Today is National Beer Day in the U.S. What better way to celebrate than by looking at the history of beer and brewing in North Texas.
A note from Jason:
I read the book North Texas Beer by Paul Hightower and Brian L. Brown. What started as jotting down a few tidbits for fun turned into pages of detailed notes. I had to do something with the notes and turned them into this blog post — or maybe it’s more of a book report.
For this blog post, I summarized my notes from their book, using my words whenever possible. Any direct copying from their book was unintentional or unavoidable. All credit goes to their book and their impressive research. My input is mainly limited to the introduction and conclusion.
I thought about splitting this into smaller posts but wrote it for myself. I don’t imagine anyone will read this whole thing, but if you do, I think you’ll find it to be a fascinating look at the history of beer in North Texas. I know I did.
If you like this post, check out the book North Texas Beer or Brian Brown’s website “Beer In Big D” at www.beerinbigd.com for more info. Both are tremendous resources!
- A note from Jason
- The History of North Texas Beer: part 1 (1850s-1900s)
- Early days
- Biergartens, growth, and decline
- The History of North Texas Beer: part 2 (1900s-1960s)
- Too much of a good thing
- Opposition and Prohibition
- End of an era
- War restrictions
- End of an era — again
- The History of North Texas Beer: part 3 (1960s-today)
- Carling Brewing
- Miller Brewing Company
- The first microbrewery in Texas
- Brewpubs and craft beer bars
- Craft breweries arrive
- Craft beer boom
Beer’s history in Texas often centers on German settlers and Central Texas. When Germans arrived in Texas in the 1840s, they mostly choose to settle in the Texas Hill Country around Austin. They brought a thirst for beer, along with the experience and techniques for brewing.
Thanks (in part) to the German settlers, Central Texas has a rich heritage of beer. But what about North Texas? I admit I didn’t know much about our beer history, and I live here. It turns out that North Texas has a history with beer — and it’s fascinating!
There isn’t much remaining of the early brewing history in North Texas. There’s some breweriana — bottles, cans, signs, and advertising — mostly in local private collections or antique stores. The early breweries are long gone — both the buildings and the brands. Most of the history comes from old newspapers and local nonfiction. There isn’t a brewing museum around here. Maybe someday.
North Texas has over 60 craft breweries today, but it wasn’t always that way. Back in 1857, when it all began, the beer culture around here looked much different. Let’s check out the history of beer and brewing in North Texas.
The History of North Texas Beer: part 1 (1850s – 1900s)
The first brewery opens in Dallas. The railroad arrives — promoting trade, commerce, and competition. “Drink local,” cries the local brewers; biergartens offer an alternative to saloons, while growth and decline affect brewing’s popularity in North Texas.
When Dallas became a city in 1856, the population was 350 people. Saloons were abundant, typically serving whiskey, brandy, or gin. It didn’t take long for Dallas to get a brewery, though. Jean Monduel, born in Paris, France, was an apprentice at a distillery and later a winemaker. He started the area’s first brewery in 1857. Another brewery opened in 1859, while Fort Worth got its first brewery during the Civil War. All three breweries closed within a short time.
In the 1870s, most beer sold in the area was from Texas, if not local. When the railroad arrived in Dallas in 1872, it would help promote trade and commerce. It also provided more competition. Local brewers would now have to compete with breweries across the state and the country. Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and St. Louis were the epicenters of brewing in the U.S., and much of the country’s beer came from those areas.
“Drink local” — something of a rally-cry today — goes back to 1873. Local brewers would advertise “fresh beer” to lure customers. Indeed, drinking beer from the local area would be much fresher than beer brewed in other places and transported via the railroad.
In the later part of the 1800s, four North Texas towns had breweries: Dallas, Fort Worth, Weatherford, and Cleburne. Access to fresh water and the railroad was critical.
