Since 2004, when Rahr & Sons Brewery popped open its first beer in Fort Worth, North Texas has become fertile fermentin’ grounds for craft-beer makers. In 2008, Franconia Brewing Company landed on the scene up in McKinney. But it wasn’t until 2011 (11/11/11, to be exact) that the first craft brewery in the Dallas city limits officially sold its very first keg. It’s called Deep Ellum Brewing Co., and in only a few years it’s made quite the amber-colored splash.
It wasn’t all rollicking toasts to long life and good health in the beginning, though. There were plenty of challenges, particularly “getting people to understand what I was trying to do—whether that was the city, investors or banks,” says John Reardon, founder and chief evangelist (yes, that’s an official title) of the brewery. “The city was a big obstacle at first, as they believed our business to be ‘incompatible’ as we dealt with ‘flammable’ liquids. I kept asking if they’d ever tried starting a fire with beer,” he says.
Reardon admits that there was a great deal of pressure being the first craft brewery in the city, even if not the first in the region. “We’re always being compared in one way or the other. I guess that’s good in a way, it keeps us competitive and constantly striving to make better beer,” he says.
Today that rebellious passion can be tasted in nearly a dozen beers, from year-round offerings to seasonal and limited-release brews. Four that can be found in an ever-increasing numbers of area restaurants, bars and retail stores are the hop-heavy Deep Ellum IPA, the malty Double Brown Stout, the crisp and clean Rye Pils and the lightly citrusy Dallas Blonde. A pumpkin ale, barrel-aged Belgian-style golden strong ale and an American barleywinestyle ale are just a sampling of the seasonal selections. The difference in Deep Ellum Brewing Co. beers isn’t all in the flavor profiles, either. A lot of it is in the company’s attitude.
“I knew I wanted our brewery to be different.” Reardon says. “I knew that wasn’t me. For me, it was about giving ubiquity the finger. I wanted to build this company on our own terms and our own set of core values. I didn’t get into this to be ‘just another brewery.’” Part of this lies in the brewery’s namesake location, Deep Ellum, an area of town that’s gone through changes—both good and bad—over the past few decades. Reardon says he and his team were drawn to the area quite simply because of its tumultuous past. “Deep Ellum has seen it all. It’s been a hotbed for jazz, it was a hangout of Bonnie and Clyde, it went dormant in the ’50s and ’60s and rose again in the mid ’80s as a live-music mecca. Then, after a couple of rough years, it once again went quiet,” he recalls. “I feel a great sense of pride to be part of the next chapter of such a historically significant neighborhood in Dallas. Through it all, it’s always found a way to bounce back.”
Every Saturday at noon and each Thursday at 6 pm, 10 bucks gets visitors three beers and a souvenir glass, served up in the tasting room where there’s a tribute to what was once an iconic symbol of the area: a photo collage of all the murals from the Good Latimer tunnel that used to lead into Deep Ellum. “The tunnel was filled in to make way for the [light rail] line,” explains Reardon. “But attorney-turned-photographer-turned-president of the Deep Ellum Community Association, Sean Fitzgerald, documented the murals through pictures and gave it to us as a welcoming gift.”
Deep Ellum’s past, present and future are firmly grounded in the arts, and Reardon honors that artistic significance with the company’s beer. “We love taking traditional styles and giving them an artistic twist, or throwing what we think we know out the window and coming up with something completely unique,” he says.
“It’s brave, it’s bold, and that’s the Deep Ellum way.”