Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Better Know Your Brewers: Legal Draft Beer Co.

It was a cool and clear Tuesday morning in the heart of the Metroplex. The sun was just beginning to peek over the distant Dallas skyline, casting stark rays of light straight down Abram street in Arlington. As we adjusted the visors in our car, we reflected once more on how lucky we were to have the opportunity to meet the newest Brewers on the block, Legal Draft Beer Company. Nearly all of you reading this post have been on a brewery tour and learned how beer is made, but we count ourselves among the supremely lucky few that Greg McCarthy, his partner Curt Taylor, and their master brewer Heiner Orlik invited us to see how a brewery is made.

While a crew unloaded the Legal Draft brewhouse from a flatbed, Greg, Heiner, & Curt all exchanged excited looks and Christmas-morning smiles. Amanda and I walked through the warehouse space that will soon come to house this amazing brewery, imagining with some ease where each tank, pump, and kettle would stand alongside a vibrant tap room and a skilled brewing staff. A cold mist began to blow in, so we all huddled into a warmer space out of the wind to talk about where Legal Draft came from and where it is headed.

How did y'all get started brewing?

Greg: My dad brewed some when I was a kid, and I talked with Curt about 15 years ago about starting up a brew pub in Arlington. Not til a few years ago did I get some stuff together and make a few batches and my friends and I thought, "This isn't too bad." And at the same time I knew I didn't want to do this just as a hobby. Now was a good time and it felt like a good opportunity to do this, so I started putting together a business plan and doing a lot of research and looking around for a place to do it all. Last spring Curt and I were together with that same group of friends and I told him I kind of wanted to do this and he said, "Sign me up!" So we went forward and about middle of June last year I started telling people about what I was going to do so I couldn't back out. And here we are. 

Tell us about bringing Heiner on as your brewmaster.

G: Well I had brewed a few batches, but I always knew I wasn't going to be the brewer. We weren't in any clubs or organizations. I think my beer was pretty good, but it's a whole different subject brewing in your garage compared to what we're going to do. And y'know, we didn't have time to mess around for 5 or 6 years learning how to do that, apprenticing someplace or starting smaller ourselves and seeing if we could grow. We knew we wanted a really good brewmaster, and when I talked to Ezra Cox, then at Revolver, now Cidermaster at Bishop Cider, he said, "Here's what you do. You put an ad in all the trade publications online and you find a really highly qualified, big background sort of brewer and then he becomes pretty much everything that's important to your brewery." 

So we put the ad out in September with our sort of mission statement to make a lot of beer and grow fast, and within a couple of weeks he replied and his first message to me was, "Your mission statement is all well and good, but who is going to be the captain of this ship? Are you looking for someone who was a homebrewer for 2 years or an assistant brewer for a couple of years at some place that doesn't make very good beer, or are you looking for someone who is German-classically trained to be your brewmeister?" And I said, "Well it sounds like we need you." We wanted someone who was dedicated and trained who would do this, and Curt and I drove out to Midland to meet him. He was brewing out at Big Bend in Alpine, and he has a daughter and granddaughter in Forney, so he and his wife were anxious to be closer to them. He also wanted to be somewhere where you didn't have to drive three and a half hours to get to a mall.

Curt: Not to mention, his wife was not fond of all the tarantulas and mountain lions and scorpions in West Texas. 

G: Heiner has been brewing beer in America for 30 years, and he's like us - he doesn't have time to mess around and go the nice patient route with a small brewery. He's very highly educated, he did the whole program at Doemens in Munich, he brewed for Abita for a long time, and he also has a degree in Economics.

C: That's what's impressed me is his diversity of experience. There's not one thing we've run into where he didn't have something to offer. The potential for Greg and I to make mistakes and have to backtrack to go in the right direction, I guarantee he's already saved us a couple of those wrong turns, and I'm sure there'll be more to come. You can't replace over 30 years of brewing experience. The first word out of his mouth is Quality. You have to have quality product, a clean environment to brew in to make something that our friends would enjoy drinking.

What made you decide to open a brewery?

G: Everybody has been over to the largest capacity, oldest continuing brewery in the Metroplex, and the first time I went there I was just amazed because it was 95 degrees outside, not air conditioned, on a Wednesday night, no music, no food, and there were 500 people there. And you know what? It was FUN! It was greater than the sum of the parts by a mile. I just thought if they could do this, then we can too and maybe ramp that game up a little bit.

C: I think Greg and I over the last 15-20 years have been talking about having some place cool in Arlington and every time we leave we wouldn't have to drive to Dallas or Fort Worth. With the brewery and everything else happening for Downtown Arlington, it's going to be a destination. It's going to help to change the face of entertainment in downtown.

Your brewhouse is not very common. Can you tell us more about the IDD High Efficiency Brew System (HEBS)?

G: There are a few breweries across America that have this system. Probably less than 20 systems working right now, and according to Heiner, the mash filter is not a new idea. The system is all mounted to the skid: the mash tun, the boil kettle, the hot liquor tank, and the whirlpool. You pump out of the mash tun through the filter plates and depending on your style, you have the prescribed number of filter plates. Every other plate is solid and the other one has a bladder inside. Efficiency of that process comes from the grain getting stuck on the cloth and squeezed like a tea bag. You get the very last of the sugars out of the grain and when it's done, that grain falls down and you can clean the filter easily and the grain is very dry and heads off into the hopper. So that's different from the lauter tun and you get a greater extract efficiency. 

