All around me, people downed sweet ales, amber-colored lagers, and dark stouts. BrainDead Brewing, Deep Ellum’s new brewpub, was packed. Fortunately, I’d managed to snag a high table by the bar. From there, I had a good view of the nearby wall art: a giant pyramid with an Eye of Providence, surrounded by barley and hops. Beneath it: the words “In Beer We Trust.”
BrainDead opened in March. On a recent Friday night, it was so busy that patrons were willing to drink their beers in the rain. And it’s not what I expected. This is no edgy Deep Ellum hole in the wall. BrainDead is massive, with a sparse, ultra-planned, almost suburban feel. Its tidy patio area has wooden benches, fairy-lit trees, and a white board announcing the available beers. The inside is immaculate and spacious. I’d later learn that the long communal tables, coupled with a conspicuous lack of TVs, were meant to force strangers together. It appeared to be working. Bearded guys drank beside bros in polos. Ladies in their finest clubbing attire rubbed elbows with men in flannels. In fact, a lot of these people probably only had one thing in common—beer.
Also, everyone seemed to be having fun. I watched a nearby group of young professionals take turns raising their arms overhead. It looked like they were signaling field goals, but they were all laughing so much that I resolved to investigate. First, though, I’d need a drink.
Cody, our waiter, wore a “Defend Deep Ellum” t-shirt. When I told him I wasn’t a huge beer drinker (blasphemy!), he brought me the seasonally appropriate Sierra Nevada SummerFest. For my companion, he recommended the brewery’s pre-Prohibition cream ale.
There are currently 32 beers on tap. Four of them are BrainDead’s own creations; in addition to the cream ale, there’s the 75 Shilling, Export Stout, and Dry Hopped Wheat. The tap design consists of spigots emerging from old icebox doors. Tall, silver tanks vend BrainDead’s own brews. A few feet away, glass walls reveal the brewery itself, which looked kind of like a cross between a Breaking Bad lab and a nursery for beer.
“We go through 80 to 90 kegs a week,” bar manager Neil Armstrong said. Yes, that’s his real name. Yes, we harassed him about it. He seemed used to it.
Once our teasing concluded, he told us that Jolly Pumpkin’s Oro de Calabaza is one of their most popular beers. “When someone asks for a Blue Moon, I can tell them, ‘How about something even better?’ ” Bringing craft beer to the masses, one Blue Moon drinker at a time. Then I foolishly referred to BrainDead as a “bar.” Neil promptly corrected me: “It’s a haven for beer drinkers.”
Judging from the crowd, if you brew it, they will come. The creepy Illuminati-reminiscent wall art said it best: In beer we trust. It’s universal, beloved, and certainly the most sociable poison around. Empowered by beer’s community quality, I approached the group who’d been raising their arms field goal-style.
“It’s a test to see if a shirt is too short,” one of the guys told me. He pointed at his friend, a dude in a blue polo. “Ask him to put his hands up.”
When I did, the whole table watched as the man blushed and slowly raised his arms. His shirt began to lift. Once it had risen past the point the group deemed acceptable, everyone erupted in laughter.
I decided to end the evening on a high note. A “haven for beer drinkers” seems contrived, because we’re all beer drinkers. But beer brings camaraderie and good laughs, even with perfect strangers. And that’s worth trusting in.
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