One day, craft beer lovers will look back on this time as something of a beer renaissance in Fort Worth.
In addition to newcomers Collective Brewing Project and Martin House Brewing Company, there's a Northside-based brewery that's making a name for itself with some creative and scientifically tested brews.
Full disclosure: I had never visited a beer brewery before stopping by the Panther Island Brewery recently, but it had the look and feel that I imaged it would. The brick and mortar exterior is unassuming, but charming in its own vintage-industrial way. When I stepped inside I saw several large stainless steel tanks and a maze of piping that took up a third of the openair factory floor. Panther Island founders Mike Harper and Ryan McWhorter were hustling around the floor. As I found out later, the duo always keeps the doors open, partly to welcome random visitors, and because the space is hopelessly too large to air condition.
We settled around the bar area to talk beer. Harper handed me a pint of their Allergeez, an American Wheat Ale. A mildly sweet, full bodied flavor with not-so-subtle camomile notes greeted my lips. I usually don't associate the word "delicious" with a beer, but it certainly came to mind here.
McWhorter came from a background in sales and made his first brewing attempt with a Mr. Beer kit he bought from Walmart. Then things grew from there, he said. Harper spent a couple of years at Starbucks and a ‘90s cover band called The Dick Beldings. It took me a minute to remember that the principal in Saved by the Bell was Dick Belding. Great name for a band.
Things took off a few years back when McWhorter asked Harper to start a brewery with him. Not one to take such a daunting project lightly, Harper enrolled in beer school where he "nerded out" on the intricacies of beer making.
"I went to vermont to study in the American Brewer's Guild and got a certificate in brewing science and engineering," Harper recalled. "The program was a little shorter than six months. We spent the last week Vermont doing hands-on things with big brewing systems. I like details, but they got down to the minutia of water temperature and how temperature affects the head of a beer."
For now, Harper and McWhorter are focused on their beer and their customers. When asked if they have plans for mass distribution in the region, they said their focus is local for now. You can find their Allergeez, Cannonball (a Scottish Dark Ale), IPf'nA (Imperial Indian Pale Ale), and Boom (Summer Blondge) at Magnolia motor lounge, Poag Mahone's, Rodeo Goat, The Pour House Sports Grill, The Brass Tap, and Craft and Growler. Each beer offers a unique take on a classic style. Harper is working on a hopless IPA and McWhorter has plans to capture his favorite candy, Butterfinger, in beer form.
A few weeks after my meeting with Harper and McWhorter I stopped by the cantina in the Fort Worth Food Park. I was excited to see the Boom and Allergeez on tap and struck up a conversation with the bartender. He was quick to praise the service he gets from Panther Island, something Harper and McWhorter had repeatedly told me was important to them. Even more importantly, he said Panther Island Brewery beers were quickly becoming crowd favorites.