Thursday , 17 August 2017

The New Kid in Town: Ben Visits Franconia Brewery

By Ben Lane, TSB Staff

TSB’s News Reporter, Ben Lane, is new to McKinney. He was born and raised in Dallas and he’s setting out on a quest to get to know McKinney. In an occasional series for TownSquareBuzz.com, Ben is going to chronicle his experiences in and around McKinney. In the second installment, Ben visited the Franconia Brewery.

Bitter cold and stiff wind wasn’t going to keep anyone away. There was beer inside and we all wanted some. This past Saturday morning at 11, we had all gathered at the Franconia Brewery (495 McKinney Parkway) in McKinney for two reasons: to take the tour and have a few beers.

I didn’t really know what I was in for when I decided to visit Franconia and take the tour. I’ve always been a beer guy and I’ve had Franconia before, but I didn’t know they were in McKinney. When I found out that they were right here, and that February marks their five-year anniversary, I decided it was worth a visit.

When I turned right off of McDonald Street and headed down McKinney Parkway, I wasn’t quite sure what I’d see. I didn’t know how big the building was, how many people would be there or what all the tour entailed. I knew I wouldn’t be the only one taking the tour, but I was not prepared for the crowd that was waiting to take the tour at Franconia.

The line wasn’t just out the door. The line was out the door and out into the street. And people just kept on showing up. We all waited near the front of the building as more people continued arriving well past the start time of the tour.

It was a cold and windy morning but that did not dampen anyone’s enthusiasm. People of all ages had come to visit the brewery and they were all excited. Many wore Franconia T-shirts and many had brought their own mugs with them, as is the custom for a Franconia tour. The tour, which takes place every week on Saturday mornings at 11, costs $5. And as part of the tour you can sample the different types of beer that Franconia brews.

The tour was supposed to start at 11 but people were still shuffling in from outside at 11:45 when Franconia’s owner and brew master Dennis Wehrman kicked things off. I’m not a math major, but I’d guess there were at least 300 people there. Once it was all said and done, Saturday’s crowd may have been the biggest crowd to ever take the tour, according to Wehrman.

 

As the first act of the tour, everyone paid their $5 and was offered one of the four beers that they have on tap at the brewery’s built-in serving station. Didn’t bring your own glass? Franconia had commemorative ones available. Didn’t want a mug of your own? They gave you a plastic cup.

Once nearly everyone had their first beer in hand, Dennis began to explain his roots and why he got into the beer-brewing business. He told us he’s spent his entire adult life brewing beer and that it’s part of his heritage. The gentleman in their logo? That’s Dennis’ great-grandfather.

After Dennis explained the four main ingredients of beer —barley, yeast, water and hops —and why each one is important, he took us into the room where the magic actually happens, the brewery room. As I looked back, I realized that we had lost about half of the group as apparently they’d all taken the tour before and came back just for the beer.

In the brewery room, Dennis explained the process of making beer, which I can’t even begin to explain to you, but he definitely knew what he was talking about. There was a lot of talk about adding the grain, adding the hops, brewing at different temperatures and the many other technical aspects of brewing beer.

After we saw the brewery room, Dennis took us over to their giant 1,800 square-foot cooler, where they age the beer until it’s ready to drink. In the cooler, Dennis dispelled many of the myths and advertising claims of the big boys of the beer industry. I won’t share them here, but suffice it to say, he’s not a fan of the big, bad brewing empire.

After the tour ended, people were free to hang out and have a couple more beers if they wanted to. One thing that was very clear after taking the tour is that Dennis is incredibly passionate about brewing beer. He loves talking about beer and talking with people who love his beer, too.

Normally Dennis retires to his office after the tour. But Saturday, I was able to sit down with him for a few minutes to chat about his love of beer, his reasons for opening up his brewery to the public every Saturday and his plans to make Franconia into the greenest brewery in Texas.

The first thing I wondered about was Dennis’ philosophy for doing the tours every week. “It’s fun. I love to do it. I just love to see our customers and the people that drink our beer on a day-by-day base,” Dennis said. “The tour is not really a business for us. It’s more about getting the word out. It’s not cost-intensive. People drink beer; you know … for five bucks, they get three or four beers. How can you beat that?”

Dennis continues, “For us, it’s really about getting people out, having them try the product, and then when they go out and see our handle (at a bar), they recognize it and tell other people about us. That’s why we do it.”

Dennis clearly wants to grow the Franconia brand, but he’s not looking for market domination. He doesn’t plan to expand outside of the state of Texas. “I come out of a family business,” he said. “I come out of an area where local and small business and brewers mean a lot. One of the biggest goals is to keep the quality of the product. We don’t want to outgrow the business. I have a number in my head where I want to go volume-wise and as soon as I hit that goal, I’ll focus on maintaining the business to guarantee and keep the quality up. My philosophy is if you spend more money on advertising than you do on your product, there will be something wrong with the product. That’s what my plan is.”

This year is Franconia’s five-year anniversary and they intend to release five special brews throughout the year, one for each year of their business. The first is an oatmeal stout. The second is a double IPA. And “then we’ll have three more throughout the year,” Dennis added.

One thing Dennis talked at length about is Franconia’s commitment to being an environmentally conscious company. During the tour he told us it’s his plan to turn the Franconia brewery into a completely energy independent building.

When we were waiting for the tour to begin, I noticed that the roof of their parking area was a large bank of solar panels. Apparently that is just the beginning for Franconia. “When I got started in brewing, I worked for a brewery called Neumarkter Lammsbrau. They are probably the most environmentally friendly and the most natural beer brewery you will find,” Dennis said. “I worked for them for several years and I learned a lot about what you can do. We want to be part of that community, that movement (towards being environmentally conscious).”

They want to be more than just environmentally conscious. They want to be completely independent of the Texas power grid. Dennis said their plan is to produce all the power they need right there at the brewery. They plan on using solar power, thermal panels, recycling vegetable oil from restaurants, natural gas, and using their own spent grain (which already is sent to a farm to be recycled) to create methane gas, which they could use to power the brewery as well.

Franconia’s commitment to being green doesn’t just consist of their energy plans. As I said, they already send their used grain to a farm to be recycled and they do not have a dumpster on the property because they recycle everything.

Dennis is proud that the brewery is going to be energy independent soon, “I believe in it. I think it’s a great step to take and hopefully other small businesses will follow us on that.”

Dennis Wehrman is clearly a man who’s living his dream and willing to share his passion with everyone. He’s excited about the next phase of his business, his green initiatives, and most importantly, his beer. Talk to to him for five minutes and he’ll convince you that he’s the man with the plan.

So the next time you have a few free hours on a Saturday morning, swing by the Franconia Brewery, take the tour and have a few beers. If Dennis doesn’t convince you that his beer is the best in Texas, then there might be something wrong with you.

If you have an idea of where Ben can visit next in his tour of McKinney, let us know in the comments. He said he’d try just about anything once.

The New Kid Gets to Know McKinney

Part 1: Downtown

Part 2: Franconia Brewery

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