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Texas Beer Spot

See the full Texas Beer Spot article here.

Stepping into Peticolas Brewing Company in the Dallas design district and spending some good quality time talking with the fine folks that work there, I find myself making a subconscious connection with one of my favorite breweries outside of the state of Texas, New Glarus Brewing Company in Wisconsin. I’m not exactly sure why, but in the back of my mind the connection is there. So it was funny (but not all that surprising) to find out that the brewery’s owner and founder, Michael Peticolas, is a big fan of their beer (more on that as you read on).

The story of how the brewery was started by Peticolas, a lawyer who had accomplished all that he set out to accomplish in his profession, is a good one. But it’s a story that has been told many times by writers much better than myself, so I won’t venture too deep into that territory. Besides, I’m still trying to figure out why his brewery reminds me so much of New Glarus.

It’s gotta be their friendly “down to earth” personality. Our visit to Peticolas was like stepping into a buddy’s garage to taste the results of their most recent homebrew ventures while chatting it up about beer…just beer.

What about the fact that both breweries make delicious brews no matter the style? Take a look at New Glarus’ catalog of beers when you have an hour. They’ve brewed at least one of everything at some time or another. Peticolas is well on their way to matching that feat and whether their brewing a subtle Kölsch, Scottish malt-bomb, or an imperial tongue thrasher, they nail it.

Or is it that both seem to go their own way and do their own thing at their own pace?

It’s obviously a collection of these, but I think the main reason for the connection is this: Both breweries seem content with what they are now and are in no rush to be something they aren’t. These are two damn good breweries that make damn good beer.

Peticolas Brewing Company owner and founder, Michael Peticolas, carved some time out of his schedule to share his thoughts with Texas Beer Spot; over a few beers, of course

Were any of your beers made for or inspired by your wife, Melissa?

There are probably three different ways I can answer that question:

First, I could say an ESB that she brewed back in our homebrewing days after I had been brewing for a while. I said, “You do it” and I walked her through it. So I guess I wasn’t brewing it for her, but I was mentoring her through her own session as a homebrewer.

Then I can say Great Scot! because back in the home brewing days when she was more of a malty beer fan, that was her favorite hombrew that I did.

Lastly, I would say Royal Scandal. Because once we became a commercially open brewery, that beer won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival 40 days after it was in the market. But right before we won that medal, on our way out to Denver, I told her I didn’t think I would brew Royal Scandal again. She said, “No, you’ve gotta keep brewing Royal Scandal.” And then we won the gold medal.

As a homebrewer before you started the brewery, what were your tastes? What beers did you like?

Well, whenever I brewed the Imperial Red, Velvet Hammer, that was the one that people always said, “Now this beer, I mean you make some good beers, but this one is awesome.”

I, however, was much more on the malty side of things back in those days. I enjoyed more Belgian-style beers back then as well. So Scottish Ale, Porter, ESB, California Common, Belgian Quad, you know, stuff that was more malt based than what you see here now in the taproom. That’s probably why it took so long for us to brew an IPA, because I wasn’t a big hop guy. Whereas now, I lean towards the hop beers

Speaking of your IPAs, Sit Down or I’ll Sit You Down is a fantastic beer; definitely one of our favorites. And the name is pretty unique.

That beer name, it’s got a couple things going for it. I’ll never forget when we released that beer and some local guy writing that the beer name was way to long. But if you know the story behind the name, when it came time to brew a high alcohol IPA that’s packed with hops, I thought this is the perfect name for it. I love the names that have a story to them. Just having that name at a festival, you’ll see people walk by and they stop. They literally stop and say, “Aaaw! I’ve gotta try that!”; just because of the name.

Sit Down or I’ll Sit You Down, if it’s not our best beer, it’s definitely in our top two. That was the first beer that made me think we make quality beer. I never gave us any credit. There’s a brewery I love called New Glarus in Wisconsin. I had a beer from them called Scream IIPA. I’m drinking this beer one day and thinking to myself, “Man! This might be the best IPA I’ve ever had!” These guys just kill it and make fantastic beer.

The next day I came home and poured myself a Sit Down or I’ll Sit You Down. I was drinking it and said to myself, “Man! This beer is as good as the one I had yesterday!” And all of the sudden I stopped and said, “Woah!”

So you finally got around to adding a taproom to the brewery. Thank you for that. What was that journey like?

Yeah, it was five years before we did this. I mean, it was tours and tastings twice a month. You know why? Because I thought it was important to be here when people come through here. I don’t view us as being in the beer business. We’re in the entertainment industry. When they come to a brewery, they want to hear the story and who could best do that? I can tell the story. I came to every tour for four and a half years except maybe two, because maybe I had two events or was out of town. So it took a long time before I thought, “Alright, we’re growing in size, it’s been about five years, and people have asked for a taproom for a while, let’s put a taproom together.

And when we put this place together, we now have five years of history to fall back on and utilize. For instance, there was a big countertop in there that we used to put our glasses on and guess what we did with that countertop? We tore it up and welded it together and made it our taproom menu board. These kegs that we use for lighting, those were the first kegs I bought five and a half years ago. The stem that’s holding the kegs to the wood, that was our railing that we used to have in here. This pallet wood we have throughout the taproom is all used. That bench has a cupholder that is our original tap handle head. We really tried to bring a lot about who we are and what we do into this taproom. Again, when I do something I want it to be done right. It’s about dong something and being great at it. When everyone zigs, I like to zag. So we get that right and everyone’s opening up a taproom. Well, would it have made a splash if I opened up a taproom in 2013? Yeah it would’ve. Would it have been the same splash as it was on December 30th of 2016 with the market having asked for this for another two and a half years? No way. It wouldn’t have had near the same impact. I still believe slow and steady wins the race. I don’t know that a lot of people still believe that anymore.

