It wasn’t that long ago when trying a local craft beer most likely meant having to personally visit a local brewery. As recently as 2012, beer coolers in North Texas grocery stores might’ve had some Rahr & Sons choices available, but that was about it, really. And even more to the point, drinking a pint at a brewery meant actually drinking in the brewery.
When trailblazing spots such as Deep Ellum Brewing, Peticolas Brewing, Lakewood Brewing, Franconia Brewing and Community Beer companies opened, taprooms consisted of a few draft handles affixed to the outer wall of a cooler in the brewhouse with a few benches and a couple of tables, not too far away from the many gleaming tanks and bulging bags of raw ingredients.
Obviously, much has changed for beer lovers of the area, with many dozens of breweries, brewpubs and craft beer-specific bars popping up at a seemingly always high rate.
More formal, well-appointed, expertly designed taprooms are the norm. Shelves of colorfully branded merch and now, thanks to recently passed legislation, coolers stocked with retail to-go cans are placed in prominent sight lines.
We’d be lying if we claimed to not miss the more rustic, industrial vibes brewery visits offered a few years ago.
It’s not that we’re complaining about the pretty and the polished. That’s great, too, and we’ll always raise a glass to the local beer makers finding new ways to better serve their thirsty constituency.
But sometimes, it’s nice to reconnect with your roots, so to speak.
Whether it’s intentional or not, a trip to Howling Mutt Brewing in Denton, just off the downtown square, indeed provides any who feel the same as we do with a nice little dose of the good ol’ days.
Opened in September, Howling Mutt is a “nanobrewery,” which according to AmericanCraftBeer.com is “a brewery that produces no more than three barrels of beer in one batch.”
Howling Mutt certainly fits that bill, given it employs a custom-designed, one-barrel system. In a space about the size of your average Starbucks, it’s divided into three parts, with almost equal room given to the brewing area, the entry space where the tap wall is also located and a quaint sitting area with a few tables. A bit of local art hangs on the wall as you enter the building, adding a funky flourish to the otherwise spartan surroundings.
Howling Mutt had six taps pouring on our recent visit. Of the six, only two of the featured beers were brewed in-house, with the others emanating from local brewers Toasty Bros, Denton County Brewing and Lakewood. There wasn’t much variety to speak of on this visit, as the two Howling Mutt brews were the smashed blonde and the strawberry blond, which is the smashed but with strawberry (both coming in at a light 4.5% ABV).
We ordered a flight of four sample-size pours, featuring the two Howling Mutt beers, as well as the Toasty Bros RNG double IPA (8.9% ABV) and the Denton County London Fog New England IPA (7.3% ABV).
What the four pale gold pours lacked in color variety, they made up for a little in flavor diversity.
Howling Mutt’s smashed blonde yielded a slightly malty scent, with a hearty but crisp, middle-of-the-tongue flavor that offered a rather clean finish with little aftertaste. Its red-headed sister was the same, but predictably with a light waft of strawberries for the nose and a properly delicate touch of natural sweetness in the flavor. Straightforward beers, to be sure, but they were crafted well.
Sitting in the narrow rectangular courtyard surrounded by concrete walls, strung with lightbulbs stretching back and forth, it felt right to be trying humble, traditionally styled beers. It felt honest.
Don’t get it twisted, we’re all for the continued surge in local brewers working out their most experimental recipes. Pickle this, peanut butter that, wine barrel-aged, cinnamon roll-infused and pumpkin-blasted, we’ll take it all.
But it’s nice to be reminded every now and then of the days when just the privileged luxury of getting to drink a craft beer, mere feet away from where it was brewed, was all the gimmick we needed.
Howling Mutt Brewing Co., 205 N. Cedar St., Denton