Biergartens, growth, and decline
Biergartens, or beer gardens, emerged as a result of few recreational facilities. Although initially small in size and scope, they began to evolve. Mayer’s Garden (1881-1902) in Dallas was one of the largest in the area. It had food, music, entertainment, and exotic animals, as well as landscaped grounds.
By the 1880s, breweries began to grow in size. Yet, despite the growth in size, the number of breweries didn’t increase. In 1900, there were only two breweries in the area — the Dallas Brewery in Dallas and the Texas Brewing Company in Fort Worth.
The first 40-50 years of beer in North Texas had growth and decline, which would be a common theme later in its history as well. The 1900s-1960s would challenge breweries. Reform, Prohibition, wartime restrictions, and new beginnings profoundly affected North Texas and beer.
The History of North Texas Beer: part 2 (1900s-1960s)
Saloons were abundant, and liquor was flowing — in some places, flowing a little too freely. The reform/temperance movement was gaining steam, while Prohibition loomed in the distance. Conservation efforts for WWII would both hurt — and help — small breweries. Events lead to the end of an era — twice.
Too much of a good thing
Hell’s Half Acre in Fort Worth and Boggy Bayou in Dallas were two areas notorious for drinking, gambling, and prostitution. These were precisely the places and activities that Prohibitionists wanted to eliminate. Prohibition and reform were a divisive issue, and the debate of “wet” versus “dry” would linger for decades. (“Wet” areas sold alcohol, while “dry” areas didn’t.) Many counties would go dry during this time, but not all.
Opposition and Prohibition
The Texas Brewers Association was formed in 1901 mainly to stand against labor disputes. Opposition groups formed as well, and the two sides would continue to have a difference of opinion towards alcohol.
By 1911, eight states had enacted Prohibition, although not Texas. Texas would pass a statewide Prohibition amendment in May 1919. On January 17, 1920, Prohibition began on a national level. There was now a “ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages.”
End of an era
North Texas had two breweries at the time of Prohibition. Neither one closed down, as they both changed their business models. (This would happen again 100 years later during COVID-19 in 2020. Many craft breweries in Texas had to alter their business models to stay open during restrictions.) The Dallas Brewery became the Grain Juice Company. They sold a non-alcoholic soft drink, known as a “pure cereal and hop beverage.” The Texas Brewing Company in Fort Worth became the Texas Beverage and Cold Storage Company. It later became the Texas Ice and Refrigeration Company.
With Prohibition and the deaths of two prominent figures in local brewing, the 1920s were the end of an era. It would be 1933 when the U.S. appealed Prohibition before brewing would (legally) resume in North Texas. As Prohibition was difficult to enforce, many people made their alcohol at home.
After Prohibition, brewing got a new start. Many locals wanted to open a brewery, as well as investors from outside the growing area. Breweries would come and go with regularity. By 1941, though, the Dallas-Fort Worth Brewing Company was the only brewery in North Texas.
World War II affected local breweries, both positive and negative. President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the War Production Board in 1942 to support the war effort. Brewing essentials — such as grain, tin, cork, and steel — were needed for the war. Yet, tires and fuel were also included in the conservation efforts, which helped local breweries. Larger breweries had to scale back on transportation and shipping, which resulted in less competition. Notably, all breweries — small and large — had to set aside 15% of their production for the armed forces.
End of an era — again
The Dallas-Fort Worth Brewing Company closed its doors in 1951. North Texas was without a brewery for the first time since the repeal of Prohibition. Many counties in Texas were dry, so there was little demand for a brewery. Additionally, smaller breweries were getting consolidated and bought out by larger corporations, which continues today.
It would be more than ten years before another brewery came to town, but this time, it wasn’t one of the local boys. In 1963, Carling Brewing from Canada arrived in Fort Worth, although their stay would be short-lived. Miller Brewing Company would later purchase the site and begin operations. Not only was change coming, it was here.
