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Restaurants & Bars

Lake Highlands Is Officially Home to the Best Little Brewpub in Texas

Vector Brewing took home a statewide Brewery of the Year in the small producer category. A Houston brewery won the larger-production division.
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Open Rhythms, the second-best hoppy pale ale or lager in Texas, in its natural habitat. Brian Reinhart

Vector Brewing in Lake Highlands is officially the best brewpub in Texas.

At the Texas Craft Brewers Cup, Vector won two gold medals and a silver for its beers, good for a special bonus trophy: Brewery of the Year.

“It’s a cool feeling,” says Craig Bradley, one of Vector’s owners. “We always viewed awards as, they are what they are—they’re not going to sell beer. But it is great validation for what we do and the hard work we put into our beer.”

The Texas Craft Brewers Cup, part of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, is an annual competition-slash-meetup in which the state’s breweries enter their best efforts across a range of categories, from light lagers to “decadent beers” (the latter was won this year by something called “Pear Blueberry Crumble Super Smoothie Beer”). In total, 52 judges tasted 852 different beers from 147 producers. They then handed out gold, silver, and bronze medals in 27 categories.

Vector entered six brews. Its two gold medal winners were Pho Sho, a pho-inspired beer in the “field and fruit” category for drinks with fruit, vegetable, or herb additives; and Moonsmoke, an ultra-light smoked lager in a nearly extinct German style called Lichtenhainer. Open Rhythms, an American pale ale, got a silver among pale ales.

“Moonsmoke is our little baby,” Bradley says. “It’s a very old German-style beer that uses smoke and a little tart acidity. It’s such a weird beer. We tell people, ‘You’re not going to like this on first sip. It takes about four to five sips until you’re like, “Oh, I do want to keep drinking this.”’ It’s a Texas beer. We love smoked foods in Texas, so why not have a little tart smoke in beer?”

Vector was not the only Dallas-area winner this weekend, by the way: Deep Ellum’s Neato Bandito won gold for best golden or blond ale, and Lakewood Brewing’s Lion Share X was named the best barrel-aged brew. A full list of Dallas-area medalists is at the end of this story.

But Vector’s total medal haul was big enough to net it the Brewery of the Year award in the brewpub size category, for businesses producing 600 or fewer barrels each year. The trophy for best larger craft brewery went to Houston’s True Anomaly Brewing. For context: in 2022, the Dallas Observer reported that Peticolas Brewing makes around 5,000 barrels a year. Deep Ellum makes ten times more than Peticolas does—or almost a hundred times more beer than Vector produces.

“I don’t know that I care about being in every grocery store,” Bradley says. “This is more my speed.”

On Sunday, to celebrate Vector’s wins, I stopped by the brewpub and sampled two of the prizewinners: Open Rhythms and Pho Sho.

Both beers are triumphs. Pho Sho is made with a long list of classic pho ingredients, including lemongrass, ginger, shiitake mushrooms, and cardamom, but it really doesn’t taste like all of that. Daringly, head brewer Tomás Gutierrez radically revised the recipe for the competition batch, but his rewrites paid off.

Pho Sho doesn’t taste like pho, which may be a relief to many drinkers. Instead, the lime comes through most prominently of all, along with a touch of Thai basil. It’s bright, crisp, and has the yeasty funk of some Belgian saisons and wits. Actually, though, the drink it tastes most like is a shandy. In Germany, they have a summertime habit of mixing a lager with a bit of 7 Up. Pho Sho tastes a lot like that.

Open Rhythms is even easier to love. It pushes hard on hop flavor and aroma without being especially bitter.

“Pale ales kind of get a bad rap,” Bradley says. “They’re not a flashy IPA or a hazy IPA. But we still love them. Sierra Nevada is a classic American beer. Open Rhythms is a beer we came out of the gate with.”

Vector also entered its light beer, Bullpen, and two pilsners, Bo and Mountain Child, the former Bohemian-style and the latter an Alpine-inspired German version. They lost out, but Bradley says that the Vector team was still impressed when they saw their competition: some of the most celebrated beers in Texas. Two of the light beers that topped Bullpen are made by fellow Dallas-area breweries ODD Muse and Celestial Beerworks.

“Most times you go to brewery awards, and IPAs, pale ales, and hazy IPAs are the top entered beers,” Bradley explains. “In Texas, pilsner is the top entered beer. In Texas, if you enter a lager, it’s going to be hard competition. We love that kind of competition.”

The Texas Craft Brewers Cup is only in its second year, but the competition is already a tour-de-force show of strength for our state’s beer industry. This year’s winners range from Lubbock and Amarillo to Pearland and Marble Falls.

For Vector Brewing, there’s an added sweetness to the recognition. The brewpub almost failed before it opened when its small business loans were held up by the 2018-19 federal government shutdown. It then managed to finally open its doors—in March 2020. To stay alive, Vector’s founders and brewers stayed true to themselves.

“We were like, we’ve gotten this far, what’s a little global pandemic?” Bradley recalls. “We’re a family business. We’ve sunk everything into it. Failure was not an option. We have a really close-knit team and some awesome folks who have poured everything into this place. So let’s not compromise, let’s not cut corners.”

The result, this weekend, was a new trophy case.

Dallas-Area Winners at the Texas Craft Brewers Cup

Armor Brewing Co., Allen

  • Bronze, smoke and chili beer: Smoked Porter

Celestial Beerworks, Dallas

  • Silver, strong hoppy beer: Double Stars
  • Bronze, American and international lager/light lager: Polymath

Deep Ellum Brewing Company, Dallas

  • Gold, golden, blond, and light ales: Neato Bandito

Lakewood Brewing, Garland

  • Gold, barrel, and wood-aged beer: Lion Share X
  • Silver, chocolate and coffee beer: Mechanical Grizzly

ODD Muse Brewing, Farmers Branch

  • Silver, American and international lager/light lager: 500 Pesos

Rollertown Beerworks, Celina

  • Gold, hazy IPA: Juice Serum

Siren Rock Brewing, Rockwall

  • Silver, Belgian and farmhouse ales: The Divine Monk

Vector Brewing, Dallas

  • Gold, experimental, hybrid, and specialty beer: Moonsmoke
  • Gold, fruit and field beer: Pho Sho
  • Silver, session and standard hoppy pale ales and lagers: Open Rhythms

White Rock Alehouse, Dallas

  • Silver, golden, blond, and light ales: Big Thicket Blonde

Author

Brian Reinhart

Brian Reinhart

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Brian Reinhart became D Magazine's dining critic in 2022 after six years of writing about restaurants for the Dallas Observer and the Dallas Morning News.

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