Then the boil kettle has the usual steam jacket, but it also has a calandria inside which is basically another steam boiler so you get a really high-energy, vigorous boil and a higher evaporation rate in 40 minutes that would take a conventional boil kettle of the same size 90 minutes or longer. So you cut time off each batch, and as you're pumping that wort through the filter and the mash tun empties, you're ready to start mashing in your next batch. You can be working 3 batches of 17 barrels at a time all in a row. When I saw it in action, they started at 9am and intended to brew 3 batches but ended up doing 5 to get a little ahead and they were still finished up by 5pm.

What sort of beers can we look forward to enjoying soon?

G: Heiner is in charge of the recipes, but we'll start off with sort of a core 5 beers: gold lager, amber lager, a hefeweizen, an IPA, and a stout. Something for everybody. Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly, there aren't a lot of craft breweries that have a bunch of lagers. It's really an economic decision because it takes more time to ferment properly. The lagers are getting sort of overlooked. By the time we open, we're going to be heading right into the Texas summer time, and we want to have clean refreshing beers with a few options that  everyone is going to want to drink. We'll start with that core 5 and always have that on tap, but the good thing about Heiner is he wants to take it in different directions too. 

Reinheitsgebot means different things to different brewers. For some people it means, "Ve have four ingredients in ze bier and no ozzers!" But Heiner's view is it's all about no adjuncts, it's about the methods and it doesn't mean you can't brew ales or have fruit beers or add orange peel to your wheat beer or have sours or anything like that. He wants to barrel age some stuff, he wants to do sodas like root beer and ginger ale to serve to kids or non-drinkers or designated drivers, he wants to create some radlers, too. He's of the mind that Reinheitsgebot means you do a good job, you brew good quality product in the right kind of environment. You use barley, not rice or corn to cut costs. You know, if you're brewing a wheat beer, technically you're violating Reinheitsgebot, but it really doesn't go against its intent.

C: There's also a strong desire to have gluten-free beer as well, and our system lends itself to that very easily. We can't call it gluten free legally, though,  without adding a certain enzyme that converts any remaining gluten in the beer. We recently went out to San Diego and visited Duck Foot Brewing, and every beer on tap there was gluten-free because the owner is a celiac. We sat there and drank for a couple of hours, and I liked ALL of their beer! It didn't taste like a Redbridge or Omission or anything. They were all good. It would be a good way to tell folks who have that limitation, "Hey we have stuff for you too. Not just soda."

Aside from our favorite draft houses and growler bars, what sort of packaging should we look for on shelves?

G: We will have primarily cans, about 2/3 of our production by volume and get them into stores. We'll have our own canning line in February or March, so we'll be up and running very soon after we start up. (Mobile canning) is a great system, but it gets expensive over time. It would cost us about 3-5 times as much in the first 5 years as having our own machine. We'll pay off the equipment within the first 3 years we believe. 

We'll also have the taproom, and that's always where my head was first. That's where you first visit breweries and I just wanted something with a good vibe, a nice family place to come hang out for a little while. Bring the kids, bring the dog, have games to play, TVs on the wall with sporting events. You know, a place people just enjoy hanging out. We'll also have a big enough place to rent out for events like class reunions, rehearsal dinners, business lunches, whatever folks like to do. 

Photo credit: Dodson Development, LLC

Arlington seems to be at the beginning of a very concerted effort to revitalize the downtown district. How will Legal Draft fit into that picture?

G: (The Texas Live events center) was the first of several announcements we expect to be coming soon. Put a pin down in the absolute center of the Metroplex, and it's right here. It's taken some time, but it takes some vision and some guts to knock down some of the unfortunate looking infrastructure and build places people want to come visit. Groups like Dodson Development have that vision to come in and design some great spaces for everyone to use and enjoy, and it's going to be great.

Our good friends at Division are a stone's throw away from y'all. Do you see any collaborations or neighborhood alliances in the future?

G: Wade Wadlington's shop is real close, and we think that's terrific. It would be great to get even three more. It creates some magnetism and synergy, unless we get one of the very few people that doesn't want to play nice, which just doesn't happen often. Wade and Sean do completely different stuff than what we're doing: he's got fruits and sours and IPAs. He'll be smaller volume, but he'll have twenty different beers on tap and the variety is what makes it fun. And his place looks terrific! Things are starting to happen for him and for downtown and it's really exciting for us all.

Having warmed up with some much needed coffee and much appreciated beer conversation, we left Greg, Heiner, & Curt to unload their remaining equipment and headed back home with an even greater sense of excitement than we brought downtown. The sun climbed a little higher
and burned off the fog to shine on brand new kettles and pumps, and thus Legal Draft Beer Company took some of its first steps onto the DFW craft beer scene.

We want to thank Greg McCarthy, Curt Taylor, and Heiner Orlik for allowing us to be a part of their brewery building process. We are genuinely excited for y'all, and we can't wait to share a pint in Spring of 2016!

Like Legal Draft on Facebook & follow them on twitter @LegalDraftBeer and Instagram legaldraftbeer!

Greg and company will be joining Tyree, Rhode, and myself this spring on Tyree Radio for an all-Legal Draft Local Buzz podcast. We'll make sure to give y'all a heads up so you can listen to even more great news and brews from Legal Draft Beer Company. Don't forget to like and share Tyree Radio on Facebook and subscribe to the Tyree Radio podcast. It's free and it's AWESOME.

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