The History of North Texas Beer: part 3 (1960s-today)
Brewery construction and expansion are on the rise. National brands arrive in Texas to get closer to their customers. North Texas becomes an industrial hotspot serving as home to numerous manufacturing facilities. A growing interest in home-brewing, the start of microbreweries, and the emergence of brewpubs lead to an influx of new breweries to the area.
Carling Brewing, from Canada, was the first major brewery to begin operations in North Texas. Their brewery was the most advanced in the world at the time, partly due to their automated “continuous flow process.” The process gave a “continuous line from raw ingredients to packaged beer.”
Operations began in 1965 but were shut down temporarily within six months. Slumping sales, trademark lawsuits, and issues with the continuous flow process forced the brewery to shut down for good. It never ran at full production.
Miller Brewing Company
Miller Brewing Company, out of Milwaukee, bought the site. They did an extensive (and expensive) overhaul of the brewery. Miller began operations in June 1969. Their 800,000 square-foot campus was the largest brewery in Texas and had over 1,000 employees. The brewery would be their new regional base for Texas and ten other states in the Southwest U.S.
Miller Lite was the industry’s first light beer. Introduced in 1975, it became the primary focus of the Fort Worth brewery. The beer was hugely popular, and the brewery couldn’t keep up with the demand.
The brewery would expand over the years to be over one million square feet. In 1992, the Miller brewery in Fort Worth brewed more than their flagship site in Milwaukee — thanks, in part, to Texans. At the time, Miller Lite was the best-selling beer in Texas.
The brewery still operates today, although it’s now Miller-Coors. (It’s a sad day when the big boys join forces to get even bigger.) Still, the brewery has been a staple of the local economy for more than 50 years.
The first microbrewery in Texas
The national brands dominated the 1960s and 1970s. Miller Brewing Company was the only brewery in North Texas for more than ten years.
North Texas got its first microbrewery in 1982 — at least, on paper. It took a few years to brew anything.
Microbreweries were a new concept. It took time to get the equipment at the correct scale—the equipment needed to be larger than a home-brewing setup but much smaller than a typical brewery. Plus, the logistics of suppliers and retailers were a challenge. No one knew what microbrewing was, what to do with it, or how to sell it.
Located in Plano, the Reinheitsgebot Brewing Company intended to focus on Old World beer styles and brewing techniques. (The name “Reinheitsgebot” comes from the German Purity Laws of 1516 — which stated that beer could only contain barley, hops, and water.) Founded by a husband and wife team, the husband had won a local home-brewing contest and decided to go for it. Their first beer — Collin County Pure Gold — finally debuted in 1985.
Reinheitsgebot Brewing Company was the first microbrewery in Texas and the Southwest region; it was only the 6th in the U.S. The brewery produced 600 barrels a year at its peak and received good publicity. Texans weren’t ready for it, though. The brewery closed in 1990, citing inadequate sales.
A second microbrewery opened in the area in 1988 but closed within a year.
Early microbrewery ventures may have ultimately failed, but they helped pave the way for the future. Interest was growing, the laws were changing, and indeed something was brewing.
Brewpubs and craft beer bars
One of the challenges in selling beer was the laws around it. Most states at that time, including Texas, had to adhere to the three-tiered system: Brewers sold to distributors, distributors sold to retailers, and retailers sold to the public. None of the groups were allowed to deviate from the process.
Brewpubs at the time were prohibited because they didn’t follow the three-tiered system. They were initially recognized as retail sites and not breweries.
A brewpub is a restaurant that also brews beer. The food was typically more than pub-grub, often having a culinary or creative influence. Brewpubs would often use their beer as an ingredient in the food.
Texas would legalize brewpubs in 1993, at the time, allowing on-site sales only. The first brewpub opened in Dallas in 1994.
Brewpubs would be the next big thing in North Texas brewing.
Humperdinks opened in Arlington in 1995 as the first brewpub in Tarrant County. Humperdinks would open several more locations in the area, becoming one of the most well-known brewpubs. It would hang on longer than most, closing its final locations in 2019.
