In the spirit of North Texas Beer Week, we’ve decided to check out both of McKinney’s breweries. Earlier in the week, we tasted and discussed each beer over at Tupps but here, let’s spend some time with one of DFW’s oldest breweries, Franconia Brewing Company.
I met up with Dennis Wehrmann last week at the brewery to talk about his beer, the growth of the craft beer scene in DFW, unique German beers, and what’s next for Franconia. Dennis is a native of Nuremberg, Germany, a Bavarian town near Munich. As a 5th generation brewmaster,
brewing beer is all he knows. His great great grandfather founded the original iteration of Franconia Brewing in Nuremberg in 1800 and his family has brewing beer ever since. Looking for a change of pace, Dennis and his wife moved to the US in 2003 and a chance encounter led to a beer industry job in Dallas. He admitted that moving from the Bavarian region of Germany with over 300 breweries to barren beer desert of Dallas was a little scary and he began making plans to open his own place with the goal of introducing beer culture to North Texas. Franconia opened in 2008 as one of the first independent breweries in the area.
Dennis is known as “the Beer Purist”. He sees himself as a traditional guy and Franconia reflects his personality by adhering to the German Beer Purity Law; a set of regulations dating back to the 1500s that limit the ingredients in beer to water, grain, hops, and yeast. This defines Franconia’s focus on brewing traditional German beers and forces them to challenge themselves to create different aromas and flavors from 4 basic ingredients. Dennis believes beer is a beverage that should be accessible and should have a thought or idea behind it. If you look closely, you can see the story that Franconia is telling - Dennis’ great grandfather Schaubert’s picture is on every bottle. Staying true to his traditional nature, the beers are labeled in a very clear way - Dunkel, Wheat, Pilsner, etc.
As we discuss the growth of the beer scene over the last 10 years, Dennis is very clear about distancing Franconia from the craft beer label. In his view, the term “craft beer” carries a subtext that he doesn’t identify with. Franconia is just a brewery, he says. While the craft beer movement is new and trendy, Franconia relies on brewing traditions hundreds of years in the making. The 6 year-round beers that the brewery produces are styles that can be traced back to Nuremberg and beyond. My personal favorite Franconia beer is the Dunkel, a well balanced dark lager that is perfect for Fall weather. While Dennis tells me the Dunkel is the best seller by a very close margin, he takes pride in the fact that all of his beers sell at a fairly similar rate. Rather than focusing his marketing on a flagship beer, he chooses to focus on building Franconia as a brand with an emphasis on slow, organic growth. Nowhere is this grassroots ethic more evident than in the weekly brewery tours. Each Saturday at 11 am, Dennis spends a few hours giving an in depth tour, talking brewing, pouring beer, and developing his customer base. If you are interested in beer, the tour (and subsequent drinking that is included) may be the best $5 you can spend. Another unique quality that differentiates Franconia is how environmentally friendly their operations are. The brewery, located northeast of the 380 and Highway 5 intersection, is a state of the art, energy efficient building. They reuse 85% of the water used in the brewing process, are landfill free, and Dennis donates the spent grain to local farmers. The brewery is off the grid, producing its own power through solar panels.
We spent some time talking about different collaborations, including one with the Frisco Roughriders and another with Harvest Seasonal Kitchen, and different unique German beer styles. We ended up discussing the 2016 World Tour, Franconia’s limited release of a series of beers highlighting brewing traditions across different European countries. My takeaway from our World Tour conversation was the history of a beer
that will be re-released this holiday season - the Champagne Ale. Dennis originally brewed the Champagne Ale as an experiment with a friend back in Germany in 1999. It started as a wheat beer fermented with Champagne yeast. It was bottled in original Champagne bottles, stored in Champagne racks, and the bottles were turned as if they were actually Champagne. They have been aging in the basement of a German brewery ever since. 18 years later, the aging process has basically transformed the beer into Champagne. France was one of the countries featured in the 2016 World Tour so Dennis decided to brew this beer again. He didn’t have the luxury of the lengthy aging process but after a 12 month fermentation, the beer had an undeniable Champagne quality. After it’s seasonal release last year, Dennis had 49 cases left and decided to let them age. The active Champagne yeast causes the beer to continually change and after aging for a year, the beer has developed a tarty, dry flavor. It will be hitting the shelves soon and I can’t wait to get my hands on a few four packs.
Franconia is a special brewery because it is so different than most in our area. Dennis Wehrmann’s rich family history gives him a unique perspective on the brewing process and a passion for connecting us to the traditions of the past. Franconia’s beers are available in stores all over town so as you enjoy North Texas Beer Week, make sure to try “the Bier from Here”!