The Texas Ale Project opened its glass and steel-framed doors in April 2015 and has since established itself as the first brewery since the 1800s to be built from the ground up in Dallas proper. To learn a little more of its story and what makes TAP so special, we spoke with co-founder Shelley Stevens for a little Q&A.
Dallas Design District (DDD): What do you love about being located in the Dallas Design District?
Shelley Stevens (SS): It’s where the action is swelling and bubbling — not unlike brewing beer! Our family’s businesses have been located in the Dallas Design District for more than 40 years, so this is home. After years of operating in a basic warehouse environment, we’re so happy to see the renovation, progression and new development. It’s truly energizing and amazing.
DDD: How did you originally get into the craft beer industry?
SS: Our brewery is a family business headed by my daughter Katherine, a fearless female leader, and her husband, Brent, a passionate taste-tester and equipment guru. They studied Craft Beer 101 and 102 while Katherine attended graduate school at Cornell University. Together, they toured the Northeast, visiting many breweries and tasting as much beer as they could. When they returned to Texas looking for something interesting to make their lifelong career, my husband, David, was an easy sell, because beer is his favorite thing. “Now,” he thought, “I can have an endless supply!” David spearheads the sales division, and TAP beer is already found in more than 350 bars and restaurants in the area. I am an interior designer, so when a new building was needed to house our brewery, the three beer drinkers enlisted me.
DDD: What sets TAP’s selection of craft beers apart from those of other major local breweries?
SS: We use the highest quality imported European grains, malts and Yakima Valley hops. We don’t cut corners — we are quality freaks. TAP filters our water, but not our beer. We only want to produce easy, drinkable, delicious beer. If it has to sit in the tank for seven weeks to ferment and acquire the depth of flavor, then so be it. We wait. We taste-test new recipes on volunteers, (aka The Guinea Pigs), so sign up! Only by doing this can we perfect our beers and produce flavors that are pleasing, unusual, full of flavor and exciting. Our partners (aka employees) share our passion for great beer. This is what makes our beer so wonderful! We have the best in this department.
DDD: How do you come up with the unique names each of your beers boasts?
SS: A good friend of mine in New York worked as a naming/branding expert for Steve Jobs. He coined the name for the iPod. We enlisted Vinnie to help with some of the initial naming, and now the entire company is allowed to contribute future beer names on the company whiteboard. It’s a concerted effort to come up with something original and something that exemplifies the beer.
DDD: Explain TAP’s multi-step mashing methodology.
Step mashing is a methodology that has been used for hundreds of years. It’s a bracketing process that changes temperatures periodically during the cooking phase to ensure all the sugars are released from the different types of grains. Different grains release their sugar at different temperatures. This results in a beer with more complexity and depth of flavor. Most breweries do not take the extra time and expense to go through this process.
DDD: What’s one ingredient people are most shocked to learn goes into the beers you brew?
SS: Passion. No, not passion fruit, just passion — from all of us.
DDD: In your opinion, what’s on the horizon in the craft beer industry?
SS: I think the craft beer industry will continue to expand exponentially. People are craving the taste and complexity of craft beer. It is just SO much more interesting, flavorful and even provides a learning component. Some people suggest craft brewing is a fad and that it will be short-lived. In fact, it is not a fad because it has been around for about 5,000 years. It’s just in the past few years that people are rediscovering the wonderful taste of handcrafted beers. It’s not just a U.S. phenomenon; it’s an all-over-the-world resurrection. Because of this resurgence, I believe in 20 years we’ll see a landscape similar to what the California wine industry produced during the past 50 years. The survivors will be the breweries that can consistently produce the best-tasting beer. Quality is timeless and paramount. Here, at Texas Ale Project, we’ve just ordered four more tanks — twice as large as our previous tanks — and during the next few months, we’re embarking on our first major brewing expansion. We are growing and learning!
DDD: Which TAP beer is your current favorite?
SS: Oh boy! Right now, I have four favorites because it depends on my state of mind and mood: 100 Million Angels Singing, Naked Truth, Payne Pils (our latest and greatest pilsner) and 50 FT Jackrabbit. (Right now, I’m craving 100 Million Angels!)
DDD: Any tips for someone who wants to improve his/her craft beer tasting skills?
SS: Each time you drink a beer, pick one you haven’t tried. The freshest beers are to be found in aisles of the best and busiest specialty grocers and package stores — or in our T.A.P. Room (hint, hint!). Ask questions of a craft beer enthusiast. Most are delighted to help you learn and are eager to give you their knowledge and opinions. Their motto is: “Beer friends stay friends!” Attend as many brewery functions as will fit your schedule. In our T.A.P. Room, it’s not uncommon for us to serve beer to someone who has traveled the country (even the world) visiting more than 200 breweries! They know their beer! Keep a list on your phone of the types of beer that appeal to you. Some of the best apps are Untappd, TapHunter, myBeerNation and more. As you go forward, you’ll begin to recognize the ingredients and the styles of beer that wet your whistle. (You might also want to watch “How Beer Saved the World”!) Remember, everyone’s tastes are different. There’s really no wrong or right; just what you like. Your taste preferences will change as you advance in years and with your growing knowledge of craft beer.
DDD: Finish the sentence: “Every beer should be....”
SS: As great as a Texas Ale Project beer!
Next time you're in the Dallas Design District and you need a tall, cold glass of brew, visit the Texas Ale Project. The T.A.P. Room is open from 5–9PM Thursday through Friday, and 1–9PM on Saturdays. The folks there also offer free brewery tours at 2PM and 3PM every Saturday. Want the space to yourself? Book a private event. Prefer a more eclectic crowd? Visit most any weekend for live music or an art show and find a variety of Dallasites (dogs and families included) beating the heat and enjoying a Fire Ant Funeral.