Backcountry Brewery in Frisco expands to Texas
On Dec. 18, just a few days before Breckenridge Brewery announced its sale to beer giant Anheuser-Busch, the owners of the Backcountry Brewery in Frisco were in Texas signing papers to take over a new space in the Lone Star State.
Owners and brothers Charlie and Joe Eazor purchased FireWheel Brewing Co. in Rowlett, Texas, northeast of Dallas, acquiring everything the company owns, including the brewery, tap room, beer garden and vehicles. The facility will cease to brew any FireWheel brands and will brew the same styles of beer known in the town of Frisco.
“We are really excited about it,” said Charlie. “It’s been wonderfully invigorating to see how popular the style of beer and the quality of beer that our brewery staff’s produced through the years, how well it’s been received in Texas so far. We are excited to see how far it goes.”
Backcountry currently distributes its beers to the Front Range, recently expanding their shipments to include the Dallas area.
“What precipitated (the purchase) was we started shipping beer to Texas about three months ago, and the demand from our distributor there taxed all of our capacity here,” he said. “And we were struggling with how we would address the need for more beer production when you don’t have the space, and, by happenstance, truly, we encountered this opportunity and the purchase price made sense for what we wanted to do.”
GETTING INTO THE TEXAS GAME
For a local craft brewery to jump into the game in Dallas, the question must be asked — why Texas?
“There are several reasons,” Charlie said. “One is, the craft beer appetite is exploding in Texas. It’s one of the smallest ratios of breweries per capita in the country — craft breweries. The market size of Texas is easily eight to 10 times the market size of all of Colorado, and we happen to have a very long-term relationship with the head of the distributor we are dealing with.”
He said they’ve known the distributor they work with in Dallas outside of the beer industry for years. They decided they might as well give sending their beer down to Texas a shot, as they were thinking about expanding and the distributor was looking for other craft beers to sell. He said future goals for the company include distributing to all of the states surrounding Colorado.
“That’s a longer term goal — the fact is the growth in Texas alone may challenge our ability to keep pace with that potential,” he said. “The size of this brewery and its expansion capabilities is an interim step based on the size of the market it services. We are going to have to, at some point, address the capacity issue again. But this kind of kicks the can down the road, if you will. But it kicks the can down the road while solving another problem — it give us back capacity to serve Colorado, and it reduces the cost of shipping truckload after truckload of refrigerated product from Frisco to Dallas.”
The brewery started distributing beer in the Dallas area in September, and, by October, the amount of product that distributor was consuming was more than both Colorado distributors combined — and they were asking for more.
BUILDING THE BRAND IN TEXAS
The next step for Backcountry is to fly its head brewer, JP Vander Veen, down to Texas to create test batches.
“We will let (the batches) ferment over the holidays, to make sure that our formulas adapt properly to the water and atmosphere down there,” Charlie said.
This month, Backcountry will start production brewing in its Texas location. Also in early 2016, he said they plan to fully remodel the tap room and beer garden to open in February.
All of the product, quality control and formulation will stay under the direct control of the Frisco head brewer.
“We don’t want to go off in different directions in different locations; we are very committed to our brand,” Charlie said. “We are very committed to the quality and styles that we produce, and the only difference is the majority of Backcountry beer available in Dallas will actually be brewed in Texas.”
Vander Veen will be headed frequently in the first quarter of 2016 to help hire staff and train them in processes and procedures, as well as going back monthly for quality control.
The market in Texas for craft beer is growing at a rapid pace, and Charlie said there are breweries in the state that are producing 20 times as much beer as they currently do in Colorado and not shipping one drop of it outside the borders of Texas.
“They really enjoy beer, they are really starting to enjoy craft beer and they are looking for fresh choices,” he said. “We have established styles that have won medals at every level of competition, plus it’s a place where a good percentage of our visitors come from.”
In Texas, the regulations surrounding craft brewing made it difficult for the initiative to really take. Bigger beer companies with a foothold in states like Texas have made it difficult for the smaller craft breweries to really take off until recently, as the regulations have begun to loosen up over the last few years. Now, people who live in the state are starting to have more exposure to craft beers, and the interest in the industry has begun to grow, giving consumers the desire to try new brews.
“It’s such an explosive consumer class in Texas because it’s relatively new. It’s an exciting place to be providing product, and we’ve done some beer events down there, and some concert events where we’ve brewed beer, and our beer has been extremely well received. We are optimistic.”
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