The Best Beer in Dallas
An exploration of the finest taprooms in the city, wherein we learn why it's impossible to get a growler in this town.
Even ale aficionados cannot live by brews alone. Well-paired sustenance is key. It is with this in mind that I pay homage to the Libertine’s cheese board, a panoply of cured meats, slick sausages, impressive cheeses, and a left-field addition of cocoa almonds. My companion entered into an almost unseemly absorption with a pile of dried apricots that, when nibbled with his Left Hand Milk Stout, narrowed his universe to the point where even conversation was too much of a distraction.
Let the record show that I remained focused on the beer; someone had to keep her wits about her. First things first: some of the beers come in limited supply from small breweries, so count your lucky stars that the likes of Southern Star Buried Hatchet Stout and Brother Thelonious have found even a temporary home among the taps. On my most recent visit, Rahr’s Ugly Pug was making an appearance, and as it was a Thursday night, my other companion waltzed home (literally, I’m afraid) with a commemorative glass.
Need an excuse for large-scale messiness? Sign up for the Libertine’s pumpkin-carving contest, which takes place October 25. Sure, there are prizes ($25 to $100 bar tabs, to be specific), but the cartoonish combination of slippery pumpkin guts and boozy hipsters is draw enough for me.
While you’re there, reserve your spot at one of the Libertine’s righteous monthly beer dinners, where five beers are paired with five courses for $50. Hint: the place is limited on tables, so reserve early or suffer the cruel sting of disappointment.
From the square-cut pizzas to the unfussy Bishop Arts storefront to owner Matthew Spillers’ penchant for community building, Eno’s wins high marks in areas that have nothing to do with beer and yet, at the same time, have everything to do with it. Take Eno’s sponsorship of the Brew Riot homebrew competition as an example. The event, now in its second year, is both community centric and brewareness raising. “With the beers we choose and the events that we put on, we’re trying to build a culture, a sense of community, to find passionate people who want quality of life and culture and are willing to pioneer that movement,” Spillers says.
Spillers does that by making sure that Eno’s beer selection is well-edited and adheres to an ethos. “Since we opened the doors two years ago, we’ve served only craft-made beer from microbreweries,” he says. “This type of beer draws people who have an appreciation of quality and an awareness of what they’re putting into their bodies. They’re not just settling for the traditional offerings. Beer is a communal product. It’s something that’s family friendly. It’s elderly friendly. It brings together all different types of people. I think that we should celebrate that.”
Eno’s is the perfect place to enjoy a Franconia Wheat or Deschutes Mirror Pond Ale alongside a Northside pie. Still a novice when it comes to picking an inspired pairing? Ask anyone at the bar for a suggestion. The staff is fun, forthcoming, and eager to help.
The Saucer’s come-one-come-all egalitarianism is the perfect antidote to the cubicle blues. Here, free from workplace woes, you are among your people, especially if your people are beer knurds, members of the Saucer’s U.F.O. Club who wield swipe cards to track their path along the sudsy superhighway leading to the Saucer’s Ring of Honor.
One of the early expressions of Meddlesome Moth’s Schlabs-Wynne brain trust, the Flying Saucer expresses a similar community spirit with events like Wednesday Brewery Nights and a more than 60-beer array of $3 drafts on Mondays.
When not physically present, beer knurds stay involved through online swapping of the Saucer’s commemorative glasses (imagine designs like a Lebowski/4:20-themed “The Dude Abides” glass or the cheeky Father’s Day favorite “Octo-Mom doesn’t need a Baby-Daddy”).
What the Flying Saucer lacks in the exterior come-hither department it more than makes up for in good prices, properly assembled
flights, and a full wall of rotating arrivals like Lagunitas Hairy Eyeball and a Real Ale Anniversary cask.
The Alaskan salmon River Rocket sandwich paired with a hybrid USA/Texas flight sent me into a hop-induced reverie. My only explanation is that the marriage of beer and salty salmon inspired a hidebound reminiscence of my early days of road tripping through the Pacific Northwest when microbrewing was on the rise and tightly knit bands of like-minded fermenters planted the seeds of this current renaissance.
When Brian Rudolph and his wife found themselves considering a move to the burbs (if that’s what we’re calling Plano these days), they decided to create an American pub that not only honored the respectable traditions of the tap but also supported that gastronomic frisson that occurs when great beer and great food collide. “As a steward of fine beer, we’re here to serve as a filter between crappy beers and your palate,” Rudolph says. “And when it comes to food, we think it’s very important that if the brewers are going to take the time and effort to make the beer as high a quality as they can, then we, as a restaurant, should be obligated to do as good a job as we can with the food. Our menu may have only 28 items, but each one is designed specifically to be consumed with beer.”
If you’re heading out on your own, consider indulging in a Texas flight to get a sense of the best this state has to offer. Groups of friends will love the Holy Grail’s selection of table beers. The Ommegang Three Philosophers, in particular, is a rare treat that’s not easy to lay hands on around these parts.
“We’re not an English pub. We’re not an Irish pub. We’re sort of a Rorschach pub,” Rudolph says. “We’re whatever you want us to be. I kid around with people that we’re an American pub from before Prohibition, back when they didn’t have processed food.”
Keep an eye out for the arrival of the slow boat from Belgium and the long-awaited return of Duchesse de Bourgogne, a sour brown ale and a Rudolph favorite. “It’s an acquired taste,” he says. “I tell people that it has a front end of balsamic vinegar and a finish of sherry and green apples. I love it. When it finally comes back, I’ll be the first one to have it.”
In the valley of the shadow of downtown, where in-crowd Uptowners cross paths with Jane Q. Public, the Ginger Man’s hybrid of English pub and German beer garden lazes in the shade like a side-street speakeasy. Housed in a bungalow and boasting more than a few intimate corners, the real jewel of the Ginger Man’s Dallas location is its outdoor space, an upstairs-downstairs back patio made both more and less intimate by shady arbors and long outdoor tables. Sidle up beside soon-to-be friends for a democratic drinking scene where well-mannered guests and their dogs are always welcome.
The Ginger Man won me over one Saturday afternoon when, against my waitress’s warning, I ordered a beer that ended up being a stinker, even in my book. After just a couple of sips, I knew I wouldn’t find any pleasure in finishing it. Our waitress saw the look on my face from across the room, made a beeline to the table, and, without judgment, swept it away and returned with a pint of something far more palate friendly. When the check came, there was nary a mention of that early disappointment. It’s rare to find truly intuitive servers and quite another thing for them to care enough to save you from your own transgressions.
The bar regularly offers two cask-conditioned options, but before you dive headlong into that murky sea, ask for the bartender’s opinion and take it to heart when ordering. New beers arrive throughout the month, so relish the impermanence and seize the stein. This is a great place to get to know your local beers (try Rahr Storm Cloud and Franconia Spelt) and embrace the beer garden milieu (swing a stein of Franziskaner Weissbier or Spaten Dunkel).