All it really takes is one glance to know that Dennis Wehrmann is a no-nonsense man. The owner of Franconia Brewing Co. typically wears a plain t-shirt, dark shorts, and Nike tennis shoes to work. His speech is just as straightforward as his clothing. There’s no beating around the bush with this brewmaster. The 40-year-old boss-man anticipates questions before you ask them, and he’ll tell you—straight up—there’s no way he’s giving you his annual beer production numbers, no matter how many times you ask. Other breweries are probably lying about theirs, anyway, he adds.
Wehrmann is an honest German guy producing honest German beer. He cares about the environment more than you might suspect, and he’s a pioneer when it comes to utilizing sustainable technology in North Texas—especially when it comes to brewing.
When Wehrmann produced his initial batch of Franconia beer on February 18, 2008, he was one of the first entrepreneurs to start a brewery in the area. Rahr & Sons Brewing Co. in Fort Worth came first; Franconia, based in McKinney, followed four years later. Soon after Wehrmann set up shop, the brewing scene exploded, with the likes of Deep Ellum Brewing Co., Community Brewing Co., and Revolver Brewing Co. hitting the market with their own products. But even as the field grew more crowded, Franconia remained distinct, due to Wehrmann’s commitment to keeping his business green.
Franconia’s lineage dates back to the 1800s, when Wehrmann’s great-great-grandfather first brewed beer in an area of Germany called Franken (hence: Franconia). By the age of 6, Wehrmann was working at his family’s brewery. At 12, he brewed his first batch of beer. After several apprenticeships and a master’s in beer and food science from the University of Munich, Wehrmann moved to Texas in 2003 to work for a brewery in Allen. Five years later, he built a 6,000-square-foot facility in McKinney, hired one employee, and started making America’s favorite alcoholic beverage.
Unlike its North Texas competitors, Franconia brews strict German beer, following the Reinheitsgebot, or “German Purity Law,” which permits only water, malted barley, hops, and yeast as beer ingredients. It does not pasteurize or stabilize or use any artificial flavors. The product is 100 percent natural.
Franconia offers a selection of year-round and seasonal brews. A sip of Wehrmann’s best-selling wheat beer, Hefeweizen, gets people hooked on the refreshing qualities for which the brewery is known. Its seasonal Oktoberfest is another popular beer; the company sells 700 kegs of the stuff every fall.
Despite the company’s success, Wehrmann decided to hold off on bottling his product for five years. Younger breweries like Deep Ellum started a bottling line just two years after launch, but instead of jumping into the fray and going head-to-head with his competitors, Wehrmann decided against it.
“Bottles are obviously not eco-friendly,” he says. “A lot of people think cans are, but cans aren’t either, for the same reason. They go in the trash afterward.” Consumer demand, however, pushed Wehrmann to begin his bottling production this past August. If he could have it his way, his business would leave behind an even smaller carbon footprint.
“I would love to do it the same way it is done in Europe. The bottles are returned. We’re able to wash them and reuse them … but consumers need to change their minds and actually take the bottle to the store where they bought it from.”
But because Wehrmann can’t change the system, all he can do is make his facility as eco-friendly as possible. Franconia is trash-free, and everything it produces is 100 percent recyclable. There has never been a dumpster on the property.
“We are operating out of a state-of-the art energy-efficient building,” he says. “We’re using up to 85 percent of all water. All our leftover grains, hops, and yeast are going to a local farmer. He’s converting all the stuff to cow and cattle feed.”
Outside the building, an onsite micro-power plant uses renewable fuels—waste vegetable oil, solar power, and natural gas—to generate power for Franconia’s 25-barrel brewing system. The 1,800-square-foot carport, which is constructed out of solar panels, not only keeps the cars shaded, it also produces enough energy to occasionally feed some back into the grid.
For Wehrmann, business is all about efficiency and environmentally friendly methods. This doesn’t mean he’s a model, energy-saving citizen in all aspects of his life, though. The brewmaster admits he sometimes drives past the front of his house, dumps his European mindset out the window, and collects his mail like a true American. Maybe he’s not so German after all.