WINE&SPIRITS The Beer Frontier

Dallas’ new brew pubs serve up hand-crafted concoctions, Texas style.

THE BLUE-EYED BLONDE WITH THE BIG hair and sorority jewelry frowns as her waiter finishes reciting the beer selection. “Yegua Yuletide?” she repeats quizzically. “Don’t you have any Coors Light?”

Not at Yegua Creek Brewing Company or Hubcap Brewery and Kitchen, the first two brew pubs to open in North Texas. These restaurant-bars serve up cool brews in a variety of colors with the denser flavors savored by connoisseurs. They’re pouring beer with names like Lucky Lady Lager, O’Brien’s Texas Stout, and Ranger Red, beer made fresh every week in huge kettles behind glass walls overlooking high-tech bars and tables.

But the uninitiated still ask for what television ads promote, says Yegua Creek brewer Rob Cromie, “We’re still getting confused looks. A lot of people who come here don’t have any idea what a brew pub is.” That’s because the first brew pubs-micro-breweries that sell their products on site- began opening in Texas within the past year. They’ve been legal and trendy in other states since the early ’80s, but it took several tries before the 1993 legislature made Texas the 42nd state to okay them.

In January, hometown boy Toby O’Brien, a Birraporetti’s and Quadrangle Grille veteran, opened Yegua Creek in a flapper-era ice house on North Henderson Street off Central Expressway. Hubcap, a Vail spin-off owned by Coloradan Dean Liotta and two Dallas partners, produced its first brew in June in the West End.

Devotees of hand-crafted beer have taken to the new concept like movie stars to Montana. Yegua Creek draws an eclec-tic crowd that includes businesspeople, yuppies, college students from nearby SMU, and a strong contingent of older couples. The menu is O’Brien’s brainch i Id, fine tuned by consulting chef Dave Berdette of The Grape fame. It features several dishes made with the house stout including “Texas Beer Battered Mushrooms” and “Stout Ice Cream in a Cookie Crust.” Everything costs under $10.

The two-tiered, warehouse-like brew pub sports a Texas high-tech decor with black-and-white faux cowhide tables, industrial steel chairs, and a cement floor. An assortment of bands entertains Wednesday through Sunday. The biggest crowds come out at night, when the fluorescent lights of the night spots beckon along Henderson.

Sunlight fills the restaurant by day, drawing a healthy lunch crowd, including folks from nearby Oak Lawn, Deep Ellum, and East Dallas. Video producer Rick Hublein brought Richard Houser there recently for a business lunch. “I bring a lot of clients here,” Hublein says. “It’s upscale, clean, fresh. It’s not just another smoky place where you’ll drink a bottled beer.”

“I’m already thinking of bringing clients here,” adds Houser, managing partner of a North Dallas research firm. “I like the took.”

Hubcap, located in the same building as Friday’s and The Outback Pub in the West End, attracts tourists, sports enthusiasts, and the downtown lunch crowd. The high-gloss copper brewing kettles and fermenting tanks tower behind glass walls near the entrance. HSE and ESPN dimly light three pool tables in the back. Tall chairs pulled up to copper-topped tables overlook another area of ’50s-tike booths.

Hubcap opened with a basic burger and sandwich menu similar to its Vail counterpart. But pasta, seafood, and soup offerings featuring beer as an ingredient have since been added to further titillate the palate. Most items cost less than $14.

While both pubs also offer wine and mixed drinks, the beer, served in 16-ounce glasses, is the main draw. But beer lovers beware: micro and home-brewed beers are not diet drinks. Drink enough of them, and you’ll look more like a Clydesdale than a member of the Swedish bikini team.

Brewers like Hubcap’s Patrick Carroll and Mike Kraft needn’t worn,’about counting calories, however. They work out every day they brew. Each batch requires toting hundreds of pounds of grain from storage to brewery and mixing it thoroughly with water to make what is called the “mash.” “It’s like stirring a big bowl of oatmeal,” Kraft explains. “We’re both going to try out for the Olympic rowing team.”

What does it take to become a professional brewer? Not much. Carroll and Kraft worked as engineers before turning pro. Cromie’s background is in food service. Both he and Kraft attended a two-week course at the Siebel Institute of Technology, a Chicago brewing school and consulting laboratory that has trained brewers from around the world. All three were avid home-brewers who dreamed of becoming professionals.

Qualified brewers are in short supply, says Bill Siebel, president of the Siebel Institute. “There are so many new microbrew-eries and brew pubs. And heading one is a lot different from home-brewing. A lot of people don’t really understand what it takes to run a commercial-size brewery,” he said.

Seventy brew pubs opened nationwide last year, and the Association of Brewers expects at least as many new ones to join the ranks in 1994- Statistics show people are drinking less. Bu twhen they do, Siebelsays, people want to savor the flavor.

In that light, Hubcap’s Carroll sees an opportunity to define Texas hand-crafted beer history. “I think the fact that there is so little brewing being done here is the most exciting aspect about it,” he says. “Look at the West Coast. It has such a recognizable brewing scene. Anchor, Red Hook, Sierra Nevada. They all produce really great beers, but they are all basically the same style. They are all real happy beers. There’s definitely a West Coast style. There’s definitely an East Coast style. And I think it’s just real exciting that we’re on the edge of creating our own style, the Texas style of beers.”


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