A Short History of Dallas Brewing

It took us a while, but North Texas has finally caught up with the craft brew craze.

You think breweries are relatively new to Dallas? Jean Monduel, a French socialist, would like you to reconsider. Monduel and a group of settlers from France, Switzerland, and Belgium landed on the banks of the Trinity River around 1850. They followed the utopian teachings of Francois Charles Fourier and called their outpost La Réunion. What happens when you get a group of Europeans trying to create a perfect society on a riverbank? Beer. Monduel founded our city’s first brewery, in 1857.

Then some dude named Wheeler produced Wheeler’s lager, and one Roddolph Harpeeh won for his lager at the Dallas County Agricultural Association’s second annual fair. Their stories, like Mr. Wheeler’s first name, would be lost to history if not for Paul Hightower and Brian L. Brown, co-authors of the 2014 book North Texas Beer: A Full-Bodied History of Brewing in Dallas, Fort Worth and Beyond. According to them, Dallas got in on the craft brew craze 160 years ago. 

The early high point was probably Mayer’s Garden, one of the city’s first biergartens. Opened in 1881, it was so big that it occupied two addresses on Elm Street, in downtown. It featured live music, a restaurant, and a zoo filled with exotic animals. The first outdoor electric lights in Dallas were installed at Mayer’s Garden. It was like the Untapped Festival with free-range peacocks. Naturally, this party made God angry. Mayer’s closed after Sunday blue laws were passed in the 1890s to encourage better church attendance. The temperance movement eventually came to town. Then Prohibition. Utopia was lost. 

There were wars and new presidents and washing machines. Anheuser–Busch reached 80 markets, Coors got canned, and thanks to Miller Brewing, many people turned to the high life. The masses drank mass-produced, largely crappy beer. You were a real rebel around here if you ordered a Heineken. That is, until Mary and Donald Thompson showed up.

The Thompsons were Old World-style home-brewers who quit their jobs in 1982 to open the Reinheitsgebot Brewing Company in Plano. It was the first microbrewery in the Southwest and only the sixth to open in the United States. Other microbreweries followed their lead: Addison Brewing Company, West End Brewing Company, and Dallas Brewing Company, owned by oilman Allan Dray. But they were all a little early. Laws still needed to be changed to make things easier on brewers. When Dray’s sales dropped, he told the Dallas Morning News that Texans “don’t have any couth when it comes to drinking beer.” 

We never drank any of Dray’s couthful beer, but we did spend a few long nights at Yegua Creek Brewing Company on Henderson Avenue. It was the first commercially licensed spot to open in Dallas after Texas legalized brewpubs, in 1993. But the real watershed moment didn’t come till June 27, 2012. That’s when the City Council unanimously approved a zoning law that allowed wineries, breweries, and distilleries to operate within the city limits. There are now more than 30 breweries in North Texas.  

Keith Schlabs, an operating partner at Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, Meddlesome Moth, and Mudhen Meat and Greens, worked at Yegua Creek. He has been a soldier in the battle for better beer for 23 years. He says suppliers all over the world are now focused on Dallas. “When breweries enter the North Texas market, I tell them they’d better be prepared, because we will blow them out of inventory,” Schlabs says. “It may have taken us a while to grow, but we’re there.”

We have indeed arrived. If you squint a little, if you ignore the many potholes and the rising murder rate, Dallas looks like utopia. Well, maybe one more beer would help. To Jean Monduel!

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