Alum brings craft beer market to Dallas with Lakewood Brewery
A room full of large, metallic tanks. A sweet, yet strangely, bitter smell. The sound of dense liquids swishing back and forth in a routine motion. A laboratory, perhaps?
The large tanks are mash-tons and brew kettles. The aroma is a mix of hops, yeast and malted barley. And the dense liquid? That’s beer. Lakewood Brewery beer.
“We brew beer,” Wim Bens, president and owner of Lakewood Brewery said, “and what a lot of people don’t know is that brewing is a blend of art and science.”
Bens, an SMU alum, opened Lakewood Brewery in Garland, one of just three craft beer breweries in Dallas County, last January. They are now distributing their beers to more than 140 restaurants and 50 retail stores in the metroplex.
Bens, 35, graduated from SMU in 2000 with an advertising major and within a couple years found himself working at one of Dallas’ premier advertising agencies, TracyLocke.
Home-brewing his own beer had been a pastime for Bens since his SMU days. He said it was a good way to spend time with friends, while simultaneously satisfying his love of beer.
In 2009, Bens applied for the American Brewers Guild, a brewing school, and was put on a waiting list.
“When I got the acceptance letter almost two years later,” Bens said, recalling his entry into the professional brewing world, “I had forgotten that I even applied. But hey, why not do it?”
He spent six months attending courses and then headed to Rahr & Sons Brewing Company in Fort Worth for a required apprenticeship.
“The brewing industry is sort of traditional, old school,” Bens said.”You can’t learn all of it from a textbook.”
During his courses and apprenticeship, Bens realized that he wanted to leave the advertising industry and pursue a career as a brewer. Beer was his passion, in part due to his roots.
Bens was born in Belgium and lived there until he was 7. The country is known for its beer and love of craft brews.
“If I hadn’t been born in Belgium and exposed to beer at a young age, I might have found myself headed down a different path,” Bens said.
Lakewood’s slogan is ‘Schol!’, which means ‘Cheers!’ in Flemish. In addition to these origins, Bens nurtured his passion for lagers, ales and IPAs while he was at SMU by becoming a regular at the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, a well-known craft beer hub that used to be in Dallas.
“I started going to those bars when I turned 21. It [helped] me form an appreciation for all craft beers, not just European brews,” Bens said.
After finishing at Rahr & Sons, Bens left TracyLocke to start his own brewery. He recruited two of his close friends and co-workers, Trevor Pulver and Craig Bradley to join him. Pulver and Bradley shared Bens’ passion for beer.
“This is a job of creativity and passion,” said Bradley, “If we were in it for the money, we would have stayed in advertising.”
Bens, Pulver and Bradley moved into the building that is now Lakewood Brewery on Jan. 1, 2012, but they didn’t actually start manufacturing and shipping their own brews until the summer.
On Aug. 4, Bens and friends sent their first 11 kegs to Goodfriend Beer Garden and Burger House and unveiled their experiment to a crowd of more than 500 people.
“We really just hit at the right time,” Bens said. “Texas has always been a Bud, Miller, Coors kind of state. And that’s finally starting to change.”
In a 2012 study by Bloomberg Businessweek, Texas ranked sixteenth in beer consumption per capita. But, the Lone Star State ranked forty-sixth in breweries per capita.
Before 2012, there was not a single brewery in Dallas County. Besides Franconia Brewery in McKinney and Rahr & Sons in Fort Worth, the entire metroplex was barren of craft beer manufacturers.
As of today, there are three more names added to the list: Deep Ellum Brewing Co., Peticolas Brewing Co., and of course, Lakewood.
There have been growing pains with the older breweries seeing more competition in the area, but the companies all have mutual respect for each other.
“Craft beer wouldn’t be where it’s at today if we didn’t work together,” Bens said. “There aren’t a whole lot of secrets between us and the other breweries.”
One staple that Lakewood borrowed from the other breweries in the area is the tradition of weekend tours.
As the promotions manager for the company, Bradley is in charge of organizing the details for the tours.
Each Saturday, Lakewood struts its stuff during tours that run from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. For $10, patrons can come to the brewery, drink a few freshly brewed beers and be treated to all sorts of entertainment while eating at picnic tables set up in the back of the brewery.
“We have live music and food trucks that stop by,” said Bradley about the tours. “Garland hasn’t seen much of the food truck craze yet and this is some peoples’ first exposure to them.”
Head of Sales Trevor Pulver, a Colorado native, was used to having craft beer at every bar and restaurant before he moved to Texas.
“I started home-brewing out of necessity,” said Pulver. “But now it’s turned into a passion. I want to see our beers all over town.”
And Lakewood is well on its way. Lakewood brews are not just in Garland, but closer to home as well. They’re at locations including World of Beer and Central Market, located close to SMU’s campus.
For the SMU 21-and-up crowd that is interested in creating their own beers, Bens says the most important thing is not being dissuaded by the amount of cleanup that is required.
“Brewing is only 10 percent of the process,” said Bens with a laugh. “The rest is cleaning.”
And to everyone else, Bens just says ‘Schol!’