Any idea when you might add bottling or canning into the Peticolas repertoire?

I could double production tomorrow if I put my beer in a bottle or can. You can’t really talk to anyone else who could say that, because everyone else is already in a package. A lot of breweries are in a package before they’ve even built a brand. I want to accomplish things before we make it into bottles. I want to saturate the market. I want people to know our beer before we put it in a bottle or a can.

I remember opening a bottle of a local brewer’s beer that I knew I really liked and thinking, “Oh man! This isn’t right. It’s oxygenated.” I would go back and buy the beer, because I know the beer; I love the beer. But what I fear is if someone has never had that beer and that’s their first experience. Craft beer drinkers are finicky. They’re not gonna go back to that brand. So I want people to know our beer before it ever makes it into a package. And the best way to do that is when it’s in a keg, here or locally.

Is one of the deterrents to bottling or canning the infamous “Texas Shelf” or similar unrefrigerated retail displays?

That’s definitely part of it. I mean, it’s dual faceted at least. Number one is quality. The beer is better in a keg. The beer that’s sitting in a beautiful display in Kroger at 72°F is getting worse, right? It’s degrading. It’s picking up oxygen. It’s not as good of a product. That’s part of it. I don’t think the product is as good.

But the other part is distribution. I run a distribution company her. We self-distribute. Delivering a keg to the Meddlesome Moth or to whomever, it’s a whole different ball game than taking beer to Kroger. I mean, those guys when we go in there, they know us. Their making a ton of money on their investment in beer. We’re partners, right? When they sell beer it’s good for us, but it’s also really good for them and we’re one of four taps or 20 taps or so many taps.

When you start taking your can or bottled beer to Kroger, your one of 100,000 products in that store? I don’t even know how many. All they care about is, “Man you better straighten out that shelf and you better do it, like, yesterday and you better do it again tomorrow! And it better look awesome.” I just don’t think I have the resources currently to do it properly.

How do you sustain success as a brewery?

First, it’s all about the beer. The beer has to be awesome. All we really care about is the quality of that beer. All of the other stuff follows; all of the branding, all of the merchandising. We developed a reputation very early on of quality beer. What inspired me was not the breweries that had one good beer out there, but the ones whose entire lineup was good.

So with each new successive beer, we’ve got to measure up to what we’ve been before. I want to be known for making a consistently world-class example of that beer.

We’ve been in business now a little over five years. We’ve built a reputation in five and a half years. But guess what, it takes sometime 10 seconds or 15 seconds to ruin it. It can happen at any time. The example that just came to my mind, look at United [Airlines]. That one Twitter video. All the good will that you can build up can evaporate like that {snaps his finger} and fall down like a house of cards.

You always have to be mindful of it. It’s constant: you write your plan, you implement your plan, you figure out what worked, you make changes, then you write your plan, you implement your plan, figure out what worked….

So you’re always re-evaluating what you’re doing.

You seem to keep a hefty back-stock of verticals? Is that just personal preference? What drives that??

Yes, I always think it’s cool when I can have the same beer two years apart, just to see what age does to this beer, and then one three years apart. Again, I believe we’re in the entertainment industry. It’s something I enjoy, so it was something that I wanted to do. We had that foresight immediately to say let’s hang onto this.

Now some beers don’t age very well, so we don’t age them. But some beers really do get better over time. I mean, the Great Scot! ages better maybe than any other beer we’ve got out there and we still have 2012, ’13, ’14, ’15, ’16, and now ’17, so we’ve got a six year vertical that we can do of just that beer. So I think it’s delivering a cool experience to be able to say, “Hey, this is the same beer, and this is what it tastes like now that it’s six years old.”

Then some beers, it’s just a natural consequence. The beers we’ve brewed for anniversaries, we only have available here. I want to give people who come here something that’s unique, something that’s different, a reason to come here. So a beer like Black Curtains we only sell here, we don’t go through the same volume, so we’re happy to keep it. That give us the ability to age it for several years.

Does barrel aging fit into your plan at all? Specifically Sledge Hammer?

Barrel-aging is huge and people definitely ask for that. It think Sledge Hammer would definitely do well. I think we have several. Black Curtains would be fantastic in a bourbon barrel. I think it’s just one of those examples where everybody’s doing it and if everybody’s doing it, I don’t necessarily want to do it. I think some bourbon aged or barrel aged beers are really good and some are just barrel aged to be barrel aged and they suck. They don’t taste any good.

So if I do it, I’m gonna do it and it’s gonna be awesome. It’s gonna enhance the beer and not make it worse. I think there’s a way to do it and there’s a way to do it right. It’s something we’ve talked about and we may do it. I’m not saying we never will. But I’m not chomping at the bit to do it, because I think it’s overdone. And it’s overdone improperly by a lot of people.

So you have Community right here, Noble Rey, Texas Ale Project, Bishop Cider, Pegasus City is opening soon and Four Corners is right across the river. Dallas definitely has a beer area going on here, right?

It’s funny; one guy said to me, “ Hey, who had the bright idea to open up a brewery in the design district?” And I said, “Hmmmm…who did have that idea?”

You couldn’t brew beer here before we opened up. I mean, I helped change the law in this district to allow us to brew here. I live in Dallas, I love Dallas. I wanted my brewery in Dallas. So when there are obstacles, it’s about how you can overcome those obstacles. It’s not about what happened, it’s about how you respond to what happened. So when I was told you can’t do it, I said there’s gotta be a way to do it. And there was. You change the law. You can do it if you just go through the process and know how.

I definitely take a little bit of pride in having the foresight to open a brewery down here and maybe be someone who’s at least partially responsible for getting other people to brew in the area.