Lakewood Brewing Co. Cemented Its Place As One of DFW’s Best Breweries in 2015.
The year we just closed the books on is going to be seen as an important one for the national craft beer scene as a whole.
On the plus side, the market share of craft beer is increasing and more and more breweries are opening up all the time. On the not-so-great front, there’s talk of bourbon barrel shortages that could affect brewers nationwide and the big beer companies have increased their aggressive marketing against “hipster” beer while ironically buying them up at an alarmingly increasing rate.
Here in North Texas, we’ve similarly seen so many more breweries open up this year than before. Unfortunately, we’ve also seen at least two breweries close their doors.
From where we’re drinking, the brightest spot of all this year was Lakewood Brewing Co., which really strengthened its position as one of the premier breweries in Dallas. On the business side, Lakewood expanded its brewery to include a spacious taproom and an outdoor seating area that can host musical guests as well as other special events. With that expansion, the brewery not only doubled its in-house even capacity, but it also added a new can line and a barrel room. Anyone who hasn’t yet checked out the brewery since the expansion would do well to schedule a visit to the impressive and beautiful space.
The brewery’s canning addition isn’t to be discounted, either, as its delicious brews can now be taken on the go. For me personally, Lakewood’s Hopochondria Session IPA was my go-to beer this summer, thanks in large part to its availability in cans.
Meanwhile, the brewery also continued to hit the high bar with its Legendary Series in 2015 by introducing its hard-to-pronounce-but-easy-to-drink Saint Dymphna.
But, more than that, LBC also continued to make a huge impression outside of North Texas as well in 2015, winning medals all over the country with its regular and special releases. Among a few of these notable accolades: Placing second overall in the U.S. Open Beer Championship with six medals, including a gold for the aforementioned Saint Dymphna; winning three medals in the San Diego and Los Angeles International Beer Competitions, including a gold medal for its Rock Ryder; and earning a pair of Best in Region nods in the Best of Rockies/Southwest Region in the US Beer Tasting Championship for Hopochondria and Zomer Pils. That’s a lot of metal!
Perhaps the thing that really cemented Lakewood as our pick for North Texas Brewery of the Year for 2015, though, was the frenzy that its exquisite Bourbon Barrel Aged Temptress caused as beer nerds all over DFW tirelessly hunted for its limited bottles. In the days following the release, you would oft hear whispers of a store off the beaten path that had a case or two — but, sure enough, once you’d go investigate, there would just be empty boxes where once stood that deliciously booze elixir.
This kind of excitement is usually reserved for the Founders KBS or the Goose Island Bourbon County beers of the world. But, honestly, those were easier to find this year than that Temptress. And that speaks volumes, we think, about Lakewood’s reputation and standing in this community.
That in mind, we caught up with Lakewood founder Wim Bens over the holidays to talk about his brewery’s stellar 2015 and what area drinkers can expect from his business in the next 12 months. Schol!
First of all, congratulations on a wonderful year. Between releasing many great beers, winning awards and the new expansion you guys have accomplished a lot. Looking back, was there a particularly fond memory for you?
One day that comes to mind was when we had our new 180bbl tanks delivered. We had designed the new building with a roof hatch so that we could pick tanks off the truck and lower them in through the ceiling. The hatch is 15 by 15 feet, so that alone created a huge skylight in the brewery. But when those massive tanks started getting lowered through the roof, it was like spaceships were landing in the brewery. It was great to see that it all worked the way we designed it, and it was amazing to finally have tanks in the new building after almost a year of construction. Mission accomplished that day.
With all the expansion and taproom opening, I imagine that’s changed the way you guys operate. Were there any challenges in expanding your operation in such drastic way?
The biggest challenge when we changed from the “free beer/paid tour” model to operating more like a regular bar Wednesday through Sunday was educating our faithful followers about the changes. It took a month or two, but we weren’t the only local brewery to change to the “bar” model, so people caught on pretty fast. We still do tours at 1, 3 and 5 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 1 and 3 p.m. on Sundays. We’ve been upgrading the taproom since it opened in April with art and wood on the walls, plus booths, more seating and entertainment. We’ve also been working hard on the beer garden space in the back and have more plans to make it a year-round event space in the future.
The session IPA seemed to be the trendy style of the last year — and you guys knocked it out of the park with the Hopochondira. Based on what you’ve seen, is there a new style you think will be big in 2016? If so, do you think you guys would take a stab at it?
It’s always hard to predict which way the beer winds will blow. We thought that session IPA’s were going to be all the rage, and while Hopochondria is an amazing beer with a stupid amount of hops versus the ABV, the average beer-drinking public is still discovering the category. Craft beer is still very new to Texas and there are a lot of people out there who have yet to drink their first craft beer. Sours are definitely the new hot thing for the established craft beer drinker, but I think that, going forward in our market, it’s still about educating the general public about what craft beer is and isn’t, and letting them know that they have a local choice. We’re here! Drink beer!
This year’s collaboration with Rahr & Sons, the 2015 DFW: A Collaboration of Two Breweries was outstanding. Can you tell us a bit about that beer’s inception? You don’t hear of Cherry Baltic Porters very often. Also, is Rahr the only brewer you’re planning to collaborate or can you guys “see other people” so to speak?
Ha! Rahr was definitely our first collaboration dance. This year’s recipe was born out of locking our brewers in a room and seeing what came out. It’s an annual brainstorm and it’s a lot of fun. We’re pretty excited what came out of this year’s collaboration. The cherry isn’t overpowering, the oak really adds a lot of complexity and the rum adds a little spice to the already stellar base brew. We hope to keep DFW a yearly meeting of the minds between us and Rahr for a long time to come — but we will be dating around a bit.
The DFW craft beer scene has changed dramatically this year with so many beer festivals and all the new breweries that opened up. Has there been a new brewery that caught your eye?
I’d hate to single out any particular brewery, since I know how much work it takes to get a business open in the first place. There are a lot of great breweries in DFW making world-class beer and we should all be proud of their accomplishments. It’s not an easy job and it takes everything you have to make it work — especially in the beginning. I just want to encourage everyone to visit as many local breweries as they can. It supports the local economy and, as a beer drinker, it’s an amazing privilege to be able to visit the places that make your beer.
Along those lines, these new breweries all seem to hitting the ground running. They seem to be canning and bottling within months of opening with fully working taprooms. Looking at these new breweries, is this making you re-think your business strategy?
Not at all. We had a taproom from Day 1 and started bottling after about five months of being open. We learned from the breweries that came before us, and they are doing the exact same thing. We try to help out our brewing brothers and sisters any way we can. Even all 4,000-plus craft breweries in the U.S. combined make a very small amount of all the beer consumed, so we can still all help each other to gain market share from the big boys.
What are your thoughts on the Bourbon Barrel Temptress being the DFW equivalent of the Bourbon County and KBS? It was quite the hot item! I actually had an easier time finding those two than the BBT.
We’re honored to even be mentioned in the same sentence as BC or KBS. Let’s not forget that, four years ago, we were the ones standing in line to get those beers. The whole experience — making something that makes people excited and happy — is very humbling.
Can you tell us anything about the brewery’s plans for the upcoming year?
We’re catching our breath from 2015 and focusing on getting as much beer out the door as we can. 2015 was a challenging year with the expansion, so now we get to see what this puppy can do. We’ll have some exciting releases throughout the year. All Call, our new kolsch, will release in April. And we’re very excited to have Zomer, our summer seasonal, in cans this year. Both beers are perfect for the hot Texas weather. We will have two Legendary releases and some limited stuff as well. We’re excited for the future. Schol!