing experience when hired, they obtain that experience once immersed in our brewery’s culture. We prefer this approach to hiring those moving from brewery to brewery. Our crew truly takes pride in our beer and brand. We want to wind the clock back to 1950, a time when employees worked for one company their entire career. We believe we are all a part of something special.