Dozens of brewpubs opened in the area over the years. As with any new trend, many tried to jump on the bandwagon. Some flourished, while others didn’t. Some closed almost immediately, while others were planned but never got off the ground.
In addition to brewpubs, craft beer bars began to arrive. The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium opened in Fort Worth in 1995. More than a typical bar, they had as many as 70 beers on tap and served food. Patrons could now get various craft beers in one location, not just from a single brewery at a brewpub. The Flying Saucer is still around today, with multiple locations, serving an extensive list of local, regional, Texas, national, and imported beers.
Brewpubs were initially popular, but the late 1990s saw the trend begin to fade. Too many brewpubs — and too many poor-quality beers — led to many brewpubs closing or changing their business models.
Craft breweries arrive
While earlier attempts at microbrewing had mixed success, the 2000s saw a change in the air. Brewpubs opened the door for a resurgence in microbrewing.
In 2004, Rahr & Sons Brewing Company opened in Fort Worth. Franconia Brewing Company later opened in McKinney in 2008. In 2011, Deep Ellum Brewing Company was the first craft brewery to open in Dallas. They’re the three oldest craft breweries still operating in the Dallas / Fort Worth area.
That also means that most breweries today in the area are less than ten years old. Breweries are seemingly everywhere now, but it’s mostly from recent growth.
Craft beer boom
Between late 2011 and early 2014, a new brewery opened in North Texas every six weeks. The growth was mainly due to lessening restrictions and regulations, while distribution and logistics also improved. The result was more than two dozen breweries in North Texas by 2014. While that sounds impressive, the number would only climb from there.
Today, there are over 60 craft breweries in North Texas, with 12 out of 16 counties having at least one production brewery. Breweries continue to open — and close — although the pace of each has slowed. There are more than 20 brewpubs and many craft beer bars. It adds up to a seemingly insatiable thirst — and market — for beer in North Texas.
While I don’t think Dallas / Fort Worth will ever be known as a craft beer behemoth — like San Diego or Denver — there are plenty of breweries in the area. They tend to support each other, but at the end of the day, they’re competitors. It’s a competitive and crowded market — from breweries across the street, across town, elsewhere in Texas, and beyond — and will likely continue to be so. Although, “if you brew it, they will come” seems to be the mantra and many breweries have a devout fanbase.
North Texas has a rich and vibrant history with beer. Maybe the history isn’t entirely exclusive to this area — all areas had to deal with growth, decline, competition, and regulations — but it’s part of our history.
It’s a far cry from how it all began in 1857. Early brewers couldn’t imagine the number of breweries today or the variety of beer styles — in addition to the production quantities and advances in brewing methods. Beer’s history goes back thousands of years. North Texas beer is merely a footnote in that overall history.
Local breweries may not always trace their roots to the early days, but it’s all connected. The past, present, and future of North Texas beer are found in every beer brewed today. Cheers to that!
It’s an exciting time for brewing in North Texas — regardless of what kind of beer you like or whether you drink beer at all. The first 150+ years had their ups and downs, but the industry is thriving. What’s next?
The book North Texas Beer by Paul Hightower and Brian L. Brown was the resource for this blog post. It’s a fascinating and comprehensive read about the history of beer in North Texas, and I highly recommend reading it. It goes into much more detail than this blog post.
Their book took loads of research as their bibliography was several pages long. Although the book was published in 2014 and is relatively recent, a lot has happened since then.
Check out their book and hundreds of other books from Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com. Arcadia Publishing includes The History Press and Pelican Publishing, with dozens of series focused on local history and culture. They have some genuinely unique books, and I have several in my library — including North Texas Beer.
Hightower, Paul, and Brian L. Brown. North Texas Beer: A Full-Bodied History of Brewing in Dallas, Fort Worth and Beyond. American Palate, 2014.
Blog post by Jason S. Sullivan, 04-07-21