Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Dancing Bear Pub and a Beer Fest

Located in the most unlikely of spots possible is one of the best beer-focused pubs in the state of Texas, The Dancing Bear Pub. On a corner sharing a small freestanding building with a sandwich and pizza shop in Waco, this establishment has found a way to thrive amid both the Southern Baptists and the swilling college students mere blocks away at Baylor University.

Last week, The Dancing Bear Pub dared to host their first annual Texas Craft Brewers Festival in the lot just behind the pub. It was a small and almost local affair, far from the last state-wide event of the same name held in Austin back in 2003–2005. Only a handful of Texas brewers were represented but, in light of nothing equivalent elsewhere, it was a good start to a much needed tradition in this state.

Established in 2006, The Dancing Bear Pub is a true craft beer house. The interior has plenty of room to sit and socialize, with only a tiny bar at the end beneath the single television. Just 16 taps line the wall, which is close to an optimum number for serving beer at its highest quality and allowing selections to change frequently. Likewise with the bottle selection, featuring daily specials throughout the week intended to keep the stock always moving.

Owner and Waco native Paxton Dove is the one responsible for creating this oasis of a beer bar within a college-town environment—which is not always easy. Dove is not only a fan of craft beer, he is a seasoned homebrewer and organizer of a couple of central Texas homebrew clubs. He also has plenty of friends and contacts within the commercial brewing industry at both ends of I-35 and across the country.

In fact, Dove has his eyes on eventually converting to a brewpub model and brewing commercially through his place in Waco. He even went so far as to acquire all the necessary state and federal licensing to brew on-site before a paperwork snafu as the ATF transitioned to the TTB threw cold water on that idea. Now, with proven beer recipes already selected, finances and space limitations have the brewpub idea currently on hold. A small (10-gallon) brewing system may be the next step with this idea.

Naturally, and with a competing event the same day just down the highway in Temple, this Texas Craft Brewers Festival did not reach the size or scope of the aforementioned Austin event. However, this allowed for the 5-oz sample pours to be a little more generous, hourly raffles to award pub and brewery swag, and lines for the beers and the terrific pizzas from the shop next door to be much shorter. A local animal rescue organization was sponsored by the pub, who in turn was helped by ESPN Radio giveaways.

With an army of new craft brewers amassing in Austin, Waco may seem an unlikely place to host an “official” Texas Craft Brewers Festival—or is it an even better locale for this event? Resurrecting the festival in Austin may see it dominated by the new local Austin brewers, possibly to the point of discouraging Texas brewers outside of Austin from participating. The central location, reduced costs and neutral ground of Waco may be an ideal spot to promote this event annually.

But the success of the Dancing Bear is in the environment that is created not only by Dove but also by his staff, all of whom are just as knowledgeable about the products they sell. A similar Oktoberfest event is held at the same spot each year, featuring food from Kuby’s in Dallas. This is not a bar; it is a true local pub—an important distinction, and one surprisingly in touch with the larger modern craft beer movement outside of this minor Texas town.

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